Posts Tagged ‘Treaty of Versailles’

Trick or Treaty

Posted in General, On This Day on December 14th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Do two wrongs make a right wing? Your standard high school history text will say that the Treaty of Versailles was an injustice to the German people. If you don’t dwell on the barbarian invasions, the Thirty Years War, Frederick the Great, Otto von Bismarck, and certain events of 1914, the Germans never showed a predilection for war. So the punitive and exploitive nature of the Treaty of Versailles was unjustified and unprecedented.

Except, if you are so petty to bring up the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. That was the punitive and exploitive treaty imposed by Imperial Germany on Russia in March, 1918. Germany, with a bit of help but mostly wishful thinking from Austria-Hungary, had won the Great War on the Eastern Front. It is a tribute to Russia’s stamina that her ill-led, untrained, occasionally armed troops withstood three years of slaughter by the very uncharitable Germans. By 1917, however, the Russians had adopted a decisive defensive tactic: killing their officers and deserting. Of course, this left the German army with no opposition to keep them out of Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic States.

Furthermore, those sly Germans had subsidized the Bolshevik coup that had seized power in November, 1917. The Bolsheviks had pledged to withdraw Russia from the war and Imperial Germany certainly found that a worthwhile goal. The only problem was the details of the Treaty. In return for Lenin’s train fare from Switzerland, Germany demanded that Russia cede Poland, the Baltic States, the Ukraine, Belarus, and Finland. When confronted with those terms, Leon Trotsky walked out of the negotations. So the German army continued to walk into Poland, the Baltic States and the Ukraine. Trotsky walked back and signed away three centuries of Russian acquisitions in Europe. In the lands ceded by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia had lost half of her industries, nine-tenths of her coal mines and one third of her population.

Of course, that one third of the population did not mind losing Mother Russia but they were not exactly liberated either. While less tyrannical than Tsarist or Soviet Russia, Imperial Germany was no champion of liberal democracy. In the German scheme of things, Finland would be a monarchy; the Kaiser’s brother-in-law was available for that throne. Latvia and Estonia would be merged into a colony of Germany known as the United Baltic Duchy; of course, the Duke would be another German prince. Wilhelm of Wurtemberg was designated to be the King of Lithuania; in a gesture of ethnic sensitivity, however, Wilhelm offered to change his name to Mindaugas. As for Poland, don’t you mean East Prussia? The Ukraine and Belarus would be allowed nominal independence; but you can imagine that Krupp and Siemens would be operating the coal mines. Think of it as Heilaburton.

For all practical purposes, the Baltic Sea would have been a tributary of the Rhine. But the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk only lasted as long as the Imperial Army did. It collapsed before the onslaught of two million Doughboys and a medley of George Cohan songs. (In the wake of the German defeat, the Soviets regained the Ukraine and Belarus. The Finns and the Poles successfully defended themselves. The British guaranteed the independence of the Baltic States, moving in as the Germans left; the Soviets were fighting so many wars that they decided to forgo one over Estonia.)

Now, the peace terms were dictated to Germany. It had to admit responsiblity for the war and pay reparations. Germany found that outrageous; after all, it had only attacked Belgium in self-defense. Yet, as much as Germany protested, the Treaty of Versailles was not as onerous as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Otherwise, Bavaria would have been ceded to Italy in reparations for the Visigoths’ sack of Rome, and Bayreuth would have been restricted to performing Gilbert & Sullivan. (Yes, that actually would have been an improvement.)

So, the next time you hear the historical bromides about “the follies of Versailles”, mention Brest-Litovsk and venture what terms the Germans would have imposed on the West. Ireland, Algeria and India would have become independent earlier. After all, the Kaiser had several sons.