What did the Treaty of Versailles do?
At its most basic level the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 to bring an end to the fighting of World War I between Germany and the Allied Powers. Beyond bringing a conclusion to the war, the treaty had many other impacts, and is considered by many to be one of the most influential documents of the twentieth century.
There were many facets of the treaty, but there are five concepts that garner the greatest attention of most historians. The first was the War Guilt Clause. In essence, this placed the blame of World War I solely on Germany bringing shame and anger on the German people. In addition to taking the blame, Germany was forced to take financial responsibility for the war. The country was ravaged by the first world war, as was much of Europe, but its rebuilding effort was crippled by the reparations it had to pay to allied nations. In today's money, the reparations were nearly half a trillion dollars. This strangled the German economy and led to severe shortages and inflation. Germany was forced to give up a great amount of territory both in Europe and its colonial territories around the world. The Treaty of Versailles greatly impacted the political geography of Europe. Additionally, Germany was forced to demilitarize its army, leaving the country with a shell of its former military machine.
Much debate could be given to the impact of the Treaty, but most historians tend to agree that the treaty was overly harsh and plunged Germany into a state of desperation that allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power. The Germans were humiliated and broken, their economy was in shambles, and they were ready to follow anyone who would lead them out of the darkness that enveloped them. Moreover, even if the German people had wanted to resist Hitler the disarmament of the nation's military left the country unable to do so, or at least would have made it much more difficult.
Of a more positive note, the Treaty of Versailles did succeed in establishing the League of Nations in hopes of being a vehicle to end future wars by solving problems with diplomacy. Although the League of Nations did not end all future wars (World War II began twenty years later), it did lay the groundwork for future organizations, such as the United Nations, that would play a significant role in international cooperation in the future.
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