France’s fears displayed in the Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was an extremely punitive solution to officially end of WWI. The response of the Triple Entente at the end of the war is not surprising; these countries lost so many soldiers during the war that the true level of pain and suffering is difficult to understand today. France especially blamed Germany for the loss of almost an entire generation, literally and figuratively. The toll of war and the use of new and dangerous technologies ravaged farmland as they became battlefields. It is not surprising that these countries wanted retribution for all of the suffering they had already endured and would continue to endure. The other strong motivation behind the treaty was to ensure that Germany would be unable to start another war. France wanted Germany to pay for all of the suffering it had caused, but also wanted to ensure that she would not be subject to another German attack.

It is surprising, however, that the treaty punished Germany for the Franco-Prussian War. The war was fought and won in 1871—almost half a century before. The bitterness and fear of a German invasion into France pervaded any sense of fairness and justice. The treaty included articles that targeted Prussian actions at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, “The High Contracting Parties, recognizing the moral obligation to redress the wrong done by Germany in 1871 both to the rights of France and to the wishes of the population of Alsace and Lorraine, which were separated from their country in spite of the solemn protest of their representatives at the Assembly of Bordeaux” (Treaty of Versailles, Article 49). France had been invaded two times in less than 50 years by her neighbor to the east. These two wars had traumatized the French and, therefore, they wanted to see “justice” delivered.

It is interesting to note that this fear of German force did not ease in France with all of the Treaty’s stipulations about the size of the German Army. The French had an incredible sense of “puissance” at the end of the war because they had finally defeated their archrival after the humiliation of 1871. This “puissance” did not fully reassure the French and the government quickly worked to further secure the country. The Maginot Line was constructed to prevent another German invasion because, according to French thought, it was inevitable. Mazower points out in Chapter 2 of Dark Continent that this line of defense would prove to be completely ineffective at the start of WWII.

In attempting to protect themselves from the might and ambitions of Germany, the French pushed the international community to accept such a punitive treaty. Many historians have argued, however, that this treaty may have indirectly led to the success of Hitler’s propaganda and his rise to power, leading to France’s next defeat as a result of another German invasion.