Aims and motives of Lloyd George

The British public were also demanding Germany be punished severely. Lloyd George knew this and during the 1918 election he promised the British people he would ‘Make Germany Pay’.

He also wanted Germany to lose its navy and all the colonies it owned overseas so it could not threaten the British Empire. But Lloyd George also felt that if the treaty was too harsh on Germany, they may seek revenge in the future, which might cause another war.

He also knew that before the war Germany had been an important country for trade, which created jobs in Britain. Lloyd George wanted this trade to get going again after the war, but this would be impossible if Germany had to pay large reparations.

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Aims and motives of Wilson

President Wilson had taken the USA into the war in 1917 and his main aim was to create a treaty which would guarantee peace in the future.  He knew that Germany would have to be punished, but did not believe it should be too harsh so that Germany would not seek revenge in the future. 

Wilson wanted the treaty to be designed around his ‘14 points’. These included setting up a ‘League of Nations’ organisation where countries could meet to discuss future arguments without going to war.

He also believed in self-determination. This meant giving people from different national groups the right to rule themselves independently, instead of being part of large empires. 

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Aims and motives of Clemenceau

France had suffered huge numbers of casualties during the war and much of north-eastern France had been destroyed by the fighting. 

When Germany invaded France at the beginning of the war in 1914, it was the second time they had done so in recent years – Germany also invaded France in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Clemenceau, a fiery politician nicknamed the ‘Tiger’, knew what the French public wanted.

They expected Germany to have to pay huge sums of money – called reparations – to pay for the damage caused by the war.They also wanted the German army to be weakened so that it could not attack France again.

Some French politicians even wanted Germany to be broken up into smaller countries. Clemenceau knew he would have to compromise with the other leaders on some things, but he wanted a deal that was as harsh on Germany as possible to satisfy the French people.

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Areas of disagreement between the 'Big Three'

It soon became clear that the different aims of the 3 leaders could not all be met.

France had suffered much more than the USA during the war and so Clemenceau resented Wilson’s more generous attitude.

Clemenceau also clashed with Lloyd George over his desire not to treat Germany too harshly. He felt that Lloyd George wanted to treat Germany fairly in Europe, where Germany was more of a threat to France, but harshly when it came to the German navy and overseas colonies, which threatened the British Empire.

Lloyd George was also concerned about Wilson’s idea of giving people ‘self-determination’ – because the British Empire ruled millions of people across the world directly from London.

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Terms of the Treaty of Versailles 1

The 'Big Three' soon realised that their different aims and objectives could not all be met and that compromise would be necessary. They frequently and strongly disagreed. All leaders got their way on some issues, but failed to do so, on others.

Clemenceau clashed with Wilson over many issues. The USA had not suffered nearly so badly as France during the war and so Clemenceau resented Wilson’s more generous attitude towards Germany. They disagreed about what to do about the Rhineland and Germany’s valuable Saar region where many coal mines were situated.

When Clemenceau insisted that the Rhineland should be separated from Germany, Wilson threatened to quit the conference and return home. In the end, the French had to be satisfied with a demilitarised Rhineland. 

Clemenceau was prepared to give Wilson what he wanted in Eastern Europe, where Wilson wanted the different peoples such as Poles, Czechs and Slovaks to rule themselves (self-determination). However, this mainly affected the peace treaties with the other defeated nations – not the Treaty of Versailles which only applied to Germany.


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Terms of the Treaty of Versailles 2

There were also disagreements between Clemenceau and Lloyd George, particularly over Lloyd George’s desire not to treat Germany too harshly. For example, Clemenceau said; ‘If the British are so anxious to appease (give way to) Germany they should look overseas and make colonial, naval or commercial concessions’.

Clemenceau felt that the British were quite happy to treat Germany fairly in Europe, where France was most under threat (having been invaded by Germany in 1870 and 1914). However, they were less keen to allow Germany to keep its navy and colonies, which would be more of a threat to the British Empire.

Wilson and Lloyd George did not always agree either. Lloyd George was particularly unhappy with point 2 of the ‘Fourteen Points’, allowing all nations access to the sea. The dominant position of the Royal Navy was of crucial importance to Britain. Wilson’s views on self-determination were also threatening to Britain – because the British Empire ruled millions of people all over the world from London. 

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Reaction to the treaty in Germany 1

The Germans had good reason to believe that the Allies would treat them mercifully at Versailles. They assumed the peace would be based on Wilson’s ’14 Points’. The Kaiser, the former ruler of Germany who many had blamed for the war, had abdicated in November 1918 and had been replaced by a new, democratic government.Many ordinary Germans did not appreciate how bad Germany’s military situation had been at the end of the war and thought that the German government was at Versailles to negotiate peace – not be treated as a defeated nation. 

So when the terms of the treaty were presented to the Germans they were horrified. Germany was to lose: 10% of its land; all its overseas colonies; 12.5% of its population; 16% of its coalfields; and almost half its iron and steel industry. At first, the German government refused to sign the treaty. The German navy, which had been brought to Scapa Flow off the coast of Scotland after Germany surrendered, sank all their ships in protest.


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Reaction to the treaty in Germany 3

War Guilt & Reparations: This was particularly hated. Germans felt the blame should at least be shared. The Germany economy was in tatters, people had little food and they feared that the reparations would cripple them.

Disarmament: An army of 100,000 was very small for a country of Germany’s size and this was seen as a humiliation. As other countries did not disarm to the same extent, Germany felt weak against future attack.

German territory: The loss of territory was both a blow to national pride and the economy. Both the Saar and Upper Silesia were valuable industrial areas. Meanwhile, German people found themselves living in new countries such as Czechoslovakia ruled by non-Germans. This went against Wilson’s idea of self-determination.

League of Nations:  Germany was further insulted by not being invited to join the new organisation.

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Reaction to the treaty in Britain, France and USA

Clemenceau’s problem was that it was not harsh enough for the French people who wanted to punish Germany for the huge damage and casualties France had suffered. He was voted out of office in a General Election in 1920.

In Britain, Lloyd George received a hero’s welcome when he returned from Versailles. However, he later described the treaty as a ‘great pity’ and predicted another war would happen because of it.

Wilson was very disappointed with the treaty, and said if he were German he would not have signed it. Meanwhile, both politicians and the public in the USA objected to Wilson’s idea that the USA should play a leading role in keeping the peace in future through the League of Nations.  They feared that the USA would again be dragged into a foreign war and so the US Congress voted against the treaty and joining the League of Nations, so the USA never became a member. 

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Peace treaties with Austria and Bulgaria

The Treaty of St Germain, 1919

Country: Austria

Terms: Austria accepted the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They lost land to countries including Italy, Poland and Czechoslovakia.They had to pay reparations and were limited to an army of 30,000 men.

Impact: Millions of people in Europe were given self-determination, but several small, weak states now existed where there had previously been one large one.

 The Treaty of Neuilly, 1919

Country: Bulgaria

Terms:   Bulgaria lost land to Greece, Yugoslavia and Romania, but gained land from Turkey. They had to pay reparations and were limited to an army of 20,000 men.

Impact Bulgaria had played a smaller part in the war and so was treated less harshly by the Allies, but many Bulgarians still found themselves ruled by foreign countries.

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Peace treaties with Hungary and Turkey

The Treaty of Trianon, 1920

Country: Hungary

Terms:Along with the Treaty of St Germain, it marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hungarian land was lost to countries including Czechoslovakia and Romania. They had to pay reparations and were limited to an army of 35,000 men.

Impact:3 million Hungarians were living under foreign rule.

 The Treaty of Sevres, 1920 & the Treaty of Lausanne, 1923

Country: Turkey

Terms:Land from the huge Turkish Empire was given independence or put under the control of Britain and France.

Impact:The Turks were so outraged that the government of Turkey was overthrown in an uprising led by Mustapha Kemal. Rather than fight Kemal, the Treaty of Lausanne was agreed which returned some land to Turkey and said that they did not have to limit their armed forces or pay reparations.

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Was the Treaty of Versailles justified?

There is no doubt that the peace treaties at the end of the First World War imposed very strict terms upon the defeated nations. The severity of these terms caused lasting resentment among many Germans, who believed they had been at Versailles to negotiate peace, not to be treated as a defeated nation and forced to accept the ‘Diktat’. The war guilt clause was considered particularly unfair and it was thought the reparations would cripple Germany. It was also argued that Wilson’s idea of self-determination did not seem to apply to Germany, as many Germans found themselves living in foreign countries.

 The peace treaties can also be criticised for their longer term consequences. The principle of self-determination led to the creation of a number of small weak states in Europe such as Czechoslovakia. These would prove to be easy prey for Hitler in the 1930s. In addition, as time passed the feeling grew that Germany had indeed been treated too harshly. This meant that when Hitler began to break the terms of the treaty, such as by increasing the size of the Germany armed forces, it was possible to argue that he was simply putting right the unfairness of Versailles and so no action was taken to stop him. As a result, the treaty can be seen to have contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War just twenty years later.

However, although the terms of the treaty were strict, they were not entirely unexpected. 

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Was the Treaty of Versailles justified?

When Germany signed the armistice and surrendered in November 1918, they knew they would have to pay reparations, lose land and reduce their armed forces. These were the usual consequences of defeat in war. In fact, Germany had already agreed in the armistice that they would give up Alsace-Lorraine and withdraw their army from the Rhineland.  It was also argued that had Germany won the war they might have imposed even harsher terms on the Allies. When Russia dropped out of the war and surrendered to Germany in March 1918, the Germans imposed the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on the Russians. Under the terms of this treaty, Russia had to give up a huge amount of land, including many valuable industrial and agricultural regions as well as pay reparations.

 So although the terms of the Treaty of Versailles have been criticised for being too strict, this does not mean the ‘Big Three’ were simply stupid or unaware of what they were doing. They met after the most terrible war in history and were determined to make sure it did not happen again. They faced significant pressure of public opinion. At the same time, many of the decisions they had to make were very difficult. The huge Austro-Hungarian Empire, containing dozens of different national groups, had collapsed. Large areas of Europe had been devastated and the European economy was in tatters. There was a real need to bring stability – and quickly. Nevertheless, the view held my most historians is that the terms were too harsh and were likely to lead to a future war. It would only be a matter of time before Germany would seek revenge.

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Reaction to the treaty in Germany 2

The new German leader, Ebert, was in an impossible

position. If he refused to sign the treaty war might breakout

again and Germany would face certain defeat. 

Reluctantly, he agreed to accept the terms of the treaty

and signed on 28 June 1919. From the start, the German

people did not accept the treaty as fair. They described it

as a ‘diktat’ – a dictated peace. The myth grew that they

had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by their own politicians,

who were nicknamed the ‘November Criminals’ for asking

for peace in 1918. 

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