The Myth of Versailles

Article excerpt

It used to be that the "myth of Versailles" referred to the German Dolchstosslegende, the myth that Germany's leaders had stabbed the people in the back when they signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, following World War I. Not that they had a lot of choice beyond unconditional surrender and the humiliating, indeed devastating, terms of the treaty. Nonetheless, resentment ran deep in Germany, in particular among returning war veterans, and, of course, none was more resentful than Adolf Hitler. It doomed the Weimar Republic in its infancy, and set Europe on the course to World war II.

Now, astonishingly, we are seeing the rise of another "myth of Versailles." According to this new myth, the recently concluded NATO summit in Madrid constitutes a "second Versailles." As Patrick Buchanan argues, "It is happening all over again. From 1989 to 1991, the Soviet Union turned loose all her satellites, allowed the Berlin Wall to be torn down and Germany to be reunited, and dissolved the USSR into 15 independent nations, asking only that the West not move NATO into the old empire. We gave Russia our word, and now we have broken it." Mr. Buchanan, and other opponents of NATO enlargement, warn that we may be antagonizing the Russians to the point of giving rise to hateful, violent nationalism, just as happened in Germany in the 1920s.

This is clearly preposterous. In no way shape or form does the enlargement of NATO to include the peaceful, independent and now democratic countries of Central Europe resemble the punitive peace imposed by the victors at Versailles. A comparison between what happened on June 28, 1919, and what has happened since the demise of the Soviet Union at midnight, Jan. 1, 1992, should be illuminating.

The Treaty of Versailles was extremely harsh, both financially, territorially, and militarily. According to articles 42 and 44 of the treaty, Germany was prohibited from having any troops in the Rhineland. Article 80 prevented Germany from entering into a union with Austria. Articles 100 and 106 made the German port of Danzig (now Gdansk) a Free City under the protection of the League of Nations. Articles 119 and 120 deprived Germany of all its colonial possessions. Article 170 stated that Germany could not import any munitions or arms from abroad. Article 191 forbade Germany from buying, building or possessing submarines. Article 198 said that Germany could have no military or naval forces.

As for responsibility, the "guilt clause," article 231, stated that Germany with her allies carried the burden for the war - as well as for the damage caused "by the aggression of Germany and her allies." This meant that there were war reparations to be paid. In 1921, the Allied Reparation Commission set the amount at 132 billion gold marks, a sum far in excess of what Germany after four years of war was able to pay. By comparison, the size of the German economy in 1921 was 54 billion gold marks, and according to one payment plan, the country would have had to fork over 4.5 percent of its GNP annually. Not only did the reparations contribute to the outlandish inflation that soon beset Weimar Germany, they also helped drive Germany into the arms of the brand-new Soviet Union. And they paved the way for the rise of the Nazis. The rest is, as they say, history.

Now let's look at what happened after the Soviet empire crumbled. First of all, the Bush administration bent over backwards so as not to sound triumphalist, even as it became clear that the United States and the West had won the Cold War hands down. …