History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2011: Q.5 (b)

Q.5 (b) “The peace of Versailles lacked moral validity from the start.” Critically evaluate. 


The Treaty of Versailles was peace document signed at the end of World War I between the victor Allied Powers and defeated Germany.

The Treaty of Versailles lacked moral validity from the start:

  • The term imposed on Germany were staggering in their severity and impossible of fulfillment. The whole scheme seemed designed to keep Germany in perpetual subjection. The terms were not merely harsh and inequitable but betrayed a lack of sincerity and good faith on the part of the victor powers.
  • It was a dictated peace: The Germans were not allowed into the discussions at Versailles. It was humiliation of Germany. It was immoral not to allow Germans to present their case in the discussion.
  • National self-determination: Germans had genuine cause for protest on the question of national self-determination. Right from the start of the peace conference the Allies had emphasized that all nationalities should have the right to choose which country they wanted to belong to. This principle had been applied in the case of non-Germans; but the settlement left around a million Germans under Polish rule, and almost three million in the Sudetenland controlled by the new state of Czechoslovakia. In addition, Austria was a completely German state with a population of some seven million. All these Germans wanted to become part of Germany, but the unification of Germany and Austria was specifically forbidden in the agreement.
  • The splitting of Germany into two by creation of the Polish corridor and cession to Poland of a large slice of the industrial area of Silesia were most offensive to Germany.
  • The loss of African colonies: German colonies were mandated to Allied powers for administration under mandate system, but in reality Allied powers like Britain and France distributed German colonies among themselves, without admitting that they did. This was unfair and immoral.
  • The disarmament clause: Germany laid down arms in the hope that her action would be followed by a general limitation of the armaments of all nations as proposed in Wilson’s 14 points, but it did not happen and Germany had good reason to complain. It was ideal to expect that a great nation like Germany would submit for an indefinite time to discrimination in the matter of armament. A small state like Belgium should be superior to Germany in armament and soldiers seems absurd.
  • The ‘War Guilt’ clause: Germans objected to solely blamed for the outbreak of the World War. Although Germany was a major factor in the outbreak of the war, she was not solely responsible.
  • Reparation: While a huge indemnity was imposed on Germany, her natural resources were reduced. Since Germany was not solely responsible for the War, it was unfair to force only her to pay heavy reparation.
  • Germany was compelled to grant economic and other privilege to the Allies without reciprocity.
  • No German accepted the treaty as a fair settlement and many people in Allied countries soon agreed with them. There was little respect for the treaty in other countries. Men in 1919 were constantly aspiring to do better than the peacemakers at Vienna a century before; and the gravest charge against the Congress of Vienna was its attempt to rivet a “system” on the future. The great liberal victories of the 19th century had been won against this “treaty system”; how could liberally-minded men defend a new treaty system, a new rigidity?

Counter Views

  • Germans could have hardly expected any better treatment after harsh way they dealt with Russia during signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk during the war and then Rumania in 1918. Compared to the treaties which Germany had imposed on defeated Russia and Rumania in 1918, the Treaty of Versailles was quite moderate.
  • Germany had good reason to complain about limitation on armament, all round limitation on armament was not possible. Also there was no visible alternative of imposition of limitation on German armament.
  • Allowing unification of Germany and Austria as per the national self-determination would have made Germany even more stronger and this would have probably become danger to peace.
  • Alsace-Lourraine was captured by Germany during Franco-Prussian War, 1871 and it was given back to France in the Treaty of Versailles which was totally justified. Also, most of the German losses in Europe could be justified on grounds of nationality.

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