The failure of the Treaty of Versailles was a failure of management. The Treaty-makers compartmentalised the process of negotiation – so there was one working group looking at the League of Nations, another at territorial adjustments, another at reparations etc.– and there was insufficient communication between the different aspects.
The problem was that each issue was settled quite reasonably in its own right. The damage to France was massive – so wasn’t it reasonable that the invader should pay to put things right? After four years of invasion and slaughter, wasn’t it reasonable for France to want the border with Germany to be VERY, VERY secure? And if German militarism had ignited the war, wasn’t it reasonable to reduce German armed forces?
The problem is that 10 plus 10 plus 10 doesn’t make 10. It makes 30. And it was the same with the Treaty of Versailles. Nobody was keeping track of the final total impact all these decisions would have on Germany. And when they put them all together into those 440 different articles, I think they all got a complete shock.
Because, taken together, all those ‘reasonable’ decisions (and remember that Lloyd George and Wilson had persuaded the French to tone down their demands) – taken together, the Treaty of Versailles simply wiped Germany out.
By the time they had got a reasonable sum for reparations, it came to £6,600 million – a third of what some people wanted, but still totally beyond any country of the time to pay (with the exception, perhaps, of the USA). By the time they had secured France’s eastern border, and created Poland etc., they’d taken a tenth of Germany’s land, half its industry, and its best farmland. Everybody else in Europe had got self-determination – but an eighth of the German population ended up under the rule of different countries, and the Germans in Germany were forbidden to unite with the Germans in Austria. And then the peacemakers reduced the German army until it was a tenth of the French army, and smaller than the Czechoslovakian army.
Lloyd George summed it up:
am one of the four upon whom devolved the onerous task of
drafting the treaties of 1919 . . .
The conditions that were imposed upon Germany were ruthlessly applied to the limit of her endurance.
She paid £2,000,000,000 in reparations. We experienced insuperable difficulties in paying £1,000,000,000 to America - and we are a much richer country than Germany.
We stripped her of all her colonies.
We deprived her of part of her home provinces.
We took her great fleet away from her.
We reduced her army of millions to 100,000 men.
We deprived her of artillery, tanks, airplanes, and broke up all the machinery she possessed for re-equipping herself.
Perhaps worst of all, Germany was excluded from the League of Nations. Despite the fact that Germany had expelled the Kaiser, and adopted a new western-style democracy, and agreed to the Treaty: despite everything, Germany was still treated like an international leper and – although it had reduced its army to the point of impotence – it was excluded from the new process of international justice and peace-keeping that was meant to replace the old ways of wars and treaties. Again, it was Lloyd George who hit the nail on the head:
When communities are deprived of the protection of law by selfish and unscrupulous interests they generally find refuge in taking the law into their own hands.
It wasn’t just the Germans who were horrified by the Treaty – Lloyd George, JM Keynes, most of the British public, the American Senate… they were all astounded at how harsh it was. And if we – and they – can understand just how crazy and unfair it all was, how badly must the Germans have felt?
And of course we know how badly the Germans felt – they felt 'Adolf Hitler' badly.