WHY WAS IT SO HARD TO MAKE PEACE WHEN WW1 ENDED?
The first World War is considered by historians as the very first modern war. It was indeed radically different from the previous ones: new techniques of combat were used, as well as technologies such as mustard gas or tanks. This war killed a tremendous amount of people, both soldiers and civilians, which made humanity call it a “total war”. World War 1 ended with an armistice on November 11th, 1918, which lead to the meeting of all the leaders of the Allied side in Versailles in January 1919 in order to sign a treaty for peace and stability in Europe, after 4 years of chaos and hatred. It took six months to draw up the terms of the treaty, for them to be eventually entirely rejected by the Germans. This report will assess the reactions and attitudes of every concerned country towards the terms of the Treaty, explaining why it was so hard to make peace after that huge of a conflict.
First and foremost, France and Germany had an important historical context of rivalry as they fought against each other multiple times in history, and after four hard and long years of fighting against a known but yet undefeated enemy, France decided on very restraining terms towards Germany. They indeed commanded recognition of France’s possession over Morocco and elimination of all rights conferred to Germany over the country, as well as Great Britain’s protectorate over Egypt for instance. It also decreed the military neutralization of Germany’s economic resources so that no political power can interfere with it, as well as the restitution to France of Alsace and Lorraine which were seized in 1815 and in 1871. The cession of the German government’s sovereign rights over their oversea possessions was also decided. The strictness of these terms made the Treaty quite impossible to be accepted by all members of the Peace conference as they would completely crush Germany on all aspects. In addition, according to the treaty, all damage occasioned by the war either in Allied territories or in neutral states, is to be fixed at Germany’s expense. This would put the country in an impossible economic situation as it would have great depts towards the Allies while supporting a significantly impoverished population. This situation would be very difficult for Germany to get out of as they were cut out of every territory that could have helped them re-develop their economy. These terms reflect the fact that France fears of Germany becoming powerful
and threatening again, so they restricted them as much as they could to avoid the risk of Germany having enough resources to fight again. Both Britain and the US agreed on this last term, however the French had mixed opinions within themselves as some of them were longing for revenge while some others were quite content with the armistice being signed, which meant that they did not have to deal with the complex war situation in which they had been living for the last four years.
On the American side, the reactions to the Treaty were mostly negative as people found it too unfair on Germany, mostly because they only fought for a year and therefore did not face as many consequences as the Europeans did. Moreover, they feared that Britain and France would make themselves rich at Germany’s expense, which eventually did not happen. In addition, the American political system was deeply divided at the time as President Wilson represented the Democrats when the Congress was in majority Republican. These latter used the Treaty to criticize Wilson and ended up with both the Senate and the League of Nations rejecting the terms of the Treaty. This shows how political instability within an influent country’s government can affect the reach of peace and it therefore explains one side of the difficulty encountered for getting it once and for all.
Thirdly, Britain was confronted with mixed opinions towards the terms of the Treaty. In fact, a disagreement took place mostly between the press and the general opinion: a lot of newspapers claimed that Germany was no longer a threat to the nation’s prosperity as well as Europe’s, considering its former enemy as a potential trading partner once it was back on its feet on an economic point of view; when still a lot of people tended to think that the terms could be more severe. However, a third point of view had made its way in the general opinion: the severity of the Treaty would lead Germany to become communist which might trigger another war. Therefore, such differences within a nation’s population on how they saw the severity of the Treaty and its impacts eventually lead to issues to reach a peaceful situation, as a unity of mindsets would have made a whole country largely contribute to the effectiveness of the terms.
Lastly, Germany was a significant obstacle to obtaining peace in the post-World War One Europe. Despite their forbearance of their defeat and what would come with it as a victory act from the Allies, Germany stressed its suffering and its pain as they had also lost millions of men, innocent but obedient, to the four-year lasting world conflict they
had just gone through. In their sense, their defeat did not mean they would be the only ones taking all responsibility for the war, in other word that they should not be paying exclusively to repair the damages caused everywhere in Europe. However, as the loser of the war, their opinion remained unheard and they were forced to sign the Treaty, even though they did not agree to its terms, which made Germans outraged by the situation. This signature was part of a rebellious mindset within Germany, which greatly helped Hitler and the Nazis rise in the 30s, taking what resembled peace back to conflict and total chaos.
In conclusion, one could agree that all concerned countries had different point of views and attitudes towards the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the impacts it would have on Germany and by extension, to Europe. This was likely due to the fact that each of them had gone through the war by different ways, ending up in France being the most severe in its terms concerning what Germany owed it, followed by Great Britain, who had been profoundly injured by the war but still wanted to keep them as future trading partners, and finally followed by the USA, which, after fighting for only a year, thought that the Treaty was too harsh on the Germans. All of these reactions show how hard it was to achieve peace after going through such circumstances. Unfortunately as one knows, peace was not maintained for long, and the Second World War exploded in 1939, implying that the Treaty had flaws which lead to the failure of managing to have peace in Europe, therefore triggering the second total and modern war in History.