5. Student distinguishes a variety of perspectives among historical actors participating in a given event.
In 1919, the Paris Peace Conference was held to decide the terms of peace, which had only been maintained by an armistice up to that point. The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and the US were the major players in decision-making that comprised the “Big Four”. Each state had different interests, with somewhat aligned views on subjects of German reparations and punishment but individual motives for the redrawing of borders.
Woodrow Wilson, the American president set forth his aims for the conference in the Fourteen Points Speech given to Congress in January 1919. He most notably called for the self-determination of peoples in former empires and the creation of an international organization to ensure collective security. He placed importance in self-determination because he believed it was the right of all peoples to live in a democratically governed state of their own, a transition from the monarchy-ruled empires of Europe. His biggest goal was the creation of the League of Nations which would theoretically remove conflict from the world by creating a forum for states to solve issues and have collective security where they would all defend each other. “Peace without victory” was a radically different perspective at the time, but Wilson saw it as the only long-term solution to preventing conflict.
David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, made a statement on war aims in January 1918. In agreement with the US, he wanted the independence of Belgium and other occupied territories from German trooops, as well as the self-determination of Poland. Differently to the US, George set forth a need for reparations for the great cost of the war that Germany had incurred to its allies, while still wanting to keep Germany somewhat strong as a buffer to communism from the East.
Georges Clemenceau, the French prime minister, was greatly concerned with the handing-over of French territory in Alsace-Lorraine, in line with Wilson’s ideas. Similarly to Britain, France supported the creation of Poland and other central European states to decrease Germany power and territory. The most hard-line of French policy was German reparations. France had been greatly damaged by the war and thus requested a huge sum of money to be paid. France also wanted to reduce German weaponry so there would be less of a threat. A notable difference between French and British attitudes is that France wanted a weak German to be secure, while Britain wanted a bulwark against Eastern Communism.
Italy’s main aims for the Conference were to be awarded territory and receive reparations from Austria-Hungary. It was less concerned with German reparations and the self-determination of states, and therefore was largely ignored by its allies.
Overall, Britain and France were for large German reparations to repay for war damage, while Woodrow Wilson’s agenda was largely the creation of a League of Nations. These aims came into conflict and the British perspective was perhaps the most realistic as it suggested balanced reparations and the self-determination of states.
All of the above information is sourced from the IB History: Causes and Effects of 20th Century Wars textbook.