In my previous blog I started to share about some of the books I read over the Summer, the longest and most academic was work “Peacemakers Six months that changed the world: The Paris Peace Conference of 191 and its attempt to end war.”
This was a very long and fascinating read, but I learnt so much. It focused on the efforts of the leaders of 5 nations, the victorious allies at the end of the first world war to deal with the demise of the Ottoman and Austrian / Hungarian Empires and what should happen to defeated Germany. The five being America, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan.
I learnt things I didn’t know, e.g. Iraq was a country created by the conference with no real logic, other than convenience. It didn’t exist before 1919. Within its borders were Sunni and Shiite Muslims plus Kurds. They had nothing in common. The world is still being impacted by this flawed decision.
I was also impacted by the fact that two of the five were only interested in getting what they could from the proceedings. The Italians and Japanese just wanted to grab as much as they could for their nations. Italy wanted what became Yugoslavia, Japan wanted much of China. Neither were interested in the wider picture and didn’t engage in the wider discussions. Neither got what they wanted, and eventually stormed out of the conference in protest. The other three worked together and despite massive arguments and being in conflict for the best part of 6 months, left very close friends and felt they had done their best for the world rather than for their own nations.
I hadn’t grasped that the concept of a nation state with a single nationality is such a new concept, being first talked about at this conference. Therefore the idea is only 100 years old.
However, this was not possible in the world of 1919.
“It was not possible, then, to put all the Poles in Europe into Poland and all the Germans into Germany. In Europe alone 30 million people were left in states where they were an ethnic minority, an object of suspicion at home and of desire from their co-nationals abroad.”
“The Second World War showed yet another solution – the murder of unwanted minorities. In 1945 mass expulsions completed what Hitler had started and Europe was left with only minuscule national minorities, less than 3% of its total population.”
A major question that people ask is whether the treaty of Versailles, the way the conference dealt with Germany, made the second world war inevitable. MacMillan says,
“With different leadership in the Western democracies, with stronger democracy in Weimar Germany, without the damage done by the Depression, the story might have turned out differently. And without Hitler to mobilize the resentments of ordinary Germans and to play on the guilty consciences of so many in the democracies, Europe might not have had another war so soon after the first. The Treaty of Versailles is not to blame. It was never consistently enforced, or only enough to irritate German nationalism without limiting German power to disrupt the peace of Europe. With the triumph of Hitler and the Nazis in 1933 Germany had a government that was bent on destroying the Treaty of Versailles………. Hitler did not wage war because of the Treaty of Versailles, although he found its existence a godsend for his propaganda.”
The final verdict on the conference was
“The peacemakers of 1919 made mistakes, of course. By their offhand treatment of the non-European world they stirred up resentments for which the West is still paying today. They took pains over the borders in Europe, even if they did not draw them to everyone’s satisfaction, but in Africa they carried on the old practice of handing out territory to suit the imperialist powers. In the Middle East they threw together peoples, in Iraq most notably, who still have not managed to cohere into a civil society. If they could have done better, they certainly could have done much worse. They tried, even cynical old Clemenceau, to build a better order. They could not foresee the future and they certainly could not control it. That was up to their successors. When war came in 1939, it was a result of twenty years of decisions taken or not taken, not of arrangements made in 1919.”
All very fascinating, for me at least. In future blogs I will reflect on the Christian books I read.
Written by Tony Thompson