A lot of the problems in the world for the last 90 years can be traced back to one document – The Treaty of Versailles. Written in 1919 and never approved by the US, the document set in motion a series of problems that have plagued the world ever since. Many problems could have been avoided had Woodrow Wilson had his way at the conference, but no, Clemenceau and David Lloyd George got their revenge on Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire and the world has been paying for the document ever since.
What problems has the document caused? What hasn’t it caused should be the question.
1. World War II – the treaty itself blamed Germany for the war, took away German lands, heaped reparations on Germany which helped sink the world into a depression 10 years after the war, created new countries in Europe without regards to ethnicity, religion, or resources, and gave Hitler the foundation on which he built his Nazi Party and the Holocaust. As a result of Versailles, World War I would have its sequel in 20 years. The League of Nations, envisioned by Wilson to stop wars, was powerless without the US who refused to approve the treaty at the behest of Henry Cabot Lodge and his Lodge Reservations.
2. Asia – A young Ho Chi Minh walked up to Woodrow Wilson at the conference and handed him a document which read:
We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Yes, my friends, it is the Declaration of Independence. Ho Chi Minh believed in the Declaration and wanted Wilson’s mantra of self-determination to be applied to his people. He wanted to free his people from the yolk of Imperialist France and guide a new path to democracy. Unfortunately, Wilson only believed self-determination applied to European peoples. It was a gigantic oversight. One in which we can sit back and say that three wars (WWII and 2 conflicts in Vietnam) could have been avoided in the Big 4 of Versailles had not been thinking of only themselves.
3. Africa – This continent is messed up even today. A lot of it has to do with the Berlin Conference where a map was taken out and the nations of Europe divided up the continent. Well, during Versailles, nothing much changed as resources had more value than people. The Imperials, almost bankrupt from four years of war, hung on to their African possessions only to begin to give them up in the 50s and 60s.
4. The Balkans – The powder keg that started the war would erupt in the 1980s when strong man Tito passed away. As a ruler, he had kept the Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians, and Montenegrens from killing each other. after his death, they got right back to their old ways. Now, thankfully, each has their own nation, but the thousands that died in the 80s and 90s may not have died had the Versailles treaty done its thing.
5. The Middle East – No place is more messed up because of the Versailles treaty than the Middle East. A map was made of British and French mandates without regards to ethnic groups, religion, or resources. You have Sunni, Shias, and Kurds living in one country. You have Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimak, and a dozen others all living in Afghanistan. Then there is the India which would later be partitioned after World War II into India, Pakistan, and a few others nations. It is just a down right mess.
The Versailles Peace Treaty is the perfect example of how not to secure a just a lasting peace. Had the Big 4 used and applied Wilson’s 14 points to the entire world, we may not have a lot of the problems we have had since, and problems we have now.