The Inter-War Years 1919-39


Was the Treaty of Versailles Fair?

Paris Peace Conference : Set up to sort out what would happen to the defeated countries after the First World War.

Dominated by "the Big Three". The Big Three disagreed on how to treat Germany, the League of Nations and Wilson's Fourteen Points.

The main terms of the Treaty of Versailles:

  • Germany should accept blame for starting the war,
  • pay reparations,
  • lose land (including industry and population) and colonies,
  • and agree to disarm. 

People in Germany were appalled by the Treaty, but Germany had no choice but to sign it 

The Treaty also set up a League of Nations whose role was to enforce the terms and to help prevent another war. Opinion on the Treaty varied at the time:

  • Some people thought it was too lenient on Germany,
  • Others that it was too harsh and would lead to Germany wanting revenge. 
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To What Extent Was the LoN A Success?

The League of Nations was set up to solve problems between countries before they led to war. Its methods were mainly:

diplomacy (discussions)trade sanctions, or using the armies of their members.

President Wilson's idea, but the US never joined and instead returned to its isolationist policy. Britain and France had their own interests and bypassed the League when it suited them.

Slow to take decisions, solutions were ineffective 

1930s : Economic depression, which made countries less willing to co-operate and helped turn previously democratic countries into dictatorships.

1931-32 : Japanese invasion of Manchuria and China

1936-37 : Tried to prevent Italy's invasion of Abyssinia but could not agree on what to do and never even enforced trade sanctions.

From 1936 the League was seen as irrelevant to international affairs, although its agencies continued its humanitarian work. 

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Why Had International Peace Collapsed by 1939?

The late 1920s had been a time of hope for international relations (series of agreements) that seemed more peaceful (countries co-operating and trading with each other).

The Great Depression of the 1930s led to political turmoil in many countries. Germany was still unhappy about the Treaty of Versailles so Hitler decided to challenge it first by rearming Germany secretly from 1933, then publicly from 1935.

He also challenged the Treaty by sending troops into the Demilitarized zone of the Rhineland in 1936Britain and France did not try to stop these things.

Appeasement - giving Hitler what he wanted in the hope he would not ask for more.

In the Munich Agreement (October 1938) Hitler was able to have the Sudetenland as long as he did not try to take over Czechoslovakia. When he invaded in early 1939 it marked the end of Appeasement and they told Hitler that any further expansion would lead to war.

Despite Hitler's dislike of communism, he signed a Pact with Stalin in 1939 to not attack each other but to divide Poland between them. When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939 Britain declared war. Hitler's foreign policy played a major role in causing WWII but there were other very important factors that contributed as well.

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