The First World War was truly a significant event in history. The tension that began in Europe evolved into a global conflict which lasted for four long years. The war claimed the lives of both soldiers and civilians, and resulted in the massive destruction of property. After the war ended, the countries involved undertook measures which sought to avoid another global conflict. One of those measures was the drafting of several peace settlements, including the Versailles Treaty. This agreement punished Germany and made it solely responsible for the occurrence of the war.
Unfortunately, the treaty caused bitterness from the Germans and paved the way for another world war to occur. Coincidentally, it was the Second World War which resolved the unaddressed issues of the first Great War. Indeed, the Versailles Treaty caused the occurrence of the Second World War, which ended the problems of the First World War. The Versailles Treaty considered Germany to be the only nation liable to the occurrence of the First World War. It must be noted that Germany did initiate the establishment of the alliance system, which guaranteed increased conflict in Europe (Perry, 1989).
As an outcome of its triumph in the Franco-Prussian War, Germany acquired the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In an attempt to secure these former French territories and prevent France from regaining them, the Chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck allied with Italy and Austria-Hungary. Germany continued its aggression after Bismarck was removed from office. When William II assumed the throne, Germany demanded more territory and began to increase its naval strength. However, Germany was not the only nation to blame for the First World War. In fact, Serbia was responsible for starting the war.
It was a shooting incident which triggered the widespread conflict: a Serbian named Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife (Heyman, 1997). Austria sought to attack Serbia in return, and turned to Germany for assistance. Hence, the starting point of the First World War was the conflict between Austria and Serbia (Perry, 1989). The end of the First World War brought about several attempts at the restoration of peace, but it was prevented by intentions of the affected parties.
Prior to the end of the First World War, U. S. President Woodrow Wilson had already drafted a program for peace which he presented in Congress through the “Fourteen Points” speech (Perry, 1989). One of the major points he suggested in his speech was “peace without victory” (as cited in Perry, 1989, p. 647). Wilson wanted the other countries to practice fairness towards Germany, for he thought that severely penalizing the nation would only force it to avenge their losses. He simply wanted a fair settlement which would guarantee improved foreign relations between the victors and the defeated countries.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s hopes ran against the bitter feelings which were developed during the war. The European Allies suffered massive losses, which in turn caused hatred between countries. Among all Allies, France was most affected by the First World War; majority of the battles which happened in the western front took place in French territory. While more than three million French citizens were wounded, more than a million French soldiers died in the war. Hence, it was to be expected that France desired severe punishment for Germany and sought to be compensated for its damaged properties (Perry, 1989).
The Versailles Treaty did not guarantee fair treatment towards Germany, as it imposed harsh sanctions on the defeated nation. The settlement was evidently disadvantageous for Germany; it was created to decrease their power and territory. The treaty was beneficial for France; not only did it regain Alsace-Lorraine, but it also obtained control over the Saar coal mines (Halsall, 1944). Germany also lost territory to Poland and Britain (Perry, 1989). In addition, the Versailles treaty significantly reduced the military capability of Germany.
The agreement required the German army to be limited to 100,000 people, all of which were to be volunteers (Halsall, 1944). Germany was also asked to demilitarize their territories in both sides of Rhine River. More importantly, the treaty demanded Germany to pay other nations due to the damages which resulted from the war. Germany was supposed to pay $33 billion worth of reparations, an amount only determined two years after the nation signed the treaty (Perry, 1989). In general, the Versailles Treaty blamed Germany for the First World War and severely punished it as a result.
Consequently, the Germans were angered by the conditions of the Versailles Treaty and provoked them to start yet another world war. Germany was enraged by the demands for reparations; they thought that the amount given for them to pay exceeded the nation’s financial capacity (Perry, 1989). Germans also disagreed with treaty on grounds of being solely responsible for the outcome of the war. They upheld the belief that Germany must not be singled out, for all the nations involved in the war must be held accountable for its consequences.
After the First World War, Germany became a part of the League of Nations, the organization which was created for the purpose of developing peace and cooperation between countries. The country also participated in other postwar activities directed at maintaining peace. Despite these efforts, majority of the Germans were still not ready for peace. Most of them remained bitter towards the Versailles Treaty. The animosity was derived from humiliation after defeat; after all, the settlement disarmed their nation, reduced their territories and required them to pay a great sum (Bergen, 2002).
The Weimar government attempted to modify the treaty through peaceful means. When Adolf Hitler came into power, he completely undermined the Versailles Treaty (Perry, 1989). With Hitler as leader, Germany violated the Versailles Treaty and started the path to the Second World War. Hitler quickly broke the conditions of the treaty; he disregarded the limitations imposed on the country. He immediately increased the army to 550,000 men and rearmed it (Sulzberger, 1985).
Hitler also sent troops in Rhineland; this action was clearly a violation of the demilitarization in the area as demanded in the treaty. In what seemed to be a response to the loss of lands due to the Versailles Treaty, Hitler sought to expand German territory by uniting all German-speaking people (Sulzberger, 1985). All of the aforementioned aggressive acts committed by Hitler sparked another global conflict and eventually resulted in what everybody feared: the Second World War. Ironically, the problems of the First World War were resolved by the Second World War.
One of the problems of the Great War was self-determination, the principle wherein national groups choose their own political state (Perry, 1989). The reason behind Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination was the Serbs’ desire to unite all Slavic peoples. President Wilson included the principle of self-determination in his “Fourteen Points,” yet it proved to be problematic. Hitler even used the principle to invade other countries. After the Second World War, self-determination was no longer proposed. Instead, the Atlantic Charter drafted by U. S. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proposed the self-government to peoples. Meanwhile, the restoration of peace was also a dilemma after the First World War. The nations tried to restore peace through various peace settlements, including the Versailles Treaty. However, the treaty exacerbated the war problem. After the Second World War, there was already an international organization established to maintain peace among countries. Rather than make individual peace treaties to each Axis power, the Allied countries sought peace as the United Nations.
This move proved to be more effective in restoring global peace and order (Perry, 1989). The First World War was a genuinely significant experience. The armed conflict was caused and characterized by tension, so there were many efforts to avoid yet another war from taking place. The Versailles Treaty was a peace settlement, but it did not contribute to the restoration of peace. Rather, it caused the Second World War by provoking Germany to seek revenge over its sanctions. Fortunately, with the occurrence of the Second World War, the problems of the Great War were settled.
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