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(The VERSAILLES TREATY – continued)

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The VERSAILLES TREATY (2 of 2)

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Repercussions

Germany

The treaty was presented to the German government in May, 1919, with the threat that if Germany did not accept the treaty by June 23, hostilities would resume. People in France believed the treaty was too lenient with Germany. In Germany the treaty started a disturbance that would extend into the 1930s. The treaty outraged by its clause describing Germany as guilty of having created the war. The Germans were outraged by the reparations payments – which they saw would be taken from the pockets of working people in the form of lower wages. They were outraged by the loss of territory that was clearly German and by the creation of the corridor at Danzig. It was the kind of outrage that produces a hyper-emotional nationalism. It excited animosity toward the French and hatred of those who could be associated with treason and stabbing Germany in the back. And it inspired scapegoating Jews. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had been murdered as recently as January. Known pacifists such as Albert Einstein felt threatened. Einstein withdrew his support of a group that supported the League of Nations.

Germany's Social Democrat president, Friedrich Ebert – president since February 11 – considered resuming the war by taking up defensive positions. He telephoned Hindenburg's assistant, General Groener, who spoke to Hindenburg, and Hindenburg again did what he could to disassociate himself from defeat. He is reported to have told Groener, "You know what must be done. I am going for a walk." Groener told Ebert that the army was in no shape to fight, and because Social Democrats were in power, Social Democrats would be blamed by hawkish super-patriots for accepting the treaty.

On June 21, two days before the signing at Versailles, the Germans sank their warships rather than turn them over to the Allies. On June 28, Germany signed the treaty. Austria signed in September, and Bulgaria in November. The Hungarians drove the revolutionary Béla Kun from power in August 1919 and signed the treaty in June 1920. The Turks signed in August, 1920. The Dutch remained a little more objective about Kaiser Wilhelm than people of the Allied powers: they refused to allow the Allies to take Wilhelm prisoner. And the Dutch thwarted an attempt by a cabal of United States military officers to kidnap him.

The Treaty, Racism and Imperialism in Africa and the Middle East

At the Paris Peace Conference, Japan had tried to include a clause on racial equality, but leaders of the western powers at Paris, Wilson among them, were unwilling to support such a declaration. Colonialism was still dependent upon the notion of superiority of the white race and rather than move to end imperialism the creators of the peace treaty supported its perpetuation. They made Germany's colonies in Africa the common property of the League of Nations. The nationalities concerned were not consulted. The settlement gave Britain control of German East Africa and a part of the German Cameroon. It gave France control over Togoland. South Africa took control over another portion of Germany's African empire. And Germany's holdings in the Pacific were divided between Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Arabic speaking peoples felt betrayed by the Peace Treaty. Arabs fighting with the Allied powers against rule by the Ottoman Turks had been promised independence, and they had been looking forward to the independence called for in Wilson's Fourteen Points. A proclamation poster distributed in Baghdad when British troops passed through in 1917 spoke of Arabs managing their own "civil affairs in collaboration with the Political Representative of Great Britain" and it spoke of the Arabs "realizing the aspirations of your Race." The Britain occupied Bazra, on the upper tip of the Persian Gulf, where Mesopotamia begins. They expressed their belief that the sacrifice of British blood "for the peace of the world" gave them the right to do so. It was an occupation designed to safeguard British oil interests in Persia.

The Arabs had found themselves without a voice at the Paris conference, and at Paris it was decided that Palestine and Mesopotamia (the latter to be called Iraq) would be administered by Britain, and it was decided that Syria and Lebanon would be administered by France – all under mandates of the League of Nations.

In 1920 the British were fighting an insurrection in Iraq. Britain's prime minister, Lloyd-George, responded to complaints by asking what would happen if his forces withdrew and saying that he would not abandon Iraq to "anarchy and confusion."

Unrest in China

Among those whom King George of Britain had wired congratulations to at the end of the war were the Chinese. China had joined the Allies during their war, hoping to win some favor with them, especially control over Germany's holdings in China. China had sent laborers to Europe as their contribution to the Allied war effort. The Chinese had been unaware that the Allies had promised the Japanese control of Germany's holdings in Shandong Province, and when this was disclosed during the Paris Conference student protests erupted in China. The students learned that the Japanese had paid a Chinese warlord in Beijing a huge sum of money to agree to Japan's taking over the German holdings. The student protests gave birth to the May 4th Movement, whose slogans were "struggle for sovereignty" and "throw out the warlord traitors." The Chinese viewed the peace treaty as a betrayal. And they saw the moralism in Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points as hypocritical. At the Paris Peace Conference the delegation from Beijing's warlord government acceded to public opinion in China and refused to sign the peace treaty.

Korea

Koreans also felt betrayed by the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson’s talk of a just settlement to the war in 1918 had inspired wishful thinking among the Koreans, who yearned for freedom from Japanese rule. The Koreans had suffered censorship by the Japanese. And under the Japanese education opportunities had been denied to all but a few. The Koreans had been denied the full benefit of their own rice crop. And business opportunities had been preserved for the Japanese. With the beginning of the Paris Peace talks, the Koreans had planned a peaceful demonstration in their nation's capital to be accompanied by a public pledge of support for Korean independence, a move made largely by Korea's teachers, Christian pastors and professional men. Participants in the demonstration were asked to carry homemade flags and to chant "may Korea live a thousand years." It was a day that was to become a great day of remembrance and mourning. The march was about 500,000 strong and witnessed by some American citizens. Japan's agents in Korea labeled the demonstrations as riots. Troops fired into the demonstrators. Japanese forces attacked and burned Christian churches. 6,670 Koreans died, 14,611 were wounded, and 52,770 arrested. Across Korea, outrage against the Japanese intensified, and rebellion took the Japanese months to control. Many Koreans – some armed – fled into Manchuria and into Korea's mountains, while at Paris the Peace Conference refused to allow Koreans to plead their case.

President Wilson returns home

President Wilson returned to the United States in July 1919. The treaty he signed at Versailles needed Senate ratification. Wilson did not have the support of Republicans that he needed. In October, while campaigning for support he suffered a stroke. And in November, after weeks of intense discussion, the Senate rejected the treaty 55 votes for and 39 against, short of the required two-thirds vote. It was the first treaty rejected by the Senate. A concern of those against the treaty was collective security and the League of Nations endangering their country's independence.

On 10 December 1920 Wilson was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1919. He sent a letter accepting the award, which read: "

In accepting the honor of your award I am moved not only by a profound gratitude for the recognition of my [sincere and] earnest efforts in the cause of peace, but also by a very poignant humility before the vastness of the work still called for by this cause. May I not take this occasion to express my respect for the far-sighted wisdom of the founder in arranging for a continuing system of awards? If there were but one such prize, or if this were to be the last, I could not of course accept it. For mankind has not yet been rid of the unspeakable horror of war. I am convinced that our generation has, despite its wounds, made notable progress. But it is the better part of wisdom to consider our work as one begun. It will be a continuing labor. In the indefinite course of [the] years before us there will be abundant opportunity for others to distinguish themselves in the crusade against hate and fear and war.

Sources

The First World War: A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert, 1996.

To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the quest for a New World Order, by Thomas J. Knock, Oxford U. Press, 1992.

Between War and Peace: Woodrow Wilson and the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918-1921, by Carol Willcox Melton, 2001

Origins of the Second World War, by A J P Taylor, 196.1

Copyright © 2007-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.