a wonderfully evocative and sad family narrative, which highlights the always unspoken question of - "Why did it happen again?" This really is a Pandoras Box, and I hesitate to lift the lid off on this forum, but we started by talking about using discretion when speaking of the second World War, we then drifted into the first World War as a natural follow on from that, so maybe it's not a bad thing to discuss the reasons, and the links, between the two tragedies, for that is certainly what they were.
In the end, we can only make a rational judgment if we understand the scale of the tragedy of the first World War. Be careful here, there is an old saying which goes: " There are lies, damned lies, and Statistics, in that order! Countless generations of politicians have used numbers to persuade electorates that they knew what they were doing, and countless generations of opponents have used the same numbers to prove that they did not!
With that caveat, here
is a link to some serious figures, which at first sight are rather boring, but which tell, in all their neutral numeracy, of the full scale of this unimaginable horror.
If we accept the truth of these statistics, we can see that the Entente Powers suffered slightly more deaths than the Central Powers, but whilst those deaths were spread almost worldwide in the case of the Entente powers, a staggering 77% of deaths in the Central powers were borne by Germany and Austro-Hungary, Germany alone accounting for 52%. Of the Entente powers, Russia was hardest hit (31%), follwed by France, (25%) the British Empire(16%). The USA, which did not enter the war until 1917, (2%).
Boring as these facts might be, they resulted in world shattering events, the Russian Empire disappeared as a European power, and became the worlds first communist state, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist, it's former dominions such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and so, on became nations in their own right again, and the USA, for the first time in it's history, became a player on the international stage. Large parts of Belgium & northern France lay in ruins. and Germany, although it's infrastructure was largely un-harmed, had seen it's male population devastated, and was to all intents and purposes, close to bankruptcy.
The Treaty of Versailles of 1919, was designed by the victors to punish Germany for its aggression, and to make Germany accept responsibility for the war, to accept total disarmament, to make huge territorial sacrifices, and to pay vast sums of money in reparations to certain countries of the Entente powers. There were originally 26 nations represented at the Treaty, Germany & Austria were excluded, as was Russia, because it had signed a separate peace with Germany in 1917, and in the end, the only players who mattered were Britain, France & the USA.
The aims of each of these were very different; To appease French public opinion, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau wanted to impose policies deliberately meant to cripple Germany militarily, politically, and economically, so as never to be able to invade France again.The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, took a similar, but less stringent line, probably because the decline of Germany would have left France as the most powerful country in Europe, something Britain would certainly not have liked! The American President, Woodrow Wilson, viewed the severity of the Treaty with grave misgivings, foreseeing a period of chaos in Europe as a result, and the destruction of it's lucrative trading partners. In fact the USA never ratified the Treaty, opposition in the US senate by Henry Cabot Lodge ensuring that Wilson was left almost helpless.
Of course the German Chancellor, Scheidemann, refused to sign the Treaty and resigned, saying of what he described as "a murderous plan": "Which hand, trying to put us in chains like these, would not wither? The Treaty is unacceptable" Eventually, the new German President Friedrich Ebert signed the Treaty under protest, and so began the terrible descent into economic & political chaos in the Germany of the twenties, the hyper inflation, the exploitation of the weak, the rise of extremism, and, in the end, the rise of the National Socialists, with Herr Hitler in control in the Reichstag. It wasn't quite that simple, but I imagine most people know what came next.
The question is " Did the Allies cause WW2?" My personal view is that it would probably have happened without Versailles anyway, revenge is a powerful motor, and even in 1918, Germany was still a strong industrial power, but the rise of Nazism may well have been caused by the almost universal sense of injustice felt in Germany against the Treaty, and the deprivations that followed it. I always think that as residents, or former residents, of an off-shore island, our view of history is often rather slanted, and a wider, European context will frequently result in a different perspective. What do you think?
Kind Regards, Mike