It is nearly a hundred years since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at Paris in 1919. This was the Treaty of the Peace, signed between the Allied powers - consisting of the major nations of the United Stats, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Japan, as well as a long list of minor powers, and Germany, which ended WW1. Often claimed as a Carthaginian peace which led to WW2 by imposing a harsh treaty on Germany after WW1, Versailles has a host of myths and misconceptions about it. In an attempt to dispel these, ten of the biggest ones are listed below. Before that, the significant terms of the Treaty of Versailles are listed here.
- The transfer by annexation or plebiscite of Alsace-Lorraine to France, Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium, Schleswig to Denmark, Posen, parts of Eastern Prussia, parts of Sileia, and Pomerelia to Poland, parts of Silesia to Czechoslovakia, Danzig to the Free City of Danzig, and Memel to the Allies (later to be annexed by Lithuania).
- Transfer of German colonies to mandates, overseen by the French, British, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
- Reduction of the German Army to 100,000 volunteers with equipment restrictions.
- Reparations to pay for certain war damages sustained by the Allied Powers, which also included an Article 231 which would be interpreted by Germany as a "War guilt clause".
- Occupation of the Rhineland for fifteen years, and its demilitarization thereafter.
- Outlawing of a potential union (anschluss) between Germany and Austria.
- Foundation of the League of Nations.
10 of the most prevalent myths concerning the Treaty of Versailles are laid out in a following series of posts, which can be accessed by URL links below.
1. France Wanted to Break up Germany
Myth: France at Versailles either wanted to cripple Germany (expanded later on), or if it could, it wished to destroy Germany as a state and balkanize them like in 1870.
During the Great War, there was a political party which advocated for the balkanization of Germany : Action française. A French far-right, monarchist, Catholic, and revanchist party, it also carries another distinguishing feature : small size. Action française was never involved in the French government, and while its influence grew throughout the war, it was always but a small fraction of French political thought. An apt comparison might be to fascist third parties in the United States today : their actual capability to influence policies is non-existent. Action française published one post-war plan, shown above, which called for breaking up Germany. This was a proposal which was never considered by official policy, much less adopted as French objectives towards Germany by the Quai d'Orsay (the popular name for the French foreign office).
French policy instead stressed finding a workable way to contain Germany, and in some cases even went so far as proposing a reconciliation with Germany, but it never proposed the active break up of Germany. The closest which might be found is the French policy on the Rhineland, where French leaders proposed at times the creation of an independent Rhenish state to ensure French security by preventing German access to the Left Bank of the Rhine. France would even go so far as to intermittently give it support after the treaty was signed. At the treaty itself however, France largely abandoned such objectives in exchange for an Anglo-American security proposal which would see the English and Americans mutually guarantee France against future German aggression. This never was created despite intense French sacrifices for it, as the Americans did not sign the treaty, and the British used the failure of the Americans to sign to not ratify the mutual protection pact. French policy never envisioned anything more vis-a-vis Germany than the separation of the Rhineland, and that was always a bargaining counter for achieving other French objectives. There is a world of difference between a policy of actively breaking up Germany and an often-changing and never absolute policy for possibly breaking off a single region from it, which was withdrawn in exchange for a security guarantee. Instead of French policy towards Germany being the ambition to break up Germany overriding its interests in a shared alliance with England and America, instead it was the interests in a continuing alliance that overrode expansionist interests towards Germany.
- #10 The Myth that an Easy Peace was Possible in 1919 | HubPages
In the bruised and battered atmosphere of 1919, after 4 long years of war, no peace treaty built by mortal hands could have solved all the competing claims and pressures.
- #9 The Myth that Versailles led to the Rise of the Nazis | HubPages
Instead of the Treaty of Versailles producing the Nazis, much more blame can be ascribed to the Great Depression.
- #8 The Myth that Reparations Destroyed the German Economy | HubPages
Instead of being destroyed by reparations, the German economy was largely destroyed by German internal mismanagement.
- #7 The Myth that Versailles was Unprecedentedly Harsh | HubPages
Versailles is often brought up as an example of a harsh peace treaties, but peace treaties before it were sometimes similarly harsh, and successful treaties even harsher.
- #6 The Myth of French Vindictiveness towards Germany | HubPages
France's taste for a Carthaginian peace against Germany has become famous, but conversely France preferred a moderate peace settlement with her neighbor to the east.
- #5 The Myth of the Territorial Injustice of Versailles | HubPages
Versailles has been maligned for its territorial settlement betraying the 14 points, but it was largely as accurate to Wilson's vision as could be realistically achieved.
- #4 The Myth of French Responsibility for the War Guilt Clause | HubPages
The infamous "war guilt clause" is a famous element of Versailles. It was not written by the French, but rather by the Americans, and was conflated as a war guilt clause by the Germans
- #3 The Myth of Un-Payable and Unjust Reparations | HubPages
German WW1 reparations are remembered as harsh, punitive, and infeasible, but this is much more a product of Anglo-German propaganda than reality.
- #2 The Myth of a Conciliatory America | HubPages
Woodrow Wilson is remembered as a peace maker, but he was a partisan of a harsh form of justice at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
© 2017 Ryan Thomas