The First World War will officially end on Sunday, 92 years after the guns fell silent, when Germany pays off the last chunk of reparations imposed on it by the Allies. The final payment of £59.5 million, writes off the crippling debt that was the price for one world war and laid the foundations for another.
Germany was forced to pay the reparations at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as compensation to the war-ravaged nations of Belgium and France and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging what was then the bloodiest conflict in history, leaving nearly ten million soldiers dead. The initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132 billion, £22 billion at the time.
The bill would have been settled much earlier had Adolf Hitler not reneged on reparations during his reign.
Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following armistice, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.
“On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany,” said Bild, the country’s biggest selling newspaper.
Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds as agreed under the Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was made to sign the ‘war guilt’ clause, accepting blame for the war.
France, which had been ravaged by the war, pushed hardest for the steepest possible fiscal punishment for Germany. The principal representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference, John Maynard Keynes, resigned in June 1919 in protest at the scale of the demands.
“Germany will not be able to formulate correct policy if it cannot finance itself,’ he warned.
When the Wall Street Crash came in 1929, the Weimar Republic spiralled into debt. Four years later, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.
Although the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 was undertaken by a Serbian nationalist, it was Austria that declared war on Serbia in 1914, thereby setting in motion treaty obligations between various states that triggered off WW1. If any party was “guilty” of starting WW1, it was the Austrian foreign minister. Austria wanted war with Serbia. Austria had become sick and tired of Serbian nationalist terrorism in Balkan territories that the Austria Empire wished to expand. The Austrian foreign minister then made outrageous demands on Serbia to be made as reparations for the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And even then, much to the surprise of the world, Serbia satisfied all those unreasonable demands bar one. So Austria declared war on Serbia. But Austria was so weak militarily that it had to rely on its big brother the German Reich, and Kaiser Bill was suckered into supporting a paper tiger.
As regards the entry of the UK into WWI: the United Kingdom had very little reason to support France in its war against the German Empire and non at all for waging war against Austria. The UK’s reason for entering WW1 was to forestall German hegemony in Europe.
If the UK had not joined the WW1 belligerents, Germany would have wiped the floor with France, made peace with Russia and Austria would have achieved satisfaction in the Balkans.There would have been no Bolshevik putsch, although the Tsar would very likely have been deposed and Russia become a democratic republic; there would have been no opportunity for a disgruntled Austrian tap – room politician to blame the Jews, finance capitalists, Bolsheviks or whatever scapegoat there was at hand in his feverish, nationalist-racist imagination at whose feet he could lay the blame for the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918; there would have been no Nazi Germany, no USSR, no Stalin terror, no fascist death camps, no gulags…
All in all, I think if all this had happened, Europe would have maintained its pre-eminence in the world and we Europeans at least would all be living in a much more cultured world now.
I should think that Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, cetainly knew why he squeezed that fateful trigger in Sarajevo 96 years ago: he was a member of the infamous “Black Hand” gang, a group of Serbian nationalist-terrorists that believed that their acts of terrorism would deter further Austro-Hungarian encroachments in the Balkans. Bosnia-Herzogovina had only recently been annexed by the Austro-Hungarian empire when Princip fired those fateful shots in the Bosnia-Herzogovina capital in June 1914. When the dust finally settled in Europe in 1918 after the four years of carnage caused by that European civil war that was once known as “The Great War”, Bosnia-Herzogovina became a province of Yugoslavia, a state created in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles; a new state that was dominated by the Serbs. The Treaty of Versailles, according to US President Woodrow Wilson’s “principles”, was determned to allow national groups, large or small, “self determination”. The treaty, therefore, recognised the nationalistic claims to territorial integrity of such European nationalities as Latvians, Estonians, Poles, Czechs and Slovaks etc; the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Herzogovinians, Montenegrians and Macedonians, howevever, were all lumped together in that state known as Yugoslavia: “Southern Slavia”.
Princip didn’t live long enough to see the results for which he strove: because of his youth, the Austrians showed him clemency and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison of tubercolosis in about 1916, I think, whilst young men of about the same age as he was when he died, were being mown down in their thousands in Europe because of his nationalistic idealism.
As regards the place of my exile, it is not Spain: it is that land whose despotic rulers believed it was their duty to defend all Slavic nations and Eastern Orthodoxy Christianity against the depredations of the Ottoman Turks.
There are now some, however, who would have it that Turks are Europeans.
Princip and most of his contemporary compatriots would be spinnng in his grave if he were aware of such seniments. Some uninformed person said above that Serbia started WWI.