The Treaty of Versailles

In January 1919, the victorious Allies gathered in Paris to draft a peace treaty at the Paris Peace Conference.

The principal participants in the conference were the leaders of the four great powers: Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Georges Clemenceau of France, David Lloyd George of Britain, and V ittorio Orlando of Italy. It soon became apparent that they had significantly differing motives and interests.

  • Wilson was determined on implementing his Fourteen Points, which had been the basis for the armistice negotiations and the establishment of a League of Nations, that would provide a basis for preservation of peace.
  • Clemenceau was determined not only that Germany should suffer, but that the peace terms should make it impossible for Germany to wage war ever again.
  • Lloyd George distrusted Wilson's idealism and was determined that none of the Fourteen Points should be allowed to interfere with Britain, its traditional policies, or its commitments to others.
  • Orlando, the least important of the so-called Big Four, was determined that Italy receive the huge territorial rewards that had been promised in 1915 to lure Italy into the war on the Allied side.

On January 25 the conference unanimously adopted a resolution to establish the League of Nations. The League was intended to provide a mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes, for the promotion of world disarmament, and the general betterment of humankind.

Then, after a committee was appointed to draft the Covenant of the League, the peace terms were established by the Supreme Council, that consisted of the heads of government and foreign ministers of the five principal Allied powers: the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan.

A number of military and economic provisions were designed not only to punish Germany for its war guilt, but also to insure France and the rest of the world against the possibility of future German aggression.

  • The German Army was limited to 100,000 men and was not to possess any heavy artillery, the general staff was abolished, and the navy was to be reduced. No air force would be permitted, and the production of military planes was forbidden.
  • The Treaty obligated the Germans to pay reparations amounting to over 15 billion to the Allies.
  • The Rhineland, near the French border, was to be under allied control for 15 years, and no German soldiers could be stationed there.
  • Alsace-Lorraine was to be returned to France, and Poland regained its independence.
  • Germany was to pay for all civilian damages caused during the war. This burden, combined with payment of reparations to the Allies of great quantities of industrial goods, merchant shipping, and raw materials, was expected to prevent Germany from being able to finance any major military effort even if it were inclined to evade the military limitations.

The Versailles treaty was a controversial agreement. The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because it called upon the United States to join the League of Nations, and many Americans wanted to avoid future foreign entanglements. The League was crippled from the outset by the failure of the United States to join. The Germans resented many of the clauses in the treaty, particularly those which implied that Germany alone was responsible for having started the war.

Except for the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, which was agreed to unanimously, all of the important treaty provisions regarding German territory were compromises.

The Second Debate at Versailles

On 29 April, a German delegation arrived at Versailles. On May 7 the members of the delegation were summoned to the Trianon Palace at Versailles to learn the treaty terms. After carefully reading the treaty, the German delegation denounced it on the basis that the Fourteen Points were as binding on the Allies as on Germany.

Although refusing to sign the treaty, the German delegation took it back to Berlin for the consideration of the government. Despite great reservations, after long and bitter debates in Berlin, it became obvious that Germany had no choice but to sign the treaty. After informing the Allies that Germany was accepting the treaty only because of the need to alleviate the hardships on its people caused by the "inhuman" blockade, the Germans signed.

The treaty was signed on 28 June 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles near Paris. The U.S. did not ratify the agreement. As a result the United States arranged separate t reaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

German Fleet Scuttled

The Treaty of Versailles provided that all the interned ships become the permanent property of the Allies; that other warships still in German possession also be surrendered; and that the size of any future German navy be drastically limited. In reprisal against these terms on 21 June 1919, the Germans scuttled their ships interned at Scapa Flow.

My home policy? I wage war. My foreign policy? I wage war.
Always, everywhere, I wage war... And I shall continue to wage war until the last quarter of an hour.