The Treaty of Versailles

From the National Post:

A century after the Treaty of Versailles, its anniversary passes largely unobserved

The treaty that formally ended the First World War was widely seen as a failure, but to forget about it is to risk romanticizing the war

One hundred Junes ago, the world had a go at ensuring peace for Europe. Heads of state convened in a palace in the suburbs of Paris and tried to resolve 51 months of war. One of the products of the meeting, the Treaty of Versailles, is now treated as a failure.

“I think that Versailles is tinged almost forever with this kind of air of disillusionment and sorrow that all that suffering didn’t lead to something more conclusive and inspiring,” says Ian McKay, director of the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University. “So maybe that’s why we’re not celebrating the anniversary.”

June 28 marks the centennial of the signing of the treaty, the document that formally ended the First World War. It was a product of the Paris Peace Conference, which also created the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. The treaty focused on Germany, to which it assigned new borders and — most controversially — blame for the war.

Other centenaries of the Great War have attracted great ceremony. For the Armistice in November 2018 and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined other world leaders in France.

The prime minister is not marking the anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles; his office says Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will post about it on social media. The lack of celebration could be explained by the treaty’s failures. It is criticized for being too harsh on Germany and contributing to its aggression in the 1930s and ’40s. The treaty also did not prevent wars in the Balkans, Turkey and Eastern Ukraine. Still, some historians urge people to remember the treaty not so much to learn from it as to prevent them from romanticizing the war’s legacy.

“What Versailles really did was humiliate Germany,” says McKay. “I really appreciate people who want to say, ‘Okay, thank goodness our boys died for something heroic and noble, and the world is a better place as a result of it.’ I would really love to believe that, but when you look soberly at the history of the 20th century, maybe 90 million deaths caused as a direct application of warfare, it’s hard for me to draw that optimistic conclusion.”

Tragic or not, the Treaty deserves to be remembered.

Normally the Canadian media never misses an opportunity to play up the Canadian angle, and I’m surprised that this article did not mention Canada’s participation at the Paris Peace Conference. From Wikipedia’s entry on Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden:

Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the Paris Peace Conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, who perceived such a delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost a far larger proportion of its men compared to the U.S. in the war (although not more in absolute numbers), Canada at least had the right to the representation of a “minor” power. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of separate Canadian, Indian, Australian, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South African delegations. Despite this, Borden boycotted the opening ceremony, protesting at the precedence given to the prime minister of the much smaller Newfoundland over him.

Not only did Borden’s persistence allow him to represent Canada in Paris as a nation, it also ensured that each of the dominions could sign the Treaty of Versailles in its own right, and receive a separate membership in the League of Nations. During the conference Borden tried to act as an intermediary between the United States and other members of the British Empire delegation, particularly Australia and New Zealand over the issue of Mandates. Borden also discussed with Lloyd George, the possibility of Canada taking over the administration of Belize and the West Indies, but no agreement was reached.

At Borden’s insistence, the treaty was ratified by the Canadian Parliament.

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