The Peace

Of the Peace terms presented to the Germans representatives at Versailles on Wednesday - upon an anniversary of the Lusitania atrocity - it may be safely said that they will provoke two kinds of criticism.

There will be those who think that Germany is allowed to escape too lightly in the matter of indemnities and in some other respects, and there will be those who think that the most conspicuous contents of the treaty are the seeds of future war. The treaty is an extremely comprehensive and complex document, and it is truly observed that some time must elapse before the ordinary man can form a clear idea of the peace in all its bearings. The mills of peace, in fact, have ground so exceedingly small that the result must be microscopically examined. On the subject of reparations, for instance, it is difficult to estimate the ultimate result of an arrangement on which – it seems almost justifiable to say - President Wilson and Mr Lloyd George have agreed to differ, or postpone their difference. In some other matters it has been ingeniously contrived to leave awkward questions open for subsequent agreement among the Allies or adjusted by the League of Nations, all parties being satisfied that the present treatment accords with high principles and does not prejudice their point of view. Thus some awkward corners have been got round, and, while all may regard the treaty as imperfect in some particulars, agreement has been reached upon the essential conditions which Germany is given a fortnight’s grace to sign.

With the regard to reparations, it can only be said, for certain, that Germany will not be made to pay all the war costs of the Allies, that it remains open to the Prime Minister to say that Germany will be made to pay to the limits of her capacity, which was all that he ever promised. The treaty provides for a substantial instalment  "on the nail" and for futher instalments, of a total, not less than 5,000 millions, but still to be fixed, spread over a period of thirty years. The ground for fear is that Germany may be let off later. From the same point of view it is questioned whether the treaty is strict enough in respect of merchant shipping, of Heligoland and Kiel, and whether it provides sufficient safeguards against German designs towards the East. With regards to shipping it seems Germany must forfeit almost all her present fleet and mortgage to the allies a large amount of future shipping, but there appears a danger that America will get much more than her share and Britain much less on the ton for ton basis.

Critics of quite another school declare that the treaty is one under which Germany, though she may sign, can never lie down; that it is too humiliating and too harsh. The Saar coalfield, it is said, will be a perpetual sore; 'the indemnities' will "kill the goose," and the Allies, it is complained, have shown no disposition to disarm themselves. But it would have been impossible to devise a safe and just peace which would not be humiliating and which would not make Germany smart. The Saar coalfields were among the only means of fairly compensating France, and they are not inevitably or for ever lost to Germany. After a time they may be bought back, if the population wish. The associated nations could not afford to disarm to the same extent, until Germany has satisfied their requirements; they are in the position of probation officers anxious that Germany should keep the peace and carry out the treaty, but aware she cannot be trusted to go straight. It is for Germanys good that they should be able to enforce respect for their decision. For the present the peace, although inevitably stern, is not unduly so, and offers every inducement to Germany to avoid further offence. The terms might easily been worse - from Germanys point of view and from ours - and, if all goes well, some solace if not forgetfulness may be found by Germany in the ameliorative atmosphere of the League of Nations.

In considering the peace terms, it must be remembered, on the one hand, that Germany could not possibly be trusted and has inevitably involved herself in humiliation and loss. On the other hand, as the Lord Chancellor said recently, the problems of making a satisfactory peace have been nearly as complex and difficult as those of gaining a victory; the difficulties have been prodigious; more baffling and perplexing than ever confronted statesmen before, especially statesmen endeavouring to deal with them in a way which would save our children, and therefore from another such catastrophe as that which has murdered the youth of this generation. Patience, conciliation, compromise, even sacrifice, have been necessary and it is a cause for immense thankfulness towards our representatives that the present position has been safely reached; that Germany has been called before an unbroken array of judges representing the associated nations to hear how she can expiate her crime. And, if we cannot all be satisfied with the terms, we may hope for substantial advantage to be recurred from that stable peace which has been the main object of the conference.


Berrow Journal Saturday May 10th 1919