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IS THE VERSAILLES TREATY RESPONSIBLE? BERNARD LANDE COHEN T HE Treaty of Versailles has been blamed for a , multitude of evils afflicting the world since the close of the Great War, including the universal decay of trade, the fall of the German Republic, the rise of Hitler, and the revived rumours of war. A grave misconception lies at the bottom of this view, and a careful analysis of the post-War situation would bring out the facts that the treaty in itself exercised little real influ~nce upon the tide of events in Germany, and that it is quite ~nrelated to the rise of _ Hitler. That the Germans had to endure more than the French and English has usually been attributed to the "Carthaginian peace"- which sealed their defeat. It is well to remember, however, that their tribulat'ions date back further than the Versailles Treaty, to the War at its very commencement. Therefore, we should distinguish clearly between the events and circumstances which owe their origin to the particular terms of the Treaty, and those which flowed inevitably from the struggle itself. I t"is not out of place to recall briefly a few of the events that followed on the heels of the Great War. The salient feature of the post-War period before 1924 was the economic ruin of Germany, featured by the annihilation of her currency, and the reduction of the urban population to the lowest depths of despair. Undeniably , the reparations embroglio contributed to this result, particularly when the French tried to enforce payment by direct methods. But the question of reparations yields in importance to several other factors, which could be ascribed only to the conflict itself, and 334 IS THE VERSAILLES- TREATY RESPONSIBLE? which were by their very nature so deep-seated as to be altogether -independent of its military outcome. Let it be borne in mind-and this is of the first importancethat from the mon1ent war was declared Germany was immediately cut off from three-quarters of her foreign markets. She was at the time the third largest trading nation in the world; and to an extent only second to that of England, the welfare of her people was bound up with her external commerce. Her huge merchant luarine carried a large percentage of the world's industrial output to North and South America, the Orient, and Africa; while her economic system was closely linked with that of her neighbours to the east and west, with whom she was now at war. The havoc th~t follo'wed the severing of so many arteries of trade may easily be iluagined. Germany was potentially a ruined nation, notwithstanding that her armies were everywhere victorious. Panic ran through the whole of German industry; masses of working men were at once thrown out of employment; wages were drastically reduced. There was, for the time being, some .compensating effect in the unlimited demand for munitions and other commodities of war, and the country was able thereby to sustain itself through four and a half years on a forced internal economy. But with the disbandment .of the army, the closing of war industries, and the reversion to a peace-time economy, the terrific gap resulting from the loss of foreign markets -came to be felt with overpowering intensity. The trade of the world had moved into other channels, and markets which had been lost for years could not at once be regained . To appreciate the uphill fight which then lay before the German people, it is only necessary to compare their trade with England before the War and after. While during the seven months of I914 preceding the 335 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY outbreak of hostilities German exports to Britain were£47,000,000, in the full year of 1919 they amounted to only £993,000, a bare two per cent. of the pre-,War level. By reason of the War Germany lost a larger percentage of her foreign trade than did any of her rivals. except Russia. This alone would have meant years of privation to her people, even if a favourable peace treaty had been concluded. But the social overthrow of Germany...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 334-347
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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