News & Current Affairs

November 12, 2008

Was Armistice flawed?

Was Armistice flawed?

The armistice deal signed on 11 November 1918 brought yearned-for relief to Western Europe. But the same pact has been blamed for the return to conflict in Europe only 20 years later. Does the deal deserve the criticism, asks Professor Gerard De Groot of the University of St Andrews.

Armistice celebrations in Britain

The Armistice ended four years of fierce fighting

On 27 September 1918, the British Army, reinforced by French, Belgian and Canadian units, attacked the German line in Flanders, Belgium.

Progress was not immediately impressive, but that operation did achieve the symbolically important result of piercing the Hindenburg Line, which was supposed to be impregnable.

For Erich Ludendorff, the German commander, the jig was up. On 1 October, he told his general staff that “final defeat was probably inescapably at hand”. The task now was to avoid ignominious defeat.

The Germans therefore notified US President Woodrow Wilson on 6 October that they were willing to discuss an armistice.

They approached Mr Wilson because they hoped to get a good deal from a leader who seemed humane.

That immediately aroused the suspicions of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French President Georges Clemenceau, both of whom were determined to make Germany pay for the suffering the war had caused.

‘Harsh peace’

Keen to get a jump on President Wilson, Mr Clemenceau asked the Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch to draw up armistice terms.

You wish to do justice to the Germans. Do not believe they will ever forgive us; they will merely seek the opportunity for revenge
Georges Clemenceau
French President

Mr Foch concocted a set of demands designed to render it impossible for the Germans to resume hostilities.

All captured territory, including German speaking areas of Alsace and Lorraine, would be immediately surrendered. Within four weeks, the Germans would be required to evacuate the right bank of the Rhine to a depth of 10km (six miles), a demand cleverly calculated to leave German units in a disorganized state.

In addition, a vast collection of military hardware (including 5,000 artillery pieces, 25,000 machine guns and 1,700 aircraft) were to be surrendered, plus 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 railway cars and 5,000 lorries.

At sea, Germany would be reduced to a second-rate naval power, surrendering all her submarines and the bulk of her surface fleet.

By the end of October, the British and French had managed to drag the Americans toward their version of reality.

The three powers settled upon terms roughly similar to Mr Foch’s.

In a series of notes, Mr Wilson warned the Germans to expect a harsh peace.

They were to consider themselves militarily defeated, and safeguards would be implemented to insure that hostilities could not be resumed. They should also expect to pay reparations for the costs of the war.

President Wilson further insisted that he would deal only with the elected representatives of the German people, not with the Kaiser.

‘No hope’

For Mr Ludendorff, this amounted to unconditional surrender and was therefore unacceptable.

Allied Supreme Commander  Ferdinand Foch (first row, 2nd right) and other signatories of the Armistice treaty in Compiegne Forest on 11 1918

The Armistice was signed in a railway carriage outside Compiegne Forest

In consequence, he demanded that the German government back away from the armistice.

His sidekick, General Paul von Hindenburg, likewise attested: “Wilson’s answer can only amount to a challenge to continue to resist to the utmost of our capabilities”.

But that rallying cry was shouted into a vacuum.

The German state was in terminal meltdown. Once the possibility of an armistice was raised, there was no further hope of rousing the people to continue the fight.

On 8 November, therefore, a German delegation – headed by Matthias Erzberger – met Mr Foch in a railway carriage outside Compiegne.

The terms sent Mr Erzberger into a state of near paralysis. He nevertheless accepted, and it was agreed that the armistice would take effect at 1100 on 11 November.

Not punished enough?

The armistice terms, and the Versailles settlement that confirmed them, have been blamed for causing World War II.

It is difficult to imagine an armistice that would have satisfied the Entente powers and left the Germans feeling fairly treated

Because we know that WWII occurred, it is easy to judge in retrospect that the armistice must have been too harsh.

This harshness had dual effect: it encouraged a desire for revenge within Germany and a feeling of contrition within Britain. Thus, when the time came that Germany felt able to reassert herself, the British were disinclined to protest because, for many, its anger seemed warranted.

Another school holds that Germany was not punished enough. According to this thesis, the war ended too soon – Germany’s offer of an armistice should have been refused and its army should have been pushed back across the Rhine in order to give the German people graphic proof of their own defeat.

Those who adhere to this thesis often also argue that the treaty established the principle of war guilt, which encouraged German resentment, but did not sufficiently destroy the German ability to act upon that resentment.

Bearing in mind the way Adolf Hitler manipulated the propaganda value of the “unjust” peace, the argument seems to have some merit.

US ‘isolationism’

But punishment, be it of nations or children, is a blunt tool.

Could Germany’s aggressive power realistically have been destroyed in 1919? And, if that option was indeed possible, would the allies have been prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to realize it?

Allied troops huddle in a trench around a tiny fire near Ypres, Belgium, in 1914

More than 40 million people – soldiers and civilians – died in World War I

Which country would have been prepared to forfeit the lives of its citizens in order to make victory more emphatic and peace more severe?

A “fairer” peace seems likewise inconceivable.

“You wish to do justice to the Germans,” Mr Clemenceau once remarked to Mr Wilson. “Do not believe they will ever forgive us; they will merely seek the opportunity for revenge.”

Mr Clemenceau was probably right.

It is difficult to imagine an armistice that would have satisfied the Entente powers and left the Germans feeling fairly treated.

A more liberal treaty might have brought into being a more peaceful, secure Europe, but the populist mood across Europe was not liberal. Equanimity is easy in hindsight, but difficult at a time when the graves of millions were still being dug.

The flaws in the armistice did not alone cause WWII. Germany was able to act upon its resentment because the country that emerged most powerful from the Great War decided subsequently to absent herself from European affairs.

Power implies responsibility, yet the US, in the inter-war period, sought an isolationist haven.

It is by no means clear that greater American involvement in European affairs would have prevented WWII. But it is certain that America’s decision to turn her back on Europe created a power vacuum that Hitler was able to exploit.

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August 12, 2008

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters defying curfew in Srinagar on August 12 2008

Protests over land erupted in June

At least seven people were killed and many injured when security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir opened fire onĀ  stone-throwing Muslim protesters.

Thousands defied a curfew in Srinagar and other towns in the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley for a second day. One person died in clashes in Jammu region.

The curfew was imposed ahead of the burial of a senior separatist who died after police opened fire on Monday.

Tensions are rising and threaten peace hopes after years of relative calm.

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says Kashmir has now become dangerously polarized, in a dispute which began over the control of a small piece of land.

Protests and counter-protests have been taking place for weeks in the Kashmir valley, and in the mainly Hindu region around the city of Jammu further south.

The demonstrations in the valley are some the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule broke out nearly 20 years ago.

‘Freedom’

Security forces opened fire on Tuesday on a number of protests by Muslims who defied the curfew.

If the blockade continues it will be a disaster for us
Mohammad Yousuf,
Kashmir Fruit Growers’ Association

The army fired to disperse a procession in the northern district of Bandipora, killing three people and injuring five. Three other people were killed in the Lasjan and Rainawari areas.

“We have imposed a curfew to ensure the peaceful burial of Sheikh Aziz,” local police chief Kuldeep Khuda told reporters.

In the Jammu region, one person was killed and more than a dozen injured after Hindus and Muslims clashed in the town of Kishtwar. Houses, vehicles and other property were damaged before police opened fire to restore order.

No other violence has been reported from the Jammu region.

Sheikh Aziz was a prominent leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella of separatist groups which opposes Indian rule.

His body has been kept in a mosque in Srinagar. Mourners have stayed with the body and shouted slogans like “We want freedom”.

The police said they were trying to find out why security forces opened fire on the protesters on Monday.

Police say several of their personnel were injured by stones thrown by those at the protest.

Pilgrims

Sheikh Aziz was among thousands of protesters who marched on Monday towards the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border with Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslim protester runs for cover as tear gas shell explode near them during a march in Srinagar 11 August

The violence is spreading

They were supporting fruit growers who wanted to sell their produce. Muslims say Hindus in the state are blockading a key highway that links the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

The government, which denies the blockade, says lorries are moving between the two regions with security escorts.

Hindus have protested for weeks since the authorities scrapped plans to transfer land to a Hindu trust.

With the highway blocked for days, the Muslim fruit growers have complained that their produce is rotting.

The land row started when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board to be used by Hindu pilgrims.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.

More than 20 people – Muslims and Hindus – have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with police since the unrest began.

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