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The impact of total war on the continent of Europe was very broad. Governments began to take control of everything in their countries. Governments took control by rationing goods, setting up price controls, taking over transportation, taking over the press and eventually the free market system was gone. During a total war all the citizens in the country were involved in some way in the war effort. You did not need to live close to a battlefield to be impacted. The government expanded all of its powers to a point where they controlled everything.

During the Paris peace conference France, Britain and the United States each had different motivations and desires. Georges Clemenceau was the premiere of France and they wanted revenge and security against Germany. France wanted Germany stripped of weapons and wanted them to pay reparations to cover the cost of the war. France also wanted a new country called Rhineland as a buffer state between them and Germany. David Lloyd George the Prime Minister of Great Britain wanted to make the Germans pay for the war. Woodrow Wilson had a more idealistic desire. He thought World War I was a war against militarism and he wanted a United Nations with political independence so big and small nations could have international cooperation.

The effects of the Treaty of Versailles crushed Germany’s economy after World War I. Germany lost land they needed to grow food, boats and water rights they needed to bring in raw supplies from abroad and the government could not afford to pay back reparations promised to the Allied nations which caused inflation to soar.

Although Germany had once been an agricultural powerhouse in Europe their economy became more industrial and they were unable to feed their own population without importing goods.(Keynes) Forty million Germans needed the potato and wheat crops that were grown in the East part of Germany that was now under Allied control. Germany said if it lost its territory in the East that they would lose 21% of their wheat and potato production. All of this would come back to haunt Europe and the United States when German citizens would eventually embrace communism out of desperation.

Germany could not import food because they had lost their merchant marine vessels. (Keynes) Germany also needed ships to bring in raw materials like coal that they could no longer import. Germany said that it had transformed from an agricultural to an industrial state and now could not feed 40 million inhabitants if it had to give up its merchant marine vessels. The Treaty of Versailles literally put a stranglehold around Germany and it directly led to death by starvation of millions. Germans could not feed themselves let alone begin to start paying back reparations for the war, which will eventually affect all of Europe.

Many citizens could not find work and the German currency was devalued to the point that it became worthless. (deJonge) Inflation was so bad at one point in 1923 that prices were being marked up by 20% every day. People had money that was literally worthless. The United States attempted to rectify some of their money problems but the depression in the United States hit Germany very hard as well.

Germany believed that its industries would be extinct. They will not be able to feed their people. Germany felt that many of their citizens would move away. 1,750,000 people were killed in the war and 1 million were killed as a result of the blockade that made their people starve. Germany felt that this would happen again and millions more would die.

John Maynard Keynes wrote a book about the economic consequences of the peace agreement that Germany signed. His book outlined the economic collapse that Germany would eventually go through after World War I. Keynes felt that Germany was too industrialized and did not have enough land to produce food for their people.(Keynes) He predicted that Germany would never be able to comply with the harsh terms imposed on them by the treaty. He believed that the entire country would fall into financial collapse. He believed that Germany’s economic collapse would cause political repercussions all throughout Europe and all over the world. Germany simply could not afford war reparations at that level. He was an outspoken critic of the Treaty of Versailles. He would eventually be proven correct. Germany did not pay back their war reparations and their country did fall into an economic depression. It would be easy to believe that the cause of World War II was as a direct result of the harsh punishment put against Germany after World War I.

The Treaty of Versailles was five separate peace settlements with Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. The treaty with Germany was the most important and the harshest. Article 231, the war guilt clause, said that Germany and Austria were responsible for starting the war. Article 231 said that Germany had to pay reparations for all damages that the Allied governments had sustained as a result of the war.

I agree with Germany that their country will probably collapse. But as the saying goes to the victor goes the spoils! Germany should suffer. I do not believe they should necessarily suffer with mass casualties from starvation but I do feel that they should suffer. The Allies should have simply taken over Germany. The allies could move in and run Germany like a colony. Because the United States is so far away, France and Great Britain could take over the daily workings of the government of Germany. After Germany had paid a percentage of profits from their industries, over time when Germany and France felt that they are strong enough to hold elections they could elect a new leader and go on their way. It probably sounds harsh, but if France and Great Britain had taken over Germany maybe World War II would have never happened.

Many citizens could not find work and the German currency was devalued to the point that it became worthless. Germans had to change and adjust their lives significantly due to the economic crisis during 1919-1923.(deJonge) Money became worthless by late 1923 and hard-working couples were suddenly beggars on the street. Germany had become a barter society. Shoe factories paid their workers in shoes. People paid their bills with butter. Foreigners who came to Germany could live like kings while the Germans were barely surviving. Germans were impoverished and starving while foreigners ate like kings for pennies on the dollar.

Many people in Germany were forced into prostitution or illegal activities because they had no choices.(deJonge) Many families were tossed onto the streets and had to beg to survive. Foreign travelers came in and snatched up German antiquities and treasures for almost nothing.

The United States tried to stabilize the German economy with the Dawes plan from 1924 to 1929. The Dawes plan was a series of loans from foreign investors including the United States meant to soften the burden of war reparation payments.

The Great Depression in the United States affected Germany as well because now their economy was dependent upon the US economy flourishing. The Dawes plan worked until the United States economy and the stock market collapsed. After the stock market collapsed Germany's industrial output fell by 40% and unemployment was at 40%.

The Treaty of Versailles also negatively impacted Vietnam. Point five of President Wilson's Treaty of Versailles said that “questions of sovereignty interest of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined”.(Wilson) This means that the colonies taken from the defeated Central Powers after the war should hand over control to whichever country the populations of those countries preferred.

Point five would require nations that have shown to have an imperialistic nature to reject their claim on these colonies and work together with the interests of the populations living in these colonies. Realistically most of these populations did not want to be colonies at all but independent countries. Apparently this outcome had not occurred to Wilson when he wrote the treaty. The failure of self-determination diminished the allure of democratic-capitalism and eventually led many countries to embrace communism.(Spielvoegl)

Self-determination was all the talk at the Paris peace conference but it turned out to be all talk. In reality some of the people of Eastern Europe became instant minorities when they drew boundaries along ethnic lines. France wanted a barrier against Russia and Germany and the new borders left ethnic minorities within nations they had little in common with. These borders would lead to greater conflicts in the future. The minorities in colonized lands numbers were so small they could not realistically elect a leader of their choosing, so there was no democracy for them.


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Ho Chi Minh was a young Vietnamese patriot that went to the Paris conference on behalf of people living within the French Empire in Indochina.(Spielvoegl) He believed in the principle of national sovereignty and self-determination that President Woodrow Wilson had promised. His desire was to free Vietnam from colonial rule by France. But like other advocates of colonial independence who came to Paris he discovered that Wilson's pledge was in fact too good to be true. The British and the French refused to enforce self-rule for all of their colonies and they ignored Ho Chi Minh. He pursued a more radical solution to Imperial rule in Vietnam when he figured out that the democratic process did not include the Vietnamese people. While he was in France he joined the Communist Party and he took his teachings home to Vietnam and decided to lead them in a revolution. In 1941 he was ready to take on France but World War II had started and the Japanese took over Vietnam. After Japan lost the war Ho Chi Minh found Vietnam cut into North and South and France had taken over again. By the end of 1946 the Franco-Vietnamese War had begun with Ho Chi Minh's nationalist forces fighting the French.

Ho Chi Minh learned about communism through Lenin’s revolutionary strategy for spreading communism outside of the Western world..(Spielvoegl) Lenin spread the work of Karl Marx through an organization called Comintern. Comintern was a worldwide organization of communist parties formed to advance communism and world revolution. Karl Marx believed that the proletariat would be a class of workers with no national affiliation when it rose up against its bourgeoisie oppressors. Lenin believed that a single communist state could not survive against all the capitalist nations so he needed more and more socialist and communist countries to band together.

When Russia successfully changed their government after a revolution in 1917 Lenin wanted to tell the world that the Marxist party could overturn their governments as well. Lenin trained agents in communism and have them return to their own countries to form Marxist parties there. Nearly every colonial society in Asia had a Communist Party by the end of the 1920s.(Spielvoegl) Lenin's communism promised a violent revolution against major world empires that would lead to redistribution of land to peasants, economic equality, plenty of food for everyone, social services for everyone and true self-determination.

Lenin and Ho Chi Minh believed that Democratic capitalistic nations could be taken over by Soviet communism if they were aggressive and expansive. All that they needed to do was work together, not necessarily as a nation, but as an ideology. That ideology was communism. Self-determination would bring conflicts between Democratic capitalism and communism for many years to come.

Self-determination in the Middle East was made more difficult by secret deals made before-and-after World War I led the Arab people to not trust the British, French and American governments.(Spielvoegl) According to Glencoe World History there was an agreement between the Arabs and the British in World War I. In exchange for military support the Western Allies needed the allies promised to recognize the independence of Arab states. The allies needed air support against the Ottoman Turks during World War I. The Western Allies nations lied and when the war was over did not recognize the independence of many Arab states. After the war France controlled Lebanon and Syria. Britain controlled Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The backlash from this decision would have serious ramifications in the future for the Middle East. Many people inside the borders of these countries were divided and they had no strong identification with their designated countries.

British and French diplomats forged the secret Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916.(Spielvoegl) The agreement would cut up the Ottoman Empire after World War I ended. The agreement effectively gave control of Syria, Lebanon and part of Turkey to the French. The agreement gave Palestine, Jordan and areas around the Persian Gulf and Baghdad to Britain. The agreement also allowed huge areas of land around Syria and Mesopotamia to be under French influence and land in the Jordan Valley and Arabia to be under British influence. The Arabs expected to be able to run their own countries after helping the allies fight the Turks during World War I.

Another great lie from the European leaders was the Balfour declaration. Britain's foreign secretary James Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild a leader of the Jewish community in Britain.(Spielvoegl) This letter was eventually published in the Times of London. The British government wanted Jewish support for the allies and the letter expressed support for a national home for the Jews in Palestine. The declaration made more Jews move to Palestine. When the Nazi regime in Germany led to the Holocaust 6 million Jews were killed and even more Jews fled to Palestine. The violence between the Jews and the Muslims increased in Palestine. Britain declared in 1939 that only a certain number of Jews would be allowed to move into the area and that caused even more bloodshed.

After World War I when countries acquired foreign land they called it the mandate system in the Middle East.(Spielvoegl) According to the system a nation officially governed another nation as a mandate on behalf of the League of Nations but did not own the territory. The mandate system was simply colonialism in disguise. Britain controlled Iraq, which was artificially created out of three former Ottoman provinces. Iraq had been politically stable when different ethnic and religious groups live together but when one country is built out of three provinces Britain found that the people would have preferred to rule themselves rather than be ruled by the Arabs. A Sunni minority ruled the Shiite majority until quite recently. The British ignored the problems because Iraq is an oil rich nation that they now controlled.

It is not surprising that after so many lies and false promises there was very little trust between the Europeans, Americans and the Middle East. There were long-lasting effects in the Middle East because of these broken promises. The lasting impact on relationships, not only between Arab and Israel, but Arab and Western countries have been strained since. Middle Eastern states were drawn by European powers in ways that would benefit themselves and didn't take into consideration the wants and desires of the people inside of these borders. There were cultures that became instant minorities and had no real power to rule themselves. They could not elect their own leaders because they did not have the numbers. Many countries still claim ancestral territories including Israel and Palestine with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arab nationalism had grown because although the Arabs were not a nation they were united by language, Islamic culture and religious heritage. The Arab Israeli war of 1948 was caused because both sides believed they had rights to a single piece of land. Each had deals with Western Allies to own this land and both were lied to. Secret deals made before-and-after World War I have lasting effects in the Middle East to this day.

Works Cited

"Treaty of Versailles." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

"Versailles, Treaty Of." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

"World War I Reparations." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Keynes, John M. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, Inc., 1919. Print.

de Jonge, Alex. "Inflation in Weimar Germany". The Social Dimension of Western Civilization, Vol. 2. Ed. Richard Golden. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003. 260-271. Print

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919, Six Months That Changed the World. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.
The German Reply

Count Brockdorff-Rantzau. The German Reply - May 13, 1919. S-H BULLETIN No. 277 May 15th, 1919 reprinted by the National Endowment for the Humanities, source: Norman H. Davis, Box 44, Paris Peace Conference, Versailles Treaty, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Manuscript. January 3, 2013. <edsitement.neh.gov>.

Wilson, Woodrow. Speech on the Fourteen Points. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, Congressional Record, 65th Congress 2nd Session, 1918. Speech.

Spielvoegl, Jackson. Glenco World History, Modern Times. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.