The Treaty of Versailles
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Depending on who answers the question "when did WW2 start?", the answer is often different. Many will say Sep 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, some say Jul 1937 when Japan invaded China, and a few will even say Sep 1931 when the Japanese Army instigated the Mukden Incident in the Manchuria region of China. Some historians date the start of WW2 even further; they say that WW2 became unavoidable when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.
After the horrendous carnage that was the trench warfare of WW1, the European powers were fearful of any future warfare altogether. After six months of negotiations, the Allied powers decided that Germany must be stripped of all of its war-making capabilities so that the country could never commence another aggressive war again. This was done by stripping Germany of her colonial possessions and some European territory, severely restricting her military's quality and quantity, and forcing her to pay large sums in reparations. While the territorial losses and the military restrictions had already driven the proud German people to shame, the reparations clause drove them to near rage. Initial clause placed the weight of repaying 269 billion gold marks to the Allied powers; an amendment passed in Jan 1921 reduced the amount of 132 billion. Even at the reduced amount, it was an impossibly astronomical figure that would require Germany to continue paying until 1987 before the entire amount was paid off. The efforts to pay the war debts created a hyperinflation in Germany, and eventually it led to a complete economic meltdown. "The terms [of the treaty] were exorbitant, vindictive, and preposterous", said William Manchester. John Maynard Keynes did not see merit in it either, calling the peace that it promised nothing but "a Carthaginian Peace". Fellow British Winston Churchill summed up the treaty as "monstrous" and "malignant". Paul von Hindenburg, German Chief of Staff during WW1, was asked about the treaty; he responded by saying that sometimes he could not "help feeling that it were better to perish than sign such a humiliating peace."
It was in this mixture of damaged national pride and severe hardship endured by the German people that gave Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party the opportunity gain popularity. Germany, ravaged by the war, the harsh treaty, and the Great Depression, wanted to see a bright future for Germany; Hitler offered such a hope, and the German people bought into his twisted vision for a glorious German Reich.
The text of the Treaty of Versailles can be found on the website the First World War.
Sources: the Last Lion, Wikipedia.
The Treaty of Versailles Timeline
|18 Jan 1919||The Paris Peace Conference opened in Versailles, France.|
|16 Jun 1919||The victorious powers gave a ultimatum to Germany to agree to the Treaty of Versailles by 24 Jun 1919.|
|24 Jun 1919||The German Reichstag agreed to the Treaty of Versailles.|
|28 Jun 1919||The Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations were signed in Paris, France.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945