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More detail on the Treaty of Versailles and Germany

The Treaty of Versailles placed full war guilt on Germany, leading to heavy penalties. Germany's military was reduced, union with Austria was forbidden, and colonies were lost. Reparations caused economic strain, leading to hyperinflation and resource extraction. These hardships fueled extreme political parties, setting the stage for World War II. Created by Sal Khan.

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  • winston baby style avatar for user Polythene Pam
    At what point did the allies or the French stop enforcing the restrictions (the 100,000 man army, 50 km. east of Rhine, ect.) thus allowing Germany to militarize once again? Where these gradual changes or did they occur suddenly with the rise of the Third Reich??
    (21 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Philip Andersen
      Most of the major powers had no desire to begin a new war, so they did little to stop Hitler's actions. There is no definable date to identify when the treaty ended, but it was over the course of many years. In addition, most powers were too occupied to help. America was practicing it's policy of isolationism, and the Bolsheviks were busy rebuilding Russia. Britain did not want to involve themselves and France was relatively unable to stop the Germans. Hitler pretty much did what he wanted and nobody had the nerve to stop him.
      (10 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user FinallyGoodAtMath
    Was there any historical precedent for assigning "war guilt" and demanding reparations?
    (14 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Aharon Levi
      Great Question - In the ancient world, often Empires would place a tax or take slaves from a defeated rebellion, as blame for causing trouble or disrupting the peace. The Romans were accustomed to doing this, but, as Reinhard already commented, this is not so different from the victor merely taking whatever it wanted from the vanquished, either money, captives, or land. There was, though, at times a sense of guilt or moral judgement that went along with it.

      In terms of a precedent for the assigning of a moral judgement to the one who started a war (i.e. war guilt) in the modern world- one can look possibly to the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon. Napoleon was carted off into exile and some French territory was taken away. Europe itself was reorganized. Without a question many at the Congress "blamed" France for Napoleon's wars. But it is important to note that the Congress of Vienna did not really "punish" France or penalize it. At the Congress of Vienna the overwhelming concern was maintaining the balance of power. Also, France was an active participant at the Congress and was given a voice in the negotiations. So, as far as I know, it seems post World War I was the first instance in modern times of the victors specifically assigning a type of guilt or moral judgement that was distinct from the maxim "to the victors go the spoils."

      If anyone else has anything else to add to this question of precedence for war guilt, please respond. This is truly a great question, and I am curious if anyone else out there has any insights...
      (17 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Imrahil
    Was there any choice for Germany to not sign the Treaty of Versailles? What would happen if they didn't?
    (8 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Ana
    When did the Germans stop paying reparations? (They're not paying anymore right?)
    (7 votes)
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    • duskpin tree style avatar for user JohnQ.PublicMk.2
      Germany halted paying reparations due to the fact that Hitler took charge, and stopped paying. After WW2, the task of paying the rest of the reparations was taken up by West Germany during the Cold War era, and finally, in 2010, Germany finished paying the last of the war reparations. So yes, the Germans aren't paying reparations anymore, though they stopped a lot later than you probably thought they did.
      (14 votes)
  • starky seedling style avatar for user nn26
    If Germany was forbidden from trading arms, mobilizing troops near the Rhine River...etc. how did they manage to participate in WW II? Did they break the treaty?
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin seed style avatar for user sinkingpaperboat
    Why was France so angry? I mean I understand Germany took Alsace Lorraine but it seems as if France has a lot of demands in the TOV compared to other countries
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Fiona Anstey
      Most of the war was fought on French soil; it saw the demolition of their towns and massacre of their civilians. Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France at the time, wanted revenge in the form of German punishment. He wanted to cripple Germany so they would never be able to invade France again.
      (6 votes)
  • marcimus purple style avatar for user Ashley Su
    What was the purpose of carving out Poland and creating a new independent state?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Samuel948
    Did Germany have to sign the treaty of Versalles?
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Lily Brustkern
    After paying even the small fraction of the reparations that they did, I'm guessing the German government had very little money. I was wondering how Hitler built his powerful modern army with such limited means.
    (4 votes)
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    • starky sapling style avatar for user Nightmare252
      That is a great question. Hitler decided to rebuild the German economy through the 5 year plans which was a massive industrial movement and this sped up the German economy, He reduced the unemployment by giving everyone jobs whether that be in the jobs he created when going from agriculture to industrialization or the jobs created when he build up his military. He also introduced the idea that the reason that Germany's economy sucked was due to the Jews. So in doing this the german people took a while to side with Hitler's extremist views. After they did and once Hitler became the chancellor which is the equivalent of a prime minister, he was able to restore Germany politically and economically and increase his military drastically due to his views of imperialism. I hope this helped and if it doesn't I'd be happy to elaborate more incase you have any questions.
      (3 votes)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Anthony Natoli
    Gee, France really held a forty year grudge with Germany from its humiliating defeat by Germany and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. The humiliated French military even caused the Dreyfus Affair from 1894-1906, to accuse that the innocent Dreyfus, a French Jew from Alsace, of being treasonous and giving French military secrets to the Germans.
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Christian Laube
      That is not really so extraordinary, actually i think the speed with which Germany and France gave up their grudges and started working together after the second World War in a european trade System that would eventually turn into the European Union, after having fougth two verry bloody wars against each other is way more extraordinary.

      And you got to understand what that loss has felt to France, before that war France saw itself as the greatest Nation, i think every Nation does to a point but France did kind of have a point. In the time of the French Monarchy all the other Courts of Europe were trying to imitate the french court, every Aristocrat in europe spoke french, french was and is the language of diplomacy. Then under Napoleon they conquered almost all of Europe, and it did take a Coalition of all major european countries to defeat them. And they had produced a lot of the most influential Thinkers and Artists.

      And then comes this upstart King of Prussia and defeats this great Nation takes a valuable piece of Land and get's the other german Nations to Proclaim him as Emperor and they do that in the old Royal palace at Versailles. So his country becomes an even more dangerous threat.
      I think there have been grudges held for less, And for longer times.
      (6 votes)

Video transcript

Let's go into a little more detail on the Treaty of Versailles. We've already talked about it helping to establish the League of Nations, but particularly with regards to Germany, the biggest aspect of it was its application of war guilt, essentially putting the full blame of the war on Germany. Maybe you could justify it by saying Germany was the most aggressive actor at the beginning of the war declaring war on Russia and France without much provocation, but then the counter-argument would be Austria-Hungary had already declared war on Serbia. Russia had already mobilized, but then the counter-counter-argument, well Germany gave a blank check to Austria, said it would back up Austria no matter what Austria had done. Needless to say, this applied a lot of, the Germans were not happy about being assigned the full blame of war guilt. On top of that, we've already talked about the notion that it really diminished the Treaty of Versailles, really forced the German military to be diminished dramatically down to 100,000 troops, which is really now more of a glorified police force. It was also forbidden from forming a union with Austria. You might say why Austria in particular? Well, Austria is a German-speaking state. You could imagine there's a lot of ethnic affinity or linguistic affinity between Germany and Austria, so this is not allowed according to the Treaty of Versailles. On top of that, Germany loses its colonies. These colonies we've already talked about. These are colonies in Africa, colonies in Asia and colonies in the Pacific. On top of that, we have the reparations. We have the reparations estimated at the equivalent in 2013 terms of about $450 billion US dollars. That doesn't get fully paid, but it still has a huge toll on the German economy, especially because the reparations were not just paid in currency, they were paid in resources. To make sure that they were paid in resources, the allies actually occupied the Saar region, the Saar region right over here which was coal rich, and for the next 15 years, it would ship coal to France. The allies weren't just getting paid in currency, they were getting paid in dollars. This would also have the effect as Weimar Germany, the Weimar Republic, this is the government of Germany after World War I, called the Weimar Republic because its constitution was drafted in the city of Weimar. In order to try to pay the currency portions of the reparations, left the printing presses go free, tries to convert into other currencies, and then you essentially have hyperinflation in Germany through the early '20s, through 1923. On top of that, once this hyperinflation happened and they no longer can pay the reparations, then in order to continue to extract resources from Weimar Germany, France goes ahead and occupies the Ruhr region, which is right about here. It's also very rich in steel and coal, and they began shipping the resources out which was another huge humiliation for the Germans and on top of that, it's crippling the German economy. They're taking all of the main resources out of the German economy. This happened in 1923 as well. The combined effect of one, just the humiliation of World War I, the shipping away of resources, now this occupation of the Ruhr region which was never even part of the already bad Treaty of Versailles, from the German's point of view, this helped bring support for fairly more and more extreme parties in Germany. As you go into the end of 1923, it gave some energy for Hitler's, at the time fairly small national socialist or their Nazis, to attempt a coup d'etat of the government, attempt their Beer Hall Putsch. It ends up failing, but does give a lot of energy to what was before a very marginalized, or very small party, because of this occupation, it allows that party to grow by a significant amount. On top of that, let's talk about the actual territorial losses, all of the territorial losses. You have this little region up here, the north part of east Prussia, at first becomes a French protector according to the Treaty of Versailles, but it's later taken over by Lithuania. We've already talked about this whole region of Germany, of the former German empire that's carved away in order to give it to the new state of Poland. Most of Poland is carved out of the former Russian empire, part is carved out of the former German empire and also part is carved out of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Then you have this region right here inside [Lejon], part of it goes to Poland, part of it goes to Czechoslovakia. You have the famous Alsace Lorraine region right over here, had been a cause of contention between Germany and France for many, many, many years. Now this goes back to France. You have a little piece right over here that goes to Belgium, and then you have the north [slushig] region, goes to Denmark. On top of that, as you can imagine, the diminished troops, the taking resources away, France really wanted to cripple Germany's ability to be able to invade at any future point in time, but on top of that, they also set up a demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. The Rhineland is included both ... The demilitarized zone included the west bank of the Rhine River, all of Germany that was west of the Rhine River, so this entire region right over here, and then it was also occupied by the allies. Germany was also forbidden from militarizing or mobilizing troops anywhere 50 km east of the Rhine River. East of the Rhine River as well. So, you see going out of Treaty of Versailles, every attempt was made to attempt to cripple Germany's war-making abilities. They were forbidden from trading in arms and they couldn't have a lot of many types of offensive weapons. It really was to try to prevent Germany from being able to do what they did in World War I. As we see, in a large degree, it really was maybe a catalyst for giving energy to more extreme elements in Germany and would be one of the things pointing to for Germany's involvement in World War II.