The Peace Settlement


Germany gained a brief respite after the surrender of Russia at Brest-Litovsk. Shortly thereafter, the Germans launched a major offensive against French lines, but the offensive was turned back within 35 miles of Paris at the Second Battle of the Marne. Allied success was largely the result of the infusion of fresh American troops who did not suffer from the war weariness that plagued the other forces. Both sides were weary of the war, but it was the Germans who cracked first.

After the Russian Revolution, a series of major strikes broke out in Germany, mostly led by Socialists and Communists. In July, 1918, a coalition of moderates in the Reichstag passed a peace resolution calling for peace without territorial annexation. In response, the German military cracked down with a virtual dictatorship of the homeland. With the Allies advancing on all fronts, General Ludendorff realized that the war was lost; but insisted on blaming moderate politicians in the Reichstag for the defeat. On October 4, 1918, a new liberal government met to sue for peace; however President Woodrow Wilson responded that he would only negotiate with the democratically elected government of the German people. The German people had had enough, and rose up in rebellion. Soldiers and workers began to establish revolutionary councils on the models of the Russian soviets. On November 3, sailors in Kiel mutinied and on the same day Austria Hungary surrendered to the Allies. Masses of workmen in Germany struck and demonstrated for peace. Faced with unrest and with army discipline collapsing, Wilhelm II abdicated and fled to Holland, where he remained to the end of his days. A German Republic was proclaimed on November 9, and agreed to the Allied terms of surrender, which were NOT generous. Allied and German representatives met at Compiegne near Aix-la-Chappelle, (present day Aachen) in a Railroad Car where the Armistice was signed at eleven a.m. on November 11, 1918. The War was over.

Revolution: Revolution broke out in Austria-Hungary and Germany as a result of the defeat. In Austria-Hungary, the Hapsburg empire collapsed. Independent Austrian, Hungarian, and Czechoslovakian republics were proclaimed and in the south Yugoslavia (literally, "land of the southern Slavs") was created. Class consciousness was replaced with the prospect of establishing new national states.

In Germany, the Revolution of 1918 was similar to the Russian Revolution of 1917. A popular uprising from below toppled the monarchy and a liberal provisional republic was established. Unlike other areas, radical revolutionaries did not triumph, which caused great chagrin to the German communists, who considered the revolution only half completed. There were several reasons why Germany did not embrace a communist government:

Two radical communists, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, tried to seize control of the government in Berlin and thereby bring about a Russian type Revolution. In January, the moderate socialists called on the army to crush the uprising. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were arrested and later murdered by army leaders.

The Treaty of Versailles: Twenty seven victorious nations sent seventy delegates to meet in Paris at Louis XIV’s palace in January, 1919. Historian John McKay reports, "A young British diplomat later wrote that the victors ‘were convinced that they would never commit the blunders and iniquities of the Congress of Vienna’ [of 1818]. Then the ‘misguided, reactionary, pathetic aristocrats’ had cynically shuffled populations, not ‘we believed in nationalism, we believed in the self determination of peoples.’ Indeed ‘we were journeying to Paris…to found a new order in Europe. We were preparing not Peace, only, but Eternal Peace." Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States had previously promulgated his Fourteen Points Peace Plan in January, 1918, which gave the conference a spirit of optimism.

Germany was not allowed to participate, and Russia was involved in its own civil war, and did not participate. For that reason, the major powers at the conference were the United States, Britain and France. The conference immediately devolved into quarrelling. Wilson was obsessed with creating the League of Nations while others in attendance were concerned with punishing Germany. David Lloyd George had won an election in Britain based on his plan to make Germany pay, commenting that "We shall squeeze the orange until the pips squeak." The British people as a whole were not sympathetic to the Germans whom they considered, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, "people with the hearts of beasts."

The French Ambassador, Georges Clemenceau, known as "The Tiger," wanted nothing short of old fashioned revenge as well as security for France. He wanted a buffer state between France and Germany, the permanent demilitarization of Germany, and reparations from the German government. Wilson considered this vindictive and would not go along; and the conference was soon deadlocked, and Wilson packed his bags to return home. Clemenceau only compromised because of the fear of the breakup of the conference which would leave France alone to face Germany should hostilities break out again. In lieu of a buffer state, the parties agreed to a permanent alliance of France with the United States and Britain, whereby each would come to the aid of France if it were attacked.

The resulting Treaty of Versailles was not as harsh as might otherwise seem; in fact if one accepts the example of Brest-Litovsk, it is likely that the Germans would have been even more severe had they won. The terms:

When presented with the terms, the German delegates protested vigorously, but they had no choice. Germany was still under naval blockade, and the Allies refused to lift it until representatives of the German government signed the treaty. It was signed on July 28, 1919, in the same Hall of Mirrors where Bismarck had proclaimed the German Empire fifty years before.

Separate treaties were signed with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. The treaties basically ratified the existing situation in eastern and central Europe following the breakup of Austria-Hungary. Some Austrian territory was ceded to Italy, and parts of Hungary were ceded to Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. The Turkish Empire was broken up also. France received Lebanon and Syria, and Britain received Iraq and Palestine. They were officially League of Nations mandates.

American Rejection of the Treaty of Versailles: The Treaty of Versailles was not perfect, but it was acceptable in Europe. It provided for national self-determination, the factor which had led to the outbreak of war in the first place; a new world organization had been formed, and the remaining problems could be worked out in the future. The delegates at Versailles had felt it necessary to be expeditious, as they detested Lenin and feared that his Bolshevik revolution might spread to the rest of Europe (the very plan that Lenin had in mind.) Peace seemed to be the solution to Lenin’s calls for revolution.

Two obstacles remained: Germany and the United States. Germany suffered communist uprisings, reactionary plots, and disillusionment with losing the war. In fact, because German soldiers were still on foreign soil and no foreign soldiers were on German soil when the armistice was signed, the army had accused the civilian government of a "stab in the back." The moderates faced an enormous challenge. The ensuing Weimar Republic was successful in suppressing rebellion, including Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch; however even it eventually collapsed not to left wing rebellion but to right wing arrogance.

In the United States, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, was opposed to the treaty as written, primarily because he feared that the League of Nations would deprive the United States of its power to declare war. This fear was probably more imagined than real. Lodge proposed modifications, but Wilson refused to accept any change. He was ill and self-righteously narrow minded. Wilson single handedly saw that the Treaty was never ratified by the United States. The U.S. never joined the League of Nations nor did it ratify the defensive alliance Wilson had arranged with Britain and France. In essence, the U.S. turned its back on Europe.

Britain relied on the U.S. refusal and also refused to honor the defensive alliance with France. France was forced to stand alone against Germany. The grandiose Western Alliance fell apart, and only a fragile peace remained.