Perhaps I’ll get a chance to be present for the hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Saint-Germain, signed by the new Republic of German-Austria on September 10. Not likely, with the academic year in full swing. Or maybe the Treaty of Trianon (signed in another palace building in the Versailles complex), which established terms of peace with Hungary – and also dismembered that country. I’ve written about the problems with the post-WWI arrangements before… and I’ll have more to post about Trianon for next year’s anniversary.
But for today, I’ll just comment on Versailles. I really want to address one issue only – the idea that it was so unjust and humiliating that it made WWII inevitable. As much mischief as there was in the post-war arrangements, the oft-repeated complaint about onerous war reparations placed on Germany is exaggerated.
Reparations were in fact proportional to those that France was forced to pay Germany at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. And that peace treaty was signed in the very Hall of Mirrors where the 1919 treaty was signed. It was also the place where the Prussians declared the German Empire in 1871, having completed Bismarck’s ambitious program of filling out Germany’s borders. (Ironically some of that territory had been acquired from future ally Austria.)
Yes, there was some vengefulness in forcing German representatives to sign in the same place where France had been humiliated 48 years before. But should it be that surprising?
One thing I can’t explain is why they would choose the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the Austrian (not German!) Archduke. Hmm.
But yes, vengefulness tends to beget more vengefulness. Add to that the fact that the German public had been led to believe they were winning WWI right up until the end, and you can see how the “Stab-in-the-Back” myth led not only to militarism and nationalism, but also the scapegoating of “internal enemies.”
When will we humans ever learn?