The Paris Peace Conference met in 1919. Terms in large part were dictated by the Big Four (the United States, Britain, France, and Italy). Germany and the other Central Powers were not invited to Paris to negotiate, only to sign the agreement agreed to by the Allied Powers. The major negotiators were Americab President Woodrow Wilson, French Priemer Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, and Italian Primier Vittorio Emanuele. Wilson was the only head oif state, the arrival of the Americans in 1917 along with his idealistic beliefs emodied in the 14 Points brought him great prestige throughout Europe, an enthusism not shared by many Americans. Wilson in many ways dominated the Conference, despite the misgivings if not outright opposition from the other members of the Big Three. Wilson managed to push through major principles such as an end to secret negotiaions, national self-determination, the League of Nations, trusteeships (not full colonies and thus somewhat of a criticism of colonialism). The one issue on which the Allies would not yield to Wilson on was repriations.
American President Woodrow Wilson ran for reelection in 1916 on a campaign "He kept us out of war." The President became increasingly uneasy about a possible German victory. Efforts by Wilson to negotiate an end to the War were
dimissed by the Kaiser as naive. Many Americans favored the Allles at the onset of war and German offers of the southwest to Mexico (Zimmerman Telegram) and British war popaganda gradually moved most Americans increasingly to the Allied side. When the Kaiser ordered the resumtion of unrestricted sunmarine warfare, Wilson asked the Congress to declare war. (April 1917) President Woodrow Wilson unveiled a new Peace Program to Congress (January 1918). The program had been prepared by a group of U.S. foreign policy experts and consisted of 14 major princiles.First the Blosheviks and then Germany and the other Central Powers looked to the 14 Points proposed by American President Wilson as a basis for ending the War. The other Allies (Britain, France, and Italy) were less committed to them.
Allied offensives on the Western Front cracked the German front forcing them back toward Germany. The German Navy mutined. Riots broke out in Germany cities. The General staff informed the Kaiser that they could no longer guarantee his saftey. He abdicated and fled to the neutral Netherlands. A German Government was hastily formed and asked for an armistice based on President Wilson's 14 Points. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies accepted the German offer. The gun fell silent after 4 years of vicious fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the
11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded. Versailles Peace Treaty (1919)
The Paris Peace Conference met in 1919. Delegations from different countries and national groups were allowed to make presentations. The actual terms, decided, howeber, in large part were dictated by the Big Four (the United States, Britain, France, and Italy). Germany and the other Central Powers were not invited to Paris to negotiate, only to sign the agreement agreed to by the Allied Powers.
The major negotiators were American President Woodrow Wilson, French Priemer Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, and Italian Primier Vittorio Emanuele. Wilson was the only head oif state, the arrival of the Americans in 1917 along with his idealistic beliefs emodied in the 14 Points brought him great prestige throughout Europe, an enthusism not shared by many Americans. Wilson in many ways dominated the Conference, despite the misgivings if not outright opposition from the other members of the Big Three. Wilson, despite his emense popularity throughout Europe, was not liked by his colleagues. He was not a believer in power politics, but rather believed in the moral conduct of foreign policy. With Wilson, his fervent convictions took the force if moral certainties. Not only was he insuferabkly self-righteous, but other charcteristics (prissy, dogmatic, and pedantic) made him a difficult person to negotiate with. Once he had made a decission, he often refused to comorimise. One historian writes of Wilson, "Those who opposed him were not just wroing but wicked." [MacMillan]
The Conference and the Versailles Peace Treaty which followed was in large measure Wilson;s work following the principles set forth in his 14 Points. Wilson managed to push through major principles such as an end to secret negotiaions, national self-determination, the League of Nations, and trusteeships. Wilson's colleagues were not at all convinced that an end to secret negotiations were a good idea, after all they had been engaged in these negotaitions. They did agree that it made good public relatuions. Natioanl self determination was a problem for Britain as well as France and Italy with colonial empires. The trusteeships which emergedfrom the Conference were not full colonies and thus somewhat of a criticism of colonialism. In addition Italy coveted territory in which Italians were not the majority population. The other members of the Big Four were as not committed to the League of Nations, but as the League was to be made essentially powerless were willing to accept the idea. Again it made for good public relations back gome. The one issue on which the Allies would not yield to Wilson on was repriations. Modern historians on issues like repriations often blame statesmen for a kack of vission. Here it must be remembered that the public in the victorious Allied Nations (except America) was clammoring for massive repraitions to repair the damage caused by the War.
The Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919, about 7 months after the Armistace stopping the fighting on November 11, 1918. It had a huge impact on the international status of Germany, impacting the country territorially, militarily, and econimically. Germany was made a pariah country and largely blamed for the start of the War. Of major significance, the Germany being punished was the Germany of the Weimar Republic and not Imperial Germany as the Kaiser had abdigated. As a result, the domestic German oposition to the changes, including the territorial changes, came to be directed at the Weimar Republic and not the Imperial Government and German military that had conducted the War. The NAZIs and other right-wing groups were to saddle demoncratic politicans
with the "shame of Versailles". Germany under the terms of the Treaty suffered many consequences. The navy and merchant marine was lost. The battleships had to be turned over the the Allies. The battleships ships in fact steamped into the British naval base at Scappa Flow. The German captains, however, rather than turning them over to the British, scuttled them. Germany lost her African and Pacific colonies. Along with territorial losses in Europe were important natural resources. The German Army was reduced to virtual impotence. And the country was sattled with immense retributions. A critical elemement in the treaty was the principle of national self determination promoted by President Wilson. This resulted in the creatiion of a large number of small, weak states in Eastern Europe. It must be said that the the Versailles Treaty was not as onerous as the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk (1918) imposed on the Russians. Still it was undenuably harsh. Many historians see it at the first step toward World War II.
The Paris Peace Conferece higely affected the future of Europe and the world. Many new states appeared out of the the four multi-national empires destroyed by the War (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and the Ottoman Empires): Czecheslovakia (now divided), Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Jordon, Iraq, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithianian, Poland, Syria, and Yugoslavia (now divided). The history and current staus of these nations has varied widely. A trusreeship was created for Palestine and a Homeland promissed the Jews. The former German colonies were also made trusteeships. It is of course easy to criticise the work of the negotiators. The division of Germany, especially the creation of Czecheslovakia and Poland would play major roles in Worl War II. The commitments to the Arabs and Jews have created the most intractible internatioinal conflict in the modern world. The future of Iraq is currently a major issue. The emnity and ethnic hatred in the Balkas continue to pose a serious problem. While it is easy to critice the outcome, less clear is what other alternatives would have avoided a new World war 20 years later. Some historians trace many of the modern troubles to the Paris Peace Conference, but in fact many date back to the Roman Empire and the Barbarian invasions. Yhe negotiators at Paris saw the Conference as a kibd of new beginning for Europe. [MacMillan] The major alternatives was of course to leave the large multi-national empires in place. Churchill writes that the destruction of these empires was a major contributing factor to World War II. He is of course correct. But was this a feasible alternative. The Emperial leaders had been thoroughly discredited. Many national groups in 1918 had taken matters in theor ownn hands and founded new states even before the delegates met in Paris. Any return to Empire would have meant that that thesenew states and restive nationalities would have had to havebeen supressed with military force. Any attempt to prevent the creation of small new states for the various European nationalities whon have eventually faced the kind of terrorism and viloence (Serb nationalism) that launched World War I in the first place.
President Wilson had a major role in the Paris Peace Conference, especially the creation of the League of Nation. The Republican controlled Senate, however, was deeply suspious of the principle of Colective Seurity and American membershiop in the League. In the end the Senate rejected the League and after the 1920 elections returned the Republicans to the presidency, the United States negotiated separate treaties with the former Central Powers. The separate American peace treaty with Germany was signed July 2, 1921.
MacMillan, Margaret, Paris 1919: Six Months That Change the World (Random House, 2003), 570p.
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