World War 1 was called by contemporaries ‘the war to end all wars’ and those who followed U.S. President Woodrow Wilsons lead believed that the war was being fought for democracy and liberal ideas.

Wilson’s “14 Points” outlined a path to peace for Europe. Wilson called for replacing secret diplomacy with transparent peacekeeping, reduction of armaments, free trade, the right self-determination for ethnically distinct societies, and a world-wide diplomatic organization, called the League of Nations, to keep peace throughout the world.[1]

However, upon victory the peace agreements orchestrated by the Allies did in fact sow seeds of discontent that would last throughout the inter-war period, and lead to another world war.


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The blame for the war fell mostly on Germany, and the Allies intended to inflict heavy reparation on Germany that were larger than any amount paid from previous wars, owing massive amounts of money to France, Great Britain, and the United States. The Treaty of Versailles explicitly tied these reparations to the condemnation of German actions during the war, pinning all guilt on the Germans for the world stage, saying that Germany caused the war and should “make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property”.[2]

Reparations crippled Germany’s war recovery and its failure to pay the imposed debts effected the economies of other great powers. France and Great Britain also owed money to the U.S. from loans taken out during the war, without reparations from Germany they also could not afford to repay their debt.[3] This cause a clash effect when global depression hit the U.S. and Germany particularly hard.

War reparations were just one example of how the victorious great powers intended to protect their interests first, while keeping the world safe for democracy second. The U.S. pushed for the removal of barriers to international trade, which would benefit it’s rising commercial power, and also insisted that any agreements made in the treaties did not change its influence over South America as laid out in the Monroe Doctrine.[4] France emerged from the war as Europe’s largest land-based army, but the greater population of Germany made the French anxious about future conflicts.


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When the United States pulled out of the League of Nations, much to Wilson’s regret, and the Russian government now a communist state, France sought to acquire allies in Eastern Europe to counter future German aggression with the threat of a two-front war, looking to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania for its allies in the East.[5] Other states’ right for self-determination, such as Hungary whose flirtation with socialism lost its credibility with the West, were less important to the French as they tried to influence the new balance of power in Europe.

While the message after the Great War espoused long-term goals of peace, the failure of states to disarm themselves further increased the changes of war, especially when some states implemented disarmament on others, while increasing military power of their own. Germany was stripped away of military power, as per the Treaty of Versailles. France pushed for a separated Rhineland in between its borders with Germany, but settled for a de-militarized Rhineland, a strip of land, 50 kilometers wide, free from German troops permanently and patrolled by France and its allies.[6]

Furthermore, Germany’s staff of generals were dissolved, the Germany navy was diminished and the manufacturing of submarines, military aircraft, artillery, tanks, and poison gas were forbidden. Army recruits was limited to only 100,000 volunteers.[7] Somewhat contradictory, France officials believed that the radical disarmament of Germany’s military power would only increase the likelihood of future aggression, and so, France continued to devote significant portions of its national income on armaments at a rate only surpassed by the rising military prowess of the Soviet Union.[8]


Sources Cited


[1] Paxton, Robert O. (2011). Europe in the 20th Century (5th ed). Boston, MA: Cengage, 142-143)

[2] (Paxton 151)

[3] (Paxton 152)

[4] (Paxton 145)

[5] (Paxton 157)

[6] (Paxton 151)

[7] (Paxton 151)

[8] (Paxton 171)