Was the Treaty Of Versailles a vengeful document that unfairly weakened Germany?

The treaty of Versailles is traditionally regarded as an extremely harsh, humiliating peace treaty imposed upon a helpless nation. The treaty came as a huge shock to many Germans and played a big part in denting the nations pride. However, more recently many historians have explored the treaty of versailled and many now argue that the treaty was far from the vengeful document that many have come to believe.

One of the main reason the treaty was resented so much by Germans was clause 231. The war guilt clause. This meant Germany had to admit full responsibility for starting the war and therefore had to accept the terms within the treaty. This is also one of the main factors which has added to the traditional view of the peace treaty being a harsh and vengeful document. Infact, some historians such as Ruth Henig argue that this clause caused the hatred of the treaty to maximise resulting in the refusal to accept as many of the terms of the peace treaty as it could, especially in the form of reperations.

Economically the treaty appeared to severely dent Germany. The reparations were later set at £6.6 billion which was an extremely large figure at the time. British economists and diplomats such as John Maynard Keynes and Harold Nocolson described the reperations figure as ‘punitive’ and ‘a great crime’. Germans naturally agreed with these statements and propaganda at the time was successful in persuading the Allies that Germany could not afford the reperations.

Germany’s ability or inability to pay reperations is however argued by many historians. Although the general feeling was that Germany was incapable of paying the reperations historians such as Ruth Henig have solid agrguments against this. Henig and many others agues that Germany could have paid the %7.2 of its national income as reperations. This could have been achieved easily by either reforming the financial system or by raising taxation levels to those of Britain. More recently, Stepehn Shuker, a US econkmic historian has calculated that between 1919 and 1931, Germanys reperation payments in cash and kind amounted to about 2.7% of its national income and during the same period it was able to import capital equivalent to 5.3% of national income giving a subsidy of well over 2%. This helps in the argument that through the Allied subsidys Germay was actually placed in a fairly storng position, especially compared to some of its enemies. Henig also argues that Germany deliberately refused to pay the reperations as a stand against the whole treaty. Other historians such as Anthony Lentin argue that unless Germany was made to pay they would escape the financial consequences of the war, which were suffered by many other countries, especially France.

The treaty saw Germany’s power within Europe reduced economically, territorially and military much to the despise of the German people. The American Presdident, Woodrow Wilson had developed a 14 point plan for peace with one of its main focuses being self-determination. The German high command seemed grateful to sign up to Wilson’s Diplomacy but after the input from France and Britain, the implementation of Wilson’s diploamcy was kept to a minimum. Many historians, such as Alan Sharp are keen to point out that by December 1918 Wilson had realised that expectations were too high and the result would be a ‘tragedy of disappointment’.

The territorial losses suffered by Germany were a major blow to Germanic pride and a huge physiological blow for many. Land was taken from Germany and Wilson’s point of self determination was put into practice in many new countries. At the time there was also a great push in Germany for Anschluss, the unification of Germanic people through the unification of Austria and Germany. This was banned seemed a disregard of Wilson’s own idea of self determination, where people should be ruled by their own. This along with the other territorial losses angered many Germans.

The treaty set out to de-militarise Germany and to ensure the security of Europe, especially France. It was seen as humiliating and very harsh as the army, which was the pride of Germany was reduced from 6 million men to only 100,000. The airforce, tanks and navy