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End of WWI: the Treaty of Versailles & the League of Nations

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  • 0:06 The End of World War I
  • 0:53 Peace Negotiations
  • 2:22 The Terms of the…
  • 3:47 Germany's Reaction
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will examine the Treaty of Versailles. We will explore the treaty's negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, take a look at the treaty's terms, and discuss Germany's reaction to the treaty.

The End of World War I

The armistice that ended World War I went into effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. After four and a half years, the war was finally over, but the results remained. Devastation was everywhere. People's homes and lands were destroyed. Large areas of France had been reduced to rubble. Cities, like Flanders and Ypres in Belgium, were nearly wiped off the map.

The war's human toll was even more devastating. Millions of soldiers for the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, and the United States were killed, wounded, or missing. The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria lost even more men. Countless civilians also lost their lives or loved ones. Now, in 1918, the Allied Powers emerged victorious, and they were ready to make Germany pay.

Peace Negotiations

The Paris Peace Conference opened on January 18, 1919, with the goal of developing a treaty that would punish Germany and meet the goals of the various Allied Powers. Negotiating the treaty, which would be known as the Treaty of Versailles, was a long and complex process. At first, the Council of Ten, consisting of the heads of state and foreign ministers of ten Allied Powers, tried to hammer out a deal. The Council soon proved to be too large, and its members had too many conflicting opinions. By March, the treaty negotiations were being handled by the Big Four, namely, the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy. Italy soon dropped out of the process when its representative became angry that his demands for more territory were rejected.

Only the Big Three were left: the United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson; Great Britain, led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George; and France, led by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. Each of these men had a different view of what peace should look like and how Germany should be treated. Wilson was interested in building a world trade network, avoiding war in the future, proposing his Fourteen Points for a better world, and avoiding harsh treatment of Germany. George was also looking ahead to potential world trade, but he wanted Germany to pay reparations. Clemenceau, whose country suffered some of the worst damage during the war, desired large-scale reparations from Germany and a demilitarized zone between France and Germany in case of future German aggression.

The Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

After months of debate and lots of hard work, the Big Three created a treaty with the following provisions:

  • German responsibility - According to the treaty's 'War Guilt Clause,' Germany had to claim total responsibility for starting the war.
  • Reparations - Germany was required to pay damages for wartime destruction. The treaty does not specify a sum, but rather gives the Allied Powers a blank check, allowing them to decide on an amount later on.
  • Territory - Parts of German territory were transferred to France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and Denmark. Germany also lost control of its overseas colonies.
  • Military restrictions - The German military was restricted to 100,000 soldiers. The Germans were not allowed to have tanks, armed aircraft, or poison gas. They could not import or export weapons. The German navy was also limited to 15,000 men and a few ships.
  • Occupation of Rhineland - Rhineland, in southern Germany, would be occupied by Allied troops for fifteen years.
  • The League of Nations - The treaty created the League of Nations as an international organization to maintain world peace in the future by mediating disputes between nations. It would also tackle other global issues like drug trafficking, world health, and labor. The Allied Powers were tired of war, and they wanted to avoid it completely in the future. They hoped the League of Nations would be strong enough to help them do so.

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