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Signing the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919

A Lasting Peace

The Treaty of Versailles was controversial even at the time it was signed – very few of the delegates who attended the Paris Peace Conference were entirely happy with the outcome.

Today, it is argued by a number historians that the Treaty led directly to the Second World War. As we approach the centenary of the Treaty and the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, it is important to consider how crucial it is to build a lasting peace. This is often seen as the greatest failure of the First World War.

The Allies were the only attendees at the negotiations, having excluded the Central Powers who had been defeated – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria – which meant they had little-to-no say in the decisions taken, which would directly impact their countries.

German delegates receiving the peace treaty

The Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson, President of the USA, was one of the ‘Big Four’ who made the major decisions of the Treaty, which would then be ratified by the other 32 countries who attended the Paris Peace Conference.

Wilson was determined that the war really would be ‘the war to end all wars’, so before travelling to Europe, he outlined his ‘Fourteen Points’ in a speech on 8th January 1919.

These points included removal of economic barriers, reduction of armaments and open diplomacy. Several of the points looked at territory – redrawing Italian and Balkan boundaries, the division of Austria-Hungary and adjusting colonial claims. His final suggestion was the formation of an association of nations to ensure that territorial integrity and political independence of all states was guaranteed.

Many of Wilson’s points formed the basis of many of the decisions taken – territorial lines drawn in 1919 still exist today. However, both France and Britain felt that reparations were necessary and France, in particular, felt that Wilson’s points were far too lenient in the face of the scale of the loss.

Germany had to surrender around 10% of its prewar territory and all of its overseas possessions, its army and navy were limited in size and Kaiser Wilhelm II and other high-ranking German official were to be tried as war criminals.

Article 231, also known as the ‘war guilt clause’, meant that Germany accepted responsibility for the war and were liable to pay financial reparations to the Allies. All of these conditions were resented by the Germans.

 

The League of Nations

The Covenant of the League of Nations was one of the more popular elements of the Treaty; the loss suffered in the Great War was such that most people welcomed any guarantee that there would be no future wars.

The League of Nations was founded on 10th January 1920 with the main goals of preventing future wars and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration, but the League would prove ineffective against the aggression of the Axis powers and would be unable to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War. Various states withdrew from the League over the years; Germany and Japan in 1933, Italy in 1937 and Spain in 1939.

America never officially joined the League and the Soviet Union only joined for a short time, several years after its inception. By 1939, when war was declared on Germany, the League had failed in its primary objective.

For some, the 20 years between the two wars was just a hiatus – the peace that was built was not sustainable. Today, our armed forces focus on peace-keeping endeavours, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of 1919. Our Tommies help us to continue to commemorate those who fought, educate all generations about the futility of war and the importance of building a lasting peace and to heal those veterans who need support.

With thanks to Forces War Records for the images. Sign up and browse their extensive archive.

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