Treaty of Versailles Paved the Road to World War II

by Erin
Written for January 24, 2007

World War I was a devastating catastrophe for all of the major European powers. In order to recover from the war’s destruction, the major powers among the Allies met and devised a treaty to punish Germany, dubbed the scapegoat for the instigation and the damages of the war, rather than seek universal peace, as America’s president Woodrow Wilson hoped. Instead of the peace from Wilson’s idealized dreams, the Treaty of Versailles created terms brutal enough to destroy Germany forever, ultimately leading up to the Second World War.

President Woodrow Wilson was keen on making his visions of peace a reality, and he brought his plans confidently and ardently to the peace negotiations after World War I. He called for radical changes internationally such as open diplomacy, arms reduction, and the elimination of trade barriers. In his Fourteen Points plan, he sought to spread American values of democracy and freedom throughout the world. He imagined that the League of Nations would act as a mediator during international disputes, and peace would forever reign. However, his goals were too extreme and unattainable, and the other major leaders had distinctly different ideas in mind, resulting in the obstruction of Wilson’s efforts.

The major European powers involved in the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles intended to severely punish Germany, hold the nation responsible for the entire war, and prevent it from being able to gain power ever again. Its harsh terms forced Germany to pay $33 billion in reparations. It also limited the German army to 100,000 officers and soldiers and banned a military draft. The navy was shrunken, and the air force was completely outlawed. The treaty restricted German production, import, and export of weapons. In order to ensure compliance with these terms, Allied officials supervised the German disarmament. The Treaty of Versailles also resulted in German loss of territory. Germany was forced to cede land to several nations, including Denmark, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. In addition, the Rhineland area of Germany was occupied by Allied troops, and the Saar area was under the control of the League of Nations, both for fifteen years. Not surprisingly, the Germans resented the requirements of the treaty.

Because the Germans collectively detested the Treaty of Versailles, it made way for nationalism and unity among the country’s citizens. They could unanimously rally against the terms and facilitated the rise of the powerful and influential Adolf Hitler. Germany was able to band together behind a common cause, and despite the losses endured because of the treaty, the nation was still in a satisfactory position to gain power in Europe. Although it was defeated and lost both land and resources, Germany was still one of the largest nations in Europe with substantial economic power. The terms of the treaty actually made the German army very stable, and it was considerably better condition than most other armies throughout Europe. With all the turmoil occurring around the continent, Germany could actually quite easily rise to power again, and this is exactly what happened.

After World War I, it was clear that a long road to recovery lay ahead of Europe. While international peace was advocated by President Woodrow Wilson, the other major leaders involved in the negotiations after the war sought to place the blame on Germany and enforce severe punishments through the Treaty of Versailles. The harsh terms of the treaty harbored resentment among the Germans, inciting a new wave of nationalism which allowed for the rise of Adolf Hitler and ultimately directed the world on its way to another devastating war.

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