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The Peace of Paris: Ending World War I

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  • 0:02 War Winds Down
  • 1:29 The Armistice
  • 3:00 Paris Peace Conference
  • 4:27 The Treaty of Versailles
  • 6:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the end of World War I and the Peace of Paris. We will learn what events transpired to bring about the end of the war and what provisions were laid forth in the Treaty of Versailles.

The Great War Winds Down

Let's talk about the end of World War I.

By late 1918, it was becoming increasingly apparent the Central Powers were doomed for defeat. The intervention of the United States and their subsequent Hundred Days Offensive spelled disaster for the Imperial German Army. Within Germany, morale was at an all-time low. Desertions and calls for withdrawal were becoming more common every day. In November 1918, German sailors mutinied, triggering the German Revolution of 1918-1919. This ultimately resulted in overthrow of the Imperial government and the establishment of the Weimar Republic. In the context of such chaos, Germany was forced to move toward an armistice.

In January 1918, American President Woodrow Wilson laid out his famous Fourteen Points. The Fourteen Points set forth a plan for postwar Europe. Wilson envisioned an end to hostilities and a Europe reconfigured on the principles of free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination, among others. Wilson's Fourteen Points provided the basis for Germany's armistice with the Allies.

The Armistice

On November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m., the Armistice of Compiegne went into effect. The armistice is named after the Compiegne Forest in Northern France. At this location German officials were received aboard French Marshal Ferdinand Foch's stopped railroad car, and after three days of talks, signed an armistice. In reality, there was very little negotiating going on. Germany virtually had no choice but to submit to Allied terms and conditions. Major hostilities thus formally ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. But remember, this was only an armistice, not a permanent peace treaty!

Interestingly enough, in a bitter twist of fate, Adolf Hitler would board that same train carriage in June 1940, and force the French to sign another armistice: one that essentially turned France over to Nazi occupation. That is another lesson for another time, however.

One more side note: the federal holiday we know as Veteran's Day evolved from Armistice Day, the annual celebration of the Armistice of Compiegne. So next Veteran's Day, be mindful of what happened aboard a small railroad car in the Compiegne Forest of France.

The Paris Peace Conference

While the actual fighting had come to an end under the Armistice of Compiegne, a permanent peace treaty took longer to iron out. The Paris Peace Conference began in January 1919, and lasted roughly a year. The goal of the conference was to secure a lasting European peace, one that hopefully would prevent future wars from breaking out. The conference was a major diplomatic event with over 30 countries represented. Among the leading figures at the conference were Georges Clemenceau from France, David Lloyd George from Great Britain, Vittorio Orlando from Italy, and Woodrow Wilson from the United States. These leaders are sometimes referred to as the Big Four. President Wilson suggested a peace centered around his Fourteen Points. He also promoted the formation of the League of Nations, which was an international council aimed at maintaining world peace. Think of the League of Nations as a sort of precursor to the United Nations. As much as President Wilson championed the League of Nations, the United States did not join. The U.S. Senate voted down American participation in Wilson's beloved league. The major product of the Paris Peace Conference was the Treaty of Versailles.

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