Remaking the World After the First World War

Remaking the World After the First World War

This study examines and considers two different views of the peacemakers at Versailles following the First World War. This work specifically will consider how these historians can have different views of the same historical event. The work of Margaret Macmillan entitled “Making War, Making Peace: Versailles, 1919” states that the observation of it being “harder to make peace than war was, as one might expect of someone so witty, that of Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France at the end of the First World War and during the peace conference that followed.” (2005, p.1)

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Macmillan writes that the decisions concerning the peace settlements were made under a great deal of pressure since there was fear that unless the war was ended quickly and a framework laid for an international order that was better than before the war that Europe and possibly the entire globe might fall into “anarchy, revolution and misery.” (2005, p.1) Questions that remained were such as the drawing of borders in the center of Europe and the Middle East and the nature of the treaties with Germany and Austria and Hungary its allies. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 resulted in the turning upside down of society because the future was so unclear. Macmillan writes that the men who met in Paris for the peace conference in 1919, “were not, as polemicists…would have it, thoroughly vindictive, stupid and willfully short-sighted.” (Macmillan, 2005, p.12)

Those men were however, according to MacMillan “among the best their nations could produce.” (p.12) Macmillan reports that the ‘Big Three’ or the “leaders of Great Britain, France and the United States — represented an extraordinary concentration of power.” (2005, p.12) Britain was the “single greatest power…[having] the world’s largest empire and its strongest navy.” (2005, p.12) These three leaders faced several challenges. First, it is reported that they were up against “forces that were not easily managed.” (Macmillan, 2005, p.12) Revolutionary governments are reported to have been brought to power throughout various locations in Germany. In addition, ethnic nationalism resulted from the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman empire collapsing. Macmillan asks the question of whether the leaders of the peace conference due to the limitation of options available actually made a difference and affirms that they did indeed make a difference. The leaders worked in cohesion to develop peace terms acceptable to Germany and its allies/

The general consensus of that time was that the war had been started by Germany and it was Germany who lost the war. The Treaty was not ratified since Wilson had insisted that Democrats vote against the treaty resulting in the U.S. failing to join the League of Nations. According to Sharp (2006) while the conference in Versailles made decisions they were not in possession of the means to enforce these decisions either due to lack of troops or lack of reliable agents in these areas. This resulted historically in blame being placed on these leaders for events that they had no control over. The results of the conference were negatively received by those who commented on it in the first half a decade after the conference. Woodrow Wilson is noted to have made the prediction that there were expectations of peace that were unrealistic. However, according to Sharp, more recently the situations have been viewed of the accomplishments in light of the challenges that were faced.

It is Sharp’s opinion that the Peace Conference, which brought an end to the war, was more focused on meting out punishment than bringing about peace. It was the belief of the leaders of the great power that the international system existing would have to be completely dismantled and reformed. (2006, paraphrased) According to Sharp, the peace conference lacked in: (1) a shared set of priorities; and (2) a clear plan of action. (2005, p.264) the result was chaos and no idea of how peace would realistically be achieved. Sharp writes that the statements of President Wilson in the 1918 speeches were the bases of the peace settlement, which was eventually made. (Sharp, 2006, paraphrased)

The primary decision making body of the gathering in Paris is reported by Sharp to have been the ‘Council of Ten’ which was comprised by the French, Italian and Great Britain prime ministers and the U.S. president including the respective ministers of foreign affairs and two delegates from Japan. Sharp reports that the ‘Council of Four’ including Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson and Vittorio Orlando formed the critical decision making body. It is reported that it took the promises of Lloyd George and Wilson to assure the full support of the British and U.S. forces were Germany to attack France again to convince Clemenceau to demonstrate more flexibility. A decision was made to postpone addressing the issue of Germany making reparations. (Sharp, 2006, paraphrased)

Orlando is reported to have angrily left the conference in April although he returned in May. The new government of Germany is reported to have had little choice about signing the treaty because failure to sign would result in an invasion. The primary targets of ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace’ are reported to have been Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau reported to have been “caricatured as the wily Welsh wizard, the cynical defender of France and the failed American Philosopher-king.” ((Sharp, 2006, p.267)

Sharp reports that it was the peacemaker’s responsibility to determine the cause of the war and that, which would ensure prevention of conflict in the future. Wilson held that multinational empires have effective “denied their subjects proper expression of their cultural and political rights and an international system that did not allow the good sense of informed and rational public opinion to curtail the aggressive behavior of autocratic states.” (Sharp, 2006, p.268)Wilson held that the lacking of means of smaller nations to back of their claim of self-determination and formation of their political life was the cause of the war. Wilson conceptualized nationality as civic instead of ethnic since in his opinion that someone’s birth did not bear upon the individuals allegiance to state and that individuals have the right to self-determination of their nationality. (Sharp, 2006, paraphrased)

Emerging from the peace conference was a document that was primarily “an Anglo-American document, relying on delay and the force of world opinion to deter preemptive aggressive attacks.” (Sharp, 2006,p.268) Sharp reports that questions remain about the ability of the document to ensure that preemption would not occur the outcome is that the League fell and Italy was Nazi Germany’s Ally. Sharp concludes by stating “The League did undertake good work in minority protection, disease control, and in hindering trades in drugs and women for prostitution. It oversaw the government of the Saar and Danzig and had responsibilities for former colonial territories. It did make a difference in disputes involving small powers but, in its main mission, to transform the way in which international relations were conducted and to prevent another major war, it failed.” (2006, p.271)

Both Sharp and Macmillan acknowledge the huge challenges faced by the peacemakers that met in Paris to form the Versailles Treaty and both of the authors that the outcome could have been much worse or met greater failure. The challenges were great and the organization of the forum was almost nonexistent since as noted by Sharp the participants had not been prepared for peacemaking as it had in reality come much sooner than they had anticipated.


Alan Sharp,(2006) Peacemaking after World War I, in G. Martel (ed.), Companion to Europe 1900-1945, Blackwell, Oxford, 2006, pp. 261-75.

David a. Andelman, a Shattered Peace: Versailles and the Price We Pay Today, New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons, 2008, pp. 1-3, 4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13-14.

Margaret Macmillan, (2005) Making War, Making Peace: Versailles, 1919 Queen’s Quarterly, vol. 112, No. 1, 2005, pp. 8-18.

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