1920: Treaty of Versailles – After the war is before the war

By Hermann Ploppa.

It has been more than a hundred years since the „Peace Treaty“ of Versailles came into force on 10 January 1920. Even after a hundred years, this treaty and its consequences can still cause feelings to run high in those born after it. The Treaty of Versailles stated that Germany was found to be solely responsible for the First World War. For this reason, Germany was to deliver an astronomical amount of money and immense contributions in kind to Great Britain and France over many decades. In addition, Germany was to cede parts of its national territory to its neighbouring countries.

All this was regulated in the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on 28 June 1919.

Was the Treaty of Versailles even a real treaty?

That can be negated. Because a contract is concluded between two equal parties after free negotiations. Thus, after the defeat of Napoleonic France at the Vienna Conference in 1815, the representative of the losing nation, Talleyrand, was admitted as an equal negotiating partner. Talleyrand was able to negotiate favorable arrangements for France at the negotiating table.

When the President of the USA, Woodrow Wilson, signaled to Europe in the final phase of the First World War that Germany could expect fair negotiations in the event of a ceasefire, he was credible. Thus, on November 11, 1918, a German delegation concluded an armistice treaty with the representatives of Great Britain and France. The Germans now expected an invitation to the peace negotiations, which were to take place in Paris. However, when the heads of state of the USA, Great Britain, France and Italy opened the negotiations in Paris, the German delegation was placed under house arrest in a Parisian hotel. Access to the negotiating rooms was out of the question. The German delegation only learned piecemeal about the negotiations there. The Germans were only able to comment on the matter in writing. As the accused, the German civil politicians were led through a cordon of war-disabled people in order to hear the verdict. The civilian German politicians were humiliated here and had to assume political responsibility for a defeat for which they were not responsible. Politicians were brought forward as accused, peoples who had fought against the war of their military junta under Ludendorff. Obviously, the victorious powers were also interested in burning a deadly stigma on the forehead of the new democratic government in order to promptly break the neck of the young German democracy.

By the way, the sentence was pronounced in the Hall of Mirrors of the Castle of Versailles, several kilometers outside the gates of Paris. A cleverly chosen location. King Louis XIV reigned here with absolute power. He even said: „I am the state!“ The highly praised German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who, after the victory of the German troops over France in 1871, had the re-establishment of the German Empire sealed with the imperial coronation of William the First of Hohenzollern in this Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, so sacred to the French. Bismarck wanted to humiliate no-holds-barred the „Gallic Rooster“, as he used to say, with this action. After all, it was Bismarck who imposed draconic peace terms on subjugated France, which, as the Iron Chancellor of Blood and Sword said, were to leave the French only their two eyes left to „weep over their losses“.
We reap what we sow. As a result of Bismarck’s brazen behaviour towards France, the French government wanted to pay back the Germans for this excess by humiliating and degrading the German civil politicians who had no part in the defeat in this hall of mirrors at Versailles.

On the side of the victorious powers, the USA, Great Britain and France, there was quite vehement opposition to the dictated peace terms of Versailles, with far-reaching political consequences in the countries themselves. The astute critic on the English side was the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes was part of the negotiating delegation as an envoy of the British Treasury and had access to the innermost circles. When Keynes failed to get through with his warnings against the excesses of the Allied demands on Germany, he resigned from his post and alarmed the world public with his book: *“The Economic Consequences of the Peace „. Keynes first gives us insight into the atmosphere at these secret negotiations. The autistic centre of attention is the American President Woodrow Wilson. What expectations preceded this history professor from the American South on his way to Europe! In Paris, he passed through crowds of people as the acclaimed Messiah on his way to the negotiating venue. With his famous Fourteen Points, Wilson had awakened hope for peace in Europe. The peoples were to be able to shape their destiny freely and self-determined in the future. A League of Nations was to defuse conflicts before they could lead to war. And now Wilson sat around silently and did absolutely nothing. Instead, suspicious figures scurried around the negotiating tables. The old men of the French delegation live in the past and are seeking revenge for the disgrace of 1871. The British and French, in turn, want to squeeze gigantic assets out of Germany in the form of so-called reparations. Because France and Great Britain have taken on massive debts with American banks during the course of the far too long war which they now somehow have to pay off. The German people are supposed to pay for it. Through cash and in-kind contributions. And they want to take the most attractive territory in Germany. John Maynard Keynes believes that all this has very little to do with a peace settlement. Have the makers of the treaties no awareness at all that the Versailles dictatorship will lead straight into mass misery, chaos and ultimately into a new war? This so-called „peace treaty“ will lead directly to a new war in twenty years, warns Keynes. Keynes believes that instead of withdrawing immense funds from the defeated countries, it is necessary to pump in loans and other start-up aid so that the states can get back on their feet.

Obviously, many people in the USA and Great Britain saw this in exactly the same way as Keynes. After all, his book became a bestseller. In 1920, when a new government was elected in the United States, Warren Gamaliel Harding of the Republican opposition won the presidency, and the Republicans also scored a landslide victory in Congress. The new president promised to return to normality and sign a separate treaty of his own with Germany. The Washington Congress flatly rejected the Treaty of Versailles, and the United States did not join the League of Nations created by its former President Wilson. In the course of the 1920s, American banks followed the Keynesian advice and put together a credit package for Germany, which was then to be known as the Dawes Plan of 1924, which was to take German society under American control much more subtly than all the robbery contracts and annexations of the British and French before.

And the reaction in Germany? The civil authorities, the Reich government and parliament, but also Emperor William II, had been gradually pushed into the background during the war. Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff kept Germany in check and ruled autocratically as a military junta. Ludendorff had virtually forced the German defeat with his insane strategy. By ordering an unconditional submarine war against all ships in the Atlantic, Ludendorff had provided the basis for the USA’s entry into the European war. He had turned the potential allies from the new Bolshevik Russian government against himself with outrageous demands in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. After his new strategy had failed miserably on the Western front, Ludendorff came up with the perfidious idea of shirking responsibility in September 1918. From now on, in this hopeless situation, a government of the Reich legitimized by parliament was to pull out the cart Ludendorff had driven into the mud. Ludendorff disappeared to Sweden with a forged passport and only reappeared in Germany when the air was clear. Now, on 11 November 1918, the new Minister of Finance, Erzberger, who had absolutely nothing to do with the course of the war, was allowed to sign the armistice in the railway carriage in Compiègne, France, in place of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, flanked by two relatively insignificant generals from the German army and navy.

And here too, France’s defeat in 1871 is repeated, this time with reversed signs: in 1871, the French elite had completely run out of money, and citizens‘ committees took over administration and order in Paris. The French elites crawled under Bismarck’s wing and had over 30,000 Parisian citizens slaughtered with German money and ammunition. Now 1918: here too the total bankruptcy of the previous military-political elites was obvious. Also in Germany the citizens began to organize themselves. Now the German elites crawled under the wings of the British and French. The German businessman Karl Helfferich collected 500 million Reichsmark for the anti-Bolshevist fund and had traumatized and humiliated soldiers turned into a killer troop that piled up terrible piles of corpses as Freikorps units during the young Weimar Republic. The so-called Kapp Putsch 1920 was almost certainly controlled by the English intelligence agency and was intended to replace the Weimar democracy with a military dictatorship. Politicians who opposed the dictatorship of Versailles and tried to establish a sovereign Germany together with the Soviet Union were murdered or seriously injured by henchmen of the Helfferich units. These are just a few examples of many: Finance Minister Erzberger, Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau and Philipp Scheidemann. In an absurd reversal of the facts, it was then spread that these men had been attacked because they were „fulfillment politicians“: they had therefore been particularly zealous in supporting the Versailles dictate.

However, there was indeed a „fulfillment politician“ who vigorously pushed through the intentions of the Versailles Treaty: a Munich politician named Adolf Hitler. One of the most controversial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles was the handover of Austrian South Tyrol to Italy. In his book „Mein Kampf“, Hitler explicitly demands the handover of South Tyrol to Italy. Hitler also pleads for the subordination of Germany to the British Empire. In 1934, under Hitler’s dictatorship, an important agenda point was finally fulfilled: Germany joins a union of Great Britain, Italy and France as a junior partner of England. From there, only five years passed, after which John Maynard Keynes‘ prediction came true: as is well known, the next great war began in 1939.

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Thanks to the author for the right to publish.

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Picture reference: Everett Historical / Shutterstock

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