“Germany came to see itself as a victim without actually being destroyed” How accurate is this?
On the 16th June the German government, lead by Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, were presented with the Treaty of Versailles. They were originally given 14, and then 21 days, to agree to it. “The treaty, which included some 440 Articles, was not as vindictive as Clemenceau had wanted nor as moderate as Lloyd George would have wished. It certainly fell far short of the conciliatory features of Wilson’s fourteen point proposals.” (Evans and Jenkins) However, in order to decipher whether the end results were destructive to Germany or not, it is necessary to asses not only the main points of the treaty (including military provisions, territory, financial provisions, war guilt and the establishment of new nation states), but also the treaty makers themselves and their intentions towards Germany.
The main three statesmen associates with Versailles are: Lloyd George of Great Britain, George Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson from the U.S.A. With regard to these statesmen Stephen Lees claims that we should “start by not being too dismissive” He claims that although they were responsible for their own people they also were also able to think on an international level. Their three main aims were “to guarantee Europe against the possibility of future German aggression; to revive the economic infrastructure of the allies; and to ensure the stability of the new nation states in central and Eastern Europe. None of these was inherently revanchist”. Although they may not be ‘revanchist’ aims, they show little, if not no, concern for German interests. It is possible to argue that the treaty makers in fact meant the Treaty to destroy Germany. Britain, who had lost over a million men, 7 million tonnes of merchant shipping, and had spent over £75billion on the war, intended to squeeze the German orange “until the pips squeaked” (Lloyd George). France had also suffered greatly. Much fighting had been done on French soil, ruining much of their land and their dead totalled over 1, 358, 000. Clemenceau clearly wanted a harsh revenge and stated “Mr Wilson bores me with his fourteen points. Why, God almighty only has ten”. It seemed that perhaps President Wilson was infact the only delegate who had German interests at heart. The key points he made included: Self-determination for Germany, disarming to the lowest point, autonomy for Austria-Hungary, an independent Poland, and Alsace-Lorraine to go to France. In order to ascertain whether Wilsons more moderate line had any effect, it is necessary to look closer at the terms themselves.
This is a preview of the whole essay
With the ending of a devastating and extremely destructive war, the first thing that needed to be sorted was the Army. The military terms stated that the German army was to be reduced to 100,000 men with no tanks or heavy guns, importation of munitions was banned, the navy was also to be reduced to, 15000 men, 6 battleships, 6 cruisers, 24 smaller vessels and no submarines, there was also no military air-craft allowed. Stephen Lee points out that as the allies combined together could not defeat Germany and needed U.S intervention “it therefore made sense to limit the base for any future military recovery by such a formidable enemy”. However, the allies did not disarm at an equal rate, thus making the Germany feel extremely vulnerable and exposed. Thus said, Britain needed a large army to look after her colonies, of which Germany had none. It could be argued that the French Magniot line a defence structure and not one of attack. Nevertheless, this does not enter into the peace-time spirit, and why should France be thinking of defence in a time of ‘peace’? It would be easy to conclude that the allies meant to leave Germany open to attack. Stephen Lee does not agree with this point of view and claims that the fact that the allies did not invade despite the fact that nothing would stop then “shows a degree of restraint and moderation on the part of the allies, not entirely born of war-weariness”
The next thing to be dealt with was the transfer of territory. The most obvious term was the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France. Schleswig was also returned to Denmark after it had been annexed by Bismark. Also Eupen and Malmedy were to go to Belgium. This act is thought to be justified by the fact that much of Belgiums industry was destroyed during to war, whilst Germany remained relatively untouched. The Saar Basin was also to be overseen by the League of Nations, the Saar coalfield by France, for fifteen years. This amounted to 13% of German territory and 12% of the population – half of which were ethnic Germans. Lloyd George claimed that “I cannot conceive any greater cause of future war than that the German people should be surrounded by small states . . . each of them containing large masses of Germans clamouring for reunion with their homeland” It also took away much of their industry including 48% iron ore, 16% coal, and15% agricultural production. J.M Keynes believes that these terms were “inexpedient and disasterous” Anthony Wood does not agree with this point of view and states “any defeated country, whether it negotiates or not, has to accept the conditions the victor demands . . . the terms which Germany imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk in March 1919, deprived her of any moral right to complain of Versailles; indeed in comparison with her allies, Austria Hungary and Turkey, Germany had kept the bulk of her territory in tact and those regions which had been removed from her were of a mixed population and had mostly been the fruit of conquest” Indeed this is true, at Brest-Litovsk Germany had demanded a huge sum of 6 milliard marks from Russia. Although this should be kept in mind, it should also be noted that the land that was taken was not simply a few fields but some of the most industrious, rich areas in Germany! Not only this but that fact that they should all be taken at once with no chance to prepare for such a huge loss seems less than fair.
Along with the transfer of territory came the creation of new nation states. Stephen Lee maintains that these were already “a fait accompli, emerging from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires in 1918” As a result of this the individual countries needed to become self-sufficient, for example, Poland (created by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk) needed access to the sea and so this was how Germany lost power over the port of Danzig. With regard to the issue of Czechoslovakia (becoming part of the Sudetenland) Stephen Lee claims there “could have been no sensible alternative”. Sudetenland could not become part of Austria and it would also make it harder for Germany and Austria to unite. Had this not happen then Germany would have been even more powerful than before 1914!
The creation of new states needing protection was part of the reason that the League of Nations was founded. Their role was to try to preserve peace in Europe, however it can be said with much certainty that the decision not to involve Germany was “undoubtedly a mistake” (Stephen Lee). With no involvement asked of Germany it made it very hard for Versailles to be seen as anything but a diktat and was certainly not in the spirit of peace or consolidation. It states in Evans and Jenkins that Germany was “not yet considered sufficiently respectable” to be part of the League of Nations. This can be seen as a great embarrassment – even as a disgrace.
Not only were large sums of land demanded by the allies but also a very large sum of money was demanded. It is commonly argued that Germanys industries were still intact, whilst France and Belgium’s were not, and so the reparations were justified. It is even noted that Germany “was asked to submit their own proposals” (Evans and Jenkins). The final sum decided upon was £6, 600 million. Not everyone believes that this sum could be justified. Harold Nicholson believes that “the real crime is the reparations and indemnity chapter, which is immoral and senseless” J.M Keynes is in agreement with this and argues “I believe that the campaign for securing out of Germany the general cost of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have been responsible"
In order to make the entire treaty viable Germany would first have to agree to the war guilt clause. This is not as malevolent as many people believe, according to Heiber. He claims “the very fact that this paragraph was not embodied in the preamble or immediately following it, but was given such an astronomical serial number and almost hidden in the undergrowth of the treaty suggests that it originally had no programmatic significance”. However this was certainly not the way it was received in Germany. “As a symbol of the grief felt at what was considered a national injustice, he [Ebert] went as far as to order the suspension of public amusements for a week” (Evans and Jenkins). Perhaps it was the way in which the Germans reacted to the treaty that made it so negative? Whilst it is easy for us to see that this clause was simply a requirement, for a population who had been filled with beliefs of winning, it would be a humiliating blow.
And so the subject of the effects of Versailles contains many divided opinions. Historians such as John Hite and Chris Hintion believe that Germany was “in a potentially strong position after Versailles for three reasons: * the break up of the Tsarist, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires created opportunities for Germany, since it was not surrounded by small, weak states. *France failed to achieve its aims of a permanently weakened Germany and a secure border. *Reparations were not so burdensome that they destroyed the German economy”. Other Historians believe that this is not the point and that “the real damage the treaty did to Germany was to disillusion more moderate men who might otherwise have supported their new Republic . . . The peace settlement continued to poison the political atmosphere in Germany for many years” (A Nicholls). However, when dealing with this issue it is felt that Historians tend to treat Versailles as an isolated factor. Certainly if you look at individual terms and work hard enough they can all be justified. However Versailles was not the only thing Germany had to contend with. It is forgotten by many people the extreme problems that they were already facing at home. Between 1913 and 1918 the mark had lost 75% of its value, only 16% of the war costs could be met by taxation and earnings were falling by 20-30%. To make matters worse by 1916 the death toll from starvation and hypothermia alone totalled 121,000. These circumstances would be difficult to manage in a relatively stable country such as Britain, but Germany was not such a country. Germany had only recently become a democracy and there was no political stability what so ever. Whilst thinking of Versailles and adding it onto these factors, it is hard to imagine that they were not destroyed, at least for that era.