Modern World History: The Treaty of Versailles
 
In 1919 the leaders of the Allies met at the Palace of Versailles to decide on the peace settlement after the Great War. You can see the four most important leaders in the photograph to the left. The decisions that they took were going to influence Europe for the next twenty years. Some people believe that these decisions led to the outbreak of another world war twenty years later.

Who were the leaders and what did they want?

What happened at the Peace Conference?

What did people in Germany think about the Treaty?

What did people in Italy think of the Treaty?


 
Who were the leaders and what did they want?


 
  1. Georges Clemenceau was the prime minister of France; he was nicknamed "The Tiger". He wanted to make Germany pay for all of the damage that France had suffered during the four years of fighting. He also wanted to make sure that a war like this would never happen again. He had three main demands:
Germany must return Alsace-Lorraine to France; this had been taken by Germany in 1871.
Germany must pay Reparations to France to cover the cost of rebuilding the parts of France that had been destroyed during the war (750,000 houses and 23,000 factories had been destroyed).
France should be allowed to take possession of the Rhineland (the area near the River Rhine); this was to stop Germany attacking France in the future.
 

 
  2. David Lloyd George was the prime minister of Great Britain. In Britain most people wanted Germany to be punished: "Make Germany Pay" and "Squeeze them until the pips squeak" were popular slogans, but Lloyd George believed that:
Germany should not be treated too harshly; it would only lead to more trouble in the future.
Germany should be allowed to recover.
France should not be allowed to take the Rhineland. Lloyd George was only prepared to make the Rhineland "demilitarised".
 

 
  3. Vittorio Orlando was the prime minister of Italy. Italy had declared war on Germany in 1915 after the Secret Treaty of London. In the treaty France and Britain had agreed that Italy would be given the Adriatic coast at the end of the war.
When Orlando arrived at Versailles he expected France and Britain to keep their promise.
 

 
  4. Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United State of America. The USA had only declared war on Germany in April 1917 and it had suffered no damage whatsoever. Wilson arrived in Europe with the "Fourteen Points", which he hoped would help prevent wars in the future. The most important of these were:
The peoples of Europe should be allowed to decide their own future; he called this "Self-determination" and he wanted an end to the empires which European countries had built up. He was not prepared to allow Italy to take the Adriatic coast.
A League of Nations should be set up to settle disputes between countries in the future.
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What happened at the Peace Conference?
 
  Most of the discussions were about Germany, but the leaders also tried to redraw the map of Europe. They wanted to break up the Austro-Hungarian Empire and give self-determination to the peoples of eastern and central Europe. The main details of the Treaty were:

1. Germany was forced to -
Reduce its army to 100,000 men and was not allowed to have conscription.
Reduce the navy to 6 warships and was not allowed to have any submarines.
Destroy all of its air force.
Give land to Belgium, France, Denmark and Poland. The land given to Poland became known as the "Polish Corridor" and it separated the main part of Germany from East Prussia.
Hand over all of its colonies.
Agree to pay Reparations to the Allies for all of the damage caused by the war; these came to £6,600,000,000.
Put no soldiers or military equipment within 30 miles of the east bank of the Rhine.
Accept all of the blame for the war, the "War Guilt Clause".

2. Italy was given the two small areas of Istria and the South Tirol. The Adriatic coast was made part of a new country called Yugoslavia, which included Serbia and Bosnia.

3. Other new countries were created -
Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were formed from land lost by Russia.
Czechoslovakia and Hungary were formed out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Allies also gave Germany a new form of government based on proportional representation. It was intended to prevent Germany being taken over by a dictatorship, but it led to the creation of more than thirty political parties; none of them was big enough to form a government on its own.
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What did people in Germany think about the Treaty?   When the details of the treaty were published in June 1919 most Germans were horrified.
Germany had not been allowed to the Peace Conference and were told to accept the terms or else. Most Germans had believed that the Treaty would be lenient because of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points.
Many Germans did not believe that the German army had actually been defeated in 1918 because Germany had not been invaded. One of these people was Corporal Adolf Hitler, who had been in hospital in November 1918 recovering from gas-blindness. Like many others he came to believe that the army had been "stabbed in the back" by the "November Criminals", the politicians who had signed the Armistice which had brought the Great War to an end on 11th November 1918.
Several of the clauses of the Treaty were thought to be very harsh. It was going to be almost impossible to pay the Reparations. In fact, the German government gave up after only one year, and the War Guilt Clause seemed particularly unfair. How could Germany be the only country to blame for the war? After all it had started when a Serbian shot an Austrian.
It was felt that Germany had simply been made a scapegoat by the other countries for all that had happened.

Feelings like these led to a great deal of unrest in Germany in the years from 1919 to 1922.
Returning soldiers formed armed gangs, the Freikorps, who roamed the streets attacking people. In March 1920 they tried to seize power.
There was an attempted revolution by the Communists in January 1919, the Spartacist Revolt.
There were many murders, including two government ministers, one of whom had signed the Armistice.
A number of extremist political parties were set up, including the German Workers' Party, which Adolf Hitler took over in 1921. He based his support upon the hatred that many Germans felt for the Treaty of Versailles.
The government became more and more unpopular and appeared to be very weak because it was not able to deal with the revolutions and the unrest.
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What did people in Italy think of the Treaty?   Most Italians believed that Italy had been treated very badly at Versailles.
460,000 Italians had died in the war, but at Versailles Orlando was almost ignored.
Italy had not been given the land that had been promised at the Secret Treaty of London.
Italy was heavily in debt, mostly to the USA.

This led to unemployment and unrest in many parts of Italy from 1919 onwards and led to increasing support for Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Fascist Party. He promised to rebuild Italy and recreate the Roman Empire.

Looking back it is clear that the Treaty of Versailles created more problems than it actually solved.