The Treaty of Versailles
One of the greatest conflicts in the history of the world, that of World War II, changed the course of events in Western societies for the rest of the 20th Century. Its effects are felt today even today with the final ascent of the United States as a superpower and the decline of Europe. In fact, World War II was the final judgment concerning European domination of the world. However, many have said that World War II was a continuation of World War I, a war which destroyed much of Europe, crippled its domination of the world with its ruinous economic ramifications, and created the “lost generation” of millions of wounded and dead soldiers. These changes contributed to the downfall of European society. John Maynard Keynes observes, “Perhaps it is historically true that no order of society ever perishes save by its own hand.” (1) In fact, the victorious Allies of World War I condemned themselves to another world war with the Treaty of Versailles, particularly with respect to its effects on the vanquished country of Germany. The conditions of the Treaty of Versailles and their inherent weaknesses set the stage in Germany for yet another world war.
French insistence upon crippling Germany influenced many of the conditions set forth in the treaty. The chief aims of the French towards the disabling of the German state were concerned the disarmament of Germany, the demilitarization and occupation of Allied military forces in the German Rhineland and Saar Basin for fifteen years, the severe reparations, the cession of German territory. (2) The Germans ultimately resented the harsh conditions of the treaty, promoting even more animosity between the two nations when plenty had already existed earlier. Germany was forced to give up all overseas possessions, which the Allies administered as mandates. (3) In addition, France resurrected Poland to dismantle Germany’s eastern borders. (4) This separated East Prussian from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor (5), which contained a large German population. (6) These conditions would later resurface as major issues in Hitler’s Germany twenty years later. Furthermore, Article 102 of the treaty established “…the town of Danzig…as a Free City.” (7) The controversy surrounding this provision developed as a sensitive issue to the Germans since the population of Danzig was largely German. To the Germans, these conditions added insult to injury. Unfortunately, the treaty did not stop with these conditions.
The Treaty of Versailles has become infamous for the harsh reparations it imposed on Germany. Perhaps even more notorious is the “War Guilt Clause” contained in the peace. The “War Guilt Clause,” Article 231 in the treaty, arose out of a controversy during the negotiations in the spring of 1919 concerning the nature of reparations that would be collected. It was argued whether or not to include war costs in the reparations to be levied or “just” civilian...