Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

Posted by on Aug 1, 2011 in Book Notes

Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan (Random House Trade Paperback Edition, 2003)

Paris 1919The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919 between Germany and the Entente (the US, Britain, France, and their allies) ending what came to be known as World War I, is commonly cited as a leading cause of World War II. The Treaty is said to have humiliated Germany and left it economically burdened, reduced in territory, partially occupied, saddled with blame, resentful, and susceptible to a future nationalistic demagogue who was more than willing to revise it by military force. Along with the subsequent treaties with Austria, Hungary, and other Central Powers allies, it imposed unsatisfactory boundaries and left nationalistic ambitions unsatisfied throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. These features of the Treaties sowed seeds of turmoil throughout the world that bedevil us into the 21st century.

Margaret MacMillan, in her book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (Random House Trade Paperback Edition, 2003), explains how the Treaty was formed at the Paris Peace Conference during the first six months of 1919. She portrays the personalities as well as the political agendas and constraints of the participants, particularly the US president Woodrow Wilson, Britain’s Lloyd George, and France’s Georges Clemenceau. She describes the competing aims of the victorious powers: France wanted to punish and weaken Germany so that it could never be a threat again; Britain wanted Germany to revive as an economic market and a military bulwark against instability from east; Italy and Japan wanted territorial gains; the United States wanted a world of reduced military forces, no secret treaties, some undefined system of national self-determination in a world of geographically scattered and inter-mingled groups, but minimal commitment of US resources to support such a system; all colonial powers wanted preservation or expansion of their empires; …

MacMillan emphasizes the swirling complexity of influencing factors and the near-impossibility of achieving the widely-desired result of a more peaceful postwar world. She also calls attention to other factors that helped bring on World War II, such as the Great Depression, the weakness of political leadership in the democracies, and the rise of expansionist demagogues in Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. Paris 1919 is a good place to start for understanding both the coming of World War II and the state of the globe in 2011.

The book review above was originally published in a feature titled “Book Notes”, published in the August, 2011 edition of Amitié, the newsletter of Normandy Allies, Inc. This note was written by Walter Ford Carter, member of the Normandy Allies Board and the team that leads its history-study experience each summer. Walter, the son of Captain Elmer Norval Carter, a US Army battalion surgeon in the 29th Division who was killed in action on June 17 1944, is the author of No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy.

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