Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

PART FIVE

The Fading of the Vision

IN signing the Treaty of Versailles the European plenipotentiaries had concluded a pact that could be ratified by the parliaments to which they were accountable. The treaty, though it left the national aspirations of the victors less than satisfied, nevertheless served the common necessity of ending a state of general exhaustion and gave hope for the survival of that form of human society that had become known as "civilization."

Yet civil order had not been restored in many parts of Asia and Europe. Siberia was in chaos, and the Soviet government was deemed to be beyond the pale. "Freed" nationalities were not living in peace with their neighbors. The boundaries of Poland had not been fixed; and German armies still lingered in the Baltic states in defiance of the orders of the Peace Conference. The treaty had not made conclusive arrangements for vast territories still in turmoil. For one thing, the Conference had not completed its task of liquidating the great Hapsburg estate; and it would be necessary to conclude a peace with Austria, as well as one with Hungary as soon as a stable government was in sight there. Moreover, treaties would have to be signed with Turkey and Bulgaria, nations against which the United States was not at war but which were among the countries for whose security America might assume responsibility as a member of the League of Nations.

The settlement that was imposed on Germany on June 28 offered little hope for a peace that would be enduring. In order to discourage a future burst of German chauvinism, the victors had forbidden union with Austria, a restriction that supplied fuel for the explosion that eventually came. Moreover, the German delegates were forced to accept what they called a "war-guilt lie" as to their nation's responsibility for the breaking of the peace in 1914. Then, too, Germany's economy would have to endure exactions that were ill defined and that would cripple production to a degree that might make it impossible to satisfy the Allied demands for reparations. The inconclusive reckoning presaged bankruptcy, a collapse of the German currency, and the development of tension that preceded a second world war.

Worst of all, the prospect of Germany's cooperation in the building of a league of nations, a prospect on which German social democrats had depended to inspire confidence in their new government, was left clouded; and as a result the German people appeared condemned, like the bolsheviks of Russia, to ostracism from world society. Instead of giving the leadership for which German liberals looked to him, Wilson had provided a moral grievance that could easily be exploited by politicians.

-435-

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