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The Great War
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The Versailles Treaty - A Grand Bazaar
Jay Winter
"The peace negotiations in Paris are like a grand bazaar where all kinds of merchants come and spread their wares – what they have to offer, what they want to buy, what they feel is theirs by right.

"One of the fascinating questions about the peace negotiations of 1919, is whether the position of Germany as weak, but not too weak, is a function of a need to stop revolution from spreading from Russia to the West. I think it was Trotsky who said that it's our job to build the red bridge across Europe. Versailles wanted to make sure that bridge never reached Berlin. How do you do that while crippling Germany at the same time?

"Winston Churchill said that maybe we have to give Germany an army so that Bolshevism doesn't take hold in Germany.

"The same thing would be true of Eastern Europe as well, where there were Bolshevik uprisings in Hungary and elsewhere. These are dangerous phenomena for the political settlement of Europe, and actually provide a reason for letting Germany off the hook as long as its non-Bolshevik Germany. However, Germany couldn't be let off the hook because there was too much anger, too much hatred. So that the compromise about what to do with Germany, weak but not too weak, strong but not too strong, is a function of the impossibility of having an international order in a revolutionary period. And to stop that revolution from spreading to the West was more important than to cripple Germany so severely that war would not take place.

"It may be the case that you couldn't do that. No stable European order could have risen out of a crippled Germany because the economic recovery of Europe required the economic recovery of Germany. But at the same time, the possibility of creating a European order without Russia seemed to be a fool's errand as well. And yet, both happened.

"Germany was crippled, but not too badly, and Russia was eliminated.

"Now, under those circumstances, it looked as if the German problem was always tied up with the Russian problem. It wasn't clear that the German problem could be solved anyway. But once you link it to issue of Communism and anti-Communism, it's certain that it won't be solved.

"One of the most puzzling features of the negotiations at Versailles is the high-minded rhetoric and the brutal military facts of negotiation. The Armistice did not end the blockade of Germany. That was lifted only when the peace treaty was signed on the 28th of June 1919. So what it meant was the German army had gone home, been disbanded, but the blockade went on. And as a result of that, it is quite clear that the Allies were waging war against civilians, against women, children, the elderly. This mean-spirited strategy was a deliberate attempt to stop the German war effort from re-forming, which it couldn't do anyway.

"And secondly, to express for the public in France and Britain some of the hatred and animosity and bitterness that had been bottled up over four years of war. They wanted the German civilian public to suffer as they had done and indeed, that public did.

"The fact that war was waged on women and children, on the elderly, in my view – after the Armistice – is a war crime.

"It certainly means the explosion of the moral principles of the Allies as the upholders of some new kind of politics – or a new way of dealing with politics in a period of inhumanity – as a weapon of diplomacy, and it works. The German delegates have to take whatever it is that they're bidden to accept. But there is a price to pay, and that price is in the embitterment of the majority of the German population. They were convinced that what happened to them was an injustice, so that the very way in which the Treaty of Versailles was forced on the German people stored up the material for the next round.

"The problem with revenge is that it never ends.

"One act of revenge creates another. It's endless. The way in which Versailles was conducted was disastrous. It didn't provide anything that could be called worth the sacrifice of even a fraction of those who had died in the First World War. So the idea of why, what for, has no answer for someone like Harold Nicolson and for many others. It becomes a peculiarity. An odd nightmare. A continuation of the nightmare of war rather than the breaking of the new dawn."

 
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