Legacy of Versailles and Causes of World War II

Introduction

The roots of any war are never limited to only one fact or event influencing someone’s worldview. Usually, the causes of disastrous bloodshed involve a variety of elements, some of which, however paradoxically it may sound, were meant to abolish military combats. One of such contradictory pages in the world’s history is related to World War II and the events that preceded it. The Paris Peace Conference, held in Versailles in 1919, had a noble aim to end World War I. Still, what was first treated as a positive achievement later turned to be one of the root causes of World War II.

Main body

The primary purpose of the Treaty of Versailles was to put an end to the Great War that led to millions of casualties. It was then that the title “war to end wars” was given to World War I.1 Notwithstanding, the declared intention was not gained, political and military leaders eventually having to agree that the causes of World War I, as well as its consequences, were not as simple as they might seem. Acknowledging the “astronomical” human losses of World War I, Tooley remarks that the core problem in any war is the state’s desire to exercise its right to take hold of anything it can “on its whim.”2 As a result of the state’s interference with citizens’ autonomy and private property, over ten million people died.3 The general idea about the reasons why wars break out is associated with the theory of interdependence stating that bordering countries which have strong economic relationships are unlikely to initiate military conflicts.4However, as history indicates, this theory did not work during World War I. Neighboring countries started a series of attacks on one another, hoping to gain more power and territory.

The Great War was a fervent endeavor of several countries to expand their territories and gain more value in international affairs. Yet, this attempt was both not successful and exceedingly tragic. Germany, in particular, attempted to take over the lower Pangani Valley in Africa before the war, making the territory involved in the campaign as soon as World War I started.5 Many other states and areas were engaged in this four-year battle that took away innumerable lives and corrupted the political relationships among different countries for decades. The turning point of the Great War was the Battle of Marne, which marked the line “between the ancient and the modern world.”6Another important milestone was the Battle of Verdun, which took away so many lives that France will probably never be able to replenish.7 Still, even millions of people wounded and killed did not stop the opposing actors of the war field. The massive numbers of “dead, injured, and heartbroken” envisioned that the generations coming after them would be “haunted” by war’s horrors for many decades or even centuries.8 Unfortunately, the Paris Peace Conference did not justify its purpose.

The reason why the Treaty of Versailles was declared sounded quite noble and hopeful: it aimed to put an end to wars altogether. However, the methods used by the winners of World War I against the losers were too harsh to remain settled for a long time. As an American philosopher, Dewey noted, the treaty “enticed” Germany into revenge.9 The German army was stripped of its tanks, aircraft, and weapons. The country was to pay substantial reparations and make extensive territorial concessions. 10 Nonetheless, what allies meant to be a method of punishment for Germany appeared to be the push to initiate World War II. What they thought to be the power of stopping Germans and making them end World War I was, in fact, a psychological crisis and the loss of the desire to continue fighting. There was a “disastrous deterioration in combat motivation and fighting efficiency” that led to Germany’s intention to exit the war.11 Yet, the demands declared by the Treaty that was too harsh on the defeated states played a major negative role.

Taking into consideration the development of world affairs after World War I, it may seem that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in an attempt to improve the world order that had been undermined considerably. Meanwhile, historians agree that the way in which the Treaty was signed and the issues it stipulated actually set the stage for World War II.12 The lives of millions of people were altered at an unprecedented rate. If men had been raised with the understanding of their obligation to defend their native countries, women were taken by surprise when they had to leave their usual duties to help produce weapons and bullets.13 Not only those directly involved in battles were active participants of war. Both during World War I and World War II, many civilians became involved in the process. Thus, the war was played not only on foreign theatres of war but also “on the homefront, in cities, towns, and villages across the land.”14 A prominent role in those involvements, as well as in the failure of the Paris Peace Conference to provide peaceful coexistence of the countries, belonged to the League of Nations.

The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization formed after the Paris Peace Conference. The primary aim of the League was to maintain peace among countries. However, as it later appeared, the League did not fulfill its duties diligently, some of its members neglecting their initially proclaimed intentions. One of the reasons why the League did not receive appropriate trust and recognition was that the USA never joined it officially.15 Surprisingly, it was the US President, Wilson, who insisted on establishing “a permanent peacekeeping organization.”16 One of the main allies, Britain, also claimed that it did not take the League of Nations “seriously.”17 Such an attitude, as well as some other misunderstandings, prevented the organization from becoming a truly influential peacemaking entity. Unfortunately, the League did not have enough power to maintain peace in the world and eliminate armed attacks. Thus, in the 1930s, when the Axis powers initiated an aggressive expansion on the allies, the latter failed to resist it.18 As a result, the Paris Peace Conference did not justify its title, and the League of Nations as its division did not accomplish the goal set for it.

Conclusion

World War I started from the desire of some countries to occupy more territories and obtain a higher status in the world. Nonetheless, the lessons learned from that war did not prevent some states from repeating their attempts to conquer others in only a few years after the Great War’s end. The Paris Peace Conference, which aimed at arranging and sustaining peaceful relationships between countries, did not succeed in pursuing its goals. Probably the major reason why the defeated countries did not subdue to the Treaty of Versailles was that the demands imposed by the allies were too harsh to meet.

Bibliography

The Battle of the Marne (1991). Web.

The Battle of Verdun (1986). Web.

Casualties of War: Time to Remember (2011). Web.

Civilians at War: Time to Remember (2011). Web.

Conflict in the Modern World: The Origins of World War I and World War II (2008). Web.

Garrison, Jim. “Recovery, Reconstruction, and Self-Renewal.” Philosophy of Education Yearbook (2002): 282–284.

Gartzke, Erik, and Yonatan Lupu. “Trading on Preconceptions: Why World War I Was Not a Failure of Economic Interdependence.” International Security 36, no. 4 (2012): pp. 115–150.

McInneshin, Michael. “The Great War and a Colonial Landscape: Environmental History in German East Africa, 1914-16.” World History Bulletin 31, no. 1 (2015): 22–24.

Paxton, Robert O., and Julie Hessler. Europe in the Twentieth Century. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012.

Tooley, T. Hunt. “Some Costs of the Great War: Nationalizing Private Life.” The Independent Review 14, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 165–174.

The Treaty of Versailles (2001). Web.

Watson, Alexander. “Stabbed at the Front.” History Today 58, no. 11 (2008): 21–27.

World War I: The Death of Glory (1997). Web.

World War I: The War That Failed to End Wars (1991). Web.

Yearwood, Peter. “Genuine and Energetic League of Nations Policy”: Lord Curzon and the New Diplomacy, 1918–1925.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 21, no. 2 (2010):159–174.

Footnotes

  1. Conflict in the Modern World: The Origins of World War I and World War II (2008), Web.
  2. T. Hunt Tooley, “Some Costs of the Great War: Nationalizing Private Life,” The Independent Review 14, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 165.
  3. Tooley, “Some Costs of the Great War,” 165.
  4. Erik Gartzke and Yonatan Lupu, “Trading on Preconceptions: Why World War I Was Not a Failure of Economic Interdependence,” International Security 36, no. 4 (Spring 2012): 117.
  5. Michael McInneshin, “The Great War and a Colonial Landscape: Environmental History in German East Africa, 1914-16,” World History Bulletin 31, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 22.
  6. The Battle of the Marne (1991), Web.
  7. The Battle of Verdun (1986), Web.
  8. Casualties of War: Time to Remember (2011), Web.
  9. Jim Garrison, “Recovery, Reconstruction, and Self-Renewal,” Philosophy of Education Yearbook (2002): 282.
  10. The Treaty of Versailles (2001), Web.
  11. Alexander Watson, “Stabbed at the Front,” History Today 58, no. 11 (2008): 21.
  12. World War I: The War That Failed to End Wars (1991), Web.
  13. World War I: The Death of Glory (1997), Web.
  14. Civilians at War: Time to Remember (2011), Web.
  15. The Treaty of Versailles.
  16. Robert O. Paxton and Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012), 119.
  17. Peter Yearwood, “Genuine and Energetic League of Nations Policy”: Lord Curzon and the New Diplomacy, 1918–1925,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 21, no. 2 (2010):159.
  18. The Treaty of Versailles.