- In June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Paris.
- This treaty said that Germany was responsible for starting World War I and also made them pay money and give up land.
- The Treaty of Versailles was named after the place where it was signed: The Palace (Château) de Versailles.
World War I was a really bad war. Opposing sides were the Entente Powers and the Central Powers.
Soldiers died in many different ways, but a lot of them died because of new weapons like machine guns and gas warfare. Military leaders did not change their tactics to deal with this type of fighting.
They kept using an old way to fight that made lots of people die, especially soldiers on the Western Front.
Four long years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, leaders of the Allied countries met in a palace. They signed a treaty there on June 28, exactly five years after the assassination. This was the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles was not the best way to end World War 1. It put a lot of pressure on Germany. This caused more war later.
The Fourteen Points
In January 1918, Woodrow Wilson talked about peace and how the world should be. He talked about specific borders. People from different countries should have a say in what went on there. To prevent war, he wanted a group of people to help with negotiation and cooperation between other countries.
This organization was the League of Nations.
The points Woodrow Wilson mentioned were these:
- To be a diplomat is to be a public person because there shouldn’t be secret treaties.
- Free navigation in any ocean is for everybody.
- All nations can enjoy free trade.
- We should have less armament all over the world to become a safer world.
- When talking about colonies, we should be fair.
- Russia should get back its territories and remain free.
- Belgium should continue to be an independent country.
- France should get back her territory called Alsace-Lorraine (very disputed in the trench war). France should be free.
- The frontiers of Italy should respect nationalities
- Austria-Hungary must decide how she wants to be ruled.
- The Balkan estates should also decide for themselves the best system be ruled.
- This goes as well for Turkey.
- Poland should be created as an independent country.
- We can create an independent association of countries to rule over disputes.
German leaders signed an end to the war. They believed this vision of the fourteen points would form the basis of future peace agreements. But it did not turn out that way.
The armistice was an agreement to stop fighting. Many people believed that the Fourteen Points would form the basis for peace in 1918, but when the heads of four countries met in Paris, they rejected this approach.
The Paris Conference
World War I ended and the Germans won. France was mad and wanted Germany to pay for what they did. That’s why France made Germany come to Paris to talk about how to make peace.
The Paris Peace conference started on January 18, 1919, when it was the anniversary of the coronation of German Emperor Wilhelm I. The coronation had taken place in the Palace of Versailles at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. France and its prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, wanted to avenge what happened. Therefore, they went to this peace agreement.
The Big Four
The called Big Four were a group of four people who were involved in the Paris Peace Conference. The United Kingdom was represented by David Lloyd George. France had Georges Clemenceau as their representative. Italy sent Vittorio Orlando. The US sent its president Woodrow Wilson.
The Big Four all wanted to make sure that this peace agreement would be fair for everybody else but also themselves. The people they cared about the most were their countries.
The Versailles Treaty
The “Big Four” leaders of the US, Britain, France, and Italy were in charge of the peace negotiations. Germany was not there. Neither was Russia, which had fought on the Allied side until 1917 when its new government made peace with Germany.
Negotiations have been difficult. A treaty was written in Paris, France during a peace conference that started on January 18th. But Germany was not part of it and the other countries couldn’t agree, either.
The Big Four wanted different things when they met in Paris. Clemenceau wanted to protect France from another attack by Germany. He also thought that the Germans should pay for the war and not have money for another attack.
- Lloyd George wanted to rebuild Germany because he thought that it would be a good trade partner.
- Orlando wanted to expand Italy so that it could be a major power with its influences.
- Wilson did not want the Italians to have that land or other territories. But he wanted to change the world in a new way. It was hard for him to make it happen, though.
In the Treaty negotiations, Russia’s absence was also a problem. Russia had fought with the Allies until 1917 when it stopped fighting. The Bolshevik decision to stop fighting and to publish secret agreements made by the Allies angered them.
In the end, the European Allies made some harsh requirements for Germany. They caused Germany to give up 10% of its land and all of its overseas possessions.
The Treaty of Versailles also said that Germany couldn’t be a military power anymore. The Germans had to do war crime trials against Kaiser Wilhelm II and other leaders.
Germany agreed to take responsibility for starting World War I. They had to pay money for the war losses.
Henry Cabot Lodge
President Wilson went back to the US and people were happy with it. But a lot of people in the Senate did not want it, so they were against it.
Some people who didn’t like the League of Nations thought that it would make the US army do what other countries wanted. Other people thought it is important to join the League because if other countries were fighting with each other, then the US could both be safe and not fight with them.
Henry Cabot Lodge wanted to change the Treaty before it was ratified. He wanted more, but he did get 14 “reservations” added before the Treaty was passed. But it still didn’t pass by 7 votes, so they signed a different treaty with Germany instead, including all of what they would have got in the Treaty of Versailles.
The League of Nations
The League of Nations was an international group set up after World War I to solve problems between countries. It was a precursor to the United Nations.
Sometimes it helped with conflicts. Other times, the countries didn’t listen to it and it didn’t do anything about problems before they became really bad. The League stopped working during World War II.
The French tried to limit Germany’s military power. They didn’t want them to regain their economic power.
The treaty also said that the German army could not have more than 100,000 people in it. The French wanted to limit the navy and air force of Germany too.
Finally, they wanted Germany to be responsible for war crimes done by the Kaiser and other leaders before 1945.
The new German democracy did not like the Versailles Treaty. They felt that it was too hard on them.
They wanted to change it because they felt like the treaty contradicted President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which talked about how peace negotiations should be transparent and fair.
These parties were right-wing, and by 1930 or so, these parties had gained a lot of credibility with voters in Germany.
Some people were happy when the Nazis promised to rearm Germany, take back German land, and make it a strong country again. But there was another side to the Nazis – they were also very radical in some ways.
Still, many people voted for them because of their promises like helping with reparations and fighting inflation. In 1923, Germany had a lot of hyperinflation (too much inflation) which made things harder for the German economy.
The “stab-in-the-back” legend
Some people in Germany thought that the country was stabbed in the back. They did not think that it was fair how they lost their empire.
Other people were happy because they had a new government and peace. But some Germans forgot how they felt about the emperor or when there was no war.
This legend was what made people think the Germans who wanted democracy in Germany were not good. There were many difficulties in Germany after World War I and its peace treaty.
This is because of the social unrest and economic problems that came with it. Voters had to find a new leader, so they chose Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.
The Treaty of Versailles was also called The Peace without Victory because it was meant to be peace, but not a victory like Woodrow Wilson wanted.
Germans were mad about the treaty, they thought it was just another way for people to tell them what to do. They felt like they should not be blamed for the war and those other countries should help pay.
The amount of money Germany had to pay as a result of this treaty was so big that no one expected them to be able to pay it off. It could have been bad if Germany paid because then other countries in Europe may not be able to make their debt payments either.
After the Treaty of Versailles, many Germans thought they had been betrayed. They blamed the treaty signers for Germany’s loss and unhappiness.
The Nazi party said they would fix it if they got into power. They did not think the Weimar government was strong enough so they took over.
The Fourteen Points didn’t happen in The Treaty of Versailles and no one got what they wanted out of this treaty. It’s like there wasn’t any winner at all from World War I, just losers who had to pay heavy consequences:
- huge reparations payments and territorial losses as well as severe limitations on military production
- German censorship laws that banned public displays or expressions of pro-German sentiment
The Treaty of Versailles was also humiliating to the Germans: they lost Alsace-Lorraine, they had to pay heavy reparations, and their military forces were reduced heavily.
The Treaty of Versailles had a huge impact on the world, and The League of Nations helped to keep it going.