Another Leader Failure: the Peace Talks of WWI

By | January 18, 2019

[January 18, 2019]  With the 100 anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, there has been a renewed focus on the mistakes that started the war.  That is a noble and worthwhile cause.  On the other hand, today is the anniversary of the beginning of the WWI peace talks; January 18, 1919.  I will address some of the failures inside those peace talks.

I am fortunate and honored to have known a World War I veteran.  While attending college in central Pennsylvania during the mid-1980s, I would often sit with my doughboy neighbor to discuss his wartime experiences.  His openness about the war, the loss of friends, the dreadfulness, and waste of human lives was a common theme; one that shocked me but also drove me to learn more about that war.1

The Paris Peace Conference that followed WWI is often said to be a failure.  The reason is simple; it failed to bring about long-term peace.  Twenty years later, the world would enter another, and more costly world war as a result of the conditions came about from the peace talks.  Twenty years of “peace” is hard to argue as a failure, but the horror of WWII largely destroyed that line of thinking.

Three major problems troubled the conference which took five months to complete.  Of the 32 countries participating, Germany and Russia did not play a part.  Three countries dominated the conference process; the U.S., England, and France.  Leaders of each of these three had their agenda which led to an outcome that was to help precipitate another conflict.

One of the biggest problems was that leaders from France demanded revenge and punishment for Germany.  There is no doubt, looking back on the reparations (money and territory) demanded of Germany.  Reparations were the key cause of the German economy collapse and the rise of extremists in the Nazi Party.  A worldwide economic depression that followed the war by a few years made the conditions in Germany worse.

Another problem imposed upon Germany was the reduction of its naval fleet.  England demanded protection for its navy.  Furthermore, reparations regarding the loss of German territory helped the English expand their empire and economy.

And finally, leaving Germany out of the conference was a major blunder.  With its dependence upon the U.S. to prevent harsh conditions (which failed), the German peoples were left believing the process was unfair and one-sided.  The rise of nationalism and worsening of social problems was not surprising.  The League of Nations was created, but it was a paper tiger with little power to help Germany.

The conditions imposed upon Germany did not automatically signal a failure of the Big 3’s leadership.  Conditions they could not have expected, like the Great Depression, would come back to haunt Europe and eventually the rest of the world.

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  1. Speaking with his son, I was surprised to learn that the vet never talked about what he saw while in the U.S. Army fighting in France. Maybe it was the fact that I was an Infantry Captain in the Army and we shared a fraternal bond that provided the impetus for him to discuss such an intimate part of his life.
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

26 thoughts on “Another Leader Failure: the Peace Talks of WWI

  1. Scotty Bush

    I’m no historian but here is what I was taught.
    The Paris Peace Conference , also known as Versailles Peace Conference set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers. The main decisions were:
    1. the creation of the League of Nations ;
    2. the five peace treaties with the defeated states;
    3. the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as “mandates”, chiefly to Britain and France;
    4. reparations imposed on Germany ;
    5. and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect ethnic boundaries.

    1. Fred Weber

      … and excellent summary. We must however remember that the results were a bad thing and we are still feeling the negative effects.

  2. Edward Kennedy III

    The main result was the Treaty of Versailles, with Germany, which in section 231 laid the guilt for the war on “the aggression of Germany and her allies.” This provision proved humiliating for Germany and set the stage for very high reparations Germany was supposed to pay (it paid only a small portion before reparations ended in 1931). Germany and Communist Russia were not invited to attend, but numerous other nations did send delegations, each with a different agenda. Kings, prime ministers and foreign ministers with their crowds of advisers rubbed shoulders with journalists and lobbyists for a hundred causes, ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to Japan’s demand for racial equality.

    1. Joe the Aussie

      Edward, if thee is one thing learned from this peace conference was that reparations don’t work, never worked, and only causes major problems in the future. That is why nutcases in the USA who demand “reparations” for slavery are on the wrong side of history.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      Mr. Kennedy. I hope you write an article for this blog real soon. I’m one of your biggest fans. Thanks.

    3. Sadako Red

      Greetings Edward. I hope all is well with you. Are you back in the US? Maybe you could come to Washington DC for us to link up and discuss the problems in the US military. Anyway, just an idea that you might like.

      1. Edward Kennedy III

        Maybe … I am prepping for another mission but short duration. I’ll be in contact soon.

  3. Albert Ayer

    FYI. The League of Nations proved controversial in the United States. As a result the U.S. did not sign any of the peace treaties and never joined the League. (It made separate peace treaties.)

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Yes, and they set the world up in other ways too. For six months Paris was effectively the center of a world government (and the French loved it), as the peacemakers wound up bankrupting empires and created new countries.

    2. Ronny Fisher

      When leaders believe they are smarter than everyone else, this is they kind of result that happens. The U.S. had the best angle on this whole thing and yet they struggled the most to get their own citizens to agree with the outcome. It didn’t work out well for anyone.

  4. Joe Omerrod

    The “Big Four” were the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson; the Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Lloyd George; the Prime Minister of France, Georges Clemenceau; and the Prime Minister of Italy, Vittorio Orlando. They met together informally 145 times and made all the major decisions, which in turn were ratified by the others.

  5. Mike Baker

    I too look forward to these articles on a daily basis. Usually I read it, sip my coffee, and pet my dog. Now that is how to relax before going into work. I sometimes use this info to help my teammates out. Anyway, just thought I would say this to let everyone know that I also read the comments.

  6. Lady Hawk

    Another good article. TGIF everyone. Have a great weekend.

  7. Max Foster

    If there is one failure we often make in the study of senior leadership of the past is that we don’t look at the whole picture. For example, there is little effort to why WW1 began. Yes, we do read more these days but I don’t believe it goes into much detail or effort. Likewise we also don’t read much about the aftermath; the peace talks and the effort for those countries to recover economically. This is a serious failure.

    1. Eva Easterbrook

      I think that is why gen. Satterfield is giving us this article today.

  8. Nick Lighthouse

    There is also the belief that the European aritocrats were power hungry and their lust for more territory would in some way glorify them in the eyes of their countrymen.

  9. Army Captain

    Some say that the failure of these talks lead directly to WW2. That might be a stretch in logic but there is convincing arguments that it is at least a major element.

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