This page is about the 1919 peace treaties and whether they were ‘fair’. We’re going to judge them by thinking about whether they were fair at the time, and fair bearing in mind the effect on Germany.
What do I need to know?
Watch this video to get an overview, then read the notes below:
What was the effect of the First World War on Europe and on the USA?
France and Belgium took the brunt of the fighting. The stalemate and trench warfare of the first world war had taken place in their territory.
In France and Belgium, where most of the war was fought, 300,000 houses, 6,000 factories, 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) of railway, 2,000 breweries and 112 coal mines were destroyed. The human cost of the war – in terms of damaged minds and bodies, and ruined lives – was beyond calculation. In some ways, mankind has never recovered from the horrors of the First World War. Source – johndclare.net
This was part of a pattern of disagreement and fighting between France and Germany. In 1870 Germany had beaten France in a war. At the end of that war Germany had taken over part of France called ‘Alsace-Lorraine’.
Britain too suffered. She had entered the war as a financial super-power. In 1914 Britain was the worlds biggest creditor – which meant that other countries owed her more money than they owed any other countries. In 1919 she was the worlds biggest debtor – which meant she was deeper in debt than any other country in the world. Britain had borrowed $ 35,334,012,000 from the USA. Around 800,000 British soldiers had been killed. 2,000 civilians had been killed by direct action in the war, in raids like those on Scarborough in 1914. In the general election of 1918 British politicians had promised to make Germany pay for these losses and damages.
The USA had actually done quite well out of the war. The number of US servicemen killed was 116,000, much lower than France or Britain. In 1922 the US government worked out that Britain, France and Italy owed them 22 billion US dollars. What’s more, the US had benefited from something called ‘one-way trade’, which meant that during the war Britain and France bought lots of material for the war, weapons, vehicles, clothing and food from the United States.
What were aims of the Big Three?
Woodrow Wilson, the president of the USA, was an idealist. He had a plan for a world which would prevent future wars. This plan had two main parts – the first was the League of Nations, more of this below. The second part of his plan was an idea called ‘Self-Determination’ – the idea that the national groups in Europe had the right to rule their own territory, to self rule. He wanted to prevent further German aggression, but didn’t want to treat the Germans so harshly that they might seek revenge. Wilson set out his ideas in his fourteen points, which included other ideas like disarmament.
David Lloyd George, the prime minister of Britain, had led Britain for most of the war. In 1918, just before the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, he won an election after promising the British people that he would ‘search the pockets’ of the Germans to pay for the damage caused by the war. Other British politicians also promised to squeeze Germany till the pips squeaked. Lloyd George was clever, and realised that if the Treaty were too harsh on Germany, that this might cause trouble in the future. It might also make Germany’s economy too weak. Lloyd George wanted a reasonably strong Germany, for two reasons. The first was that he wanted Britain to trade with Germany, so that Britain could start to earn money to pay off the expense of the war. Lloyd George was also afraid of the threat from communist Russia. He hoped Germany might become an ally against Russia in the future.
George Clemenceau, the prime minister of France wanted a very harsh treaty against Germany. Clemenceau wanted to weaken Germany, so that it would not be able to threaten France again, as it had in 1870, and again in 1914. Clemenceau also wanted reparations from Germany, – so that the damage done to France could start to be made good. Finally, CLemenceau, and many french people wanted revenge on the Germans. The war had done terrible damage to France, and its people were angry. One of his big aims was infact to see Germany split up into more than one country – so that each would be weaker and France would not be threatened.
What were the terms of the treaty?
German Territory – Alsace-Lorraine given to France, the Saar Land given to France for 10 years. The Polish Corridor given to the new country of Poland, splitting East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Millions of Germans found that the place where they lived was the new countries of Poland or Czechoslovakia.
Armed Forces – army limited to 100,000 soldiers, a ban on conscription, a limit of 6 battleships, a ban on submarines or military aircraft, de-militarization of the Rineland.
Reparations – £6.6 Billion was to be paid by Germany to Britain and France. This would have taken until the mid 1980s to pay off.
Guilt – under article 231 Germany had to accept the guilt for starting the First World War.
League of Nations – this was an international organisation designed to stop wars in the future.
What was the reaction in Germany?
Germans were angry about the treaty, about what Germany had to agree to, and the way that the treaty was decided. There were no Germans at the negotiations. When the treaty was presented to Germany it was a matter of ‘take it or leave it’, with the invasion and splitting up of Germany as the alternative choice. Many Germans felt that this was a Diktat, that the treaty was dictated to Germany. They also felt that it was unfair that only Germany had to disarm, that the treaty didn’t give Germans the same rights as other nations, such as self-determination, and that they had to pay reparations for generations to come. Many started to believe that their government had given in too soon, that the country had been stabbed in the back, and that the army could have gone on and defeated France and Britain. None of this was true, but it was widely believed. Many thought that the German president, Ebert should not have signed the treaty.
What was the effect on Germany?
The government of Germany, and Ebert was very unpopular in the first years after the war, partly because of the idea that Germany had been stabbed in the back by its politicians, partly because the German economy was in a terrible state, because of the defeat, and because of the reparations payments that Germany had to make. Communist and right wing revolutionaries tried to over throw the government several times.
The Germans had difficulty paying reparations and printed money to pay their workers and to try to pay off the debt. This led to prices rising, as everyone knew that the money that was being printed was not as valuable as there was more and more of it being printed. In 1922 the German government announced that it was stopping payments of reparations. France invaded Germany and occupied an area in which there was lots of industry called the Rhur valley, so that they could take the reparations payments in raw materials and goods. The only way that Germany could resist this invasion was to tell its workers in the Rhur to strike. The government in Germany simply printed more money to pay the striking workers and to keep government running. This led to hyperinflation – the value of money plummeted and the price of goods rocketed. If you bought one egg in Germany in 1921 it would have cost 1.6 marks. By November 1923 the price of an egg was 320 billion marks. If you had a job in Germany then your wages rose with the prices, but if you had savings, or a pension, then this was destroyed by the inflation.
Did other countries have harsh treaties imposed on them?
There were other treaties. Austria signed the Treaty of St. Germain, which also made Austria give up lots of land, and restricted the number of soldiers in the Austrian army. Other defeated countries like Bulgaria and Turkey also signed similar treaties. Under the treaty of Versailles, and these smaller treaties new countries were set up – Czechoslovakia, and Poland for instance. These new countries were made up of territories taken from the others around them. Their borders were set up by trying to follow the ideas of self determination that Woodrow Wilson had put so much store by in his 14 points.
There was one more treaty that might be useful to know about – the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. This treaty was forced by Germany upon Russia in 1918, when Russia had been defeated and dropped out of the war. In this treaty Germany made Russia give up large amounts of territory and pay large reparations. Some people at the time thought it was unfair for Germany to object to the Treaty of Versailles when they had made Russia sign a very harsh treaty just the year before.
Revise: Work through the text above and make a list of definitions of the items in italics.
Revise: Make a list on half a side of A4 of the 10 main facts you need to remember about this topic.
- For Year 10 – try this: Treaty of Versailles Practice Paper Year 10;
- For Year 11s – try this: Treaty of Versailles Practice Paper Year 11; or
- there’s nothing to stop you trying both!
If you’re focusing on technique you could answer these questions with your notes in front of you. If you’re trying to work out how much you have revised, then do these papers in exam conditions.
A* sites – the information on these sites is great if you’re keeping your sights high.
Sites for reference – facts and figures