Treaty of Versailles centennial, and police not priest (June 26)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Historians have called June 6, 1944 the most important day of the 20th century. D-day was the largest amphibious invasion in military history. 150,000 allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France and liberated Europe from Hitler and the Nazis.

The world just celebrated D-day’s 75th anniversary.

The participants of D-day are known as the “greatest generation” and generations afterwards were taught that World War II was “the good war.” But before D-day President Franklin Roosevelt asked British Prime Minister Winston Churchill what he thought the latest global conflict should be called. Churchill said, “The unnecessary war…Because never was a war (easier) to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.”

The previous struggle was World War I, which was idealized as “making the world safe for democracy” and “the war to end all wars.” Between 1914 and 1918 the total number of military and civilian casualties were over 37 million.

At that time, it was considered the deadliest conflict in human history.

The fighting of World War I ended when Allied Powers and Germany signed the Peace Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 and peace was finalized at the Paris Peace Conference on October 21, 1919.

But two things went wrong. 1) Reparations. 2) The League of Nations.

Following the Paris Peace Conference, famous economist John Maynard Keynes, a British delegate in attendance, wrote a book about the peace process called: The Economic Consequences of the Peace. The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to make reparation payments to the Allied powers for all damages during the war. (This was estimated at $31.4 billion, equivalent to $442 billion in 2019.) Keynes argued the treaty was designed to further crush the defeated Germans. Keynes thought leniency should have been extended to the Germans, not out of fairness, but for the economic well-being of all of Europe, which Keynes felt the Treaty of Versailles prevented.

The resulting economic hardships in Germany led to the rise of the Nazi party.

The League of Nations also came out of the Paris Peace Conference. It was the first worldwide organization with the expressed goals to maintain the peace through collective security, disarmament, and to settle all international disputes through arbitration, therefore, abolishing war.

In 1920 the American people, who were hostile toward the previous president’s (Woodrow Wilson) interventionist foreign policy, elected Warren G. Harding for president. Harding’s campaign slogan was: Return to Normalcy, and the United States refused to join the League of Nations. This weakened the credibility of the organization from the start and the League of Nations couldn’t enforce peace or disarmament.

And hostilities eventually led to World War II.

After this “unnecessary war” a new international organization formed called The United Nations. This time war had to be prevented at all cost because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lesson the “great generation” learned from their predecessors was the world had to be policed in order for it to be safe for democracy.

The United States assumed that role. (After all the destruction, no other nation had the capacity to do it.)

But what went wrong?

Bret Stephens wrote in his book, America in Retreat, “To say America needs to be the world’s policeman is not to say we need to be its priest, preaching the gospel of the American way.”

In other words, America became self-righteous walking the beat and lost its footing.

(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)


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