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Destructiveness Of The Treaty Of Versailles

3277 words - 13 pages

The idea and practice that the loser in wars should be severely punished so as to prevent a future recurrence has been in existence since ancient times. After all, it is only a logical extension, to conflicts between nations, of the “eye for an eye” doctrine of vengeance. When the Greeks avenged Paris stealing of Helen, they burned Troy to the ground. When the Romans defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars, they went one step further – obliterating the city and spreading salt over the site of the city. In Utopia, Sir Thomas More writes that the Utopians’ one aim in wartime is to “punish the offenders so severely that nobody will ever dare to do such a thing again” (111). However, nothing could have prepared the world for the devastation wrought by World War I, fought with new technology and new weapons. After the destruction of property, devastation of lands, and loss of life that took place during the war, people seemed ready to break tradition - to break the cycle of violence and vengeance. Indeed, it appeared almost impossible – unimaginable – that any subsequent treaty of peace could worsen the situation. But leave it to the politicians. In November 1918, after Germany signed the Armistice, the Big Four – U.S.’s Woodrow Wilson, France’s Georges Clemenceau, England’s Lloyd George, and Italy’s Orlando met in Paris from January 1919 to January 1920 and drafted what would become the Treaty of Versailles. Later in 1920, John Maynard Keynes, a spectator present at the conference, wrote The Economic Consequences of Peace, which predicted the dire economic consequences of the harsh peace imposed by the treaty and proposed revisions that leaned more towards forgiveness than vengeance. Keynes analyzed Europe before and after World War I and illuminated the treaty’s unfeasibility, and argued for revisions that strived not to punish Germany, but to create a stronger Europe.

To find the motives behind the imposition of such a harsh peace as well as to justify its infeasibility, Keynes looks back to the 1870s. Whereas Europe was largely composed of self-subsisting nations before then, the years after 1870 and leading up to the war were marked bythe simultaneous growth of overseas colonies and the labor supply, allowing agriculture and industry to grow at an “unstable” pace (9) and leading to increasing returns to scale with respect to food. The abundance of food spawned population growth and further development of industry, and lifted European economies into an unprecedented period of boom. In fact, Keynes admits that “In this economic Eldorado, in this economic Utopia, as the earlier economists would have deemed it, most of us were brought up” (10).

With this unstable growth, Keynes points out four weaknesses. First, the population was expanding at a sizzling pace. To import food from America and the colonies, the European economies allocated more and more labor into industry to manufacture exports. The food then led to further population growth, need...

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