Last week marked the Centennial mark where the first in a series of peace treaties (The Treaty of Versailles,) after months of scheming, fighting, and negotiations among the major powers (The United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan) ended the First World War and attempted to build a New World Order based on the ideals of Democracies, Nationalism, Republics, Globalism, and Free Markets.
The treaties were designated by the areas in France the delegates assembled to negotiate with the various Central Powers. These six documents were:
- The Treaty of Versailles (the most well known and mentioned in History Textbooks where readers routinely think it was the only treaty that ended the war) that dealt with ending the war between Germany and the Allied/Associated (The United States was never an ally in this war.)
- The Treaty of Saint -Germain-en Laye which dealt with the new country of Austria.
- The Treaty of Neuilly which dealt with ending the war with Bulgaria.
- The Treaty of Trianon which concluded terms with the new Hungary
- The Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne which dealt with the old Ottoman Empire and had to be revised at Lausanne after the new country of Turkey emerged and created a new reality on the ground after warring against the Greeks.
Many works (both literary and audiovisual) have been produced describing the intricacies of the scheming, conflicts, and negotiations between the victorious powers in composing the six treaties (seven if you include the 1918 Treaty of Brest Litovisk between Germany and her allies and the Russian Bolshevik Government) that formally ended the First World War.
Perhaps the best of the literary works of this post-war period include:
- Margaret McMillian’s 1919: Six Months that Changed the World
- David Andelman’s A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.
- David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace
- David Fromkin’s In the Time of the Americans
The results of these treaties still affect the historical, political, and socio-economic development of the world today. If it were not for these treaties, forged from the desires of the victorious powers (French revenge, British realism and opportunism, and American Naivete-idealism,) the following probably would not have happened:
- The rise of the United States as a superpower.
- The rise of the Soviet Union.
- The rise of Totalitarian Fascism, Communism, and Authoritarianism in Europe and Asia.
- The rise of Communism in China and Vietnam (apparently the peacemakers did not have time to listen to the pleas from a young Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh, who wanted to plead his people’s case for self-determination.)
- The creation of new or resurrected nations in Europe like Poland and the Baltic States.
- The shaping of the Modern Middle East where the drawing up of the modern map (and rise of some of the families who still rule parts of it like the Saudis and Hussein’s) most know today started to take form where peoples like the Kurds were left stateless.
- World War Two
- The Cold War with the Soviet Union
- The Balkan tensions and conflicts in the 1990s that saw the dissolution of two multiethnic states created in the treaties ending World War One: Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
- The creation of a global organization where all nations could gather and debate issues. First, it was the League of Nations. Now it is the United Nations in addition to other organizations like the European Union and N.A.T.O. that have formalized ties between multiple nations.
As the reader can see, there were both positive developments and negative repercussions from the treaties that ended World War One that still affect the world we live in today.
Such are the winds of history.
In commenting on the centennial of the treaties that ended “The War to End All Wars,” A Shattered Peace author David Andelman wrote that some of today’s leaders have not heeded the lessons of the peace process 100 years ago specifically concerning the themes of:
- “Don’t Destroy your Enemy.” Andelman wrote that the drive to beat Germany into submission helped bring about the rise of Hitler and the Second World War in Europe.
- “Understand your Enemy.” Here Andelman (along also with McMillan and Fromkin in their works), in using the lesson of how the map of the Middle East was drawn” cautioned leaders that they should be well versed in the history, demographics, and cultures of the areas they aim to influence (control) or shape. Apparently, the British and French delegates, in their zest to get as many oil wells and territories under their spheres of influence as possible, did not bother to consider the cultural and historical demographics of the boundaries they were drawing up, thus creating nations (Iraq for example) that had ethnic groups that (as present-day examples demonstrate) really were antagonistic towards one another. They also erred in installing puppet rulers from the Hussein Family that they could not control or were not well received by the indigenous populace. These lapses in human resource judgment would help lead to a chain of events that have partially resulted in what exists today in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan (Eastern Palestine in 1919), and Saudi Arabia where the Hussein family (of Lawrence of Arabia fame) would either get exiled (in Syria by the French and Arabia by the Saudis), executed in a revolution by peoples they had no relationship to (in Iraq) and installed as permanent rulers of a populace they had no connection with (In the Eastern part of historic Palestine ruling a majority Palestinian population today in what is today Jordan.)
The lessons of the treaties that ended the first World War show that long term negative effects may trump short term benefits or expectations.
They also show that leaders and public servants well versed in history and socio-economic development should be entrusted in prominent positions to help steer policy. This does not guarantee success. Other factors may arise but it is reasonable that a solid foundation forged by well-informed students of history and policy would help prevent a repeat the lapses in judgment the delegates in France had in 1919 when similar situations in the future arise.