November 11, Marshal Foch and the Treaty of Versailles

Armistice train Marechal Foch

Armistice train Marechal Foch

This is a federal holiday in the United States, and a national holiday in France. In both countries it commemorates the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, and honors the sacrifice of all veterans.

So today is the 90th anniversary of the November 11, 1918 armistice, signed at 11 am French time in the railway carriage of the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Foch. The train had stopped in a clearing in the forest of Compiègne, north of Paris. Here is Foch, second from the right, in this photograph taken immediately after the signing.

Months later, on June 28, 1919, a formal peace treaty would be signed at Versailles (again Versailles!) after tense negotiations.

Foch felt that the Treaty of Versailles gave Germany far too much opportunity to rearm. He famously stated: “This is not peace. This is an armistice for twenty years.” Twenty years indeed! 1939 marked the beginning of World War II. One has to give Foch credit for some prescience. But at Versailles in 1919 politics overwhelmed the better judgment of clear minds. To this day we live with the legacy of this momentous agreement.

Let us never forget the lessons of history…

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6 Comments to “November 11, Marshal Foch and the Treaty of Versailles”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    I have to agree with you, Jefe. Thank you for your detailed analysis of this squandered opportunity for a long-lasting peace in Europe.

  2. Marshal Foch was correct. I would argue that in virtually every important respect, the Treaty of Versailles proved more of a disaster in geopolitical terms for the Allies, and France in particular, than for Germany.

    Germany on paper lost a good deal of territory besides Alsace-Lorraine at Versailles. But the territorial losses did not weaken Germany materially. However, the territories lost were territories were mostly inhabited by people who probably didn’t want to be in Germany to begin with – but the losses provided useful political fodder for extreme right wing elements seeking to overthrow both the Versailles settlement and the Republic that agreed to it.

    Industrially, the loss of the Saar, and the occupation of the Ruhr were painful – but both of these losses were temporary. Similarly, the military limitations imposed by the treaty were not a long term problem – in the immediate aftermath of the war, Germany could not financially maintain a 1914 scale military anyway, and the reductions imposed by Versailles were themselves a spur to military innovation.

    Similarly the naval limitations imposed on Germany postwar were in fact a boon: Germany could never hope to compete with Britain and France in terms of naval tonnage. Absent a real German Navy, Britain had less incentive to align itself with France – and for much of the 20’s and 30’s, the French effectively had to deal with Germany and its problems without the help of Britain.

    Most importantly, Germany no longer had a powerful eastern enemy sitting directly on its borders. In 1914, the Germans had to cope with France’s powerful ally, Russia, smack-dab in the heart of Poland, two days march from Berlin. In 1919, Germany’s new eastern neighbors were a chain of poor and weak states ripe for German subversion and bullying, whenever a future regime such as Hitler’s chose to crack the whip.

    In virtually every geopolitical measure that mattered, Germany was ultimately strengthened by the practical results of Versailles.

    Never do an enemy a small injury. Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd-George did their countries no favors by blocking Clemenceau from obtaining stronger terms from Germany. In particular, besides Alsace-Lorraine back, France needed permanent possession of the Saar and probably the Rhineland. To anybody who thinks this is too harsh, I would point out that France did not start the war, nor would such terms be any harsher than the Brest-Litovsk treaty that Germany forced on Russia in 1917.

    But absent some kind of draconian peace such as this, in hindsight it would really have been better to take nothing beyond Alsace-Lorraine back. Perhaps then Germany would have accepted losing the war and moved on. But the treaty as signed was a complete disaster for all parties: the terms as delivered were just harsh enough to anger the Germans enough to launch another even more disastrous war, but not harsh enough to keep them from thinking of winning it.

  3. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks, Carlyn! You could say Foch had a lot on his plate…

  4. C Beccia says:

    Great Post. Who could possibly get sick of Versailles. Foch sure doesn’t look happy in that photo.

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Amanda! Yes, it is sort of a somber anniversary, a remembrance of past wars, and the bearing they still have on our fate.

  6. Amanda says:

    Great post! It’s so important to remember these days in history and why we remember them. Thank you.

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