What Was Done after the Last War?
When the First World War ended in 1918, the victorious Allies were in a position to deal with Germany as they wished, subject to the terms of the Armistice agreement. For the German army was completely defeated and could not have offered serious military resistance to anything that the Allies might decide to do. It is certain that the Allied governments all wanted, above everything else, to prevent a future war with Germany. They did not succeed in preventing it.
Why? What did they do, or leave undone, which made it possible for things to happen in Germany that brought on another war within twenty years? On this question there are differing points of view—or there were before the present war began.
One view is that the terms imposed on the Germans were too hard. There were, it is said, five features of the peace treaty of 1919 which were certain to be bitterly resented by the Germans, and therefore to make them wish to reverse the decision by another war as soon as they could get ready for it. These features were:
1. Reparations.—The treaty required Germany to pay very large sums as “reparations” for the physical damage done to other countries by the German armies.
2. Military occupation.—Some parts of Germany—mainly, the Rhineland—were, according to the treaty, to be occupied by small Allied forces for fifteen years, to ensure Germany's fulfillment of the provisions of the treaty. The costs of this occupation were to be paid by Germany.
3. Disarmament.—Germany was pledged by the treaty to limit the size of her army to a hundred thousand men, with no heavy artillery—enough men to keep order at home but not enough to be a danger to any other country. At the same time the Allies promised to cut down their own armaments extensively. These promises, the Germans claimed, were not kept.
4. “War guilt.”—The German delegates who signed the treaty were required to admit that the war had been “caused” by the aggression of Germany and her allies. Most Germans rejected and violently resented this forced confession.
5. Loss of territories.—Certain territories previously under German rule were awarded by the peace treaty to other countries. The most important of these were: a strip across East Prussia (the “Corridor”) awarded to Poland to give that landlocked country access to the sea; the port of Danzig, at the end of the Corridor, which was made a Free City under the League of Nations; Upper Silesia, claimed by Poland, of which the smaller but industrially more important part was finally assigned to, that country; Alsace and Lorraine, which had been taken by Germany from France in 1871 and were now restored to France; and the German colonies in Africa and the Pacific.
Those who take this first view say that if these five points had been left out of the peace treaty of 1919, the Germans would have accepted their defeat quietly, would have settled down peaceably to their own affairs, and would have had no wish to go to war again.
Another view is that, though some mistakes were probably made in the peace treaty, the things that happened in Germany between 1919 and 1939 and resulted in another war were not mainly caused by these features of the peace settlement, but that those happenings could have been prevented by other measures which the Allies might have taken, but did not take. Those who hold this opinion point out that most of the provisions of the peace treaty to which the Germans objected were never enforced, or were very soon repealed.
1. Reparations.—Germany never paid a cent of reparations, ex': cept out of loans made to her by Allied governments or their citizens; and she paid back in this way only about one-third of the loans. In other words, she received from the victorious countries chiefly from the United States—three times as much as she ever paid to them.
2. Military occupation.—Some Allied forces began to evacuate the Rhineland seven years sooner than the treaty required, and within nine years the last foreign soldier had left German soil.
3. Disarmament.—The requirement of German disarmament was never enforced. It is now known that almost on the day after the Armistice in 1918 the military leaders of Germany began to plan to build up gradually a great new army. They did so at first secretly, but within a few years it became increasingly apparent that rearmament was going on. And the governments of the other countries made no serious effort to prevent it. What were called “control commissions” were appointed, it is true, to report as to whether Germany was keeping to the disarmament requirements of the treaty, but by 1926 (after the commissions' investigations had shown that she was not doing so) even this slight attempt at control was given up. In 1935, in open violation of the treaty, universal compulsory military service was reintroduced. Meanwhile, many of the other countries failed to maintain effective armies. The result was that Germany not only did not remain disarmed, but became the strongest military power in the world.
4. “War guilt.”—The forced admission of “war guilt” by Germany had no practical meaning except as a basis for claims to reparations—which were never paid; and this admission was officially repudiated by President von Hindenburg in 1927 without protest from the Allies.
Thus, among the points in the peace treaty which the Germans resented most, two were never carried out and two others ceased to have any practical effect within ten years. But it was another ten years after these alleged grievances had been removed that Germany started the present war. It was not, therefore, a desire of the Germans to get these features of the peace treaty changed that caused the war.
5. Loss of territories.—The territories taken from Germany in 1919 were, of course, not restored to her. But it is held by those who take the second view that the claims of other countries to these territories were better than those of Germany.
Whether or not those claims were better in every case, the aggressive behavior of the Germans after 1933 under Nazi leadership cannot be explained on the basis of desire to recover lost territories. The Nazi's first demand was for annexation to the German Reich of all lands occupied by people supposed to be of German “race,” even though those lands had never been a part of the Reich. The claim that Hitler talked most about in his book, Mein Kampf, was simply for “more land” in Europe (Lebensraum, or “living space”) for Germans to occupy and exploit, especially Polish and Russian land. Hitler wanted not only to get back territories formerly ruled by Germany, but also to seize other peoples' territories. And his first steps were to annex Austria in 1938 and parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938–39. Neither of these countries had ever been a part of the German Empire, and most of the people in the regions of Czechoslovakia taken over by Germany were not German either in “race” or speech.