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Mitchell Venator
Professor Thomas
15 March 2015
UWRT 1102-064
Lessons of World War I
Many people believe the Versailles Treaty that was signed at the end of World War I was
overly harsh on Germany and played a major factor in the rise of Adolph Hitler and the outbreak
of World War II. In a paper entitled, Lessons of World War I, Dr. Victor Davis Hanson argues
that the Versailles Treaty was relatively mild, and was used as a Red Herring by Hitler. He
agrees that the Versailles Treaty did play a part in the outbreak of a second world war, but he
argues that it was not because of harsh terms, but because the Allies failed to enforce its terms.
Dr. Hanson begins his paper by outlining the military situation at the end of World War I.
While the German Army was effectively beaten, and the allied army commanded the field, at the
time of the armistice, no allied troops had set foot in Germany. But although the German Army
was defeated in November of 1918, the Allies did not meet until January 1919 to draft the terms
of Germanys surrender. By the time negotiations were finalized and the Germany government
signed the Versailles Treaty in late June 1919, only 20% of Allied forces were still on active duty.
Dr. Hanson argues that this military weakness encouraged Germany to challenge the terms of the
treaty.
In the middle of his paper Dr. Hanson addresses the question of the severity of the treaty
terms. He compares the Treaty of Versailles to other treaties of the period. He notes that the

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terms the Germans imposed on Russia in March 1918 were monstrous in comparison. The
Germans took of Russian territory and 1/3 of their population in that treaty. At the end of the
Franco-Prussian war in 1871, the Prussians imposed harsh term on the French, including
Prussian occupation of French Alsace and Lorraine. Additionally, Prussia occupied a large
portion of French territory until France paid war reparations to Prussia. In comparison the Treaty
of Versailles force the Germans to give up only a small amount of its territory and population and
while the reparations bill was large, the Allies were more than willing to work with Germany on
payment terms.
In addition to reparations and the loss of some territory the Treaty of Versailles restricted
the German Army to no more than 100,000 active duty soldiers, disbanded the German General
Staff, and forbade the formation of an Air Force and Armored Forces. Dr. Hanson argues that
these are the terms that really bothered Germany and the Allies failure to enforce these terms
allowed Adolph Hitler to not only build up Germanys military strength, but also strengthened
Hitlers image with the German military. The German military did not support Hitler initially but
after he was able to successfully challenge the British and French with his military build-up, the
Generals threw their support to him.
Dr. Hanson makes a compelling argument that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were
relatively mild and had its terms been effectively enforced, World War II may have been avoided.