The palace of Versailles is situated on the outskirts
of Paris, built by Louis XIV in the late 17th century for the
French court as a country retreat. The palace has been used for
many historical occasions, and its most famous room "The
Hall of Mirrors" has witnessed many of these events.
In January 1871, after the Prussian victory over
France in the Franco-Prussian war, King Wilhelm of Prussia was
declared, in the "Hall of Mirrors", Kaiser of the German
In that very same room some 50 years later representatives
gathered from the victorious Allied forces, and this time imposed
a crippling treaty on Germany which became known as "The
Treaty of Versailles". After the defeat of Germany in World
War 1, the Allies held Germany totally responsible for starting
the conflict and causing the carnage and devastation in the 4
years of the war.
It was hoped that the treaty would bring an everlasting
peace to Europe, which had just endured the bloodiest of wars.
Within the treaty the Allies imposed restrictions on how much
of an armed force Germany could keep after the war. The idea was
to strip Germany of its capability to wage war every again.
In the eyes of the Allies Germany was responsible
for the hostilities and they wanted to prevent any such thing
happening again. The treaty would only allow the German army 100,000
men, considered enough for defence. The army would be devoid of
any tanks and would have no large artillery pieces. Germany would
not be allowed an airforce and its navy would be restricted to
only ships no larger than a cruiser. The treaty turned the Rhineland
into a demilitarized zone, and no German troops would be allowed
in this zone.
War reparations crippled Germany and the financial
burden of the war led to the collapse of the German economy. The
financial burden was immense, and with the collapse of the economy
it would bring poverty and depression to the people of Germany.
This situation was enhanced by the crash of the world's market
which created what became known as the Depression. The situation
would be ripe for a struggle between extreme political groups,
a struggle that will see the emergence of Hitler and his Nazi
The treaty created new borders which recognized
new states, this was to take into account of minority nationalistic
identities. The nationalistic issues were addressed, as it was
these issues that ignited World War 1. Most of the grievances
centred on eastern Europe and the Balkans that were part of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. These ethnic groups resented the imperial
hold that was held by Vienna, and as Germany's ally the Allies
broke up the Austro-Hungarian Empire into separate states.
They created Hungary as a separate state, and
then merged the Czech lands, Slovakia and the German speaking
areas of the Sudetenland, and created the new state of Czechoslovakia.
In the Balkans they created the new state of
Yugoslavia, which consisted of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina
(which were all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the independent
state of Serbia and Montenegro. The effects of the treaty would
be felt 70 years on when the new state, with its political and
religious differences, ignite into a bloody civil war.
As ally to Germany, Turkey, also saw its territory
divided up and given to its long time enemy Greece. By helping
the Allies they created Saudi Arabia as a independent state. Syria
fell under French influence and Persia and Mesopotamia under British
influence. All will become intense spots of conflict over the
decades that follow the Treaty of Versailles.
Poland and the Baltic states were given independence.
But Poland had no access to the Baltic sea, so the treaty granted
Poland the port of Danzig and in doing so annexed Prussia from
the rest of Germany. This created a corridor and Poland now had
access to the Baltic sea but it would be this that would become
a major point of contention, and one that would cause the declaration
of war in 1939. Hitler would invade Poland to regain lands and
unite Germany with Prussia, and throw Europe into a second world
The Allies also created the League of Nations,
a forerunner of the United Nations. This organization was designed
to act as a mediator for any future disputes. It based itself
in Geneva and held its first session in November 1920. Obvious
absentees as members were the Soviet Union, the United States
of America, and of course the defeated nations of WW1.
The League of Nations proved ineffective and
powerless to enforce policy, especially without the support of
the United States, which followed a policy of isolationism and
refused to rectify the treaty. The treaty had already started
to increase tension in the years immediately after it declaration.
Up to the outbreak of World War II there were many outbreaks of
violent confrontation. Early set backs saw disputes between Greece
and Turkey, the Italian invasion of north Africa, and the Japanese
invasion of mainland China.
The main prelude to WW2 was the Spanish civil
war, which saw many countries on both sides of the political fence
supporting the different factions involved in the conflict. The
Spanish civil war would prove to be a dress rehearsal for the
second World War.