An Obscure Future By: Joe .P
The victors of World War I are to blame for engendering World War II. On June 28th, 1919, precisely five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the primary spark of World War I), the Treaty of Versailles was constructed to emerge the Allied and Central Powers into a state of peace. Most importantly the treaty consisted of what is most commonly referred to as the “War Guilt Clauses” (articles 231-248). This portion of the Treaty required Germany to pay reparations to the Allied Powers, restricted Germany to a small army with no air force or navy, demilitarization of the Rhineland (small area between France & Germany), confiscation of all German colonies, and most humiliating, blamed Germany for the entirety of the war. (World History Notes, 4/28/09). This pushed Germany into a perpetual economic depression, and set up the perfect environment for another devastating war.
World War I had shaken all countries’ perception of war. Europe was littered with astronomical economic and societal destruction. It’s fecund economy had been crushed under the severe pressure to produce weapons and able men. In those four years a total of 10 million military personnel were lost (2.5 million of whom belonged to Russia) along with 7 million civilian deaths and 21 million wounded. (scholastic.com). Losses of this magnitude induced all of the nations involved to be weary of any further confrontation, regardless of how necessary the intervention may be.
In early 1919, delegates met at the Paris Peace Conference, which was to discuss peace terms for Germany and the other defeated countries which were to be undisputed. The complications became tacit. For one, both David Lloyd George (the prime minister of Great Britain) and George Clemenceau (the premier of France) believed that their people had suffered from “German Aggression.” (Speilvogel, 742). The two figures used national security as the basis of their arguments which were designed to obtain a neutral barrier for France (the Rhineland) which was to be subtracted from Germanys current territory, and for Germany to pay for their infractions.
Out of the Big Three (David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, and George Clemenceau) Wilson was alone in requesting a League of Nations to prevent future wars. Nevertheless a compromise was made in the interest of satisfying all three parties. “On January 25, 1919, the conference accepted the idea of a League of Nations. In return, Wilson agreed to make compromises on territorial arrangements.” (Speilvogel, 742). Many of the requests made by Lloyd George and Clemenceau were dampened, but not nearly to Germanys accord.
The final draft of the treaty was signed on June 28th, 1919. (historylearningsite.co.uk) The treaty ordered Germany to pay reparations for all damage done to the Allied governments and people, reduce Germanys army to a hundred thousand men, diminish its navy, eliminate its air force, surrender sections of eastern Germany to a new Polish state, and finally return the previously conquered Alsace and Lorraine (previously conquered regions during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871). A barrier to prevent any future German military conquests was set into place by stripping all German weapons and fortifications bordering the Rhine.
The total collection of reparation payments set in April of 1921 was 132 billion gold marks (33 billion U.S. Dollars). (u-s-history.com). Germany struggled with the payments after only one installment of 2.5 billion marks and announced they were unable to pay any more. In an act to obtain what they believed they were entitled to, France troops were sent to occupy the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s primary industrial and mining center to facilitate German production. In addition, soldiers were sent to rape Germany of all valuables and essential objects. This included the complete dismantlement of Germanys infrastructure. (Class Notes 5/23/09) In an act of passive resistance German workers refused to work under French management and went on strike.
Employment was resolved to household and industries printing of money to pay employee salaries which resulted in hyperinflation. In July 1914 the conversion was one mark to one dollar. By November 1923, one U.S. Dollar was the equivalent of 726 Billion marks. (u-s-history.com). Germany’s sense of nationalism had been reduced to the value of a mark. Germany was able to pay the reparations, but was completely dependent on U.S. When the stock market crashed in October 1929, billions of dollars worth of investments were withdrawn, further plummeting Germany into economic despair.
In 1930, the unemployed in Germany had risen to 3 million people by March and to 4.38 million by December. (Speilvogel, 755). After constant beatings of social and economic integrity and the complete collapse of Germany’s infrastructure, once destroyed hope was resurrected. Amongst this rubble rose a powerful ultra-nationalistic party, one who’s (in the publics eye) only interested was the re-glorification of Germany. The situation the Allied powers put Germany in with the Treaty of Versailles was merely fostering the perfect situation for an extremist, totalitarian, ultra-nationalistic power to arise.
If the Allied powers were simply half as negligent, if they had simply considered the consequences of likely the most substantial mistake in history, if they weren’t so short sighted, we would still refer to 1914-1918 as “The Great War.” And the atrocities of 1939-1945, those that humanity must shamefully admit occurred on our planet, would have simply never come to pass. These events brought on by a collection of the world’s most able men, those who claimed that by destroying evil they should construct a plan to prevent it. If they had treated Germany properly post World War I, the Nazi party would have never come to power.
The victors of World War I had the opportunity to stop the only man who is now associated with pure evil, however they failed to see beyond their greed. And not only did they have the chance to prevent creating an environment in which this evil could arise, but in the mid to late 1930’s they had every reason to stop him before his conquest could continue past the borders of Germany. They are also at fault for this atrocious war.
The German government is also at fault for the war. A radical like Hitler was only able to rise to power because the government of a country is reflection of it’s people, therefore if the people weren’t treaty so unfairly, there would be no means for revenge. As the depression in Germany worsened, absolutist rule became the ideal form of government. Which is why the Weimar Republic who were the parliamentary style government ruling from 1919-1933 were overthrown by the totalitarian Nazis. If these series of unfortunate events did not occur, not only would the word Nazi be meaningless to us today, but Hitler would have remained a failing artist.
If the Weimar Republic had remained untouched, it would be functioning properly and successfully established a liberal democracy in Germany. The world today would be very different. The League of Nations would have never dissolved (because it would not have failed to tranquilize the Axis powers), and rather reform to create something resembling the United Nations. And Germany along with many other nations who remained placid after a defeat in World War II, would have likely indulged in the Cold War, which given the absence of World War II and the previous use of the Nuclear Weapon for the destruction of Herosima and Nagasaki would have resolved with the complete obliteration of humankind.
The United States would not be alone in having an incredible impact on the 20th century, Germany would have had a similar effect. Prior to proclamation of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on January 30th, 1933, and the abolishment of basic democratic rights by Hitler with the Reichstag fire on February 27th, 1933, Germany had a relatively sustainable democratic state. The issue at hand which Hitler, the astounding orator he is, took advantage of was the feeble resistance to public and political influence president Paul von Hindenburg was faced with.
With World War II never occurring, and the scientific capability Germany was known for, it is likely that Germany too would have been involved in the arms and space race. Germany would have been even further superior environmental development and leading the world in alternative energy research. In 1941, the United States would have only been fighting in the pacific, with the full and focused support of its European allies. The proxy wars fought during the Cold War may have been reduced to three fighting forces rather than two. Maybe even the first flag on the moon read as black, orange, and yellow.
Not only are the victors of World War I to blame for creating the perfect conditions for another massive war to evolve, but they are also at fault for injuring Germanys promising future. Regardless, we cannot change what has already happened, but only learn from our mistake and prevent from making it again.
Joseph Puccio. Class Notes, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. April 4, 2009.
Speilvogel et al. World History. Glencoe-McGraw Hill. New York, New York. 2005.
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