Can we talk? As anyone who knows me whether in person or by reading my stuff, a huge pet peeve of mine is when people can’t write a complete sentence, let alone a basic paper. Discussion forums this past semester were particularly brutal, and I find it difficult to believe (despite repeated evidence before my eyes) that folks actually graduated from their high schools with such poorly demonstrated literacy skills. That’s why I keep posting my papers as samples to help others.
An assignment earlier this semester in Western Civ II was to discuss the ramifications of the Treaty of Versailles entered into following World War I. Since I know many folks have been using my papers for inspiration, and I got a 98 on this one, I’ll share with ya’ll. Please use MLA guidelines if you quote me. I don’t post these essays to be plagiarized, but to offer up inspiration for your own papers if you need it since I always teach my own students that every paper you write begins with the basic format you learned in 3rd Grade with your first book report. I will soon be posting notes from my usual lecture about that topic, so stay tuned. The following essay is classic style: intro of topic (my premise for making the point I’m making), a handful of examples and details on each for support (three points), and ending with a two-part conclusion (my opinions in response to the assignment directions).
The assignment directions were: Write an essay discussing the following question: How did the Versailles peace treaty set the basis for future conflicts in both Europe and the colonial world? Constructively critique the Treaty of Versailles. If the Treaty had been written differently, do you think World War II could have been avoided? Explain.
The Treaty of Versailles was drafted by representatives of Great Britain, the United States, France, Italy and Japan without consultation with the “defeated” powers of Germany or Russia or even with input by the affected representatives of the national groups which were lumped together into new Slavic nations. By not including countries which were being affected by the Treaty in the negotiation process yet imposing terms upon them, none were ever willing to uphold the Treaty. Three main situations flowing from the end of World War I festered among those unhappy with the Treaty and became the impetus for World War II.
First and foremost, Germans read in their newspapers or heard on their national radio about how Germany had pushed back the French or had won some other advance due to German superiority in military and technology, and the next thing they heard and read was about Germany agreeing to sign a Treaty that not only was economically punishing with large indemnity payments, but also accepting blame for being the aggressor. The German people were in disbelief that their country had agreed to be declared a loser in the Great War. Germany had made great strides in industrial production and felt it was not only gaining on Great Britain’s status as a great power, but on the verge of surpassing it. The German people felt their technological advances caused jealousy in other countries and that the purpose of the Treaty was to try to hold Germany back from becoming the world leader it felt it should be. Since no Allied forces actually invaded, the German people themselves were mostly unaware of a major conflict actually going on or its real causes. Germans volunteered for military service on the platform of patriotism. Certainly, there were casualties, but the locals themselves saw no battles on their own land and could not accept that there were any other countries with greater might and never “felt” defeated (and never did until World War II when their country was bombed and they experienced war). Not accepting the guilt accusations of the Treaty, Germans blamed their representatives for engaging in surreptitious political dealings and/or ineptness in handling world affairs. The terms of the Treaty did not actually serve to severely “punish” Germany, whether by conquest or significant loss of lands nor by the installation of a foreign overseer government, so much as merely handicap it since the lands that were removed were Germany’s source of natural resources which fed its industries. This left the German people as a whole feeling bullied. In the years following the Treaty when Europe fell into an economic depression, Germany believed that its abilities in technology and industry were the greatest in the world and that it should be prospering, yet the financial reparation set forth in the Treaty was blamed for keeping Germany strapped and held down. Resentment became stronger, and the nationalist sentiments which banded small towns into a country only half a century earlier rose into a view of themselves as a unit superior to other countries and the races inhabiting them.
Second, the sudden change in Russian government in 1917 when the Bolsheviks came to power and pulled Russia out of the war led to a state of forced communism upon the Russian people and its attempted spread to other areas of the world. The Treaty called for the removal of a portion of Russian holdings, such as the loss of Finland, although by no means was the vastness of the country affected by trimming off certain ports. The new communist government did not accept the imposition of the terms set forth by “capitalist” countries and set itself toward catching up and surpassing the capitalists at their own game (i.e., through agricultural and industrial production) as well as by supporting new communist revolutions in other countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria. They felt that by spreading the ideals of communism and by increasing their national production, they would “win” back all that they lost and more. Like the Germans, the Russians felt insulted and bent on retaliation for being bullying by other countries.
Third, President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” being touted as what the Treaty was to be based upon were seen as a sham by two main groups of people: those pockets of Slavic nationals who wished to sue for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and those anti-colonial nationalists from Africa and Asia. The Slavs discovered they had been arbitrarily lumped together into five generic Slavic states by the writers of the Treaty who had neither idea nor interest what the national make-ups of those countries actually were composed of. A main tenet of the Points, the right of each nationality to self-determination was supposed to be an absolute value to guide the deliberations, yet the writers did not invite the Slavic ethnic tribes to contribute to the rezoning of their national boundaries nor even give the African and Asian colonial representatives an opportunity to present their cases for independence. This arrogant faux pas haunted the remainder of the 20th Century and continues into the present.
The many “secret agreements” among various European nations that were entered into prior or during the Great War were not honored in the Treaty. President Wilson’s idealistic “Fourteen Points” would have been a good starting point from which to work had he been sitting down with other nations who had similar understandings of the rights of citizens and representative governments as that of the United States. Unfortunately, by trying to “make nice” instead of peace, no one wound up happy in Europe or its colonies. Even the imposition of a democratic form of government upon the whole of Europe would not have worked because of the wheeling and dealing nature of politics that existed and the underestimation of the power and corruption of elite groups. Perhaps the only thing that could have been done differently is for the complete conquest of Germany and Russia to have taken place and for the dividing up of those countries and their holdings by Britain and France instead of merely several mandates and protectorates being established. After its experience with America proved that Britain could still flourish in trade with a friendly ex-colony, Germany might have benefited if Britain had taken over its government and led it to prosperity peaceably.
If Russia had been divided up and a new government installed and administered to eliminate the Bolsheviks’ communism, I’m not certain that communism would have disappeared. The country is far too vast to monitor and Russia is made up of far too many ethnic groups for them all to agree upon one best way to do anything. Unfortunately, the ideals espoused by communism and socialism had been developing in the minds of the intelligencia for many years. For an atheistic government, “all for one and one for all” communal efforts to benefit all are remarkably Christian, yet mankind is not by nature altruistic and self-sacrificing for his fellow man. Truly, by allowing it to run its course through the 20th Century and proving to themselves that it did not work was the only way to actually defeat communism. The nationalism and wish for self-government in central Europe and the Near East by the native ethnic groups there still has not run its course. When the Berlin Wall came down and the free and communist sides of Germany were united by the will of the people and their governments, it was by consensus and will therefore flourish. Forcing a government upon a people that does not wish it only invites resentment to simmer, to wit: the Slavs, Persia, Palestine and Syria, Hutus and Tutsis in Africa, etc., all of which were tampered with by Europeans forcing their religious and class ideas upon the natives instead of the native cultures being allowed to develop naturally.