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In this lesson, we will examine the Treaty of Versailles. We will explore the treaty’s negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, take a look at the treaty’s terms, and discuss Germany’s reaction to the treaty.

The End of World War I

The armistice that ended World War I went into effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.

After four and a half years, the war was finally over, but the results remained. Devastation was everywhere. People’s homes and lands were destroyed. Large areas of France had been reduced to rubble. Cities, like Flanders and Ypres in Belgium, were nearly wiped off the map.The war’s human toll was even more devastating.

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Millions of soldiers for the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, and the United States were killed, wounded, or missing. The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria lost even more men. Countless civilians also lost their lives or loved ones. Now, in 1918, the Allied Powers emerged victorious, and they were ready to make Germany pay.

Peace Negotiations

The Paris Peace Conference opened on January 18, 1919, with the goal of developing a treaty that would punish Germany and meet the goals of the various Allied Powers.

Negotiating the treaty, which would be known as the Treaty of Versailles, was a long and complex process. At first, the Council of Ten, consisting of the heads of state and foreign ministers of ten Allied Powers, tried to hammer out a deal. The Council soon proved to be too large, and its members had too many conflicting opinions.

By March, the treaty negotiations were being handled by the Big Four, namely, the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy. Italy soon dropped out of the process when its representative became angry that his demands for more territory were rejected.Only the Big Three were left: the United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson; Great Britain, led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George; and France, led by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. Each of these men had a different view of what peace should look like and how Germany should be treated.

Wilson was interested in building a world trade network, avoiding war in the future, proposing his Fourteen Points for a better world, and avoiding harsh treatment of Germany. George was also looking ahead to potential world trade, but he wanted Germany to pay reparations. Clemenceau, whose country suffered some of the worst damage during the war, desired large-scale reparations from Germany and a demilitarized zone between France and Germany in case of future German aggression.

The Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

After months of debate and lots of hard work, the Big Three created a treaty with the following provisions:

  • German responsibility – According to the treaty’s ‘War Guilt Clause,’ Germany had to claim total responsibility for starting the war.
  • Reparations – Germany was required to pay damages for wartime destruction. The treaty does not specify a sum, but rather gives the Allied Powers a blank check, allowing them to decide on an amount later on.

  • Territory – Parts of German territory were transferred to France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and Denmark. Germany also lost control of its overseas colonies.
  • Military restrictions – The German military was restricted to 100,000 soldiers. The Germans were not allowed to have tanks, armed aircraft, or poison gas. They could not import or export weapons.

    The German navy was also limited to 15,000 men and a few ships.

  • Occupation of Rhineland – Rhineland, in southern Germany, would be occupied by Allied troops for fifteen years.
  • The League of Nations – The treaty created the League of Nations as an international organization to maintain world peace in the future by mediating disputes between nations.

    It would also tackle other global issues like drug trafficking, world health, and labor. The Allied Powers were tired of war, and they wanted to avoid it completely in the future. They hoped the League of Nations would be strong enough to help them do so.

Germany’s Reaction

Germany was not allowed to take part in the treaty’s development. Its delegation left the Paris Peace Conference early on, knowing that their concerns and goals would never be taken into consideration. When German officials learned the terms of the treaty, they were horrified.

The ‘War Guilt Clause’ was especially distasteful, for it brought dishonor upon their country. German Foreign Minister, Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, best expressed the German view when he said, ‘we know the full brunt of hate that confronts us here. You demand from us to confess that we were the only guilty party of war; such a confession in my mouth would be a lie.’Even though the Germans hated ‘The Diktat,’ as they called the treaty, there was very little they could do to change it. Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann resigned rather than sign it, and President Friedrich Ebert looked to the military for a solution. He asked the commanders if Germany could defend itself against a renewed Allied attack. The answer was a resounding, ‘No!’ There was nothing left to do but sign the treaty.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles near Paris. Delegates from 27 countries signed the treaty. Germany, very hesitantly and very unwillingly, signed it first.

Lesson Summary

In summary, the Treaty of Versailles left the world with a shaky peace. The Paris Peace Conference was over.

The Treaty of Versailles, with its provisions of reparations, lost territory, military restrictions, Rhineland’s occupation, and the League of Nations, was signed, sealed, and delivered. The treaty’s major players, the Big Three, Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau, had gone home. But all was not well.

The Germans greatly resented their wounded honor, and they didn’t appreciate the financial hardships caused by the prescribed reparations, which amounted to millions of dollars. The German economy faltered and its people suffered. The stage was set for a new leader, someone charismatic, someone who could make Germany feel proud again, someone who knew all the right things to say, someone like Adolf Hitler.

Learning Outcomes

When this video lesson is done, you should be able to:

  • Determine the principal players of the Treaty of Versailles
  • Describe the stifling conditions of the treaty
  • Identify how this treaty set Germany up to accept Hitler

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