A Different Kind of Peace: Clashing Desires at the Paris Peace Conference

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.

Welcoming War: Why was public enthusiasm so great for World War One?

Student explains or illustrates perspectives of people in their historical context

Looking backwards to any time before the 21st century, historians are especially susceptible to presentism if only for the masses of collective knowledge now suddenly accumulated and rendered accessible to most and the exponential rate at which all areas of civilization have changed. The nature of war has expanded with technological developments, the fracturing of states and the splintering of ideologies, all dictating new ways in which violent conflict can shift power. Many more people today see war as multi-faceted: necessary to enforce rules, a terrible waste of life, a legitimate manner in which to “correct” the path of humanity, and a primal mode of domination. A century ago, worldviews were restricted to time and place, formed almost fully by local culture and authority only. The enthusiastic attitudes of European civilians at the dawn of World War One were grounded in beliefs from that time period, a much narrower scope than we have now.

According to Willingly to War, a common belief before the war was that any conflict would not last long, as no preceding weaponry had created such extensive stalemates between warring parties. The recent Franco-Prussian war of 1870 only lasted six months, lending itself to the idea that a future war would be similarly short. Civilians had no concept of technology like the machine gun that would transform warfare to stationary and force the use of a strategy of attrition, designed to slowly wear down the enemy. In addition to the public’s lack of knowledge about the cost of war, there was a general atmosphere in Europe of fervent nationalism and the assertion of dominance over other states, which framed conflict in a context of opportunity to gain power rather than taking losses.

Another article highlights the influence of military prestige on the civilian community, with members of government also being part of the armed forces. The romantic notions of glory for country and pride in militaristic strength were embedded in culture, even in the archetypes of heroes. The belief that there well-justified (even positive) violence set the tone for a welcoming of war seen through rose-tinted glasses.

A final piece of context from The enthusiasm for war is the unrest over old, undemocratic social systems that still held substantial power in Europe. From the perspective of a group struggling for large change in a short time, war is an excellent opportunity to quickly and radically alter society. The possibility of irrevocable and drastic change took hold of civilians and re-framed conflict as an acceleration of progress.

The civilian enthusiasm for World War One can be understood through analyzing the context that allowed certain beliefs to take root. No recent war had lasted as long or taken as large a toll as World War One would, so there was no reason for it to be any different. Nationalistic fervor was strong and underpinned by military patriotism, lending a romantic view to conflict. Finally, war was an opportunity for change. In the present, it is easy to forget the limited scope of past context, and easier yet to ignore current limitations.

Conflicting Interests in the London Conference

5. Student distinguishes a variety of perspectives among historical actors participating in a given event.

The 1912-13 London Conference was a stage for all major European powers to exercise their power and test the loyalty of their allies. Each power had a different interests informed by their positions in the European power structure, and these perspectives can be explored by looking at the context of the conference. The main issue to be determined in the Western Balkans was Serbia’s access to the sea. This access was made possible by Serbia’s conquest of the Durazzo port in Albania. Austria-Hungary saw this potential access as an increase in Serbian power and the legitimacy of South-Slav state. Being a multi-ethnic empire, Austria-Hungary wanted to avoid causing any unrest with their South-Slav population. The Austro-Hungarian perspective was that a larger, mixed empire would fare better than the splintering of smaller mono-ethnic states. To avoid this occurrence, the foreign minister proposed the creation of the Albanian state which would block Serbian access to the sea. From the Russian perspective, Serbia would have to be supported as an ally, but the Russian military was not ready to be mobilized. This lead to Serbia eventually backing down and accepting whatever the powers would decide, as it saw the limits of its power because of its size. (WWI Centennial: The Conference of London Convenes)

Map 1 shows Serbia’s agreement to back down and allow for the creation of Albania, relinquishing Durazzo from its power.

Serbia and Austria-Hungary were the principal actors in the geographical conflict, but their allies Russia and Great Britain also played important roles in directing the conference with their own perspectives. Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, wanted to avoid war at all costs because he believed it be an immoral way to solve issues between states. Because of this, he pushed Russia to calm Serbia and urged Germany to restrain Austria-Hungary. (Edward Grey and The First Balkan War)