THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES
*By the fall of 1918, all the world was tired of war. Depending on the source, anywhere from 8 million to 14 million people had been killed in the war, and over 20 million had been wounded, many badly. The world had also suffered an epidemic of Spanish Influenza in the spring, which alone killed 30 million people worldwide (including perhaps 500,000 Americans). People in many places, especially Germany, were starving, and the peoples of some nations were so weary that they were ready to turn against their governments.
*Russia collapsed in a series of revoltions, ultimately emerging as the Communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. French troops mutinied, refusing to fight against the German attack on Paris in 1918. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire made separate peaces with the Allies. The Austro-Hungarian Empire finally collapsed, as Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, and other ethnic groups declared themselves independent from Vienna, and shortly afterwards, Karl I, a great-nephew of Franz Joseph (who died in 1916) abdicated (Franz Ferdinandís children could not take the throne because Sofia was a commoner). In Germany, the High Seas Fleet was ordered out of Kiel for one final battle against the Royal Navy, but the sailors, knowing it was hopeless, revolted, seizing the city. The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands, and a provisional government took charge in early November.
*Woodrow Wilson, the man who had fought to end war, saw that his time had come. He issued a peace programme consisting of fourteen points (which gave the plan its name). The Fourteen Points would end secret alliances, remove trade barriers between nations, reduce military forces worldwide, and create a League of Nations where representatives of all nations could meet to work out their differences. His plan also proposed an gentle peace for the defeated powers, and self-determination for all ethnic nations.
*Germany, hoping Wilsonís plan would be adopted, signed an armistice at 11.11, 11 November, 1918, ending the fighting and effectively the war.
*In 1919, Wilson, Lloyd-George, Clemenceau, Orlando, and representatives of the defeated powers and the minor allies and interested neutral countries met in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the old palace of the French kings outside of Paris. The other Alliesí leaders were not impressed by Wilsonís plan. Clemenceau said, ĎGod only had ten commandments; Wilson has fourteen!í Clemenceau had spent many years living in America as a young man, and he had seen how Congress handled Reconstruction, and he liked it.
*One by one, Wilsonís points would be trimmed away, with only the League of Nations saved to keep him happy. The Central powers, especially Germany, were to be humiliated.
*Germany lost large sections of territory in the east, including everything gained in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Polish Corridor, and the now-Free City of Danzig. This cut East Prussia off from the rest of Germany.
*Austria-Hungary was divided into many smaller countries. The land taken from Austria and Germany created a reduced Germany, and the countries of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia (with Serbia in charge), Poland (which had been wiped off the map in the late 18th Century), Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland and also gave land to Roumania, Greece, and France. Italy demanded pieces of the old Empire, too, but Orlando was not a good enough negotiator, and did not get what he wanted, which embittered Italy towards the Allies. Germany also lost all her overseas colonies.
*Large sections of the Ottoman Empire were carved off and given to the Allies. Britain got Palestine, the Transjordan, Iraq, and Kuwait. France got Lebanon and Syria. The Empire would soon collapse and the last Sultan would flee the country as Young Turks modernised the new Republic of Turkey. Seeking to make a purely Turkish nation out of the remains of their old empire, they killed around 2,000,000 Christian Armenians.
*Perhaps the most symbolic loss for Germany was the Alsace-Lorraine (Elsaß-Lothringen), seized from France in 1871 through a treaty signed at Versailles, in the Hall of Mirrors.
*Germany was required to pay reparations of $33 billion to make up for the damage done in the war, which was far more than Germany could pay.
*Finally, and most humiliating, Germany was required to sign the War Guilt Clause, saying that the war was all their fault.
*With the exception of limited self-determination in Europe, Wilson did not get any of his Fourteen Points except one, the League of Nations.
*When Wilson got home to present the treaty (with which he was not particularly pleased, but which he supported in order to get the United States into the League of Nations), he found that the Republicans in Congress opposed it, partly out of partisan politics and partly because they did not want America tied into the League of Nations which might have interfered with American independence.
*Wilson toured the country, but worked so hard he had a stroke.
*Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass) suggested some changes to the treaty, but Wilson rejected them. Unable to agree, the United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, and made different peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary in 1921.
*The United States never joined the League of Nations.
*The war had led to unbelievable death, nearly wiping out entire generations. Much of Europe was impoverished. The Northeastern region of France looked like the surface of the moon from the shells, some of which still remain unexploded and unlocated. A generation was disillusioned with the whole world, sinking into despair and doubt. In America this came to be called the Lost Generation, but the phenomenon existed throughout Europe. Art, music, and literature focussed on the surreal, for nothing seemed to make sense any more. After all, four years before, a 19-year old kid shot two people, and as a result 14 million men died and the world as we knew it was destroyed. What could be more surreal?
*Despite this sense of gloom in much of the world, America did not feel quite so bad. After all, we had fought a war to end war, and had won. There would never be another war again.
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This page last updated 30 October, 2003.