June 28, 1919: Treaty of Versailles Signed




A century ago the Treaty of Versailles was signed.  It turned out to be a twenty year truce prior to the onset of World War II, but none of the signatories of course knew that at the time.  At 198 pages it is a bloated document, never a good sign.  It rambles along for 440 articles.  Go here to glance at it.  Perhaps the man who understood the implications of the Treaty of Versailles best was Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, in 1918 in France and Italy, who thought it was too lenient on Germany.  As the treaty was being signed, he remarked:  “This is not peace. This is an armistice for twenty years.”   Foch died in 1929 at age 77, a decade before he would have learned how much of a prophet he was.


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  1. Foch would only count as a ‘prophet’ if the period running from 1919 to 1939 were an integral whole whose political events didn’t incorporate contingency (and if the resultant problems were derived from being too lenient with Germany). It’s not hard to tick-off the unforced errors which discredited the German political elites and provided a conduit for Hitler (who was a nuisance problem prior to 1930).

  2. Foch understood the maxim that the worst thing you can do with a defeated enemy is to hurt him only enough to give him a strong motive for vengeance. Either make a generous peace, or make sure that adversary can never get off the mat again.

  3. Donald:
    The “generous peace” idea seemed to work with France in 1815, but the Junkers in Prussia (after their victories in the East) might have interpreted it differently. None of the Allies in 1919 had the belly or resources for a really crushing occupation necessary to destroy the Junkers and Germany’s war-making industries. And given the rise of the USSR, would that last have been good idea anyway?

  4. The difficulty I have with that interpretation is that there wasn’t one body blow to Germany, but four:

    They had to sue for peace.
    Precise terms of the treaty.
    Economic disaster, 1922-23
    Economic disaster 1929-33.

    The matrix in which these events occurred included deficiencies in the Weimar constitution and that time bomb planted in 1925: the election of the senile and manipulable Paul v. Hindenburg.

    N.B. the events of 1922-23 were insufficient to generate a large revanchist vote. The Nazis and other volkisch elements were polling at about 6% of the electorate and the National People’s Party was still run by conservatives at that point. Now posit a counterfactual: a devaluation of the currency in 1930 (as Britain did in Sept. 1931 and as the U.S. did in the spring of 1933). The British economy was recovering in 1932 while the German economy continued to implode. Per capita production in Britain for the calendar year 1932 was 6.5% below that of 1929, while Germany’s was 17% below.

    Or, posit the outcome of the wrangling in 1930-33 was a military regime or a more conventional authoritarian regime e.g. that of Pats in Estonia, Svinhufvud in Finland, Horthy in Hungary, or Dollfuss / Schushnigg in Austria.

  5. A similar argument could be made regarding the ‘generous’ peace granted France by the new Empire in 1871; though that armistice lasted twice as long….
    Art, you can’t really equate Dolfuss with those dictators you mentioned. Catholic social teaching was his prime inspiration, not militant nationalism. His assassination put an end to his noble experiment.

  6. I’m not ‘equating’ anything. I’m merely listing authoritarian regimes which were circumspect in their objects, especially in the international sphere. The ideology of the regime varied and some of their methods varied, but that’s not salient for this discussion.

  7. When you mention a group of regimes in one sentence in contrast to a different ‘wrangling’ outcome, you have then equated them. Since I ‘m not a wordsmith of your ability, your distinction stll eludes me, but I take your word.

  8. When you mention a group of regimes in one sentence in contrast to a different ‘wrangling’ outcome, you have then equated them.

    No, you haven’t. You’ve placed them in a particular taxon. A genus has species. The governments in question were not precisely the same. They had features in common salient to the discussion.

  9. They’re in a particular taxon but not precisely the same…?Does not a ‘particular taxon’ lead one to consider they have some sameness about them? Like I said before, I’ll take your latest byzantine word(s) for it….

  10. Does not a ‘particular taxon’ lead one to consider they have some sameness about them?

    Yes, it does, and they did. No clue why you’re trying to dispute that.

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