Forgive and Forget

In 1920, after the first World War, John M. Keynes wrote “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” on his dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles and calls out to those who are drafting the treaty to think of the potential economic consequences it would have on Germany and Europe as a whole. Keynes was an established economist in England and most notably would revolutionize the ideas seen in macroeconomics.  Throughout the chapter Keynes writes in a style of urgency and fear as he sees the stability of Europe at risk.

Right from the beginning of the chapter, Keynes believes the treaty does not promote the idea of ‘good neighbors’ for the defeated states.  He believes the arrangement reached in Paris was not based on the future of economics in Europe, but rather on political folly1 .  After such a dramatic and long war, it seems that the victorious states wanted to extensively punish those who stood against them in the so called ‘heat of the moment’, without taking account of its long-term effects.  Keynes goes on to express how European countries have become economically interdependent on each other and how this treaty would disrupt each country’s economy2 .  With declining trade and commerce comes a lower standard of living, or even the possibility of starvation.  On the topic of starvation, Keynes makes the statement, ” Men will not always die quietly”, inferring that revolution and instability could develop in certain countries.

Keynes is very concerned with how the treaty will specifically effect Germany, stating that those who sign this treaty will be responsible for the death of millions of Germans.  The treaty would cause Germany to lose all of its colonies, merchant fleet and foreign investments3 .  In basic economic terms, the demand of the German people will become greater than what can be supplied according to Keynes.  He predicts that Germany will regress in its industrial development, and as a result negatively impact the rest of Europe.

I find this reading to be related to the discussion we had in class about the effects of propaganda.  It seems that the allied powers could not forgive the countries they had defeated and still viewed them as barbarians or inhuman.

Were the conditions in the Treaty of Versailles towards Germany too harsh after WWI?  Do wars need propaganda?


  1. Keynes, Economic Consequences of Peace []
  2. Keynes, Economic Consequences of Peace []
  3. Keynes, Economic Consequences of Peace []

2 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget

  1. I think that while it is now easier to say that the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh, it is a more difficult question than that. When drafting the Treaty and the conditions towards Germany, no one could possibly know what would come from it. No one could possibly predict that Hitler would come into the picture and that these conditions would potentially aid him in his rise to power that would then lead to World War II. It is easy to say in hindsight that the conditions were too harsh. However, it is hard to place yourself back into the mindset of the people writing the Treaty. Now it would be easy to say that they should have been able to predict how the conditions could have negative side effects. However, we have to remember that it is impossible to see the future. I think that this is a very difficult question to answer effectively because we have hindsight bias as to what would come from these harsh conditions. That does not necessarily answer the question of if the conditions were too harsh in the Treaty of Versailles, but I do not know if I could possibly answer that question truthfully after knowing what I know about what would come from the Treaty.

    As to the question of if propaganda is needed in time of war, I think that it is very much needed. Without propaganda, it would be very difficult to get men and women to volunteer to fight for the cause. Even with a draft, the soldiers would not fight as effectively if they did not feel like the cause of the fight was just. It would also be difficult to inspire the citizens at home to participate in the war effort without some sort of propaganda. Granted, some propaganda is not necessarily appropriate or ethical, but I do feel that some sort of propaganda is generally needed to inspire a full effort into a war.

  2. I like your correlation between the conditions presented to Germany at the Treaty of Versailles and propaganda. While I believe that the military needs to dehumanize the enemy for psychological reasons, there is not a definitive relationship between treaty conditions and dehumanization of the enemy during a war. For example, the Japanese received very lenient terms after the end of World War II and the Russians after the Russo-Japanese War. However, were the requirements too stringent for Germany? Yes, I completely agree. The requirements laid out by the French and British were not to punish but rather cripple Germany’s ability to be a world power, which it rightfully should have been.

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