For a long time, one of the truisms of history as told in America was the story of St. Woodrow and the Treaty of Versailles. In this morality play, the kindly and naive President Wilson travels to Paris with his wonderful Fourteen Points in order to bring about a lasting peace. Alas, the devious and cruel Prime Minister Lloyd George and President Georges Clemenceau conspire to outwit poor Wilson and impose the extraordinarily unfair Treaty of Versailles upon Germany, dooming us to fight the Second World War two decades later. If only we’d made a lenient peace, like in 1945! It goes without saying, I think, that this version of events is a tad bit simple, and to be fair, historians have been questioning this narrative for decades. But it still remains the default story for most people, and I hate that.
I hate it because it gives far too much credit to Wilson, and because it dramatically misstates the actual dynamics of Versailles. I have already made the argument on this blog before that Woodrow Wilson is objectively terrible. But today I’d like to go more in depth into the Paris Peace Conference. Though undoubtedly a harsh peace, I would like to argue that the Treaty was much more lenient than is commonly realized, especially in the context of Great Power Wars. In fact, rather than being oppositional to the Fourteen Points, much of it was in accordance with them.