World War II is believed to have started in 1939 when France and Britain waged war on German after it invaded Poland. The treaty of Versailles contributed largely to the outbreak of the Second World War. The convention had imposed much restriction on Germany in extraordinary ways. This included; reduction of Germany army and forbidding it in signing treaties with other countries. Besides, the treaty contributed to making Germany a poor nation because, it imposed more penalties accusing it of instigating the First World War.
The penalties were diverse but not limited to combat fines, ceding some powers and limited military capacity. This was strategically done to build and support other western countries both militarily and economically. According to Feuchtwanger (87), Hitler embraced the treaty for extenuating his imperialist strategies such as the Nazism.
He took advantage of the treat and made good of the situation by using his oratory skills to enthuse the masses. His policies however, were fancied because it ridiculed the Treaty of Versailles and rebuked a reparation policy that was part of the Treaty. All these factors brought about by the Treaty of Versailles contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Treaty of Versailles
According to Bessel (76), The Treaty of Versailles is one of the extraordinary peace agreements signed after the end of First World War. Noting that Germany contributed to the start of World War I, the European allied powers unquestionable imposed stringent treaty commitment on impoverished Germany. The treaty was signed by German leaders in 1919 as a form of the peace agreement between the Allies i.e. the countries that had won World War I which comprised mainly of; US, France, UK and Italy (Bessel, 1993).
The Treaty was generated primarily to allow Allies to settle and decide upon their views on matters of Central Supremacies and the future of losing nations which was made up of; Austria- Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) and Bulgaria. The Treaty folded the conventional engagement that had existed between Germany and its incidental powers i.e. the other significant powers allied to Germany during the World War I embraced other disparate treaties. The treaty had absolute terms for Germans to fulfill (Bessel, 1993).
The first requirement of the Treaty was the territorial clause. Territorial clause compelled Germany to relinquish some of its territories. Birdsall (84) explains that, some of the territories in question included; Poland (German, Posen), Czech (Hultschin district), West Prussia and Silesia.
Also, it affirmed that, Germany had to compulsory return Lorraine and Alsace which it had annexed in 1871 during the Franco Prussian War to France. Besides, most of Germany overseas territories were taken under the care of the League of Nations. Further, Germany was ordered to surrender the Danzing, currently known today as Gdansk (Birdsall, 134).
Consequently, the Treaty demanded disarmament of Germany military. Germany was compelled to have a limited military plus six naval ships. It was not allowed to have substantial tanks, air force and submarines. According to Birdsall (121), more specifically, the French interests in the Treaty was to limit German troops to about 100,000 men, restrict Navy vessels weight to 100,000 tons besides outlawing procurement or provision of undersea fleet. Thus, the Treaty of Versailles was an avenue to champion for these interests.
Also, the treaty commanded demilitarization and control of Rhineland and Saarland under the control of French (Birdsall, 109). Plebiscites were charged with responsibilities of determining regions north of Schleswig, on the German-Danish border frontline and some parts of Silesia, the border with Poland. Hence the treaty limited Germany’s prospects to recoup its economic hegemony and to arm.
Birdsall (123) asserts that, the third element of the treaty was the Treaty demanded German to cater for reparation cost incurred during the World War I. German was imperatively compelled under the standings of article 231 – 248 of the treaty (War Guilt clauses) to admit exclusive liability of instigating the war. Hence it was demanded pay reparation to countries that comprised of the Entente powers (Birdsall, 129).
Further, Evans (87) asserts that the estimates of the reparation stood at 132 billion marks in 1921, this was equivalent to about $ 385 billion. According to Evans (2004), the Treaty of Versailles compensations existed in various forms. It entailed; Intellectual property, for example, a trademark for Aspirin, steel, agricultural products and coal. Coal reparations were a significant part in disciplining Germany.
The Treaty affirmed that, Germany was accountable for the ruin of coal coalfields in; Belgium, some parts of Italy and Northern France (Evans, 201). To affect reparation, France was entitled to be in full ownership of Germany’s coalfield especially in Saar basin for some time. To further limit German economy, the Treaty compelled it to supply; Italy, Belgium and France with tons of coal products for not less than ten years.
However, when Hitler took over control in Germany, It stopped the unsettled supplies of coal for some years. However, this went against the terms and requirements of the Treaty of Versailles (Evans, 2004). It is well argued by economists that this was one of the most extreme and counterproductive venture which lasted to 1988.
Additionally, German was compelled to accept the guilt of spearheading the World War I. This clause was anchored on article 231, War Guilt Clause, of the treaty of Versailles. Perhaps, this seems to be one of the humbling slice of the Treaty of Versailles as attested by Evans (48). The clause forced Germany not only to accept the responsibility caused during the WWI, but also it was susceptible to all damages occurred as a result of the war.
The last element but not the least is that, Treaty of Versailles was the Shandong problem. The article 156 stipulated mandatory terms for Germans to transfer its concessions in Shandong province in China to Japan fairly than persistent autonomous command of China.
According to Feuchtwanger (85), the Chinese displeasure over this issue led to resentment thus prompting protest and cultural crusade popularly known as; May Fourth Movement, the movement influenced China to cede signing the treaty. China declared cease of war with German in 1919 and again signed another separate Treaty with it in 1921 as affirmed by Feuchtwanger (146).
The consequences of these competing and conflicting terms of the Treaty of Versailles left German un-ratified or permanently weakened. This ascertains to one of the factors leading to more conflicts and distinctly is linked directly to be a contributing factor to World War II.
Treaty of Versailles and the Rise of World War II
Perhaps, one of the most humbling approaches of the treaty for astounded Germany was; War Guilt Clause, Article 231 of the treaty. Greenberger (165) asserts that, the clause compelled German as a nation to admit comprehensive liability for instigating WWI. In this sense, Germany was responsible for substantial damages.
Specifically, Georges Clemenceau, Frances premier, asserted huge reparation to be paid by German. However, having prior knowledge that Germany would not be in a position to pay such a high debt, French as a country and Clemenceau nevertheless greatly feared swift German reclamation. This brought about new conflicts leading to war against France (Greenberger, 121).
French wanted the Treaty of Versailles to curtail the influence the potential of German in regaining its economic preeminence and to re-arm. According to Greenberger (11), the German army, air force and navy were made up of smaller numbers so do navy vessels. The banning and possession of submarines also affected Germans thus; it dealt a big bang to Germany supremacy. This was a weakness which its rivals like French explored.
Germany was also demanded to endure war atrocities proceeding leveled against Kaiser for insinuating aggressive war. Thus, preceding Leipzig Trials, with no Kaiser or other key leaders for trial, resulted in acquittals. This was believed as a counterfeit strategy to evade justice. The German autonomous government, which had been, recently formed, believed that the Treaty of Versailles “dictated peace” and thus no ill motive was in the offing as explained by Greenberger (90).
France, although had suffered materially distinctly than others, it persisted in drumming harsh conditions for Germans as earlier mentioned, though their demands didn’t adequately resolve the international disputes which had resulted as a result of the World War I. In contrast, it contributed in curtailing the Inter-European cooperation and helped suppress the primary reasons that had caused the World War I (Macmillan, 46).
According to Macmillan (145), the geography of Europe was weakening as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty had enormous clauses which resulted, in Germans losing some of its territories. German lost territories such as; France took provinces of Lorraine and Alsace, Denmark was pleased with Schleswig. In the East, different nations were established to standardize the ethnicity of the region as asserted by Macmillan (96).
Consequently, the Polish Corridor was formed thus giving poles a larger strip heading straight towards the sea; the strip separated Poland from Eastern Prussia; the larger part of Germany. Germany did not lose territories in Europe alone, but most of its overseas territories were also seized by its allies either to be part of allies’ colonies or under the League of Nations (Macmillan, 168). Generally, the Treaty of Versailles made Germans loss over one million Miles of land and more that 6 million subjects.
The Treaty of Versailles was a shock to German specifically in economic aspects. Before WWI, the Germany economy was based on three important elements; coal and iron, international commerce and trade and its effective tax structures. According to Keynes (88), the Treaty of Versailles crippled all of these structures. Sudden death of mercantile marine, overseas territories and transport structures had a negative factor on the financial structure of German.
Prior to the WWI, Germany was a significant trading center in Continental Europe. It was the largest supplier of various products to countries such as Britain, Russia and France. The Treaty curtailed all these trading initiatives by altering the course of transporting supplies to these countries (Keynes, 27). Left with no alternative, German couldn’t convey the supplies thus disabling its economy. With no efficient transport mode, Germany had to pay other countries to facilitate its transport to and from other countries.
The major problem was that, Germany didn’t have more money to implement this strategy because of the reparation which had been imposed by the Treaty. Keynes (14) describes that, the treaty encompassed terms which forbade Germany in charging customs levies on imports thus disabling another source of revenue for Germans. Thus, economy of Germany was exceedingly affected. It blamed Germany for having instigated the WWI thus; it was held responsible for all costs linked to the war.
The Treaty stipulated that all reparation should be paid to allies (Keynes, 96). The payments often referred as reparations were paid monthly thus, they totaled to over, 6,600 million pounds – this was the amount the allies felt were justified, when they agreed in 1921 (Keynes, 75). However, this figure was inexcusable to Germans. This was because of several reasons.
One of the reasons was that, the economic sovereignty of Germany had been stretched to the extreme as a result of WWI and that, it was trying to revamp its domestic economic strategies besides, being forced to pay reparation charges. Moreover, German had lost its sources of raw materials as a result of her colonies and raw materials being surrendered to other countries. Hence, this according to Keynes (99) contributed to further weakening of German economic system, and making it a bit complex for German to abide.
In addition to this, it is important to note that, diverse causalities suffered, for example, Germany had lost about 1.7 people and further 4.2 million has being maimed or wounded during the war. Feuchtwanger (167) describes that these factors anchored in the Treaty of Versailles infuriated Germans and therefore no option in evading the Second World War.
As already explained earlier, Germany economy was hugely dependent on coal and steel. The Treaty of Versailles pierced through this as well (Keynes, 1995). When Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by France, the Germany had lost large fields of ore, noting that these ore-fields contributed to about 75% of Germany ore.
Further, France annexation of Upper Silesia and Poland Saar Basin under the Treaty of Versailles led Germans to lose more coal fields. Keynes (136) points out that, the loss of these territories were not only the main factor, but Germany was required under the Treaty to supply large percentage of Coal to Belgium, Italy and France in accordance to reparation settlement.
Germany relied on coal to complement its energy needs. Coal was equally important; it helped to power locomotives hence facilitating faster transport of trade products besides, it was used to generate electricity primarily in factories (Keynes, 1995). Because of the loss of these key territories and convey trade goods; make factory to function, Germany economy was at a standstill.
The provision of the treaty as earlier mentioned made Germany to lose its key coal deposit territories. The loss of these territories implied that, Germany industries in these regions were also lost. This was because; the industries were located in these areas thus creating a segment loss of Germany economy (Mayor, 67). It is obvious that the treaty of Versailles was difficult for Germany to handle.
It contributed to its weakness thus the inclination established made Germany desire to emerge stronger again thus, the Second World War. However, no matter challenging the Treaty was to Germany, it was also felt by the people as a result of its meaning to the national economy.
The treaty caused famine, poverty and massive unemployment (Mayor, 196). The Treaty only facilitated transfer of Germany territories away from people. In areas where it occurred, Germans lost properties, insecurity surged implying that German industries, properties and land were taken away from legitimate owners without formal compensation (Mayor, 1967). This vexed German people thus; it contributed to injuring the Germany economy.
The reparation strategy as part of the terms of the Treaty, contributed to weakening and even collapse of German currency and inflation. These two factors wiped out all the savings of Germans people. According to Mayor (129) prior to WWI, Germany was a strong industrialized country, it solely based on importation of food and raw materials. But the treaty of Versailles dashed this hope hence making Germany experience distress in importing food as a result of lack of enough money (Mayor, 1967). This contributed to famine.
Unemployment was another unfortunate effect necessitated by the Treaty of Versailles. Losing coal resources and restrictions to import sufficient quantity of raw materials implied that, many industries couldn’t stand. This resulted lying off workers (Feuchtwanger, 1993). Consequently, the deterioration of trade and loss of major German merchant marine as a result of the Treaty led to increase of unemployment.
With no standing trade and merchant marine, jobs were hard to find for Germans who depended on trade and navigation as a source of livelihood. Feuchtwanger (1993) notes that, during the depression period, about 10% Germans were unemployed thus, this was one of the largest percentages to have been recorded after the First World War The Treaty didn’t affect unemployment rate rather, it also affected the remunerations the German people got.
According to Feuchtwanger (1993) before WWI, unemployed Germans were accorded a generous unemployment package, but as a result of the Treaty of Versailles coupled with depression, the government did not have sufficient income to distribute these packages. Thus, unemployment insurance subsided to 12% and the people entitled to it reduced (Feuchtwanger, 1993).
Besides, the employed people were additionally affected because the government reduced salaries as it did not have sufficient economic resources to sustain it. People blamed foreign countries for forcing these sanctions to them as a result; they directly connected it with the Treaty of Versailles (Feuchtwanger, 1993). This agitation among the people culminated in striving towards a supremacy power once again.
The Treaty of Versailles brought about political reactions in German. Perhaps, Germany believed that it was a strategy of its own instigated by its rivals during the First World War. Macmillan (132) explores that, the German government of the day resigned for failing to sign it. When a new government was sworn in, they had no choice but to abide by the terms and regulation of the treaty. Some German politicians for example, General Ludendorff accused the treaty for being unfair to Germany people (Macmillan, 89).
His theory continued to dominate Germany as the economic conditions became worse. Former soldiers viewed that, the politicians had lost the war but not the army. This, among other issues, contributed to growth of popularity among people such as in Weimer republic who were unwilling to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. This showed itself in uprisings such as Munich Putsch and Kapp Putsch.
Further, as mentioned earlier, the treaty demanded the trial of Former Kaiser. However, this did not exist as Dutch parliament declined to hand him Macmillan (76). This consequently halted any possible chance of restoring Germany. In Western Europe, the treaty inclined in isolating German. German was being viewed as an untouchable on global politics thus; she was dreaded and doubted by its allies. This had a significant impact on the role German would apply in Europe and in world affairs in the post war world (Macmillan, 114).
Generally, whereas reaction to the Treaty was felt across Europe and outside, it was not as strong as the Germany people themselves. After publishing the terms and conditions of the Treaty in Germany leading medias, the Germans were irritated. They saw how the Treaty was unfair and cruel. These reactions were not only anchored on the Treaty itself, but the Germans had anticipated that the Treaty will embrace and addressed under the ideologies of president Wilson’s which advocated for realistic measures to Germany.
According to Birdsall (98), the terms of the treaty they had read in the Media were in therefor in contradiction of what they trusted in. The Germans temper was also centered towards the Government in accepting the Treaty. It was not easy to cool Germans people’s discontent because, they asserted accountability of all their economic woes to the Treaty of Versailles.
They therefor affirmed that they were engulfed with vengeful enemies. Besides, the Treaty caused Germany bitterness that; Hitler had taken advantage to accrue support as affirmed by Birdsall (132). Thus, this coupled with other political factors brought about by the Treaty of Versailles was tough for Germans to fulfill thus the Second World War proved inevitable.
Also, the persistence efforts exerted by Western European supremacies to ostracize Germany through the Treaty destabilized and secluded German autonomous leaders. Predominantly detrimental in linking them with severe and stringent requirements of Versailles was considerable persuasion among many that Germany rights and freedom had been violated (Birdsall, 66).
Leaders who were in the lead in establishing the new Weimar administration and negotiate peace, with which Germans had desired intensely, were so disappointed by the terms created by the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles was implemented to promote peace after the WWI. Though the Peace had multiple provisions, the key was to make Germany accountable for the war and thus, foot payment for reparation of its allies. One of the important clauses, The War Guilt under section 231, compelled Germany in accepting the liability. Besides, other terms of the Treaty such as; disarmament of Germany military, Territorial clause, paying reparation cost and the Shandong problem were also risky and instigated more trouble for Germans.
The terms of the Treaty of Versailles therefore, led to; the physical weakening of German territories, the economic problem, high employment and inflation rate, political influence and demilitarization of Germany. The treaty brought about uncertainty across Europe. Its primary role of creating long-lasting peace was thwarted thus, the ultimate cause of the Second World War Il.
Bessel, Richard. Germany after the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993
Birdsall, Paul. Versailles Twenty Years After. Hamden: Archon Books, 1962
Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004
Feuchtwanger, E.J. From Weimar to Hitler. London: The Macmillan Press, 1993
Greenberger, Richard. Germany 1918-1945. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1946
Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York: Penguin Books, 1995
Macmillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. New York: Random House, Inc., 2001
Mayor, Arno J. Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1967