The Treaty of Versailles: Fair or Unfair?

The Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference, was a treaty created by the Allied powers that ended the war five years after it started. The treaty reprimanded and condemned Germany for its overt aggression that started the war. The Allied powers—specifically the Big Three of the United States, Great Britain, and France—sought reparation for damages resulting from the war. The treaty disallowed Germany from entering the League of Nations for fifteen years, gave France certain territories back, created a demilitarized zone, and weakened Germany’s armed forces.1 The language in the treaty is demanding and forthright, as it does not resist in expressing its desire for reparations; Germany views many of the demands as impossible to meet or simply too strict. However, having lost significant amounts of resources, troops, and money as a result of the war, Germany subsequently forced to agree to the demands of set forth in the treaty as they had no choice. However, after ratification, the treaty was eventually revised, giving Germany much more breathing room.

The treaty was created not only to reprimand Germany, but to send a message to Germany and its allies that over-aggression is not accepted in the international community. Any disregard of the law would result in significant punishment. However, the Treaty of Versailles backfired on the Allied powers and the rest of the world, as the strict demands inspired German nationalism. In effect, the Treaty of Versailles inspired Germany to reignite its military, leading to the rise of Hitler and Germany’s power during World War II.

I’m interested to potentially look into this more in the future, whether that be personal research or through taking a World War I class. Though Germany deserved its punishment for starting the war, (some people may disagree) I’m wondering if the Allied powers envisioned such an angry response. Do you think the demands listed in the Treaty of Versailles were too much, or not? Why was Germany so angry? How could Germany have responded in a much more peaceful way? Or, do you think Germany really shouldn’t have been punished much at all? I’m curious to see your responses to this.

  1. From The Treaty of Versailles and After: Annotations of the Text of the Treaty []

3 thoughts on “The Treaty of Versailles: Fair or Unfair?

  1. Hindsight bias tells us that the Treaty of Versailles was one of the worst diplomatic blunders in history. Even without the benefit of hindsight, the political, military, and diplomatic elite responsible for the Treaty’s provisions should have known the possible repercussions of completely crippling a traditionally powerful and advanced nation. It unfortunately required an equally devastating war to learn that rebuilding defeated nations is a necessary step towards achieving lasting peace in a postwar era. When looking at the severity of sanctions placed on Germany after World War I, the ensuing rise of a nationalistic tyrant becomes less than surprising.

  2. I too believe that the sanctions imposed by the big three of the United States, Great Britain, and France were too harsh. At the same time these powers were trying to send a message that breaking the law results in consequence. With the imposed sanctions reduced in later years, we now see Germany gaining more nationalism as well as a certain man named Adolf Hitler coming to power.

  3. The Treaty of Versailles failed at bringing Germany back to a normal state after World War I. With the treaty placing all the blame on Germany for the war being started, it left a bitter taste in the mouth of the German people. The treaty called for unimaginable, large reparations from Germany which in return would leave the country in economic strife. At a time when the market economy was rising, trade between countries was necessary for economic stability. The treaty hurt this notion and allowed Germany to fall. This situation is very similar to the reconstruction era after the civil war, as the north needed to bring back the south to normalcy but in this case were too lenient with their defeated enemy.

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