Talk:Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles

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Neutrality?[edit]

I think the article lacks some neutrality. While it is true that some historians agree that the War guilt clause was not a significant factor in the rise of the NSDAP there is also many historians who think otherwise and do consider the War guilt clause as important in this respect. Further stating only the view of Sally Marks does not add to the neutrality of the article as many historians disagree with the interpretation of reparations/war guilt set forth in the book "the Myths of Reparations" (the title itself isnt very neutral). While I dont think that the view of Marks or McMillan is necessarily wrong I think it would make the article far more useful if it would actually contain both sides of the histiriographic debate and not only advertise Marks. This is especially true for a question such as war guilt since such a question often leads to people getting very emotional and therefore neutrality of the encyclopeadia is vital here. The same counts for the article on war reparations itself, one side of the story may be good if one is writing an essay but an encyclopeadia should be a source of information, not of opinion. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 213.47.166.216 (talk) 21:18, 4 May 2010 (UTC)

Marks was not writing her opinions, but her conclusions, which is a totally different thing. I don't understand your point that title "The Myths of Reparations" disqualifies the essay (which is an article in the magazine Central European History, not a book by the way). No, it is not neutral, but with all due respect, you don't understand history very well. The whole idea of a historian as a purely objective observer is bunk; all historians are in some way biased. The question arises, whatever Marks's biases disqualify her work, which as far as I see, it does not. The Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919; Hitler did not come to power until January 1933. That's a good 13 years and six months, and the NSDAP's electoral triumphs in the early 1930s did not feature prominent attacks on Article 231 (perhaps because every other German political party had from 1919 been denouncing Article 231, so by the early 1930s, that had been getting very stale). I'm not aware of any historian who seriously argues that if only Article 231 had been avoided, the Nazis would not had come to power, but if you find somebody who does say that, feel welcome to bring their views in. --A.S. Brown (talk) 01:32, 9 June 2010 (UTC)
I wonder if someone can explain me the diffrence between a opinion (of someone) and a conclusion (of someone). How can we distinguish between the two? I don't claim to be an expert in the Treaty of Versailes and on the "guilt clause". However IMHO the treaty and the guilt clause were considered a national humiliation by the German people and that's a fact (the feeling itself is undeniable). The Germans felt themselves humiliated (if rightly or not is another matter).
What is unclear (for me at last) is the proper meaning of the clause (especially the part: "...the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.") and if the treaty and the clause in particular were consciously used by German politicians to manipulate the German people. A interresting question is if such clauses were common (at the time) or something unprecedented.
The feeling of anger and revolt was a factor for the rise of the Nazi party led by Hitler. It is unclear if it was a major factor or a minor factor, but it was a factor.
Read the article Hitler: The Treaty of Versailles deprived Germany of various territories, demilitarised the Rhineland and imposed other economically damaging sanctions. The treaty re-created Poland, which even moderate Germans regarded as an outrage. The treaty also blamed Germany for all the horrors of the war, something which major historians such as John Keegan now consider at least in part to be victor's justice; most European nations in the run-up to World War I had become increasingly militarised and were eager to fight. The culpability of Germany was used as a basis to impose reparations on Germany (the amount was repeatedly revised under the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the Hoover Moratorium). Germany in turn perceived the treaty, especially Article 231 on the German responsibility for the war, as a humiliation. For example, there was a nearly total demilitarisation of the armed forces, allowing Germany only six battleships, no submarines, no air force, an army of 100,000 without conscription and no armoured vehicles. The treaty was an important factor in both the social and political conditions encountered by Hitler and his Nazis as they sought power. Hitler and his party used the signing of the treaty by the "November Criminals" as a reason to build up Germany so that it could never happen again.
No one is arguing that if only Article 231 had been avoided, the Nazis would not had come to power. But the war guilt clause truly seems to have helped the Nazi party at the very least. Flamarande (talk) 20:16, 7 October 2010 (UTC)

I completely agree-- Clause 231 is obviously quite significant regarding the rise of Hitler. To say that it is a myth that this clause lowered the morale of Germany is very controversial and needs more sources to verify this viewpoint. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 207.237.170.188 (talk) 01:30, 14 December 2010 (UTC)

There is WP:UNDUE weight being given to the opinions of Marks and MacMillan. JJL (talk) 18:16, 28 June 2013 (UTC)

Just a thought[edit]

So I see this problem on this page as well as many different references to it, in that Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles was a short clause accusing Germany of starting the war unprovoked and that Germany accepted this claim. I would post the text, but I'm not sure if it is considered public domain. A lot of what is discussed is contained in Part VIII of the Treaty, entitled Reparations. Article 231 was just the preface establishing Germany's guilt while Article VIII addressed a lot of what is contained in this article. I would change it myself, but I'm not very good with this whole editing deal and thought maybe a more experience user could do it. –Anonymous

According to article 231 the war started by Germany and her allies. Why has it been claimed that it blames the entire war on Germany? 65.185.190.240 21:57, 3 March 2007 (UTC)

Because Germany's the only one who's being held responsible in terms of actions and reparations.

I think the article shows an obvious bias towards the German point of view in its construction. To say things to the effect that the treaty caused people to "starve to death" seems to make the explicit opinion that the treaty destroyed the German economy above all other things, which is the subject of a great deal of debate (and thus should not be stated from one viewpoint). In fact, in Tipton's A History of Modern Germany Since 1815 the author argues that Germany had all the means necessary to pay reparations and they were paid at first by simply printing currency and later industrial goods (generally not taxation). —Preceding unsigned comment added by Gryps5 (talkcontribs) 03:06, 26 March 2009 (UTC)

November Criminals[edit]

I have removed the following line: "The Weimar government was forced to sign this in 1919. The signing of this later led them to be called the 'November Criminals'" as it is totally false. The reason why Weimar leaders were called November Criminals, and this is perhaps only stating the obvious reflects the anger on the German right over the November Revolution of 1918, which was the supposed "stab in the back" that led to Germany's defeat in World War I. So in other words, what got the German right all worked up in the inter-war years was Germany's defeat in November 1918, not Article 231 in June 1919. The term is November Criminals after all, not June Criminals. By besides for being untrue, this line serves the frankly apologetic purpose of making it sound like it was the Treaty of Versailles that discredited the Weimar Republic and brought National Socialism to power in 1933. This is really wrong here; true, the Nazis and many other Germans were all agitated over the Treaty of Versailles, but as I think the label "November Criminals" suggests, it was Germany's defeat in 1918 as opposed to an allegedly harsh and humiliating Versailles treaty that really excited German public opinion. By putting that line into this page, someone is trying to make it sound like it was really the fault of the Allies by being so mean to the Germans at Versailles that brought the Nazis to power, a claim that is false it is offensive. --A.S. Brown (talk) 01:30, 16 January 2010 (UTC)

I have removed the following: "The United Kingdom and France played the primary role in the inclusion and writing of the article, while the United States played a lesser role, mostly due to President Woodrow Wilson's principle of "peace without victory".[1]" as it is false. The way this is phrased makes it sound like that Article 231 was the work of the vengeful British and French while the Americans who wanted a magnanimous peace who opposed to Article 231. That is total garbage. Article 231 was written by John Foster Dulles of the American delegation, so the Article 231 very much reflected Wilson's wishes.--A.S. Brown (talk) 22:49, 16 September 2010 (UTC)

Some suggestions[edit]

Thank you for your supportive comments, Flamarande. Thank you for all good work here in improving this article I’m not as much of an expert as I would like to be, but citing from the article by Sally Marks, who is in fact a leading expert on international relations in Europe in the 1920s, here it is goes:

“The myths about German reparations begin with the Versailles Treaty. The much-criticized “war guilt clause”, Article 231, which was designed to lay a legal basis for reparations, in fact makes no mention of war guilt. It does specify “the responsibility of Germany and her Allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her Allies”. That Germany committed an act of aggression against Belgium is beyond all dispute. Further, upon the theory of collective responsibility, the victors incorporated the same clause, mutatis mutandis, in the treaties with Austria and Hungary, neither of whom interpreted it as a declaration of war guilt. In later years, however, German politicians and propagandists fulminated endlessly about “unilateral war guilt”, convincing many who had not read the treaties of their injustice on this point.

While Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty established an unlimited theoretical liability, Article 232 in fact narrowed German responsibility to civilian damages as defined in an annex. Much ink has been wasted on the fact that civilian damages were stretched to cover war widows’ pensions and allowances for military dependents. In reality, since the German reparations bill was established in 1921 on the basis of an Allied assessment of German capacity to pay, not on the basis of Allied claims, these items did not affect German liability, but merely altered distribution of the receipts.”(Marks, Sally The Myths of Reparations" pages 231-255 from Central European History, Volume 11, Issue # 3, September 1978 pages 231-232)

In a footnote on page 232, Marks further writes:

"After Germany protested against Article 231, Allied language in response became intemperate (see for instance, FRUS PPC, 6: 926-929), but did not charge Germany with "unilateral war guilt". Random examples of statements by German officials concerning "unilateral", "sole", or "exclusive" war guilt may be found in FRUS PPC, 3:418, 6:38-40, 42, 12: 17; Great Britain, Foreign Office, Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939 (hereafter DBFP), se 1, 15: 320, Public Record Office, London (hereafter PRO), German declaration, Sept. 26, 1925, F.O. 371/10740.

So, if my understanding of the both the text of the Versailles treaty and Marks is correct, I believe that Article 231 says nothing about “war guilt”, but instead says that Germany and her allies started World War I (a point that incidentally has since been confirmed by the research of historians like Fritz Fischer who in case someone wants to accuse me of being anti-German, please note was a German historian,), and establishes that Germany accepts that will pay reparations. This may be going slightly off topic, but I think this is relevant here is that in the 1920s, the German government made a huge effort to undermine the moral validity of the Treaty of Versailles through such pseudo-historical think-tanks like the Centre for the Study of the Causes of the War, and by subsiding the work of pseudo-historians like Harry Elmer Barnes. For more detail, please consult the excellent article by Holger Herwig (who again in case someone wants to accuse me of being anti-German, please note is a German historian), “Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany after the Great War", pages 5–44 from International Security, Volume 12, Issue 2, Fall 1987.

The goal of “restoration of Germany as a great power” and overthrowing Versailles, was something that was shared by every German political party in the Weimar Republic. The only differences were between how to overthrow Versailles, and how far Germany was to be restored to great power status. Through not everybody in Germany necessarily shared the Nazi vision of the “restoration of Germany as a great power” (through a great many did), everybody in Germany was opposed to the Versailles treaty. As part of the work of overthrowing Versailles, there was a tremendous propaganda effort by the Germans in the 1920s-30s which involved amongst other things destruction of documents, forgeries, and bribery to prove that 1) Germany did not start World War I and 2) that therefore, the Treaty of Versailles was morally invalid. Once one accepts these two propositions, then of course the moral case for revising Versailles in favour of Germany is unassailable. As part of this propaganda campaign (which was very successful by the way), there was a conscious misrepresentation of Article 231 as saying Germany borne the sole “war guilt” for World War I. Everyone says today that appeasement and the widespread acquiescence of the part of Britain and France to Hitler tearing up Versailles is totally unbelievable. I think however that once accepts by the mid-1930s that that too many people had been mislead by people like Barnes into believing that the Germany did not start World War I and that the Versailles Treaty was totally unjust to Germany, that this acquiescence makes more sense. My suggestions for improving this article would be 1) having this article note that through Article 231 says nothing about “sole war guilt”, many people both at the time and today mistakenly believe it does and 2) perhaps something can be brought in about how this misunderstanding of Article 231 helped to persuade people om the interwar period that Versailles was unjust and thus not worth dying for.--A.S. Brown (talk) 22:16, 12 February 2010 (UTC)

If you are accused of "the responsibility of Germany and her Allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her Allies” then that's "guilt" for anyone even if it was not stated in that wording. Now Fritz Fischer's viewpoints have been disproven, including by his faithful assistant then, Immanuel Geiss, and citing him means little. This article suffers from the same problem many wikipedia articles suffer from lately--some extreme zealot (pro-German/anti-German, or whatever zealotry they're in) will take ONE FRIGGING BOOK and say "that's the story". Any responsible article, if wikipedia ever wants to achieve scholarly repute, would soberly present and discuss works from ALL sides, and then leave it to the reader to make up his/her mind. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Karpaten1 (talkcontribs) 00:27, 1 March 2010 (UTC)

The following statement appears in the second half of the article: MacMillan states that Germany in fact never paid monetary reparations

The statement that "Germany in fact never paid monetary reparations" is not supported by the reference to MacMillan. On page 480 of reference [3] MacMillan gives the amount of reparations paid by Germany between 1918 and 1932.

A minor note about reference [3]. Richard Holbrooke, who wrote the forward to the book, is not listed as an author in the Library of Congress citation in the book. The full text for the reference should be MacMillan, Margaret, Paris 1919 : Six Months that Changed the World, Random House, 1919. Lcaretto (talk) 22:33, 26 February 2012 (UTC)

removed from lede since it lacks balance[edit]

The great majority of Germans felt humiliated and resentful on this point, and it became a major campaign issue for the Nazis in the 1920s. Overall the Germans felt they had been very unjustly punished by what they called the "diktat of Versailles." Schulze says, the Treaty placed Germany, "under legal sanctions, deprived of military power, economically ruined, and politically humiliated."[2]

unable to verify[edit]

When the Germans on first reading it protested vehemently, the Allied position hardened and there was no effort made to revise it to remove the "guilt" theme.[3]

No information on what damage and loss German Empire caused[edit]

The article is missing information about what damage and loss Germany caused during World War. We should list it in the beginning.--MyMoloboaccount (talk) 00:45, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

Excellent point. I have information at hand and will integrate it into the article shortly.EnigmaMcmxc (talk) 01:13, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

Allegation that article breeches WP: Fringe[edit]

Considering this edit, Beyond My Ken (talk · contribs) can you please explain how the article - or particular sections of it - breeches WP:Fringe?

The policy states "We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe ideas that depart significantly from the prevailing or mainstream view in its particular field."

This article provides, what is, an overview of what the current mainstream view on the subject. The article provides sources ranging from the actual treaty, to historians from the 1920s to present to give as wide a view as possible to highlight the development of opinions. In particular, several modern encyclopedias have been used in conjunction with anthologies of articles, all of which have been written by the leading historians in the field of the Treaty of Versailles. This has been further laced with comments from other historians, who sometimes only touch on the subject, to provide additional details.EnigmaMcmxc (talk) 09:34, 13 January 2014 (UTC)

Your edits are based on a single article by Sally Marks, and are not part of the standard interpretation of how the reparations required of Germany effected them post-World War I. You have not, and cannot, quote a single mainstream historian who agrees with your interpretation. That makes the theory you espouse a WP:FRINGE theory, and I suggest you follow its instructions or riak being blocked from editing. BMK: Grouchy Realist (talk) 09:39, 13 January 2014 (UTC)
The article utilizes more than Sally Marks as a source (31 books, at the moment, if I have not miscounted). Furthermore, Sally Marks is one of the mainstream historians on the issue of reparations (which is part of the war guilt discussion).
The article is sourced upon, in part, from the works of: Gerald Feldman, Niall Ferguson, Margaret MacMillan, Diane Kunz, Norman Davies, Ian Kershaw. A full list is provided in the References section, and at least five sources are in fact anthologies, meaning you would have to consult the particular article or chapter within it for the historians name (thus the article is based off more than 31 historians work).
Thus, how does the article breech WP:Fringe? Your argument appears to be invalid. If you believe that this needs to be taken to the ANI board, since you threaten that I risk being blocked, so be it.EnigmaMcmxc (talk) 09:50, 13 January 2014 (UTC)

Some comments[edit]

There are a few problems I see with this article, primarily revolving about the Long-term political impacts section and the Historical assessment section, which are in my view muddled and poorly organized.

  • First, it presents Fischer's thesis more or less as the gospel, when it has attracted a great deal of criticism (see for instance Niall Ferguson's Pity of War though he is by no means the only critic).
  • Second, the long-term political impacts section and the last two paragraphs in the historical assessment section seem to be redundant.
  • The political impact section also presents the contemporary view as if it's fact, and then immediately recharacterizes it as only a view of contemporary observers in the UK and US.
  • Then, there are plainly contradictory pieces. It states that the historical consensus is that Art. 231 did not cause the rise of Nazism, and then in the next paragraph points out that objections to Versailles were a central theme in Hitler's political career - which is it? Versailles was unrelated to Hitler's rise or he made extensive use over it? Are the historians whose consensus we are citing setting up the strawman that 231 on its own power put Hitler into office and passed the Enabling Act? Or are we mischaracterizing the situation?
  • The sentence about Sydney Fay's assessment seems poorly placed and unrelated to what comes before or after - it jumps from views on the meaning of 231, to Fay's assessment of who started the war, to Hitler's exploitation of the controversy. Then we get more discussion from a Brit and a Frenchman about the interpretation of the clause, followed by a paragraph on whether Germany actually was responsible for the war, followed by more commentary on interpretations of 231. It seems the section has been organized chronologically, but that is a very poor choice.

Hopefully some of this is helpful as you prepare the article for another run at FAC. Parsecboy (talk) 20:57, 28 May 2014 (UTC)

I've had a quick go over to tidy the prose but without sources I can't do much more. Would you prefer a thematic structure?Keith-264 (talk) 22:52, 28 May 2014 (UTC)
Yes, a thematic structure would be much better - discuss the orthodox views (both Allied and German), the revisionists, and the counter-revisionists individually. And the question of whether Germany actually was responsible for the war is a separate question and should be discussed in another section. Parsecboy (talk) 12:01, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
Those themes aren't that different to a chronological structure but I suppose it could be done.Keith-264 (talk) 13:51, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
Some of the changes that have been made since yesterday are an improvement but there are still problems with the organization. The para on the assessment of the political impact of 231 is now in a new section titled "Reparations" - this section should really only deal with the direct impact of the reparations (and should really be a summary of World War I reparations). The political impacts should have their own section. And it would probably be better to separate out the discussion of whether Germany actually was primarily responsible for starting the war or not into its own section (i.e., not under the "Impact" section). Normally, I'd say that since the historical consensus is that the Germans were wrong in their interpretation of the clause, we wouldn't need to specifically address whether they were or were not actually responsible, but the average reader would come away from such an article wondering whether they were or not, and won't have the knowledge of even what sources to consult. Perhaps we need a Responsibility for World War I article that could be summarized here?
There are also some stylistic issues - for instance, almost every sentence in the last two paragraphs follow the format of "Authox X wrote [quote]. Author Y wrote [quote]." Parsecboy (talk) 20:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
That's to avoid explanatory terms and keep them descriptive. Amend as you see fit.Keith-264 (talk) 22:20, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
Some interesting and valid arguments. Although due to a new job (with a horrific commute and work schedule), I shall only be making sporadic edits for a while. When I get some time off, I will attempt to help out in getting the article into shape.
I agree that Fisher is not the end all on the subject, and while he has got his critics I am under the impression that the historical consensus is that the long term effects caused their to be a powder keg and the short term effects lit it, and to a large extent that the German Empire were the ones holding the match. At any rate, the fact that Fisher is the source of so much controversial is why I had described his works as controversial. I assume, since I do not have the time to check, it was removed during the previous review.
In regards to the comments about Hitler: iirc one historian summed it all up as follows: the only real connection between him and Versailles, was that he made excellent propaganda use of the treaty to further his aims. Other than that, and what amount to fringe views, the consensus is that ToV did not lead to Hitler. On the whole, I see this more of an issue for the main ToV page rather than here, but there is evidence (as noted in the article and the sources used) that Hitler did ramble on about the war guilt question an awful lot (article 231 and the war guilt question being very intertwined).
Anyhoo, that is all I have time for atm and sorry if it is rambling and somewhat incoherent ... very little sleep.EnigmaMcmxc (talk) 10:36, 30 May 2014 (UTC)
I don't disagree that Germany's leaders held a great deal of responsibility for starting the war, but Fischer makes a pretty common mistake among historians - to assume that the specific field you study automatically holds the only answer. Perhaps we should have a short discussion of actual war guilt that touches on the various theories advanced in the Historiography of the causes of World War I article and point readers there for further info? I had forgotten that article existed. In any case, I'd wager the section should focus mostly on the Fischer/Ritter debate and include some other theories as well.
Well, there is a difference between saying that the ToV directly produced Hitler (again, does anyone actually say this apart from maybe apologists in the 30s?) and that he was able to turn popular objections to the treaty into political fodder that helped him get elected (which I think is an eminently reasonable point to make, since as you said, Hitler was prone to foam at the mouth about Versailles in general and the Kriegschuldfrage in particular).
One other thing comes to mind - Tooze's Wages of Destruction would probably be a good book to add to the discussion about Germany's ability to pay the reparations if they had wanted to pay them.
Good luck with the new job and crappy schedule! Parsecboy (talk) 14:34, 30 May 2014 (UTC)
I think that's a good suggestion, although the historiography page is far from comprehensive. It wasn't just Hitler who hid behind the treaty though, all of the pre-war boss class used it as a false alibi. It was useful to the stabilisation of the post-war state, similar to contemporary state propaganda encouraging bigotry against "islamofascists" or unemployed people. It would be interesting to see the balance of nazi–"respectable" propaganda against the treaty and compare it with standard German statist propaganda against social outsiders between the wars. As for popular opinion, I suspect that the treaty was a bit like Alsace-Lorraine in pre-war France, something for crackpots and sad *******s.Keith-264 (talk) 15:21, 30 May 2014 (UTC)
Sure, the historiography page certainly needs some work. And yes, you're right that it wasn't just Hitler who took advantage of the treaty for political gain - the DNVP for instance voted against ratifying the treaty only because they knew there were enough votes that it would pass anyway, and they could then position themselves as the only party to stand up to the backstabbing Socialists, Jews, etc.
The issue I think we need to address is how much overlap there should be between this page and the article on the Treaty as a whole - a good deal of the opposition to Versailles revolved around 231 and the war guilt issue (particularly because political elites in Germany needed a false issue to exploit) though of course there were other problems for the Germans (for instance the Reichsmarine, as one might expect, was less concerned about 231 than about the articles that specifically applied to the navy, and their attempts to force revisions did not involve the issue of war guilt). For example, the lines:
Between the wars, the question of Germany's guilt (Kriegsschuldfrage or war guilt question) became a major theme of Adolf Hitler's political career. "He promised to rectify what he called the Versailler Diktat (dictate of Versailles) and punish those responsible for creating it."
The second doesn't seem particularly related to the first - it would be better to limit the characterization of Hitler's statements to those that relate directly to 231 and/or the war guilt question, rather than something that could be interpreted to refer to the restrictions of Versailles as a whole. Parsecboy (talk) 16:29, 30 May 2014 (UTC)
How about we get rid of that passage and fit the NSDAP into the context of statist posturing, rather than making it seem exceptional? The parliamentary republic was assassinated in 1930 by the "respectable" right wing anyway and Hitler was only made chancellor to stop it unravelling, when the electorate wouldn't desecrate the corpse.Keith-264 (talk) 17:57, 30 May 2014 (UTC)
Tried a redraft along the lines discussed, any better?Keith-264 (talk) 18:08, 30 May 2014 (UTC)