Ever since the outbreak of World War Two historians have argued whether the inter-war period, that at the time had been believed to be peaceful, had, in fact, been a period of what we might call ‘illusory peace. ‘ A fundamental component of this argument is the circumstances and outcome of the Treaty of Versailles. It is argued that the treaty “should have made the victors either to conciliate the enemy or destroy them.
The Treaty of Versailles did neither. It did not pacify Germany, still less permanently weaken her, appearances notwithstanding, but left her scourged, humiliated and resentful”1 However, it is also argued that the series of Agreements and reparations plans agreed and implemented by the great powers show unity, diplomacy and compromise. Even the Treaty of Versailles itself has a compromising nature, although this did become to its detriment thus showing that peace may only have been temporarily achieved or only nearly missed. Although all Germans were determined to see a revision of the treaty eventually, and to return to something like the frontiers of 1913, it would be a mistake to imagine that the Treaty of Versailles was the direct cause of World War II.
By 1925 the way was certainly open for a peaceful renegotiation of the peace settlement, but Adolf Hitler who by this time was exploiting the economic, social and political crises of the Weimar Republic on his way to becoming chancellor in January 1933, had an insatiable desire for conquest that could not be sated by such means. Therefore, with Germany, at least, an acceptable degree of peace could have been achieved and maintained had it not been for Hitler’s own self-interest and militant ambition.
Conciliatory moves were also made toward extinguishing Anglo-Russian hostility. Lloyd George in particular pressed ahead with negotiations with the USSR, hoping that the re-establishment of relations would help the ailing British economy and prevent Russia from forming alliances against her. It was feared that Russia might ally with Germany in particular; such an alliance would have had a great impact on the balance of power and created a further divide between the great powers.
The Anglo-Soviet trade agreements in 1921 are further proof that the great powers were willing to negotiate and compromise and could well have been successful. It was only later when supporting the Russian Communist government began to cause political chaos in Britain that relations began to deteriorate again; Prime Minister Baldwin did not ratify the Anglo-Soviet agreement, the Arcos affair caused Britain to accuse Russia of espionage thus resulting in the following breaking of all diplomatic relations and ending all trade agreements.
Still, the point to note is that action was taken to achieve peace, and, for a temporary period, relations were improved and normalcy came a little closer to being achieved. Before Hitler’s rise to power, a degree of peace with Germany was also achieved. With hindsight we can see that ‘”the fundamental significance of Versailles was emotional rather then rational. Allied statesmen, urged on by the pressure of public opinion, made peace in spirit of revenge and not to guarantee national security. 2 Thus, in the early to mid nineteen-twenties, tempers began to cool, people began to think that maybe the treaty had been too harsh on Germany and so, people gradually became willing to accept that Germany too had been devastated and still had a right to have her say. This is proved by her acceptance to the League of Nations in the treaty of Locarno in 1926. The Treaty of Locarno itself is evidence that the great powers were on the road to peace. Less than ten years after Clemenceau and his people wanted to squeeze Germany until she was nothing, we see France, Germany and Britain coming together to form an agreement.
It may have been nai??ve not to have defined Germany’s Eastern boarders in the treaty but still shows that peaceful relations were taking place, countries that had been at war less than ten years before, were working together to achieve a longer lasting peace. Just as there is much evidence for optimism, there are also many historians who argue for a more pessimistic approach in relation to this period. By 1931 Germany had secured ample revisions of the Treaty of Versailles, however, the people were still not entirely satisfied, and so, after his death a less conciliatory and more aggressive tone was taken.
The German people started to demand more revisions which were bound to cause further problems in Europe and drag the powers into conflict yet again. The problem of the growing Japanese fleet and Japanese expansion was also a problem that could only accelerate the great powers into conflict. Previously Japan had failed to be fully recognised as a great power, but with the weakening of China it was inevitable that Japan might strike thus greatly altering the balance of power, and again, bringing the powers into conflict.
It may have been nai??ve to suppose that Treaties such as the Kellog-Briand pact in 1929 renouncing war, could prevent a world war from becoming inevitable. In conclusion, although with hindsight we may see this period as purely the calm before the storm, for a brief period negotiations were made and peace was almost, if not temporarily achieved by the diplomacy and compromise of the great powers and their leaders. Thus, it would be wrong to consider this period as a time of illusion, rather as a period of fragile peace.