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On This Day in History: January 18th, 1919 - Post-War Peace Conference Begins!
Posted: 01/18/2012 15:49 by herodotusComments: 4
On this day in Paris, France, some of the most powerful people in the world meet to begin the long, complicated negotiations that would officially mark the end of the First World War.

Leaders of the victorious Allied powers--France, Great Britain, the United States and Italy--would make most of the crucial decisions in Paris over the next six months. For most of the conference, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson struggled to support his idea of a "peace without victory" and make sure that Germany, the leader of the Central Powers and the major loser of the war, was not treated too harshly. On the other hand, Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau of France and David Lloyd George of Britain argued that punishing Germany adequately and ensuring its weakness was the only way to justify the immense costs of the war. In the end, Wilson compromised on the treatment of Germany in order to push through the creation of his pet project, an international peacekeeping organization called the League of Nations.

Representatives from Germany were excluded from the peace conference until May, when they arrived in Paris and were presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. Having put great faith in Wilson's promises, the Germans were deeply frustrated and disillusioned by the treaty, which required them to forfeit a great deal of territory and pay reparations. Even worse, the infamous Article 231 forced Germany to accept sole blame for the war. This was a bitter pill many Germans could not swallow.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the day after a Serbian nationalist's bullet ended the life of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and sparked the beginning of World War I. In the decades to come, anger and resentment of the treaty and its authors festered in Germany. Extremists like Adolf Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) Party capitalized on these emotions to gain power, a process that led almost directly to the exact thing Wilson and the other negotiators in Paris in 1919 had wanted to prevent--a second, equally devastating global war.

Postscript/Comment:
When asked:
"What was the main cause of World War II?", I generally answer:
"The Treaty of Versailles.".

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By hunter612 (SI Core) on 01/19/2012 09:44
hunter612
Was the League of Nations the precursor to the UN?
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on 01/19/2012 10:43
herodotus
It was in many ways, yet doomed from the start. Unfortunately it's conditions placed on Germany were crippling and vindictive. President Wilson of the US wanted a large stake in European affairs, and is the sole reason America entered the war in 1918.
The one act Hitler performed that I agree with was the burning of the railway carriage where the Treaty was signed when he invaded France.
By hunter612 (SI Core) on 01/20/2012 06:23
hunter612
So it was indeed the precursor. Hm, in many ways isn't the UN still vindictive? Also, did the US try to initially stay out of WWII?

Hitler is quite the enigma I suppose. I don't know too much about him but I've heard quite a few things praising some of his qualities. I will never understand why people fought for his cause though. Or any other government's cause. If you look at wars, its often not the bulk of the country's interests which are being serviced but rather the interests of the handful of 'leaders'.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on 01/20/2012 13:05
herodotus
The UN works very differently to the League of Nations in that Monarchies do not hold sway over decision making - unless you include the Empire of the USA.
America herself, that is the people were split almost 60/40 against entering into the European War in 1939 as she had become Isolationist with The Great Depression. However, Roosevelt DID want in and here is where the whole Pearl Harbour controversy begins in that many believe, including myself that it was no surprise attack. I did years of research for a thesis on this and have no doubt in my mind that both Roosevelt, and his General Staff and Churchill knew full well the Japanese were going to strike the home base of the Pacific Fleet. It was Roosevelt's only way into the war.
As for Hitler, well Germany was in dreadful state. The Wiemar Republic, never a true Gov't was falling to pieces (it only came into being when one of the architects yelled out the window over the Reichstag that a government was in effect when it wasn't). To buy a loaf of bread, it took a wheelbarrow full of marks to buy and the people were angry. Along comes Hitler offering snappy black uniforms, women, money and the dream of a prosperous and magnificent future for the country. Given if you were offered all of that in times of despair, and not questioning nor looking too closely into the machinations, might you not too have succumbed?