A cleany-written survey of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that non-historians can enjoy. This book is not a study of the treaty itself. Instead, Margaret Macmillan covers the peace conference in Paris by focusing on the interaction of the major actors, mostly Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau, as they try their best to craft an agreement they hope will shape a new order of democracy and peace.
War in the middle east, 1930s fascism, genocide in Europe, Africa, and the Balkans are all sad evidence that the peace makers’ vision of a peaceful, democratic world shaped by self-determination of nations is yet to come to pass, but this book reminds me that neither the treaty itself nor the peacemakers who drafted are entirely to blame. They did make colossal blunders, such as their clumsy structuring of mid-east national boundaries, but they were working in the political framework of the time and negotiated the best document they could.
There isn’t a lot of scholarly analysis in this book until the final “Conclusion” chapter, but Macmillan writes of Wilson, George, and Clemenceau:
If they could have done better, they certainly could have done much worse. They tried . . . to build a better order. They could not foresee the future and they certainly could not control it. That was up to their successors.
That sounds about right to me. Yes, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles contributed to the economic conditions that made violent nationalism possible in Europe and drew up borders that have kept the Middle East largely unstable, but the world’s current leaders and citizens are as much to blame for our condition.
When war came in 1939, it was a result of twenty years of decisions taken or not taken, not of arrangements made in 1919.
The same is true for our predicament today.