The signing of the Treaty of Versailles formally concluded the First World War, and in doing so arguably paved the way for the Second. Indeed it has been described as a holding measure, one that brought about a long interlude of armistice rather than a period of true peace.
It was signed on June 28 1919 in the Versailles Palace in Paris, and the principal signatories and shapers of the Treaty were the ‘Big Three’ – David Lloyd George (Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France) and Woodrow Wilson (USA).
They all brought different demands to bear on the Treaty. Clemenceau wanted Germany brought to its knees, rendered utterly incapable of invading France again. Wilson, appalled by the savagery and devastation of the War, advocated reconciliation and a sustainable rebuilding of Europe. LLoyd George was torn between wanting to build a strong Germany as a bulwark against communism, and public pressure to ‘Make Germany Pay.’
In the end the Treaty had the following key features:
The Treaty of Versailles blamed German aggression as a key cause of the First World War. Germany’s economy, already hit hard by the costs of more than four years of fighting, now had to meet ‘the diktat’ of reparations – a total of $31.4 billion. Germany’s economy struggled through the 1920s, encountering hyperinflation in 1923, followed by a heavy slump as the world fell into depression from October 1929.
A substantial constituency in Britain in particular believed that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh and would destabilize and create resentment in Germany. They proved prophetic. Resurrected as a National Socialist state, the German people were susceptible to Hitler’s assertive, confident rhetoric – Germany had been dealt a harsh hand and should not be ashamed of its strength and militarism.
The Treaty also factored into the disastrous policy of appeasement – many British and French alike were unwilling to confront Germany for addressing what seemed to be legitimate grievances.
I cannot imagine any greater cause for future war that that the German people…should be surrounded by a number of small states… each containing large masses of Germans clamouring for reunion.
David Lloyd George, March 1919