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The Treaty of Versailles

 
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2018 11:07 am    Post subject: The Treaty of Versailles Reply with quote

We are approaching the hundred year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and I think it is apposite to consider just how disastrous an effect this has had on the course of history as its effects rippled down the years to effectively create the world we inhabit today.

Born of a loose confederation of 25 Germanic states in 1871 [with Prussia the dominant member] Germany was very much the victim of an existential insecurity born of a history of invasion and subjugation stretching back hundreds of years into its past. This insecurity was one factor in the rise of the 'romantic' movement in the arts, a harking to the almost deified nature of 'the Land' and a natural environment in which the Germanic peoples would ultimately achieve the security so long denied them by centuries of attrition. [From this we see the natural progression to Blut und Boden Blood and Soil which was to find such fertile ground later in the pre-Nazi and Nazi era]. As a result of this insecurity [or partly at least] Germany became signatory to an ever complex web of treaties and counter-treaties that, when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand eventually set a match to the tinder-box of alliances formed thereby, precipitated the First World War.

The victory of the Allies over the Central Powers is well known - but less well understood is the resentment that this caused amongst the people of Germany in general and the returning soldiers in particular. The prevailing feeling amongst the latter in particular was that "We were never beaten and were more than willing to fight on until the end!" For the people, the armistice was in the popular view signed by the politicians in opposition to the desires of the generals - a 'selling down the river' and an insult to every fallen German soldier who had given up his life in good faith that he was fighting a just war that would be prosecuted until Germany emerged victorious. In addition to this, it was believed that the victorious Allies would honour their promise that, should Germany agree to the surrender, there would be no harsh reparations or exorbitant costs exacted in revenge for the conflict.

The reality turned out to be very different. The Treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919 contained huge levels of territorial and other penalties, including reparations designed to cripple the German economy for decades to come. Against this backdrop and the overwhelming resentment it caused [for which Woodrow Wilson was largely seen to be at blame, though in fact it was French demands that fuelled most of the harshest measures], the populace turned its back to rebuilding its shattered state with typical sang-froid, even in the face of occupation and the stripping of their most valuable assets. There was crowing in the victorious countries at the swinging degree of punishment that was to be inflicted upon the defeated Germany. Conservative politician and businessman Sir Eric Geddes had the following to say on the matter. "The Germans, if this government is returned, are going to pay every penny! They are going to be squeezed, as a lemon is squeezed, until the pips squeak." His only doubt, he added, was not so much as to whether they could squeeze hard enough, but as to whether there was enough juice to be worth the effort. Maynard Keynes was horrified by the treaty, rightly predicting that it would lay the foundations for the next war in Europe and even Wilson himself worried that exacting too harsh penalties from Germany might fuel the rise of extremism.

Thus in the face of this brutal and debilitating raft of penalties, the rise of a populist voice - albeit a lone one - who [Farage like] promised to "Take Back Control" and [Trump like] "Make Germany Great Again" - was music to the peoples ears. When within ten years of its economy undergoing total collapse, Germany had under Hitler's Chancellorship [though in fact most credit should really go to Weimar Republic Chancellor Gustav Stressman] risen to be the third biggest industrial power in the world, Hitler and his National Socialist program had taken on an almost God-like status in the peoples eyes.

There is no need for me to go into the cost that that transformation would exact from the world in the coming decades - and the costs that we bear still. But perhaps one of the greatest unsung ones is what we as a world have lost in not being able to look on Germany and it's history without the prism of the holocaust to see through. Germany, by all accounts was [and no doubt is] a wonderful place; there was a medieval tranquillity - an air of clean honesty and vibrancy about the place that drew people to return again and again, and even in the face of the obvious and serious difficulties they saw developing, to believe that this was a people who would always turn to the best. The Holocaust has cost the world more than the tragedy of the Lost [though God Knows, that would be enough!] it has placed a stain upon humanity that sits before our vision every day. Would that those Leaders who gathered in Versailles through 1919 had given what they were doing a little more thought and shown a little more humanity; how different a place might the world be now?
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2018 11:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pete, When I started to read this I was thinking "but, but but!" and then you wrapped it into a bow with your sentiment at what a little more humanity may have meant.
The Germans by 1918 were on their knees. They had no food, and no line of credit available to them from anyone who could deliver as they were surrounded.
The losses were huge, we know. The Germans suffered over 7 million casualties. This at a time when Bonaparte died only a hundred years ago when everything was horsedrawn and most battles or wars were done in little time. The cavalry was widely regarded by most European powers as the most potent military weapon less than20 years prior. War was still a great big adventure before WW1.
Those losses and the impact it would have on the Germans was perhaps overlooked because of the same massive pain and loss suffered namely by the Russians, French and then British. This would make it difficult for any argument to go easy on the Germans.
You are right though, as history shows that the Treaty of Versailles and its restraining scope laid the foundation for a passionate upstart to capture the imagination of a proud nation desperate to rebuild. The returned soldiers from WW1 encouraged their children to stand up and fight for their country under this new "peoples' leadership where they had what proved to be an incompetent Kaiser before.
Had the Germans stuck specifically to their Schlieffen Plan things may have been very different. There were still moments late in the game of WW1 where it could have gone either way.
Germans always were and are a proud people. So many things were done in Germany despite the Treaty in such a short time in the lead up to 1939, that only an extremely smart, skilled, well oiled and disciplined machine could produce. What a terrible toll to count from 1939.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 04, 2018 5:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Kizza!

I'm interested in your 'buts' Smile (errr.......... Wink ) Kizza and would be grateful if you could briefly expand upon them. I'm no historian and the above account is pretty much what I've pulled together from disparate sources I've encountered over time and is by no means authoritative. I've just read a book called Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd which details the eyewitness accounts of ordinary people, tourists, diplomats, business visitors etc traveling in Germany in the interwar period up to the outbreak of ww2. The book is a real eye-opener, at least in part serving to briefly lift the prismatic glasses of historical hindsight to see how the country was seen without the overbearing knowledge of what was to come influencing ones thinking. One of the more surprising things to emerge was, despite the pride you mention above, how desperate (not to big a word) the people were, both at an individual and a national level for acceptance. This was exhibited at every level of society, from the welcome hospitality shown to the most meagre of traveller up to the fawning honour bestowed upon official visitors of any colour. For all the pride there was a sort of national inferiority complex that had the nation screaming out to be liked.

It's a terrible thing to have to admit to Kizza, but in these times (I mean today, not then) I'm almost afraid to post on this topic for fear of drawing the accusation of being a nazi apologist or anti-Semite, but there is another aspect of this story that while in no way excuses the terrible, terrible events that were to come, at least puts them somewhat more into context. Toward this end I think it worth noting that contrary to our view today, in the interwar years both across the European mainland and in the UK itself, democracy was not held in high regard. The 'benefits' of a more dictatorial system in instilling order and progress were not seen with the wisdom of historical hindsight that we have today, and the British aristocracy was almost to a man sympathetic to the fascist modus operandi of 'benevolent dictatorship'. The meteoric recovery of Germany was seen as evidence of what could be achieved if only the shackles of State control could be drawn a little tighter. In addition to this, the anti-Semitism of the fascists was not of course restricted to either Germany alone or to the extreme right of politics. It was in reality prevalent right across the societies of many countries, European and beyond, and so it's manifestation in the emergent Germany of the interwar period in a particularly vitriolic form, while unpleasant was not exceptionally unprecedented or shocking to the traveler of the day. It was always believed, right up to the outbreak of war, that the worst excesses of National Socialism would temper and mellow with time, including it's violent animosity to the Jews, if Germany were but given the scope, and a degree of freedom, to pursue it's vision to at least a small extent. Hitler, the 'man of peace' would come to his senses and come around in the end.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 4:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey Pete, I love this stuff and will get into the buts of it once I have a bit more time and space... busy working week and what have you for now.
I recommend "The world undone" by GJ Meyer as I just plain enjoyed reading it.
I can see your point about political correctness today going mad about speaking too plainly on this subject, but i would enjoy debating against that. It is peoples actions and behaviours borne out of a world gone mad, albeit in the rear view mirror. The point could get shady however when one countries intellectual capacity as compared to another is the cause of an outcome..... cue the Polish and Irish jokes. Or "... it might be a slaughter? Send the Australians!"
As a reflection of emotion, Ernest Shackletons story reflects a little side light on it don't you think?
He sets off to explore Antarctica when the war had broken out and gets stuck for ages and finally gets back to a rescue and asks for news from home in Britain and he is met with "Europe is on fire. The world has gone mad."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Shackleton
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2018 2:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Will check the book out Kizza! Thanks for the 'steer'.

Yes - strange times indeed from our 'reverse engineered' perspective; similarly pushed as yourself for time [nightmare day at work today to be frank - but in the context of what we are talking about, as nothing!], but will give the Shackleton story the attention it deserves as soon as I'm able.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 07, 2018 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with you Pete .. the Treaty of Versailles was primarily punitive and vindictive .. the French wanted Germany crippled so they could not represent any future threat to them. How differently the historical narrative would be had a different compact been entered into.

I think the French and the Belgiums were the worst in their eagerness to enforce Treaty provisions upon Germany. They were sooo harsh even the US senate refused to ratify it and the US government refused to take any responsibility for the majority of its provisions. The Treaty itself was amended several times, to scale down some of the harshness and unreasonableness of the Treaty provisions .. Germans acceded to the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan re reparations .. but even so .. its not really certain that the Treaty was what lead to the second world war.

No question .. its harshness and unreasonableness set the ground for understandable pushback and protest.

If provisions were less stringent .. would that have been sufficient to change the direction of history? Maybe Wink But no one can truly state this with absolute certainty.

What we can say with certainty is that it is because of the failure of the Versailles Treaty .. no peace treaty was drafted at the end of WWII.
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 08, 2018 3:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WW2 does at least have a degree of .... I don't know....... sort of 'linear progression' about the events leading up to it's declaration that, while not exactly absent in the case of The Great War, do seem to run in a pretty much 'cause and effect' way that is harder to see in the latter (.........errr, former? Confused Wink ). While the 'chain' may branch (as it were) as you follow it back, I think it would be fair to say that Versailles would form one of the major branches that would ultimately converge into the declaration of war once again. The more I think about it the more the world seems still to be stretched on the wrack of the earlier 20C. and dear God I wish it could be different! There was (if I'm correct) a pretty significant period of European peace and stability not all that far prior to the first World War (in the main at least); how sad we didn't see the value of it and nurture it to fruition.

Sad
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 09, 2018 1:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with your statement Pete.

And allow me to clarify the failure of the Versailles Treaty was more accurately why there were no reparations demanded of Japan or Germany.

I agree the Versailles Treaty failure was one factor in the the ensuring world war... one factor in a number of others.

I mean the Nazis or even the preceding German government could have simply revoked the Versailles Treaty, refuted the "war guilt" clause etc

.. but Hitler went beyond that simple measure .. he went beyond claiming previous German territory. Even an extremist German party could have negotiated territorial reversals .. war was not an inevitability imv, nor was it absolutely necessity for Germany.

The bottom line was that Hitler wanted to go to war .. he wanted a "do over" .. he wanted to win WWI .. again Wink He used the rhetoric of Germany being "stabbed in the back" etc.

But there were plenty of Germans that did not buy into that "stabbed in the back" rhetoric .. Germany was always going to lose ... once America came into the war .. they were defeated .. and the war was lost.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 09, 2018 5:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Certainly he wanted war - but he wanted it in alliance with Britain who he saw as a natural partner in his world plan. Shocked His eyes were always looking east (well, principally)

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 09, 2018 10:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

His eyes were always looking east .. that is absolutely true .. he didnt want to go to war with Britain .. but he wanted war. He attacked Poland, he attacked in the East and I think he was genuinely surprised when the British and France declared war.

He viewed his encroachments as a fete accompli .. he did not think the would go to war over it.

He wanted to reverse WWI .. and I think ultimately Hitler wanted a great many things .. he may have seen the British as racially germanic .. well at least more than the French who were primarily celts.

I am sure he thought that from his perspective these two germanic nations would become allies .. but it was looney tunes thinking ..

Its been proven that Hitler wasnt a great thinker or tactician. He had never travelled .. apart from his time in France as a German soldier.

Surely he should have seen the French would declare war on Germany .. but despite their aggressive enforcement of the VT .. he saw them as weak and easily subjugated. And tbh I think he thought as much of Britain.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 09, 2018 7:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The German people on the other hand, totally did not want war. They (as everyone else) had suffered brutal losses in WW1 and absolutely did not want a repetition. Yes, they were pissed about Versailles - but this did not translate into a desire for round two. There is a very interesting book by historian Niall Ferguson called The War of the World in which he gives his thesis that the two conflicts should in reality be regarded as a single war with a long intermission half way through. The book is an eye watering account that drives home the truly terrible scale of death in Europe between the start of the first and end of the second world wars. It was truly unimaginable to us in it's scale - I thouroghly recommend it Sky, even if you have reservations about his idea.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I come across it .. I will definitely give it a read. He clearly sees more fluid connection of events .. and tbh there are indeed a lot of factors involved, are there not? Wink

Though tbh .. WWII wasnt in fact a continuation of WWI .. as much as Hitler would have liked his do over .. WWI ended with surrender .. very much a closing of that chapter. WWII was truly another chapter .. they share the same book .. but they were not only different wars .. almost entirely .. they were products of different push points. But I find his thesis intriguing .. and have kind of worked myself into a wanting to read his views.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 10, 2018 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The lead up to the Great War has a few punctuation marks in terms of the personalities of the major players and the times they were involved in.
For example Czar Nicholas calling the first Hague Conference in 1899. He was so freaked out by the advent of chemical weapons that he looked to have them limited legally at the Hague.
Yes it is Wikipedia, but is a decent shot at the facts:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hague_Conventions_of_1899_and_1907
Progress in technology and design, particularly in weapons, around the turn of the 20th century was on a rapid incline.
The players were largely kings or monarchs, as opposed to democratically elected. This influenced the action to war, and also the consequences (ala: Versailles Treaty)
-------------------------
below from wiki:
Convention with respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This voluminous convention contains the laws to be used in all wars on land between signatories. It specifies the treatment of prisoners of war, includes the provisions of the Geneva Convention of 1864 for the treatment of the wounded, and forbids the use of poisons, the killing of enemy combatants who have surrendered, looting of a town or place, and the attack or bombardment of undefended towns or habitations. Inhabitants of occupied territories may not be forced into military service against their own country and collective punishment is forbidden. The section was ratified by all major powers.....
----------------------------
Weapons advancement overtook a whole lot of things, including the ideals of the people at the time.
By the time WW1 was done, the French and the Russians under the German installed Lenin were not thinking about the prosperity of the Germans. They wanted the time and space to lick their wounds, smoke Gauloise cigarettes, drink wine and make love. They had just finished with the greatest military on earth and wished zero chance of a repeat.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2018 4:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dum dum bullets .. or expanding bullets were banned prior to WWI and each of the Hague Conventions set out laws for agreed warfare practices.

And Germany, nor Australia, for that matter, complied with the agreed standards that arose and were ratified to through these Conventions.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2018 6:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting point about the different influence of Monarchs as opposed to politicians on the march toward war Kizza, and one that brings me back to Sky's observation that the Great War was ended by a surrender, and thus the Second can not be considered as a continuation of the First. This is true - in respect of there being a surrender - but am I not correct in thinking it was a political surrender rather than a military one - and one that caused great anger, particularly amongst the returning soldiers and general populace who never considered they had been defeated (and remember - Hitler was very much of the working, rather than the ruling class background). This alone surely provides a fairly clear connection between the two wars, without the baleful influence of Versailles thrown into the mix. There were no doubt other factors, ideological and otherwise behind the outbreak (or resumption) of hostilities - but these must be key ones in preparing the ground?
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2018 10:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WWI was both a political and military surrender. Remember in Germany it was the military that controlled the government .. the admin was quite shocked when the military came to them and said that an armistice had to be negotiated because the military situation was hopeless .. so no not really,

The Kaiser only abdicated because he was told by the military that they no longer supported him.

There were significant problems with morale in the German troops, they werent getting fed sufficiently and they werent getting the supplies and munitions required. Many of the troops were affected by the communist propaganda which was all about giving up, surrendering the land to the people etc. Not all felt the way Hitler did .. he was pissed, he claims to have wanted to fight on .. and that he was appalled by the very idea of surrender ... but it was hopeless .. and the majority of the troops were relieved it was over.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2018 10:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

They just wanted to go home .. nobody wants to die for a lost cause and it was at that time very much a lost cause.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2018 11:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Austro-Hungarians were a massive disappointment to the Germans of course. They were routed very early (almost straight after the Arch Duke assassination) in a major battle by a Serbian force which probably should never have won the day. Their efforts during the rest of the war were self serving glory hunting for the early part, and they were always at odds with requests of the German military leadership. The Austro-Hungarians military were lazy, short-sighted, pompous and probably a lot like their own leadership really. The German military leadership were flat out heads and shoulders above everyone else. They had to be to have an even chance of pulling this bold plan off. (By the time WW2 rolled around they had the best resources to go win a war with, but that military leadership was replaced by nazi friends rather than "shoot the lights out" military strategists.... Oh the irony.)
The personality of the times which we started to talk about before comes through in so much of this war. In its origins, in its duration, and in its aftermath.
ie: The Russian Czar Nicholas and his wife and sons relationship with Rasputin, and the distance that put between them and the masses and the ruling classes was another cracker of a scenario.
Lenin and his "rescue" from banishment in Switzerland by the Germans and the subsequent guarded train back to Russia as a plant to destroy it from within.
And Rasputin, well what a bloody crazy story that one is.
Also, the number of active spies running around Europe at the time actually really surprised me. Possibly preying on my naivety and the fact that people do get very patriotic in times of war..
Then the assault through Belgium. And Flanders to the Ardennes. The Hindenburg or Siegfried Line mess.

The Treaty of Versailles could have easily meant a lot worse for Germany!
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2018 3:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Covered a lot of grond there Kizza .. yeah pretty much .. but Hitler inherited the Germany army as it was .. sure some of his fellow Nazi mates got a leg up. Remember the german officer core did turn on Hitler .. and only when it was clear that WWII could not be won.

Goerring is a classic example of a Nazi put in a high military position beyond his ability .. and he was a WWI flying ace, a charasmatic person and his personal crutches were his downfall. Kinda not entirely his fault .. he was shot and wounded in the Munich Putsch .. and developed a dependency on morphine.

After Hitler came to power, Goerring was a major player, and Hitlers 2IC Wink and it was Georrings initiative to use the police as an arm of state terror, to terrorise the german people and round up dissidents. He was a significant character in the early Nazi period and thats where he made his mark. Sadly he became very precious, and a little meglamaniacal .. wanting to bring back the oroc .. and sacking Europe for his fine art fettish etc. And the more he lost touch with reality, the more he was sidelined.
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