P.Shyam Sundar11GThe Treaty of Versailles – Source Based Questions
a) Many historians have viewed the Treaty of Versailles in varied contexts. Some historians support the German claim that the treaty was extremely harsh towards them while others seem to acknowledge the fact that the Treaty was anything but damaging to the Germans, as the Second World War seems to prove. But the most important aspect to focus on in the answering of this question is the concept of nationalism.
Source C is a quotation found in a secondary source in the form of an extract from a speech made by a German MP in 1919. The claim of “inflicting the deepest wounds on us Germans” seems to be supported by Source B. Sources D and E, however, do not share the same viewpoint as the German MP in Source C. The peace treaty that marks the end of any Great War is almost always dictated by the victors; the Treaty of Versailles was no different. Georges Clemenceau of France, Llyod George of Britain and Woodrow Wilson of the USA were the three major players. Clemenceau wanted a harsh Treaty that would cripple Germany both economically and militarily so that she would never be a threat to France again, this aim of his is clearly represented in Clause 160 of Source B. But 100,000 men and 6 battle ships was a mere trifle compared to the extensive armies and rapidly developing technology that the super powers of those days possessed. Germany was left with nothing to defend herself with in case of invasion. Furthermore, the blame for starting the war and all the consequences thereof were fixed on Germany (Article 231). This in many senses was extremely unfair, as all the powers had played a role in the start of the First World War. Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points were totally overshadowed by Clemenceau who succeeded in imposing his aims on the Treaty. Therefore I believe that Source B does adequately support the claim made in Source C.
However, Sources D and E take a completely opposite viewpoint in comparison to Source B. The writers, imminent historians, argue that the Treaty in actual fact did nothing to diminish German power in any way. As the author of Source E notes: “The Treaty of Versailles was not excessively harsh on Germany, either territorially or economically.” Humiliation is always a major part of defeat and defeat was not something that the Germans hoped to conceive in World War 1. They believed that they had to win and dictate terms. The Treaty of Versailles that resulted from their defeat also brought immense humiliation and that strong sense of nationalistic pride. After all, the Treaty was being signed in the very hall that had witnessed the defeat of France in 1871 at the hands of Prussia. This actual defeat that the Treaty of Versailles imposed upon them angered the Germans more than the actual terms of the Treaty. The historian in Source C aptly concludes: “However, the German people were expecting victory and not defeat. It was the acknowledgement of defeat as much as the treaty terms themselves, which they found so hard to accept.”
b) The views expressed in Sources C, D and E are very much different. One must take into account several different factors that combine to produce this discrepancy. Firstly, the authors of Sources D and E are historians and possess something that the German MP in Source C doesn’t and that is hindsight. They have had the opportunity to study the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles in retrospect and have examined the effects on Germany. They have studied the revival of the German economy and the Second World War. Therefore they are in a better position to judge whether or not the Treaty of Versailles was a crippling blow to Germany. The politician in Source C on the other hand is talking on the spur of the moment. The Treaty of Versailles might have been close to completion and the Treaty terms might have seemed a devastating conclusion. The very vision of impending collapse brought on by the treaty might have caused him to lash out in the way that he does.
One other factor that might also play a part in the variation found in the views expressed is bias. After all both of the historians are not German and are said to be British historians and would therefore, however modern their ideas and thoughts might be, be slightly biased towards the British side while dealing with the Treaty of Versailles. Furthermore, the time period in which JAS Grenville’s book was published (1994) is quite distant from the era of the First World War and also from date of publication of Ruth Henig’s book. Therefore his writings might have been influenced by the countless more opinions and analyses, some of which might be biased towards one side or the other.
c)The Treaty of Versailles was the conclusion to the “war to end all wars”, but did the Treaty of Versailles actually serve as a peace treaty or did it only succeed in causing more cracks in the already fissured continent of Europe? The sources all serve as ample supports to the statement that the “foundations for a stable peace had not been laid in 1920.”
Let us start with source A. In this Source, an extract from the speech made by Woodrow Wilson to the US Congress outlining point four of his Fourteen Points, he makes it very clear that in order to achieve world peace the amount of armaments possessed by any country should be restricted to enough weaponry to protect domestic safety. This point is imposed upon Germany in the form of Clause 160 as is proved by Source B. However, the actual inclusion of this point was masterminded entirely by Clemenceau of France whose aim was not towards world peace but towards the military weakening of Germany while France kept her full army strength. This was the worse note that any peace conference could get off to. The reduction of the German Army and weaponry proved to be a major seething point for Hitler, whose major goal, once he established his control over Germany, was to secretly increase his arms in an attempt to hit back at the Treaty of Versailles.
Source B further presses home the humiliation suffered by the German people. The reduction of their once powerful army into mere nothingness by Clause 160, and the imposition of the entire blame for starting the war and the havoc caused by it on Germany, though clause 231, evoked strong nationalistic feelings that were used by Hitler to kindle his war. The hopes carried by Clemenceau that the Treaty of Versailles would ruin the Germans economically and militarily therefore ensuring that they would never be able to challenge France again was shattered by the eruption of the Second World War.
The German MP in Source C, even though he might have been mistaken about the Treaty of Versailles draining the lifeblood of the Germans, symbolizes the detestation of it that all the Germans carried within them. The ridiculous terms and the absurd conditions aroused the Germans’ nationalistic feelings. They felt a bitter hatred within their heart that the once powerful kingdom of the Kaiser had been reduced to shambles and forced to sign the Treaty in the very hall from which it had once emerged victorious in 1871. The peace that the Treaty of Versailles brought to the Germans was no peace at all but the psychological and physical need to get back at the people who forced it upon them.
British historians with the knowledge of hindsight have written both the extracts in sources D and E. They have had the opportunity to study the peace Treaty of Versailles and to judge whether it brought peace. They have gone thorough the Second World War and the way in which Hitler used the Treaty of Versailles to justify his position. They have witnessed the havoc and chaos caused by the Second World War and it’s aftermath. Therefore they are in a much better position to claim that the Treaty of Versailles did not set any foundation for future peace.
From the above sources it is a proven fact that the Treaty of Versailles can be criticized with the statement that “The conditions for a stable peace had not been laid in 1920.” The treaty neither weakened Germany nor did it reconcile Germany; it only succeeded in bringing about further conflict in Europe: the very scenario that it was meant to abolish.