CHY 4U 2012: Rewriting the Treaty of Versailles

Palace of Versailles via Flickr, by minuk

You probably remember that the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of World War I, and outlined the penalties imposed by the Entente nations against Germany. The Treaty of Versailles has always been extremely controversial, and has been cited by some historians as the direct cause of World War II.

Tomorrow, we will hold our own Paris Peace Conference and write our own treaty. Like any conference worth attending, there will be snacks. You will be divided into groups, and be responsible for representing your nation at the Conference. Your goal is to get the best possible results for your own nation (good luck, Germany), but also to create a peace agreement that will prevent many of the post-Versailles problems from happening. Take a look at the Historical Hindsight heading on the second page to see these problems.

There is a chapter in your text about World War I, and a section specifically about the Treaty.

The Big Four (Sometimes called the Big Three, but this way Italy gets to play, too)

Britain You may be the most powerful Empire on the planet, but this war tested your limits. Before the war, Germany’s navy started to rival yours; you better make sure that Germany never poses a military threat again.

France On paper, you are on the winning side. Still, due to nearly 1.4 million deaths and millions of dollars of damage to French territory, France doesn’t look much like a winner. You want vengeance

United States You joined the war late, after years of German torpedoes hitting American vessels proved to be too much for you. Your entry in 1917 provided the Entente with fresh troops and supplies, and was an important factor in the end of the war. Still, this European war has horrified you, and you have little interest in being dragged into European affairs.

Key figure: Woodrow Wilson (responsible for the brilliant and idealistic Fourteen Points. Too bad that no one bothered to follow all of them. Wilson was a big fan of self-determination, meaning that ethnic groups should control their own fate and their own politics).

Italy The Italians had started the war on Germany’s side, but switch sides half way through. Why? You had a secret alliance with France. Sounds a little like Survivor, doesn’t it? Well, Italy survived, and has a seat among the victors to prove it. You’d also like some land, especially in the in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

The Losers

Germany You lost. Be prepared to lose in the signing of the Treaty as well. The Big Four see you as the aggressor, and feel that you are responsible for the war; they have conveniently forgotten their own roles in pre-war tensions, such as alliances, the arms race, and unbridled nationalism. Good luck trying to remind them. To be honest, you weren’t allowed to participate in the talks. Your presence at the conference will be our first big departure from the historical record.

Historical Hindsight: What You Know That The Big Four Didn’t

Redrawing National Boundaries:The Big Four, especially the Big Three, redrew maps with complete disregard for local politics and tension. At the Paris Conference, they created the states of Iraq and Kuwait, with no concern for ethnic divisions or history; we all know how well that has worked out. The Big Three also created Palestine in the Middle East.

A few decades later, the Allies created the state of Israel out of a few countries, including Palestine. Nothing bad ever happened in the Middle East again….except for near-constant war and nations promising to wipe each other off the face of the earth.

Germany’s Punishments. The Germans were forced to pay enormous sums of money in reparations. While some nations lessened the payments after the war, the heavy fines forced Germany to print money at ridiculous rates and values in order to pay. By the late 1920s, German money was absolutely worthless (I can show you pictures of a German woman using German money to start a fire because it was worth more as a fire starter than as currency). This practice contributed to the instability of world markets just before the Great Depression.

Germany was humiliated by the guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles. The guilt clause stated that Germany had to accept full blame for the war. Note: few things made Adolf Hitler angrier than the guilt clause in the Treaty of Versailles.

Germany was forced to limit its army and navy. Unfortunately, nobody stopped Hitler from exceeding those limits in the 1930s.

The League of Nations was a great idea, but it lost considerable influence when the United States, the new world power, refused to join. The League of Nations was a paper tiger. It did nothing to stop Italy and Japan from invading other countries in the 1930s.

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