A PERFIDIOUS DISTORTION OF HISTORY
The Versailles Peace Treaty and the Success of the Nazis
Author: Jurgen Tampke
Published by: Scribe, Melbourne, 2017, 314pp, A$45.
We are now at last in the final stretch of the First World War centenary commemorative derby. With the Armistice anniversary looming on 11 November this year, to be followed by the anniversary next year of the peace settlement negotiated at Versailles, the consequences of the end of the war are sure to receive much attention. For many, 'the harshness of the Versailles Peace' is seen as presaging the even greater catastrophe that befell the world twenty years later. According to this line of thinking, it presented the successor regime to the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, with an insurmountable economic challenge, leading to political instability that facilitated the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, which, ultimately, brought about a new, even more destructive conflict. German resentment of the Versailles settlement was reinforced when British politicians began to question the terms as being too harsh. They were encouraged by economist John Maynard Keynes's critique of the settlement that became 'a kind of bible of the anti-Versailles industry'.
In this valuable study, Dr Jurgen Tampke, a German-born Australian historian, sets out to debunk prevailing popular myths about the Versailles peace. He argues cogently that the settlement, far from being a disastrous imposition on Germany, was in fact relatively lenient. Although it lost some territory, Germany's position as the dominant power on the European continent was not affected, for it remained the 'industrial powerhouse' of Europe. Germany's latent strength could be tapped when the time came to overthrow the terms imposed by the Allies, which on paper were harsh. Germany was forced to accept the responsibility to pay a huge reparations bill. But, as Tampke explains, the amount was not beyond Germany's ability to pay (especially as the Allies never expected full payment of a sum inflated to meet their own publics' expectations); Germany soon reneged on the payments required; and the Allies failed to enforce the terms.
Tampke's study begins with an illuminating chapter on Germany in the 40-year period before the outbreak of the First World War, beginning with creation of the German Empire in 1871. He points to the ruthlessness, willingness to ignore rules of war and preference for strong-arm tactics that characterised the new...