Monday, June 28, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Signing of the Treaty of Versailles


On this day in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed, five years to the day after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off the First World War*; possibly the most asinine document ever signed that wasn't a Hollywood marriage license, the Treaty of Versailles is today generally credited as having more or less caused World War II.

By demanding reparations from Germany for its war-mongering and wanton cruelty, sweet and innocent Britain and France (who never did a single bad thing to big mean Germany) pretty much ensured that the Huns would go off to sulk and nurse their wounds before returning with a couple of buddies to even the score - much as they'd always done in the past.

Someone smarter than me needs to study to what extent the European Union is rooted in the events of 1919; not contented with screwing up Europe, the Treaty of Versailles also buggered up much of the Arab world as well when it arbitrarily divvied up the corpse of the Ottoman Empire between ravenous colonialist competitors. And we all know what kind of mishegas that schamozzle has caused...

Already someone smarter than me has laboriously researched and then entertainingly written about the Paris Peace Conference, which brought about the Treaty of Versailles; Margaret MacMillan's fascinating book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World also manages to bring to life the gloriously outsized personalities of Italy's Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, France's Georges Clemenceau, Britain's David Lloyd George**, and America's Woodrow Wilson (all shown above, from left to right, kibbitzing).

*Lending that conflict a tidy sort of circularity; five years to the day from 'cause' to 'cure' - and with only 38 million people killed or wounded!
**MacMillan may have benefited from some inside knowledge - or at very least family lore - in the writing of her book; she's David Lloyd George's great-granddaughter!
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