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20 October 2014
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Interpretation: Treaty of Versailles
What was the War Guilt Clause?

The Treaty was not well-received by Germany. Each of the terms was very harsh, but put together it seemed impossible. In protest, the German admirals sank their own fleet, which was being held by the British at Scapa Flow rather than hand it over to the Allies. The War Guilt Clause, or Clause 231, is one of the most controversial parts of the Treaty. The Allies had ordered a report to determine who started the War, and this was the basis of Clause 231.

Thinking point: Why was it important for the Allies to blame Germany for the War?

Source A

'The War was premeditated by the Central Powers together with their allies, Turkey and Bulgaria, and was the result of acts deliberately committed in order to make it unavoidable. Germany, in agreement with Austria-Hungary, deliberately worked to defeat all the many conciliatory proposals made by the Entente Powers.'
US Secretary of State Robert Lansing's complete report establishing war guilt, December 1918

Source B

'We know the power of the hatred which we encounter here, and we have heard the passionate demand that the vanquishers may make us pay as the vanquished, and shall punish those who are worthy of being punished.
It is demanded from us that we shall confess ourselves to be the only ones guilty of the War. Such a confession in my mouth will be a lie...
In the last 50 years Imperialism of all European States has chronically poisoned the international situation. The policy of retaliation and the policy of expansion and the disregard of the rights of peoples to determine their own destiny, has contributed to the illness of Europe, which saw its crisis in the world war. '
Count Brockdorff-Rantzau's reply to the presentation of the Treaty, 17th May, 1919

Source C

'M. Clemenceau, in his opening words, struck the note of the afternoon: "The time has come when we must settle our account. You have asked for peace. We are ready to give you peace."
Contrasting with the President's clear, articulate voice was the guttural baritone of Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, who throughout his long statement conveyed the feeling of a certain emotional strain, his voice rising from time to time in the course of a strange medley of humble pleading and repudiation and justification.'
Manchester Guardian, 18th May, 1919

What do these sources say about the Allied view of Germany?

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A - They did not feel much need to justify the War Guilt Clause, as the report is so short and has no supporting evidence.

B - The British public was blinded by their hatred of Germany, and were not interested in what they had to say.

C - Germany could not possibly avoid being blamed totally for the War.

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