03 — the Interbellum period pt1

In this unit

  1. The Poisoned Peace of 1919: The Big Three, their aims, and their plans for Germany, Italy’s reaction to ToV, Terms of ToV, its goals, successes + failures
  2. The Good Men: Peace initiatives of the 1920s (while failing to address underlying grievances)
  3. …Doing Nothing: GD and its link to rise of totalitarianism; breakdown of collective security in 1930s

Questions to consider

  1. What were the main causes of WW2? Which factors seem the most important?
  2. In what ways did the peacemaking process at the end of WW2 help create conditions for the Cold War?   

The Poisoned Peace of 1919

When the leaders of the great powers met in Paris in 1919 to sign a peace treaty, proceedings were dominated by the Big Three: Lloyd George (Britain), Clemenceau (France), and Wilson (USA). Italy’s representative, Orlando, could not speak English and was sidelined, while Russia was not even invited to the Paris Peace Conference.

  • The leaders of the Central Powers were invited, but they could not negotiate terms; all they could do was sign the peace treaties
  • The main issue was the treatment of Germany in order to create a lasting peace; the Big Three had different approaches to this:
Wilson wanted to treat Germany leniently, since harsh treatment could result in a desire for revenge, and another war; a fair, lasting peace would prevent this. He wanted the Paris Peace Conference to create a more open, democratic world, with his Fourteen Points as a guiding principle (particularly its idea of national self- determination); he also wanted the League of Nations to play a major role in international peacekeeping.Lloyd George wanted to balance harsh and lenient treatment. He had promised his voters to make Germany pay dearly, yet he wanted Germany to be healthy enough to help postwar reconstruction; she would of course be weaker than Britain, but strong enough to keep France in check. Lloyd George’s vision for lasting peace was a stable balance of power in Europe, involving Germany just as much as the other great powers.Clemenceau wanted to treat Germany harshly, as revenge for German invasions of France in 1870 and 1914. His vision for Germany involved crippling reparations, severe disarmament, and seizing German land and colonies — this would remove the possibility of a future German threat. He even wanted to dissolve Germany into a collection of small states (as was the case before 1871).
  • In the end the Big Three leaned toward Clemenceau’s vision, though they also agreed to implement many of Wilson’s policies
  • The resulting Treaty of Versailles (dealing specifically with Germany) called for:
    • Disarmament → the Germany Army would be reduced to fewer than 100,000 men (no conscripts), while the Navy would be severely reduced; the Airforce would be disbanded
    • Loss of German land → some 11% of German land would be seized and given to her neighbours (Alsace-Lorraine would be returned to France)
    • The Rhineland to be made into a demilitarised zone
    • The outlawing of any future union between Germany and Austria
    • Loss of colonies → these would be divided up among the Big Three (many of them went to Britain)
    • War guilt clause → Germany was forced to admit responsibility for all damage suffered by the Allies during the war
    • Reparations → Having accepted war guilt, Germany was to compensate the Allied powers for the cost of the war, amounting to some £6.6 billion (paid in annual instalments)
    • Creation of the League of Nations as an international peacekeeping body
  • In addition the ToV awarded only some of the land promised to Italy by the 1915 Treaty of London (one of the Fourteen Points outlawed secret treaties); this caused great bitterness and resentment in Italy 
  • Japan had proposed a racial equality clause among member states of the League of Nations, but this was rejected; this was a source of humiliation and resentment for Japan
  • Germany was outraged by the ToV’s clauses, claiming that it was a harsh diktat; Germany’s bitter resentment festered for decades afterward, creating a desire for revenge
  • In addition, the Paris Peace Conference:
    • Settled peace treaties concerning the other members of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria)
    • Redrew the map of Europe by creating new nations from land seized from the defeated powers, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, all in the name of national self-determination. These were often small, weak, and dependent on the League of Nations, and became a source of resentment for the defeated powers (particularly Germany, who decried the fact that national self-determination was denied to the many Germans who now found themselves living under foreign governments)

Europe, 1915Europe, 1919
  1. Using the two maps above, identify three major changes in the borders of Europe between 1915 and 1919.
  2. How was national self-determination applied in the changes to the map of Europe in 1919? Identify two examples.
  3. How was national self-determination applied unevenly in 1919? Explain your answer. 


British cartoon, 1919 German cartoon, 1919

German cartoon, 1919. The man in the middle represents Germany, surrounded by the Big Three.



British cartoon, 1919

“The historian will probably think we were very stupid men. I think we were. We came to Paris confident that a new world order was about to be established; we left it convinced that the new world order had destroyed the old. We arrived determined that a peace of justice and wisdom should be negotiated: we left knowing that the treaties imposed were neither just nor wise… Hypocrisy was the predominant and inescapable result… We agreed to impose on others a system which we would never agree to apply to ourselves.”

— H Nicolson (a British delegate at the Paris Peace Conference)
“This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”
— Ferdinand Foch (French general, 1919)
“We had been ready to make reparations for the wrong done by our leaders. But now Wilson has broken his word. An undying hate is in the heart of every German. So we say this: ‘We shall hate our conquerors with a hatred that will only cease when the day of our revenge comes again.’
attributed to Berliners, 1920
“Today we know that World War II began not in 1939 or 1941 but in the 1920’s and 1930’s when those who should have known better persuaded themselves that they were not their brother’s keeper.”
— HH Humphrey (American politician)
“Bad men need nothing more to achieve their ends, than that good men look on and do nothing.”
— JS Mill (English thinker)

Continue to part 2

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