The Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919, was a failure due to the reluctance of the allies to agree and to enforce the terms of the agreement. There was no consensus on how to make a fair and lasting peace and the treaty was filled with ambiguities. The allies could not agree on how Germany should be treated, everyone involved had his or her own agendas, and the Germans refused to accept the terms of the treaty. The treaty did little to shape any sort of long-term peace from World War I. Within a year of the peace conference the terms of the treaty crumbled.
At the end of World War I (WWI) the world was looking to Woodrow Wilson, the United States President, to lead the way in negotiators since America was not looking to seek any territorial rewards. He presented his Fourteen Points Plan, which was supposed to be the outline for peaceful moral negotiations ending the war. Wilson suggested forming of a League of Nations that could protect the rights of nations. This organization would keep the peace, and prevent future wars by respecting each other’s territory and political freedoms. The Americans and the Germans believed the Fourteen Points would form the basis for the peace treaty. It soon became apparent that the Allies wanted to punish and incapacitate Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles was too ambiguous. The allies could not agree as to how Germany should be held accountable. How much should they be made to pay the allies, how were the damages assessed, how they should they be disarmed? These questions were undefined and not enforced. Britain was concerned about the revival of international trade and wanted Germany to have the ability to purchase British goods so did not want to be too harsh on repayment. Germany was left with an intact population almost double that of France. Britain saw them as potential customers while France saw them as potential soldiers. The exact monetary figure of war reparations were never enforced or included in the treaty. The inability to deal with Germany payment of war compensations led to their rapid regain of economic and political strength in the 1920’s and 30’s.
The German army and navy were to be limited. There was no time limit set for the disarmament for which they abused right away. France feared the Germans would be able to gain their economic strength not for trade but for a revived military. They believed Germany would seek revenge against them. They wanted to weaken Germany in the treaty and felt the terms of Versailles should be harsh and crippling. Germany began to rearm as soon as the treaty was signed on a small scale and escalated in 1933 when the Nazi Party came to power.
Germany was not invited to take part in the Versailles Treaty negotiations and therefore felt they were being treated unfairly. They signed the treaty under protest and never truly accepted the terms of the treaty. Germany was made to be humiliated and for them to accept all the responsibility for the war. The guilt clause articles 231, known as the War Guilt Clause, stated that Germany was responsible for beginning World War I. This clause was especially disturbing to the Germans and led to resentment and fervor of nationalism.
The failure to enforce the terms of the Treaty of Versailles led to the Dawes Plan in 1923. The new plan designed by Charles G. Dawes was put together to find a solution to resume reparations payments from Germany. Although the plan was accepted and payments picked up Germany soon stopped paying leading to the Young Plan in 1929. Similar to the Dawes Plan the Young Plan was named after U.S. banker Owen Young. This new plan cut the total reparation payments and issued more years for repayment to the allies. Again both plans were generous to Germany and in 1931 the Allies agreed to suspend all forms of reparation that Germany would have to pay after the Great Depression had spread to Europe. Again these plans along with the Treaty of Versailles were vague in their terms and the resentment felt in Germany led to the support of radicals such as Hitler and the Nazi party who never intended to make any form of payment or concessions. The growing nationalism Germans felt at this time gave rise to new leaders.
The Great Depression in America in 1929 spread to Europe. The United States and European economies were closely connected and depression spread across the ocean. Loans America had made were being recalled and all trading with America stopped. This global economic crisis led the people in search of leaders who would lessen their suffering. The most profound effect was the rise of more favorable leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini promising stability.
Democracy as we know it today would have worked had it been more fully developed. Countries that did have democratic systems in place did not satisfy the population’s needs. Democracy at this time was not fast or fair. Many European democracies were corrupt and served only the interest of the few at the top. Economic recovery was the immediate problem in Europe. An agriculture problem, inflation, black markets, disabled veterans, widows, orphans, housing shortages, minority rights issues, and border and territory disputes were commonplace and the people wanted quick resolutions. European countries all became debtor nations and wanted a speedy solution. The economic disasters from the depression led to a distrust in the effectiveness of democracy. After World War I many countries tried democracy, which seemed to be the best system but problems arose where there was no experience with its structures and philosophy. Democracy however did not develop quickly. Democracies debate, compromise, and looked to individuals to initiate any solutions to rising problems. The lack of democratic leadership and immediate help for the people in Europe gave rise to new authoritarian governments. These new governments took over where the democratic ones seemed adrift. Many countries now looked away from the democratic governments and turned toward a stable, quicker solution to their problems in the forms of authoritarian government’s. These government were hard to resist with promises of solutions to their problems and blaming everyone else for their downfalls. Forms of authoritarianism leaders arose and the people followed the new authority blindly. New authoritarian governments rose in different countries created from postwar upheaval, economic turmoil and especially nationalism. Russia gave rise to communism with Lenin and Stalin. Italy under Mussolini was not a fascist government. Germany now added to this with Hitler and Nazism. These new governments undermined democracy and were resolved on its destruction.
The failure to enforce the Treaty of Versailles and the slow recovery for Europe led to the rise of Germany again and the beginning of World War II, the Second World War.