What Could Have Been Done about Germany after the Last War?

If what has been said above is, in very broad outline, a true account of the way Germany was led to start World War II in 1939, this war was not caused by what the Allies did to Germany in the peace treaty of 1919 and afterward. Was it, on the contrary, due to what the Allies failed to do?

A good many students of the subject would answer, Yes. What was necessary to prevent Germany from going to war again, they would say, was to make it impossible for her to do so with any hope of success. And this was precisely what was not done. If the disarmament of Germany, required by the treaty, had really been enforced, and if the Allied countries had not allowed their own forces, especially their mechanized infantry and their air forces, to fall below Germany's, no German government would have dared to disturb the peace of the world. For no government starts a war which it knows it is practically certain to lose. But since Germany had been allowed to build up the strongest military force in the world, a quick and easy German victory looked, to Hitler and his generals, like a sure thing.

The Allied governments, it is argued, could not in 1919 foresee, and could not do much to control, the ideas and feelings that the Germans would have after the war. But they could have made it clear to the Germans that their real interest lay in peace and in cooperation with other nations in the establishment of an orderly and law-abiding world community. This could have been done only by resisting every aggressive move on Germany's part and by making it certain in advance that another resort to war would be disastrous to Germany. Instead, after 1924 they increasingly tried to “appease” Germany, and when Hitler came to power they helped to build up his prestige among his countrymen by repeatedly yielding to him—even allowing him to annex territories and whole countries under the threat of war, in violation of his own treaties and promises. The effect of this was not to pacify Hitler but to increase his demands, to encourage the spirit of aggression among Germans, and to make them feel that no country could resist them.

Up to this point, we have been considering what happened after the last war for the sake of the light it may throw on the practical question we started with: What shall be done about Germany after this war? To that practical question we now return.