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Challenges of the Versailles Treaty

11 Nov

The Overview
The peace settlement that ended the First World War had inherent challenges due to the many compromises. Professor Weinberg in A World at Arms proposes four key points for failure for a lasting success for all parties that were involved in the signing of the Versailles Treaty of 1919. The first and most dramatic was the “suddenness of the German defeat” [1] German troops were deep inside Allied territories at the time of this sudden surrender while there were no Allies within Germany itself at the time of the surrender in 1918. At a micro-level, the German surrender so infuriated a young German infantryman by the name of Adolf Hitler that his rage would spark his aspirations for retribution against the Allied powers and ultimately gave rise to power in 1933. Richard Overy notes in The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia that Hitler “recalled the armistice night in which was born a fiery hatred for those who had surrendered Germany to the Allies… He bore within him an uncontrollable lust for vengeance that bordered at times on the deranged.”[2] The second and very important point as noted by Weinberg for friction in the 1919 Versailles Treaty was the “desperate fear of German might.”[3] The Allies were both in awe and fearful at the same time of the technologies and strategies utilized by Germany. So much so that the severe limitations placed upon Germany and their very limited military practically dared and taunted them to the battlefield for “round two.” Weinberg adeptly notes that “The first and by far most important was that there would continue to be a German nation” as a third major factor in the peace settlement.[4] The question of what a new Europe should look like after the war was given inadequate attention with drastic results as Germany was continued to exist; albeit constrained and limited. A fourth component, the new world order that was redrawn after 1919 proved problematic for Germany. The breakup of what was the ‘British Empire’ or “British Dominions” as noted by Weinberg now had a place at the table in Paris.

Key
Weinberg notes that Germany emerged less weakened than her adversaries which contributed to these Allies being capable of restraining Germany. The question of Poland and the new boundaries in Europe is most critical: “The very portion of the peace treaty that all Germans found most obnoxious, the revival of Poland, protected Germany from her potentially most powerful and dangerous adversary, Russia… The various arguments over the details of the new boundaries… all only underline two facts of supreme importance: that Germany was now actually or potentially infinitely more powerful…”[5] As Naill Ferguson notes in The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, the problem with not so much with the economic noose on Germany as a result of the 1919 treaty so much as it was one of “conflict between territorial arrangements.”[6]

Conclusion
As Bismarck stated in his premise that “the vanquished shall not be left with a burning desire to avenge its defeat” is more than rhetoric. No matter what the terms of the Versailles Treaty would have been, a re-born Germany in 1919 would have avenged what they saw as “unfinished business.’ The economic climate which helped give rise to Hitler’s power and the Third Reich was a launching pad fueled by a copy of the Versailles Treaty itself.

Endnotes:
[1] Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005) 7.
[2] Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) 15.
[3] Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2005) 8.
[4] Ibid., 9.
[5] Ibid., 15-16.
[6] Naill Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (New York: Penguin Books, 2006) 142.

Bibliography:
Ferguson, Naill. The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Overy, Richard. The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in World War I - General

 

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