The Versailles Treaty
Digital History ID 1159
H.G. Wells called it “the war to end all wars.” But just two decades after World War I concluded, a second world war erupted in Europe. Ironically, the treaty that ended World War I helped plant the seeds for the new conflict.
President Woodrow Wilson had called for a peace without victory, and in his Fourteen Points, set out an idealistic framework for post-war peace. His call for “self-determination” raised the hopes of many ethnic minorities. But at the Paris Peace Conference, idealism collided with ignorance and national self-interest and the resulting treaty was the product of a curious combination of high ideals and cynical compromises. Wilson’s vision of a strong international organization—a League of Nations—failed to win the backing of the U.S. Senate and lacked the power to preserve the peace.
One of the major tasks facing the negotiators was determining what to do about the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman Empires, as well as China. The Versailles Conference redrew the map in ways that carried vast consequences for the future. It placed large numbers of German speakers outside of Germany. It created new countries containing a variety of conflicting ethnic groups, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, as well as Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Yugoslavia. And it gave a portion of China to a Japan.
At the peace conference, the British Prime Minister Lloyd George warned his fellow leaders: "You may strip Germany of her colonies, reduce her armaments to a mere police force and her navy to that of a fifth-rate power; all the same in the end if she feels that she has been unjustly treated in the peace of 1919 she will find ways of exacting retribution from her conquerors." He was right. As a consequence of the treaty, Germany lost 13 percent of its territory and 10 percent of its population. A punitive peace helped to bring about World War II. The onerous reparations imposed on Germany, combined with the seizure of German territory and the requirement that Germany accept guilt for causing the war, helped to create the sense of grievance that would bring Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to power. It is a haunting irony that in 1940, in the very rail car where the armistice ending World War I was signed, Hitler abrogated the Versailles Peace Treaty.
Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.
Article 42. Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications either on the left bank of the Rhine or on the right bank to the west of a line drawn 50 kilometres to the East of the Rhine.
Article 45. As compensation for the destruction of the coal mines in the north of France and as part payment towards the total reparation due from Germany for the damage resulting from the war, Germany cedes to France in full and absolute possession, with exclusive right of exploitation, unencumbered and free from all debts and charges of any kind, the coal mines situated in the Saar Basin....
Article 49. Germany renounces in favor of the League of Nations, in the capacity of trustee, the government of the territory defined above.
At the end of fifteen years from the coming into force of the present Treaty the inhabitants of the said territory shall be called upon to indicate the sovereignty under which they desire to be placed.
AlsaceLorraine. The High Contracting Parties, recognizing the moral obligation to redress the wrong done by Germany in 1871 both to the rights of France and to the wishes of the population of Alsace and Lorraine, which were separated from their country in spite of the solemn protest of their representatives at the Assembly of Bordeaux, agree upon the following....
Article 51. The territories which were ceded to Germany in accordance with the Preliminaries of Peace signed at Versailles on February 26, 1871, and the Treaty of Frankfort of May 10, 1871, are restored to French sovereignty as from the date of the Armistice of November 11, 1918.
The provisions of the Treaties establishing the delimitation of the frontiers before 1871 shall be restored.
Article 119. Germany renounces in favor of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights and titles over her overseas possessions.
Article 156. Germany renounces, in favour of Japan, all her rights, title and privileges . . . which she acquired in virtue of` the Treaty concluded by her with China on March 6, 1898, and of all other arrangements relative to the Province of Shantung.
Article 159. The German military forces shall be demobilised and reduced as prescribed hereinafter
Article 160. By a date which must not be later than March 31, 1920, the German Army must not comprise more than seven divisions of infantry and three divisions of cavalry.
After that date the total number of effectives in the Army of the States constituting Germany must not exceed 100,000 men, including officers and establishments of depots. The Army shall be devoted exclusively to the maintenance of order within the territory and to the control of the frontiers.
The total effective strength of officers, including the personnel of staffs, whatever their composition, must not exceed four thousand....
Article 231. The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.
Article 232. The Allied and Associated Governments recognize that the resources of Germany are not adequate, after taking into account permanent diminutions of such resources which will result from other provisions of the present Treaty, to make complete reparation for all such loss and damage.
The Allied and Associated Governments, however, require, and Germany undertakes, that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property during the period of the belligerency of each as an Allied or Associated Power against Germany.
Source: The Treaty of Versailles and After: Annotations of the Text of the Treaty (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1944).
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