The treaty of Versailles a.k.a. Screw you Germany!

“This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” Those were the words of Ferdinand Foch in 1919, as he was talking about the Treaty of Versailles. The Frenchman Foch was the supreme allied commander in the First war, when the British Empire, France, the United States and others were fighting Germany and her allies from 1914 through 1918. Now in the war torn Europe of 1919, the goal was to create a peace treaty.
All strong countries and many small ones sent representatives to Paris. Well, except for the losers that was. Germany, Austria, Hungary were excluded during the drafting process. And Russia wasn’t welcome because it already negotiated peace before the “official” war ended. The main players here were President Wilson (USA), George Clemenceau (France), David Lloyd George (British Empire) and Vittorio Orlando (Italy). Each of these men had different agendas. It took months to find a compromise. But to some people it was obvious that this might not end well in the long run. It’s rather interesting that many of the invited states were not only in Paris for negotiations. Some of them actually bought arms and ammunition as well…


(France, 1919. The men in charge. Left to right: Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britain) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson. By Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) (U.S. Signal Corps photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

So what went wrong here? Well, indulge me for this experiment: Imagine for a minute that modern day USA lost a war. Twelve million people (4% of the population) died in that war. Afterwards, through a treaty, the states of Texas, California and Florida are no longer part of the US (13% of your land is lost). With that comes a loss of population of 30 million (10% of your total population). That’s the combined equivalent of of New York (8.2 m), Los Angeles (3.8 m) three times over! Angry yet? Furthermore, you have to hand over the entire fleet, all your tanks, destroy your air force and admit to have caused the war (which wasn’t the case). Eight million people and 10% less territory. This is what Germany had to face. Oh, I almost forgot the $400 billion (todays money) or 100’000 tonnes of gold, which is more than half of all the gold in the World. That is the amount that Germany was supposed to pay back. With terms like these it’s easy to see that Germany ran into trouble really fast. Hyperinflation, unemployment and civil unrest made the 1920s so miserable for the average German, that the extremist movements got stronger and stronger…..
General Foch’s words were prophetic. In 1939, 20 years after the Treaty of Versailles, a former World War 1 soldier by the name of Adolf Hitler would start the Second World War. The rise of such a diabolical figure as Adolf Hitler in Germany was largely possible due to the extremely harsh Treaty of Versailles. At least the World learned something and they handled that better after World War 2…

3 point summary:

  1. The Treaty of Versailles was not much more than a revenge on paper by the winning states
  2. Germany was (incorrectly) blamed as the single guilty state of World War l and forced to pay $400 Billion (todays value).
  3. The Treaty of Versailles caused great economical and social problems in Germany all through the 1920s. It can be argued to be one of the main reasons for Hitlers rise.

By the way: A young communist by the name of Ho Chi Min from French Indochina was also in Paris during the time of the Treaty and asked for better treatment of the Vietnamese by the French occupiers. He would later go down in history as the most famous face of the Vietnam war.

Gilbert, F., & Large, D. C. (2002). The end of the european era, 1890 to the present. W W Norton & Co Inc.
Lewis, Jonathan, prod. “War without End.” The First World War. 2003. DVD.
Cowan, Paul, and Margaret McMillan. “Paris 1919 Un Traité Pour La Paix.” Paris 1919 Un Traité Pour La Paix. ARTE. ARTE, France, 1 Apr. 2009. Television.

By Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) (U.S. Signal Corps photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons