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Paris Peace Conference and Treaty of Versailles

KC‑7.3.II.C (KC)
Unit 7: Learning Objective F
WOR (Theme)

Video transcript

As we've already seen, the end of fighting in World War I, or I guess we have the end of fighting in World War I at the end of 1918. In 1919 it's time to talk about the terms for peace. This happens at the Paris Peace Conference. At this conference, you have all the parties of all the major warring parties, but the terms of peace are dictated by the winners. The major powers among the winners are led by these gentlemen right over here. This is Prime Minister Lloyd George of the UK, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States. They come to the Paris Peace Conference with very different outlooks of what the peace should look like. We already learned about President Wilson's "Fourteen Points". It was very idealistic. It talked about making the world safe for democracy, how people should determine their own fate, how we should have the self-determination, the end of empires, free trade, creating a League of Nations so that you can avoid things like World War I again. The European side was not quite as idealistic, especially the French. As you can imagine, the U.S. lost a lot of soldiers in World War I, but the French lost a significant fraction of their adult males in World War I. The ugly western front was fought in their country, so they were much more eager to make Germany pay for what it's done. The terms of the treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Treaty of Versailles, it's important to note, is only one of several treaties that came out of the Paris Peace Conference. It tends to get the most attention because it was a treaty with Germany, Treaty of Versailles, and many people blame it for being part of the cause for World War II. It so humiliated Germany that it was so unacceptable, that it allowed a character like Hitler to come along and lead Germany back into war. The Treaty of Versailles was the treaty with Germany . You have other treaties; with the Austrians and now since the Austro-Hungarian empire is being broken up, the Hungarians, the Ottomans, so on and so forth. The Treaty of Versailles did several things. First, this was kind of in line especially with the French-thinking, is it assigned the guilt to Germany ... So war guilt. War guilt for Germany. And depending on where you view, you could view this as a fairly strong thing. The argument for saying Germany is responsible for the war is in late July, early August of 1914, it didn't take much for Germany to declare war on Russia, then on France, and then invade Belgium. This was literally a matter of days. It was pretty clear that Germany was already mobilized to do this, it was eager to do this, and it did do this without much provocation. At that point, it was really just based on Russian mobilization. Those who would argue this was a little strong, would say Germany definitely played a role in the war, in maybe escalating the war, but it didn't start the war. You have the assassination of the Archduke of Franz Ferdinand, of Austro-Hungary. It was supported by elements in Serbia. Then you have the Austro-Hungarians who put out these very hard terms to the Serbians, bring these people to justice immediately, otherwise we're declaring war. It seemed like they wanted to declare war. They do declare war in July of 1914. The Russians, they don't let that be a little regional conflict, the Russians decide to start mobilizing, giving the Germans the pretext to justify their invasions, to kind of trigger this blank check that they've given the Austro-Hungarians. There's a lot of blame that could go around, but the Treaty of Versailles places it with Germany. This justifies the rationale to make Germany pay for the war. This leads to reparations ... Reparations for Germany, which is essentially is like, "Look, Germany, you don't have to pay the ally powers for all of their lost, especially their losses to their economy due to the fact that you are guilty of starting of this war guilt." The reparations were not just in paper currency, the reparations were in gold, in resources. It was a very tangible reparations. It's an interesting question because these reparations are often referred to when people talked to, these were disabling reparations. They brought the German economy down. It is an open question. They were large. In modern dollars, the estimates I've seen, they were approximately $400 billion in 2013 money. That is a very, very large number, but it's not a huge number for a reasonably-sized economy like Germany. Although the economy was in bad shape at the end of World War I. It's not clear whether it by itself would have debilitated their economy. More likely, or if you were to think it's a cause, it's more the humiliation of it, that generations of Germans, many of them; 10, 20, 30 years in the future, had nothing to do with World War I, would be continuing to pay reparations to the allies. So there's a question of its impact on the economy and there's just the question of how humiliating it was. As we go, the reparations only last for about 10 years and Germany pays the equivalent of about $60 billion in modern terms, $60 billion in 2013 dollars. That's equivalent to about $5 billion in 1920 money. On top of the reparations, the allies were not interested in fighting another war with Germany, although ironically, by having very harsh terms of the treaty, they might have triggered the next war in World War II, The Rise of Hitler. Since they didn't want to have another war with Germany, they essentially limited the German army to 100,000 men, which is a very small army, as we've seen in many of the battles. You had battles with 400,000 or 500,000 men, so this is pretty much just like a police force, it's not really an army. They weren't allowed any longer to have submarines, U-boats, any kind of heavy military equipment, artillary, heavy artillary, military airplanes, battleships of any kind. It was really just a scaffold of an army so that there wouldn't be another, or they hoped there would not be, another German invasion. On top of that, Germany was stripped of territory. ... Territory ... Some of that was directly in Germany. Poland was carved out of part of the German empire. This is the new Poland that's carved out out of the Paris Peace Conference. You see right over here, it cuts Germany into two pieces. East Prussia is still part of Germany, but it's all by itself right out here. Poland is cut out, Germany loses Alsace-Lorraine, which it captured in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian war. Mineral-rich region, the French had been eager to get it back. The Germans, actually that was one of their arguable justification why they wanted to premptively attack France, because they knew that France was eager to capture it back at some point in the future. On top of that, Germany lost its colonies. Germany was nowhere near as big of an empire as the British or even the French, it was actually a fairly new country formed in 1871, but it did have an empire. It had colonies in southwest Africa, I'll do this in darker colors, actually throughout Africa and had colonies in the Pacific. It even had a colony in China. All of that was then given over to the allies. The big idea, from the Treaty of Versailles, is that, most historians would say it was really kind of sticking it to the Germans. The Germans felt it was humilating and one could argue that it led to some of the extremism that we'll see in the next few decades of Germany. The one win that Woodrow Wilson was able to get out the Treaty of Versailles, is it did set up the League of Nations. The League of Nations. The irony here is that the US does not ratify the Treaty of Versailles because it's suspicious of these kind of extra national organizations. It actually wasn't happy with some of the territorial distribution, that it was just giving it from empire to another as opposed to having self-determination. The US was not actually a signatory, it did not actually sign the treaty. It did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles. Regardless of that, the Treaty of Versailles had a huge impact in sticking it to the Germans. On top of that, the Paris Peace Conference, as we've already said, had various treaties with the other central powers and some of the, and I'm not going to go into detail on what happened, especially the Ottoman Empire, that's worth another video, but the big effect on the Austro-Hungarian Empire is that it essentially is not an empire anymore. It was split up into various countries. Austria was set up as a separate country. Actually the Treaty of Versailles, in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany is forbidden from in any way merging with Austria, a German-speaking country. You have Hungary becoming a separate state. You have a new state of Czechoslovakia. You have a new state of Yugoslavia. All of a sudden, the trigger of World War I, the desire of having this unified southern Slavik state is now becoming a reality. You have Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia ... and Slovenia are taken out of the Austro-Hungarian empire. You have a major redrawing of the map of Europe. Some of these new nations here in eastern Europe are out of the old Russian empire. They were able to declare their independence, some of it short-lived before becoming satellite states or becoming part of the USSR, but they had their short-lived independence after the fall of the Russian empire. The map of Europe is dramatically changed due to the Paris Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles, the fall of the Russian empire, the other treaties that were outcomes of World War I.