Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Diktat II

We continue here a consideration of the "dictated" nature of the Versailles Treaty. Many scholars of the issue today, perhaps most, will bridle at descriptions of the Treaty as dictated. Indeed, since the period of historiographical "revisionism" that began even before the Peace was concluded (see the NY Times article of May 10, 1919 on the conference, for example), American and other Western observers have periodically reassessed the Peace, usually to show that the Versailles Treaty was not as harsh as it seems, that the Allies were justified in the one-sided nature of this case of peacemaking, that the Germans really were guilty of the whole war, etc. A number of these reassessments have been associated with the American opposition to Hitler's regime and of course World War II itself. Hitler was after all a "revisionist" of a sort himself, meaning that he wanted to revise the Paris Peace settlement and indeed did so quite spectacularly. At the same time, two World Wars in which the United States and the British Empire fought Germany have left their mark: the wartime expressions of hatred for the Germans by politicians, soldiers, literary figures, clergymen, and many other kinds of people were not simply forgotten when Hitler was gone and West Germany became a close ally in the Cold War. The emerging knowledge of the Holocaust too contributed too to thinking about Germany in the twentieth century. And finally, many historical studies, more or less free of bias, have supported the nature of the Treaty as being a beneficial advance in modern international relations, based on various theories of security, international cooperation, and so forth. Or, they have exposed bad behavior by leaders of the new German republic in 1919 and skullduggery of various kinds. Or even plans by Weimar Germany's leaders to negate or escape various aspects of the Treaty.

In this essay, I feel no need to deal with each of these favorable assessments of the Treaty. My central theme is the dictated nature of the Versailles Treaty. The simple fact is this: it was dictated. Regardless how one evaluates the points of the Treaty, the Treaty negotiations were dictated.

In brief, here is how. The Allies, as we have seen in this blog many times over, met in Paris beginning in January 1919 to make the Treaty. Official Allied bodies and committees met continuously until the Treaty was signed at the beginning of July 1919, and indeed, beyond that, since they were working on the other treaties too.

Throughout this period of time, Germans were allowed to come to Paris three times, each time for a limited period of a few days. The first time was to receive the Treaty terms. The second time was to hand over a "reply" to the Treaty terms. The third was to sign the Treaty.

Doing research in the Political Archive of the German Foreign Office some years ago, I ran across a document which was quite telling as to extent German isolation from Peace Conference. An influential German private individual had suggested to the Foreign Office that he had contacts which might help the Allied leaders see how much Upper Silesia was really an integral part of Germany, an important part of the existing European network of coal, steel, zinc, etc. The individual wanted to travel to Paris to share his knowledge of the region with his contacts, who might, he thought, have influence in Allied circles. The Foreign Office looked favorably on this proposal, but found almost immediately that France was not issuing visas or any other passes for German nationals. it appears that for the duration, Germans were for the most part kept out of France altogether.

So Germans could not contribute much to the Peace Conference, since they were not allowed in France. Hence, in the period from January to April 1919, there was plenty of negotiation regarding the Versailles Treaty, but Germany was not involved in any of it. All negotiations were in one way or another Interallied negotiations.

There is more to be said about this subject, but to keep these posts manageable, I will end here. Any fair-minded person will admit that if the Germans were not allowed anywhere near the negotiating table until time to "receive" the "conditions," then the peace terms were in fact dictated by the other side. It is hard to conceive how even the blindest Germanophobe would not be able to admit this plain truth. But of course the phrase "dictated peace" is loaded with all kinds of connotations of political and moral import. We will look at some of these aspects in the coming days, ninety years after the new German political system was absorbing the fact that it was saddled with the Kaiser's defeat.

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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.