Care to express an opinion on a current or past historical event?

Need to ask a question from our many visitors?

Just visit our Message Board and leave your message.

Message Board

Weekly Poll

Everywhere one looks you see sadness these days.  The other day on the train a woman sat counting the fingers on her hand.  One, two, three, four, five she said, then began the counting again.  She repeated herself over and over.  Some of us riding the car couldn't help but to start smiling at her.  Her husband then spoke in a soft voice.  Ladies and gentlemen, please don't laugh at my wife.  She has lost all five of her sons in battle defending our fine nation.  Now she is gone in the head and I am taking her to the asylum.

The Nations Involved in WWI

Between the Wars

Bismarck

Declaration of War (American)

Flanders Field

Gavrilo Princip

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Marne

Otto Dix

Passchendaele

Pershing

Sasson

Schlieffen Plan

Somme

Submarine

Verdun

Wilfred Owen, "Gas"

Woodrow Wilson

World War One Battles

Letters from the Front

Edward Luckart

Albert Smith

A Special Christmas Story

Christmas 1914

Music from World War One

Over There

Long Way To Tipperary

Pack Up Your Troubles

Tragic War And Futile Peace: World War I, Part 2

Date:        1992

 

The Allied Peace Settlement

 

     In November 1918 the Allies stood triumphant, after the costliest war in

history. But the Germans could also feel well pleased in 1918. They had fought

well, avoided being overrun, and escaped being occupied by the Allies. They

could acknowledge they had lost the war but hoped that U.S. President Wilson

could help them. In February 1918 Wilson had stated that "there shall be no

annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages," and on July 4 he affirmed

that every question must be settled "upon the basis of the free acceptance of

that settlement by the people immediately concerned." ^8 As events transpired,

the losers were refused seats at the peace conference and were the recipients

of a dictated settlement.

 

[Footnote 8: Quoted in L. M. Hacker and B. B. Kendrick, The United States

Since 1865 (New York: F. S. Crofts and Co., 1939), p. 520.]

 

Idealism And Realities

 

     The destructive nature of World War I made a fair peace settlement

impossible. The war had been fought on a winner-take-all basis, and now it was

time for the Central Powers to pay. At the peace conference, the winning side

was dominated by a French realist, a British politician, and an American

idealist. The French representative was the aged French Premier Georges

Clemenceau, representing Britain was the British Prime Minister David Lloyd

George, and the U.S. representative was President Woodrow Wilson. The three

were joined by the Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando, who attended to

make sure his country gained adequate compensation for its large sacrifices.

These four men made most of the key decisions, even though most of the

interested nations and factions in the world were represented in Paris, except

for the Soviet Union.

 

     Clemenceau had played a colorful and important role in French politics

for half a century. He had fought continuously for his political beliefs,

opposing corruption, racism, and antidemocratic forces. He wanted to ensure

French security in the future by pursuing restitution, reparations, and

guarantees. Precise programs, not idealistic statements, would protect France.

 

     The two English-speaking members of the big three represented the

extremes in dealing with the Germans. Lloyd George had been reelected in

December on a program of "squeezing the German lemon until the pips are

squeaked." He wanted to destroy Berlin's naval, commercial, and colonial

position and to ensure his own political future at home. In January 1918 U.S.

President Wilson had issued to Congress the Fourteen Points describing his

plan for peace. Wilson wanted to break the world out of its tradition of armed

anarchy and establish a framework for peace that would favor America's

traditions of democracy and trade. At the peace conference he communicated his

beliefs with a coldness and an imperiousness that masked his shy and sensitive

nature and offended his colleagues.

 

     The World War had not been a "war to end all wars" or a "war to make the

world safe for democracy," as Wilson had portrayed it. The United States had

hardly been neutral in its loans and shipments of supplies to the Allies

before 1917. In fact, during the war, the financial and political center of

balance for the world had crossed the ocean. The Americans made a rather

abrupt shift from debtor to creditor status. The United States had entered the

war late and had profited from it, and Wilson could afford to wear a rather

more idealistic mantle.

 

     The Europeans had paid for the war with the blood of their young and the

coin of their realms. ^9 The Allies now looked forward to a healthy return on

their investment. The extent of that harvest had long been mapped out in

secret treaties, copies of which the Bolsheviks released for the world to see.

 

[Footnote 9: A. J. Ryder, Twentieth Century Germany: From Bismarck to Brandt

(New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 132-141.]

 

Open Covenants, Secret Treaties

 

     Wilson wanted to use his Fourteen Points as the base for a lasting peace.

He wanted to place morality and justice ahead of power and revenge as

considerations in international affairs. The first five points were general in

nature and guaranteed: "open covenants openly arrived at," freedom of the seas

in war and peace alike, removal of all economic barriers and establishment of

an equality of trade among all nations, reductions in national armaments, and

readjustment of all colonial claims, giving the interests of the population

concerned equal weight with the claim of the government whose title was to be

determined. The next eight points dealt with specific issues involving the

evacuation and restoration of Allied territory, self-determination for

minority nationalities, and the redrawing of European boundaries along

national lines.

 

     The fourteenth point contained the germ of the League of Nations - a

general association of all nations, whose purpose was to guarantee political

independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. When

Wilson arrived in Europe, the crowds on the streets and the victorious and the

defeated nations alike greeted him as a messiah. His program had received

great publicity, and its general, optimistic nature had earned him great

praise.

 

     The victorious Allies came to Paris to gain the concrete rewards promised

them in the various secret treaties. Under these pacts, which would not come

to public knowledge until the beginning of 1919, the Allies had promised the

Italians concessions that would turn the Adriatic into an Italian sea, the

Russians the right to take over the Straits and Constantinople, the Romanians

the right to take over large amounts of Austro-Hungarian territory, and the

Japanese the right to keep the German territory of Kiaochow in China. In

addition, the British and French divided what was formerly Ottoman-controlled

Iraq and Syria into their respective spheres of influence. An international

administrative organization would govern Palestine. In 1917 Great Britain

pledged its support of "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for

the Jewish people."

 

     Wilson refused to consider these agreements, which many of the victors

regarded as IOUs now due to be paid in return for their role in the war; but

the contracting parties in the treaties would not easily set aside their deals

to satisfy Wilson's ideals. Even before formal talks - negotiations that would

be unprecedented in their complexity - began, the Allies were split. Lloyd

George and Clemenceau discovered early that Wilson had his price, and that was

the League of Nations. They played on his desire for this organization to

water down most of the thirteen other points. They were also aware that

Wilson's party had suffered a crushing defeat in the 1918 elections and that

strong factions in the United States were drumming up opposition to his

program.

 

The League Of Nations

 

     When the diplomats began their first full meetings, the first issue was

the formation of the League of Nations. Wilson insisted that the first work of

the conference must be to provide for a league of nations as part of the peace

treaty. After much negotiation, the covenant was approved by the full

conference in April 1919. In order to gain support for the League, however,

Wilson had to compromise on other matters. His Fourteen Points were partially

repudiated, but he believed that an imperfect treaty incorporating the League

was better than a perfect one without it.

 

[See Vive Wilson: When Wilson arrived in Europe in December 1918, cheering

crowds hailed him as the "peacemaker from America." This photograph is from

the parade in Paris. From National Archives]

 

     The Covenant of the League of Nations specified its aims "to guarantee

international cooperation and to achieve international peace and security." To

achieve this goal, Article X, the key section of the document, provided that

 

     The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve against

     external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political

     independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such

     aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression, the

     Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be

     fulfilled. ^10

 

[Footnote 10: Quoted in F. P. Walters, A History of the League of Nations, I

(London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1952), p. 48.]

 

     The League of Nations was the first systematic and thorough attempt to

create an organization designed to prevent war and promote peace. It was a

valiant effort to curb the abuses of the state system while maintaining the

individual sovereignty of each member of the community of nations.

 

     The League's main organs were the Council, the Assembly, and the

Secretariat. Dominated by the great powers, the Council was the most important

body. It dealt with most of the emergencies arising in international affairs.

The Assembly served as a platform from which all League members could express

their views. It could make recommendations to the Council on specific issues,

but all important decisions required the unanimous consent of its members, and

every nation in the Assembly had one vote.

 

     The Secretariat, which had fifteen departments, represented the

bureaucracy of the League. Numbering about 700, the personnel of the

Secretariat constituted the first example in history of an international civil

service whose loyalty was pledged to no single nation but to the interests of

the world community. All treaties made by members of the League had to be

registered with the Secretariat. It handled routine administrative matters

relating to such League concerns as disarmament, health problems, the

administration of former German colonies, and the protection of oppressed

minorities.

 

     Two other important bodies created by the Covenant of the League were the

Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Labor

Organization (ILO). The first was commonly referred to as the World Court. Its

main purpose was to "interpret any disputed point in international law and

determine when treaty obligations had been violated." It could also give

advisory opinions to the Council or Assembly when asked for them. By 1937

forty-one nations had agreed to place before the World Court most basic

international disputes to which they were a party. The ILO was established to

"secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women, and

children." The organization consisted of three divisions: a general

conference, a governing body, and the International Labor Office.

 

Redrawing German Boundaries

 

     After establishing the League, the diplomats got down to the business of

dealing with Germany. France reclaimed Alsace-Lorraine, and plebiscites gave

part of the former German empire to Denmark and Belgium. The French wanted to

build a buffer state made up of former German territory west of the Rhine to

be dominated by France. The Americans and the British proposed a compromise to

Clemenceau which he accepted. The territory in question would be occupied by

Allied troops for a period of from five to fifteen years, and a zone extending

50 kilometers east of the Rhine was to be demilitarized.

 

     In addition, the French claimed the Saar basin, a rich coal area.

Although they did not take outright control of the area - it reverted to the

League administration - they did gain ownership of the mines, in compensation

for the destruction of their own installations in northern France. It was

agreed that after fifteen years a plebiscite would be held in the area.

Finally Wilson and Lloyd George agreed that the United States and Great

Britain by treaty would guarantee France against aggression.

 

     To the east, the conference created the Polish Corridor, which separated

East Prussia from the rest of Germany, in order to give the newly created

state of Poland access to the sea. This creation raised grave problems, as it

included territory in which there were not only Polish majorities but also

large numbers of Germans. The land in question had been taken from Poland by

Prussia in the eighteenth century. A section of Silesia was also ceded to

Poland, but Danzig, a German city, was placed under Leage jurisdiction. All in

all, Germany lost 25,000 square miles inhabited by 6 million people, a fact

seized upon by German nationalist leaders in the 1920s.

 

The Mandate System And Reparations

 

     A curious mixture of idealism and revenge determined the allocation of

the German colonies and certain territories belonging to Turkey. Because

outright annexation would look too much like unvarnished imperialism, it was

suggested that the colonies be turned over to the League which in turn would

give them to certain of its members to administer. The colonies were to be

known as mandates, and precautions were taken to ensure that they would be

administered for the well-being and development of the inhabitants. Once a

year the mandatory powers were to present a detailed account of their

administration of the territories of the League. The mandate system was a step

forward in colonial administration, but Germany nevertheless was deprived of

all colonies, with the excuse that it could not rule them justly or

efficiently.

 

     As the Treaty of Versailles took shape, the central concept was that

Germany had been responsible for the war. Article 231 of the treaty stated

explicitly:

 

     The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the

     responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and

     damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their

     nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed

     upon them by the aggression of Germany and her Allies. ^11

 

[Footnote 11: Quoted in R. J. Sontag, European Diplomatic History, 1871-1932

(New York: Century Co., 1933), p. 275.]

 

     Britain and France demanded that Germany pay the total cost of the war,

including pensions. The United States protested this demand, and eventually a

compromise emerged in which, with the exception of Belgium, Germany had to pay

only war damages, including those suffered by civilians, and the cost of

pensions. These payments, called reparations (implying repair) were exacted on

the ground that Germany should bear the responsibility for the war.

 

     Although the Allies agreed that Germany should pay reparations, they

could not agree on how much should be paid. Some demands ran as high as $200

billion. Finally, it was decided that a committee should fix the amount; in

the meantime Germany was to begin making payments. By the time the committee

report appeared in May 1921, the payments totaled nearly $2 billion. The final

bill came to $32.5 billion, to be paid off by Germany by 1963.

 

     The Allies required Germany, as part of "in kind" reparations payments,

to hand over most of its merchant fleet, construct one million tons of new

shipping for the Allies, and deliver vast amounts of coal, equipment, and

machinery to them. The conference permitted Germany a standing army of only

100,000 men, a greatly reduced fleet, and no military aircraft. Munitions

plants were also to be closely supervised.

 

     The treaty also called for the kaiser to be tried for a "supreme offense

against international morality and the sanctity of treaties," thus setting a

precedent for the Nuremberg tribunals after World War II. Nothing came of this

demand, however, as the kaiser remained in his Dutch haven.

 

[See Peace Settlement In Europe: The Peace Settlement in Europe]

 

Dictated Treaties

 

     Before coming to Paris in April 1919 to receive the Treaty of Versailles,

the German delegation was given no official information about its terms. Even

though the German foreign minister denied that "Germany and its people ...

were alone guilty ... ," ^12 he had no alternative but to sign. The continued

blockade created great hardships in Germany, and the Allies threatened an

invasion if the Germans did not accept the peace. The treaty was signed on

June 28, the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Francis

Ferdinand, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the same room where the

German empire had been proclaimed. As one American wrote, "The affair was

elaborately staged and made as humiliating to the enemy as it well could be."

^13

 

[Footnote 12: Quoted in E. Achorn, European Civilization and Politics Since

1815 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1938), p. 470.]

 

[Footnote 13: Quoted in Sontag, European Diplomatic History, 1871-1932, p.

392.]

 

[See The Mask Falls: This German cartoon, "The Mask Falls", expresses German

reaction to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which held Germany and its

allies totally responsible fot the war and demanded huge reparations. From

"Illustrite Zeitung, May 22, 1919.]

 

     The Allies imposed equally harsh treaties on Germany's supporters. The

Treaty of St. Germain (1919) with Austria recognized the nationalist movements

of the Czechs, Poles, and South Slavs. These groups had already formed states

and reduced the remnants of the former Dual Monarchy into the separate states

of Austria and Hungrary. Austria became a landlocked country of 32,000 square

miles and 6 million people. It was forbidden to seek Anschluss - union with

Germany. Italy acquired sections of Austria, South Tyrol, Trentino (with its

250,000 Austrian Germans), and the northeastern coast of the Adriatic, with

its large numbers of Slavs.

 

     To complete their control of the Adriatic, the Italians wanted a slice of

the Dalmatian coast and the port of Fiume. Fiume, however, was the natural

port for the newly created state of Yugoslavia, and it had not been promised

to the Italians in 1915. Wilson declared the Italian claim to be a

contradiction of the principle of self-determination, and the ensuing

controversy almost wrecked the peace conference. The issue was not settled

until 1920, when Italy renounced its claim to Dalmatia and Fiume became an

independent state. Four years later it was ceded to Italy.

 

     By the Treaty of Sevres (1920), the Ottoman empire was placed on the

operating table of power politics and divided among Greece, Britain, and

France. An upheaval in August 1920 in Constantinople led to the emergence of

the Nationalists under Mustapha Kemal, who refused to accept the treaty. Not

until July 1923 did Turkey's postwar status become clear in the milder Treaty

of Lausanne, which guaranteed Turkish control of Anatolia.

 

     Hungary (Treaty of Trianon, 1920) and Bulgaria (Treaty of Neuilly, 1919)

did not fare as well as Turkey in dealing with the Allies. The Hungarians lost

territory to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania. Bulgaria lost access to

the Aegean Sea and territory populated by nearly one million people, had to

pay a huge indemnity, and underwent demilitarization.

 

     Those eastern European states that profited from the settlements proved

to be useful allies for France in the first fifteen years of the interwar

period. Those that suffered were easy prey for the Nazis in the 1930s.

 

[See European Democracies: 1920-1940]

 

Evaluating The Peacemakers

 

     The treaties ending the First World War have received heavy criticism

from diplomatic historians, especially when compared with the work of the

Congress of Vienna. The peace that emerged brought only weariness, new

disagreements, and inflation.

 

     There was a complete disregard of Russia. Lenin's government, in it weak

position, indicated a willingness to deal with the west on the issue of prewar

debts and border conflicts, if the west would extend financial aid and

withdraw its expeditionary forces. The anti-Bolshevik forces in Paris did not

take the offer seriously. ^14 By missing this opportunity the Allies, in the

view of a major American observer, took a course that had tremendous

consequences for "the long-term future of both the Russian and the American

people and indeed of mankind generally." ^15

 

[Footnote 14: Louis Fischer, The Soviets in World Affairs (New York: Vintage

Books, 1960), p. 116.]

 

[Footnote 15: George F. Kennan, The Decision to Intervene (Princeton:

Princeton Univ. Press, 1958), p. 471.]

 

     Many commentators have laid the genesis of the Second World War just one

generation later at the feet of the Paris peacemakers. The opportunism of

Orlando and the chauvinism and revenge-seeking nature of both Clemenceau and

Lloyd George appear short-sighted. Other critics point that the United States'

reversion to isolationism doomed the work of the conference. Furthermore,

never were there any broad plans for European economic recovery.

 

     Considering the difficult conditions under which it was negotiated, the

peace settlement was as good as could be expected. The delegates were the

prisoners of their own constituents, who had themselves been heavily

influenced by wartime propaganda. In addition, the diplomats had to deal with

the nationalistic pressures and territorial conflicts of the newly formed

eastern European nations. Given the costs of the war and the hopes for the

peace, it is not surprising that the treaties left a legacy of disappointment

for those who won and bitterness for those who lost. Symbolic of the obstacles

faced by the statesmen was the fact that while they worked to return order,

the globe reeled under the blows of a Spanish influenza outbreak that, when

the costs were added up, was shown to have killed twice as many as had died in

the war. The influenza outbreak was both a tragic conclusion to the war years

and a sign for the future.