26 June 2019

100th Anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles

Intro Copy

One hundred years ago this June, World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Whether intentionally or not, the Paris treaty was signed June 28, 1919, five years to the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which sparked the beginning of the war. President Woodrow Wilson took his Fourteen Points to Paris, but when the heads of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy met in Paris to discuss treaty terms, the European countries of the so-called "Big Four" rejected Wilson’s "peace without victory" approach. Viewing Germany as the chief instigator of the conflict, the Allied powers decided instead to impose harsh treaty terms. Germany had to surrender territories, drastically reduce the size of its military, pay enormous sums of money to the Allies for war reparations and admit guilt for causing the war. Germany was stripped of all its overseas colonies, and many of these colonies were divvied up among the victorious allies. Italy did not get the territories it was promised when they joined the war and felt betrayed. Japan did not get its promised territories either. The Japanese left Versailles feeling very bitter, claiming that other nations were "allowed to have an empire, but not us." This sowed the seeds for a deep-rooted sense of grievance on the part of Japan. Sensing that the treaty was too harsh on Germany, and not wanting to surrender power to the League of Nations, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and the U.S. government took no responsibility for most of its provisions even though President Wilson had signed it. The newly formed German democratic government saw the Versailles Treaty as a "dictated peace," and the German people, who had also suffered during the war, viewed the treaty as oppressive. The hope of revising the "humiliating" Versailles Treaty was one of the elements that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. The widespread belief among many historians is that the draconian terms of the Versailles treaty led directly to the even more destructive World War II. According to French general Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Treaty of Versailles was not a true peace, but a "20-year armistice." He was exactly right; World War II began 20 years later with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. While many schools are out for the Summer, that doesn't mean the learning has to stop. On this 100th anniversary of the treaty, teachers and students in summer school can use the many resources in eLibrary to research this important historical topic. If you want to dig deeper, visit Alexander Street and sign up for a free trial. In particular, I would like to recommend two Alexander Street videos that discuss the Treaty of Versailles: The World Wars: The Price of Glory and Great Blunders of History, The Treaty of Versailles. Don’t have eLibrary? Request a Free Trial!