The Treaty of Versailles - Source Based Questions

P.Shyam Sundar

a) Many historians have viewed the Treaty of Versailles in varied contexts. Some historians support the German claim that the treaty was extremely harsh towards them while others seem to acknowledge the fact that the Treaty was anything but damaging to the Germans, as the Second World War seems to prove. But the most important aspect to focus on in the answering of this question is the concept of nationalism.

Source C is a quotation found in a secondary source in the form of an extract from a speech made by a German MP in 1919. The claim of "inflicting the deepest wounds on us Germans" seems to be supported by Source B. Sources D and E, however, do not share the same viewpoint as the German MP in Source C. The peace treaty that marks the end of any Great War is almost always dictated by the victors; the Treaty of Versailles was no different. Georges Clemenceau of France, Llyod George of Britain and Woodrow Wilson of the USA were the three major players. Clemenceau wanted a harsh Treaty that would cripple Germany both economically and militarily so that she would never be a threat to France again, this aim of his is clearly represented in Clause 160 of Source B. But 100,000 men and 6 battle ships was a mere trifle compared to the extensive armies and rapidly developing technology that the super powers of those days possessed. Germany was left with nothing to defend herself with in case of invasion. Furthermore, the blame for starting the war and all the consequences thereof were fixed on Germany (Article 231). This in many senses was extremely unfair, as all the powers had played a role in the start of the First World War. Woodrow Wilson\'s 14 points were totally overshadowed by Clemenceau who succeeded in imposing his aims on the Treaty. Therefore I believe that Source B does adequately support the claim made in Source C.

However, Sources D and E take a completely opposite viewpoint in comparison to Source B. The writers, imminent historians, argue that the Treaty in actual fact did nothing to diminish German power in any way. As the author of Source E notes: "The Treaty of Versailles was not excessively harsh on Germany, either territorially or economically." Humiliation is always a major part of defeat and defeat was not something that the Germans hoped to conceive in World War 1. They believed that they had to win and dictate terms. The Treaty of Versailles that resulted from their defeat also brought immense humiliation and that strong sense of nationalistic pride. After all, the Treaty was being signed in the very hall that had witnessed the defeat of France in 1871 at the hands of Prussia. This actual defeat that the Treaty of Versailles imposed upon them angered the Germans more than the actual terms of the Treaty. The historian in Source C aptly concludes: "However, the German people were expecting victory and not defeat. It was the acknowledgement of defeat as much as the treaty terms themselves, which they found so hard to accept."

b) The views expressed in Sources C, D and E are very much different. One must take into account several different factors that combine to produce this discrepancy. Firstly, the authors of Sources D and E are historians and possess something that the German MP in Source C doesn\'t and that is hindsight. They have had the opportunity to study the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles in retrospect and have examined the effects on Germany. They have studied the revival of the German economy and the Second World War. Therefore they are in a better position to judge whether or not the Treaty of Versailles was a crippling blow to Germany. The politician in Source C on the other hand is talking on the spur of the moment. The Treaty of Versailles might have been close to completion and the Treaty terms might have seemed a devastating conclusion. The very vision of impending collapse brought on by the treaty might have caused him to lash out in the way that he does.

One other factor that might also play a part in the variation