The Development of the Versailles Treaty

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The Treaty of Versailles was created to bring peace between nations after WWI. This investigation will answer the following question: To what extent did the Treaty of Versailles bring peace? In this investigation, the extent of the Versailles Treaty’s success will be evaluated by examining the period of its development, 1918, to the rise of Hitler, 1933. Several sources were used in this investigation including a number of books that look at the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the reactions those terms triggered.

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Many sources, both primary and secondary, also examine how those reactions resulted in a failure in the attempt of brining permanent peace.
Two sources were evaluated for their origins, purposes, values, and limitations: Prelude to War by Robert T. Elson and The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany, Versailles and The German Revolution by Richard M. Watt.

Summary of Evidence

I. Background – The Development of the Versailles Treaty

  • Germany asked for an armistice at the end of WWI in late 1918 (Elson 19).
  • The Treaty of Versailles was a peace settlement between Germany and the Allied Powers drawn up after the First World War in 1919 (Trueman).
  • The purpose of this treaty was to create a permanent peace among nations (Watt 12).
  • Three men played a significant role in the development of this peace treaty and they are known as the “Big Three”: Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, and David Lloyd George (Trueman).

Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States at this time and he supported his “Fourteen Points” including the development of a League of Nations to keep world peace (Elson 21). Wilson believed that Germany should be punished for the damage they caused, but he wanted the treaty to lead to reconciliation, not to revenge. Of the three men, Wilson supported the mildest punishment (Trueman).

Georges Clemenceau was the Prime Minister of France at this time and he took a harsher stance against Germany. He believed that Germany should learn from their punishment to never start a war again (Czernin). Also known as “The Tiger”, Clemenceau was chosen to be the President of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 (Clemenceau). Clemenceau and the French supported the destruction of Germany (Trueman).

David Lloyd George of Great Britain tried to play a middle role between Wilson and Clemenceau. He believed that Germany should be held responsible for World War One; however, he did not want the terms to be too harsh because he feared that a revolt could lead to the spread of communism (Trueman). If the terms of the treaty were harsh, Germans would go against their government and turn to communism. George believed that the spread of communism was “a far greater threat to the world than a defeated Germany” (Trueman).

  • These three men met at the Paris Peace Conference beginning in mid-January to reach an agreement on the terms of this treaty (Watt 50).
  • The League of Nations was the “most promising and the most innovative” project on the agenda during the Peace Conference (Boemeke 507).

II. The final terms of the treaty

  • The War Guilt Clause states that Germany must take full responsibility for the damages and the start of the war. This means that Germany is responsible for paying for all damages as a result of the war (Trueman).
  • A League of Nations would be established (Trueman).
  • Germany’s army would need to be reduced to 100,000 men and they would not be allowed to utilize tanks, submarines, or an air force, and they would only be entitled six naval ships (Trueman).
  • There would be a demilitarized zone in which no German soldier or weapon could be present. They also agreed that pieces of land would be taken from Germany and given to other nations in the territorial clauses of the treaty (Trueman).

III. The presentation of the treaty, Germany’s reaction, and the signing.

  • On May 7, 1919, the treaty was presented to German representative, Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau (Brockdorff).
  • Brockdorff-Rantzau accepted defeat and understood that Germany was to be punished (Brockdorff).
  • Germany was allowed fifteen days to write their observations of the entire treaty (Clemenceau).
  • If Germany refused to sign the treaty, the armistice would end and the Allies would invade their country (Watt 447).
  • Germany was upset because they were not invited to the Peace Conference and had no say in the treaty (Trueman).
  • According to historian Chris Trueman, anger spread throughout Germany. Many felt they were treated unfairly, especially regarding the “War Guilt Clause”. The citizens believed they were being punished for the government’s mistakes. The citizens did not declare war; it was the government (Lu).
  • Brockdorff-Rantzau felt he had no choice but to sign document, even though many Germans did not want to sign the treaty (Watt 395).
  • On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors by 32 nations (Marks 396).

IV. Terms of the treaty that were successfully carried out and failures of the treaty

  • According to Chris Trueman, the League of Nations was created, land was successfully taken from Germany, their army and navy was reduced, their air force was eliminated. Many parts of the treaty were carried out (Trueman).
  • Although the League of Nations was created, Germany was initially excluded from the League of Nations, therefore, defeating its purpose of bringing world peace (Trueman).
  • The reparation demands were reduced in 1921 because Germany was unable to pay what the Allies were asking for. Germany was able to pay after the revision.

The Aftermath – Events after the Peace Conference and the treaty

  • Germans felt betrayed and began to be influenced by Adolf Hitler (Elson 31).
  • Germany owed enormous amounts of money to other nations and these demands were destroying their economy (Marks 52).
  • The German army was frozen (Elson 98).
  • Hitler eventually became Chancellor of Germany and completely abandoned the peace treaty (Marks 145).
  • In 1933, Germany refused to pay reparations and the Nazis came to power (Trueman).

Evaluation of Sources

Prelude to War by Robert T. Elson is book out of a Time-Life series concerning World War II published in 1976. This particular book looks at the events before WWII and the possible causes of this war. Elson was a writer, editor, and former employee of Time, Inc. This book helps uncover how World War II may have sparked and therefore contributes to the total understanding of this Time-Life series. Elson takes into account many events prior to World War II, including the Treaty of Versailles. This source was valuable in showing how the Versailles Treaty may have contributed to World War II. The author also includes relevant pictures and dialogue from these events. However, this is not a primary source. Elson used information that he obtained from other sources that may contain bias. In addition, the information in this book is insufficient, as it does not focus specifically on the Treaty of Versailles.

The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany, Versailles and The German Revolution by Richard M. Watt was published in 1968. Watt was an American writer and historian and he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. This source uncovers information on Germany after the Treaty of Versailles and how this treaty may have led to rise of the Nazis. This source is valuable because it looks at the Treaty of Versailles, its failures, and its consequences. However, this source was a primary source and much of it contains bias. Through the entirety of the book, the author fails to look at the successes of the Versailles Treaty.

Analysis

An evaluation of the success of the Versailles Treaty can uncover the truth that while this treaty may have ended World War I, it may have also sparked World War II. An analysis of the evidence found can support the claim that the Treaty of Versailles was not a success in bringing peace to the world. One can also discover the role this treaty played in the rise of Nazism.

Throughout the peace-making process, Germany felt they were being treated unfairly. They were not invited to Paris Peace Conference, so they were unable to argue their terms. “Instead of reconciliation,” Robert Elson says, “the Peace of Paris left a legacy of frustration and hatred” (Elson 31). Rather than an agreement between nations, it appears that the Versailles Treaty was document that Germany had to sign in order to avoid more fighting. Bringing peace usually involves reaching an agreement between two opposing parties. However in this case, it appears that the Allied Powers were reaching agreement amongst themselves, not with Germany, their opposing side. It would be shocking if citizens in Germany did not react to these facts. They were indeed treated unfairly from the start.

The peace terms presented to Germany in the Treaty of Versailles were far too difficult to be carried out. After financing a war, the Allied Powers expected Germany to not only pay for their own damages, but also for the damages caused by the war in other nations. For any country, this financial obligation is nearly impossible. According to Richard Watt, many Allied figures believed the reparation demands were too harsh. Even Woodrow Wilson admitted that he would not have signed the treaty if he were a German. Secretary of State under President Wilson, Robert Lansing, agreed that the terms were “immeasurable harsh and humiliating while many of them [seemed]… impossible of performance” (Watt 407).

The Versailles Treaty also failed to bring peace with the establishment of the League of Nations. While the Treaty of Versailles was a success in establishing the League of Nations, it failed, initially, to serve its purpose of preserving peace among nations. Germany was excluded from the League.

Some believe the harshness of the Versailles Treaty is greatly responsible for the rise of the Nazis in Germany, therefore, being a complete failure in bringing peace. When Adolf Hitler rose in power, all peace was gone and war struck out again. Throughout Germany, citizens believed the terms were too severe. This notion quickly spread throughout the country (Marks 18). Germans were angry that their government had agreed to these terms, thus, causing a revolt. Citizens abandoned their government and began to join Hitler’s movement.

According to Sally Marks, some historians believe the treaty was the best compromise that could have been reached given the existing circumstances. On the other hand, most historians argue that the treaty was far from perfect (Marks 3). Very few believe the treaty was too soft to restrain Germany, nearly all historians think the treaty was too harsh. However, whether or not the treaty was too harsh, German citizens reacted and their reaction did not preserve peace.

Conclusion

After analyzing the evidence on the subject of the Versailles Treaty, it can be assumed that its objective of establishing peace after World War I was not met. By looking at the positive and negative results of the Treaty, enough information can be gathered to support the belief that the Treaty of Versailles was greatly responsible for the rise of Nazism and ultimately, World War II. Although the world was “officially” at peace after the Treaty of Versailles, no peace was reached. In fact, the peace treaty resulted in the Second World War. To say the Treaty of a Versailles was a success in bringing world peace is an incorrect statement. The German’s were outraged by the terms of this treaty and the fact that their government had accepted them. Many turned to Adolf Hitler at this time and World War II was a result of this revolt. The Treaty of Versailles, although its aim was to bring peace, in turn, led to the start of another World War.

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