Many topics were discussed at the Paris Peace Conference, none were considered more important than what to do about Germany.
Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Great War Episode 197: Last but not Least. Before we get started today I have some administrative items to take care of: Patreon Tom, Caleb, Doug, Gwenael standard Patreon thing. Also now supporting the podcast is Brandon Huebner of the Maritime History Podcast. I listen to some other podcasts, some of which relate to history, and one of those is the Maritime History Podcast, Brandon does a great job starting from ancient history and is slowly working his way forward. He is currently in ancient Greece, but I was sure to tell him to let me know when he gets to Jutland because I have some thoughts on the topic. Next up for a thank you is listener Andrew who reached out to let me know that the feed on Google Podcasts has been broken for a few months. I honestly never would have noticed, so thank you Andrew. Finally there are two small corrections. The first is from listener Catalin. In episode 194, while I focused heavily on the ethnic make up of many of the areas that were changing hands in Eastern Europe I really under sold the areas that were added to Romania, especially Transylvania which was made up of a large majority of Romanians. This is a small correction, but given the focus I was putting on the ethnic make up of the areas in Eastern Europe I thought it was important to bring it up on this episode. Another correction came in from a listener with the last name of Beatty, well I have been pronouncing it as Beatty, but in actually it is Bay-tee. As long time listeners know I have had some, and sometimes still have some, pronunciation issues, and I honestly never even considered checking British names, I really should have given how stupid English is sometimes. This is probably a good time to mention that, as always, you can send any questions, comments, thoughts, or concerns over to email@example.com.
With that very lengthy intro over, we turn now to our episode. Over the course of the last 10 episodes we have been all around the world. We have discussed how the Supreme Council and the Paris Peace Conference as a whole affected countries as distant as Japan and China, as close as Eastern Europe, and the Middle East in between. All of those nations were important, and many of the decisions made about them would greatly effect the future, but none of them were as important to the delegates in Paris as the country that many blamed for the war, Germany. Germany, and the peace terms that woudl be presented to Germany were always considered the most important work that would be done at the conference. Every conversation in some way came back to germany, if nobody else would tie the Germans in then the French would to make sure that the crosshairs stayed on the true enemy. Germany will be the topic of our next two episodes. Today we are going to touch on the situation in Germany, which would deteriorate rapidly after the war as the wartime political order collapsed. We will then dig into the views of the leaders on the Supreme Council and what they believed to be the correct peace terms with Germany. In the third part of this episode we will discuss some of the terms that were presented to Germany in the treaty that they would eventually be forced to sign. There will be one topic that we will not discuss today, and that is the topic of reparations. Reparations would occupy the most important place in the debates over what the German peace terms shoudl be, and so we will devote most of the next episode to that discussion.
We have spent a lot of time during these conference episodes discussing the formation and destruction of nations. This would often involve new political leadership coming into power, even in the countries that mostly stuck together after the war. In Germany this same development occurred. The leaders in Germany in 1919 were not just different than those that had led the country into the war in 1914, this was not at all unique to Germany. Many Prime Ministers had been replaced, cabinets had fallen, even in the countries on the winning side. In Germany the political change was even more drastic. The Germans had entered the war with a Monarch, the Kaiser, being in a position where he held almost absolutel power. There was a Chancellor, who in 1914 had been Bethmann-Hollweg, and there as the Reichstag, the German parliament, but the Kaiser still held a considerable amount of power. But the Kaiser had abdicated before the war ended, and Bethmann-Hollweg had been removed months before. This began a wholesale replacement of the German political leaders not just individually but also a shift in Germany’s form of government. During the war the country had drifted to the right, but at the end of the war it swung rapidly to the left, and instead of a monarchy Germany would enter 1919 led by a government of socialists.
These socialists came from the German Social Democrat party. They had been able to make it through the complete chaos of the armistice and the aftermath and by 1919 they had been able to gain the support of a majority of the German people. Like so many other new governments around Europe these new German leaders would appeal to Wilson’s Fourteen Points as their preferred framework for peace. They would point to the fact that they were not the leaders that had led Germany into the war, they were no longer a monarchy they were now a democractially elected government, a government elected by the German people. They were fully in line with the concept of self determination, and they believed that this change to a new government should count for something. The appeals to the Fourteen Points were not entirely selfish or just a way to get the easiest terms, there was some genuine belief that a peace framework built on the Fourteen Points could be successful, and it could create a lasting peace. When the conference began it rapidly became apparent that these hopes of a more favorable treatment would not come to fruition. Regardless of the political leadership of germany in 1919, they were still Germany, and they would have to pay the price of the actions of those leaders that came before. The Germans were not invited to the conference during its initial stages, the plan was to keep them at a distance while all of the Allies sorted out their opinions and a unified set of peace terms was determined. Then the Germans would be brought into the conference and they would be confronted with a united front of Allied opinion. Because of their exclusion the Germans did not know everything that was happening at the conference, but they would be able to find out enough about the peace discussions through various sources to know the basic outlines of what was being discussed.
For most of the duration of the Conference Germany’s main interaction with the Allies, on an official basis, would go through their new Foreign Minister Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau. A key concern for Brockdorff-Rantzau, and the rest of the German government, was the state of public opinion as the conference progressed. The Social Democrats conctrolled the country that had just been through and earth shattering global war, and then there had been the political revolution that had left them in power. They knew just as much as any other group within Germany that they stood on shakey ground. The threat of another revolution was always present, and it would boil over more than a few times in the coming years. Even in early 1919 this threat of revolution was considered to be very real, and this threat would form a key point upon which the Germans would try to negotiate. Brockdorff-Rantzau would inform the Allies that there was a very real chance that, if the Allies were too harsh the German government would fall. If this happened then there could be revolution. This might be a revolution from the left, which would probably be led by Bolsheviks with the support of the Bolsheviks in Russia, this was a revolution that the Bolsheviks were actively trying to make happen. The revolution could also come from the right in which case it would be led by conservative reactionaries. The German leaders were not totally unrealistic in what they were hoping to receive from the Allies. They understood that their country had lost and there would be consequences. For example they were not totally against the concept of reparations, and there was a general acceptance that they would be called upon to foot the bill for fixing the damage done to Belgium and Northern France. But even in these concessions the German government would be running up against the limits of what the German public would accept.
When the war had ended, in contrast to what would happen 27 years later in 1945, Germany was still mostly intact. On November 11th 1918 the German army was still firmly ensconced on foreign territory, and when they marched back to Germany it was not as a defeated and totally demoralized force, instead they would march back home in good order. There would be parades held in towns and cities all over Germany to welcome the army home. In Berlin troops were greeted at the Brandenburger Tor where they paraded through the heart of the German capital. Both the Army and the people were starving, the war had not gone as planned, and millions of Germany were either dead or wounded. But the fact remained that for many people on the German homefront the defat of the country appeared to be a political and not a military defeat. This led to unrealistic expectations among the German population about what to expect. Many believed that the peace terms would not be very harsh, because many believed that the war had barely been lost. In short, many people did not fully understand how defeated Germany truly was. The German writer Ernst Troeltsch would say that during this period between the armistice and the signing of the treaty the German people were in a “dreamland, where everyone, without grasping the conditions and real consequences, could portray the future in fantastic, pessimistic or heroic terms.” This created a dissonance around what the German people expected from peace and what the citizens of the Allied countries expected from the peace. These views would cause problems for the German politicians leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and those problems would continue to plague the Weimar Republic for the duration of its existence. This is part of the basis of the famous “stabbed in the back” myth, the Dolchstoss, the idea tha tthe army, the undefeated army, had been betrayed by the politicians in Berlin.
One feature of the war that had been felt by the German people, and which would still be felt in 1919 was the Allied blockade. After the war ended, per the armistice conditions, the blockade continued. The British were the primary enforcers of the blockade and they were still prepared to block the shipment of any contraband to Germany for the duration of the treaty negotiations, and they included food as an item of contraband. They felt that this was a requirement, partially due to the fact that the Allied armies were rapidly demobilizing, with the Allied divisions dropping from 200 in November 1918 down to just 39 by the middle of 1919. With such a drastic reduction in allied army strength the blockade was a way that pressure could be kept on Germany. There was also just a straight up concern that if food and material could flow freely into germany they would use the new supplies to rekindle the war. These concerns meant that the blockade would continue, even if it was not pursued at the same level of vigor as it had been during the war. For the Germans this meant that there would be another winter and spring of belt tigthening, although the food situation was not as bad as it had been during the winter of 1917. There had been a clause in the armistice that would have allowed the Allies to ship food to Germany if the Germans could pay for it. There was hope within Germany that they would be able to get a loan from the United States or some other country to buy this food, but this never materialized. Oddly enough it would eventually be the French that would bring an end to the blockade, or at least the blockade of food. This was done after ther Germans started offering what was left of their country’s gold reserves as payment for food. These were the same gold reserves that the French were hoping to tap with their reparations demands and so they wanted to make sure that the Germans still had it in their possessions when it came time to collect.
The Supreme Council would not have a serious discussion on many of the clauses in the German treaty until after Wilson arrived back in Paris in the middle of March. The items that still had to be decided included the most important items like reparations, the fate of the Rhineland, and the exact territorial loses that the Germans would suffer. Up until this point in the conference the Supreme Council had touched on the German items from time to time but they had never really dug into the topics that were destined to result in some very challenging decisions. They had also never discussed all of the German treaty cluases at the same time. There were many reasons for this, for one it was difficult to make some decisions about Germany until some other decisions that related to neighboring countries had been made. The most obvious of the items that fell into this category was the decision about whether or not Poland would receive access to the Baltic, a decision that would result in the Danzig Corridor. There was also the ever present problem of getting the members of the Supreme Council to actually agree. In the discussions in the Supreme Council that did not involve Germany there had been many disagreements, but now with the focus shifting to Germany, the area that the French saw as the most important theatre of decision, the stakes in the disagreements instantly multiplied. This would often pit France against both the British and Americans, but the French were not eager to give up their positions becaues the French leaders felt that they were negotiating nothing short of the future survival of France.
We touched on the French views in earlier episodes, but they are worth going over here once again. If you would have asked Clemenceau what he wanted out of the conference, he probably would have said that the ideal scenario involved breaking up Germany into smaller states. This would have resulted in the destruction of the Germany of 1918 which had been created after the Franco-Prussian War. However, this was like pie in the sky hope and a prayer desire from Clemenceau and the French and they realized that the chances of getting that wish granted was very small. When the conference started their bargaining position would start a bit closer to a reasonable position. They wanted the return of Alsace and Lorraine, and this was an easy win, there was nobody, other than maybe some Germans in Alsace and Lorraine who would not support French claims to the two regions. The French also wanted most of the Rhineland, which were all the areas of Germany on the west side of the Rhine. They also wanted some of the Saar Valley. Both the Rhineland and the Saar were heavily industrialized and full of valuable raw material like coal. If France could not get these areas then they would push for an independent Rhinesh republic which would be created to act as a buffer state between France and Germany. This amount of territory, even if it was not large in terms of square miles, would move a huge amount of economic power from Germany to France. In these territorial goals the French government was always looking at public opinion. French citizens had just experience a war that had lasted for over 4 years, which had taken place on French soil in the west. The Government had spent the entire war stoking the fires of patriotism, blaming the entire war on the Germans, and using propaganda to pain the Germans as war crazed lunatics. They were successful in these efforts to make the French feel like the victims of foreign aggression. Whether or not this was actually true, and there is still debates about the exact role of France in starting the war, did not matter. The French people believed that they were the victims of foreign aggression, foreign aggression that they had beat back and defeated at great cost to the country, and now the checks had come due. The French wanted somebody to pay for the war, the suffering, and the death, and the only possible country that could pay for it was Germany. Removing territory from Germany, in the same way that Prussia had removed Alsace and Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian war seemed very reasonable. For the French government they had to react to this public opinion, and they also had to try and create a situation that would create a lasting peace. In this quest for peace though, many believed that the best way to guarantee that peace was to make Germany as weak as possible. The biggest problem in achieving all fo these goals would be the French allies, because the French had to convince the British and Americans to hand over the territory.
While there were many things that the French would have to try and convince the Americans and the British to agree with them on, there were some items that all of the members of the Supreme Council could agree to. They all wanted to make sure that Germany could not start another war anytime soon. They wanted to try and find a way to make Germany help to fix the damage done to northern France and Belgium. They all agreed that Germany had to be punished, but nobody could agree on all of the details. As I mentioned earlier Alsace and Lorraine was a given, it was going to France, no disagreement there. But beyound that detail there was little that the three leaders, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson could agree on. They did agree that there should be some form of German disarmament, but they disagreed on how drastic it should be. There were concerns that if the Germany military was completely dismantled they might fall, like Russia, into revolution. Everybody agreed that Germany shoudl lose some territory, and pay reparations, but for both questions the matter of precise amounts of territory and money were unknown. If Germany lost a lot of territory, especially highly economically productive areas like the Saar and Upper Silesia, how much could Germany be expected to pay in reparations? If they kept some of that territory, how much more reparations should they pay? In many of these conversations you would have Clemenceau and the French always advocating for the maximum. On the other end of the spectrum would be Wilson who would often act as a moderating anchor against French demands. Then somewhere in the middle would be Lloyd George, on some matters he would be closer to French opinion, on others he would be closer to the Americans. During the last weeks of March and early April there were constant meetings and mountains of notes and memos passed around between the leaders as they tried to determine a path forward that they could all agree on.
One of the memos that would be published would be titled ‘Some Considerations for the Peace Conference Before They Finally Draft Their Terms, March 25th, 1919’ but it is better known as the Fountainbleau Memorandum. The goal of this document was to set out for Clemeanceau and the French the British position on some of the important issues and why. It was almost perfectly in alignment with Wilson’s views of what the peace should look like. It spoke of a just peace with the goal of not punishing past mistakes, but also of creating situations that could and would foster peace, like the use of the League of Nations. There was also some content about the concern that if the conference came down on Germany too hard it would become very likely that the country would fall into a Bolshevik revolution. “The greatest danger that I see in the present situation is that Germany may throw in her lot with Bolshevism and place her resources, her brains, her vast organising power at the disposal of the revolutionary fanatics whose dream it is to conquer the world for Bolshevism by force of arms.” The French were not pleace with such a position being published, but at the same time it did not really contain anything that the French did not actually know, it just set it out in an official manner. It should also be said that while the memorandum said that the British leaders very firmly believed in these high minded ideals, some of their actions on other matters at the conference would make it clear that they had a very loose definition on many of Wilson’s Fourteen points.
While many of the military leaders from the war faded into the background during the conference, on leader would still be involved in the construction of the treaty, Marshall Foch. He would represent a French view that, while not the most extreme held by some French politicans, would still be on the extreme end of the spectrum. Foch wanted to see an allied occupation of the Rhineland, the destruction of German fortifications, the confiscation of military equipment, and a reduction of the German military down to just 100,000 men. Afterwards he joined the French politicans in requesting the creation of an independent Rhineland. He framed all of these measures in military terms, believing that they were the only way that the Allied military could resist the German military in the short term. Foch was concerned that the wartime Allies were demobilizing their troops too quickly, before an official peace treaty was even signed, and so he saw the occupation of German territory as one of the ways to keep the Allied armies together for a longer period of time. Another plan that would not end up happening but which Foch advocated for was sending troops to Poland to fight the Bolsheviks. All of these plans were mostly about trying to find something meaningful for the Allied armies to do so that slowing the demobilization that was already underway could be justified. The British and Americans would reject most of these ideas, but Foch and other members of the French military would keep trying to find ways to justify keeping more Allied troops on the continent.
The French came into the conference with big goals, by the time that the Allies were discussing Germany news had gotten around about the views of the allies about all of the various topics to be discussed. Clemenceau’s positions were also becoming well known to other French politicians and journalists. Over the first months of the conference Clemenceau’s positions had generally become more accomodating of Allied demands, which was in line with Clemenceau’s goal of keeping the wartime alliance together. He believed that this was the best way to guarantee French security and for this goal he would make compromises that many others within France were uncomfortable with. As Clemenceau felt more and more pressure from the other French leades and the press he found himself in a position where he had to start defending himself. He was accused of giving away too much to the Allies without getting enough in return. However, he did not feel that he could honestly talk about his positions in public because he was concerned that it would compromise the entire French negotiating position. Eventually Clemencau would have a confrontation with Poincare, saying “All your friends are against me. I have had enough. I am in discussions every day, from morning to night. I am killing myself.” after which he woudl offer his resignation to the French President. Even if there were concerns among some members of the French government, Clemenceau wa sstill incredibly popular among French citizens. It was almost unthinkable that he would be replaced, and so his resignation would be refused and his balancing act would continue for the rest of the negotiations.
For the rest of this episode we are going to work through some of the final clauses that would end up being in the treaty signed between Germany and the other countries. We start with the clause about war guilt. This was a very important piece of the treaty because it acted as a justification for everything else in the treaty. If the Allies could establish that Germany had started the war, and more importantly that Germany had caused the war, then many other pieces of the document could be justified. Article 231 in the treaty was an important one, and it stated “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.“This would be at the core of many German problems with the treaty because in agreeing to it the Germans lost most of their ability to argue about anything else. The Allies discussed the war guilt clause at length, and while it did eventually make it into the treaty at the insistence of the British and French, it would never be fully supported by the Americans.
There were also discussions about trying some of the German leaders, especially the Kaiser, Hindenburg, and Ludendorff for war crimes. Wilson did not initially agree with trying Germans for these crimes, but he did eventually agree to setup a commission to investigate the possibility. The concept of Germany being responsible for the war was key to these conversations, and eventually it was agreed to move forward with trying the Kaiser at least. There was just one problem, after abdicating the throne the Kaiser had been accepted by the government of the Netherlands where he was given asylum. When it came time the Netherlands refused to give him to the Allies. The Supreme Council had two possible actions, they could give up on trying to bring him to trial, or they could go in and take the Kaiser militarily. The second course would invalidate everyting that they were saying at the conference, and so they just dropped the idea. They would eventually send a list of names to the new German government which they demanded be put before a court. Everybody on the list was tried by the government, but only a small fraction would actually be sentenced, the rest would be released almost at once after being declared innocent of all charges.
At the top of the list, and of the most immediate concern when it came to the terms for Germany was military disarmament, and of couse at the top of that list was the army. The Allies wanted to make sure that there was not chance that the Germans could launch another war in the near future, and so that meant that they would have to make sure that the German army was not ready for a war. The easiest way to do this was to limit the German army to a fixed number of men that was believed to be the bare minimum that was required to maintain control of the country. The number that was eventually settled on was 100,000 men. Then the army was stripped of any weapons that were not required for the internal security, so this meant tanks, armored cars, heavy artillery, and most of its machine gunes would have to be either destroyed or surrendered to the Allies. There was concern that the Germans would try to get around this manpower limitation by setting up organizations or groups, both public and private, that while not technically part of the German Army, were still trying men for entry into the army. Because of these concerns there were also clauses in place that kept the German politice to pre-war levels, and contains language that made it clear that all private clubs, veterans groups, or other gatherings of men had to be of an obvious non-military nature. All of these provisions would be handled by the Inter-Allied Commision of Control which was created to make sure that these and other restrictions were obeyed within Germany.
On the naval side of military equation similar drastic reductions in the German navy were included. Germany would not be allowed to build any submarines, and with the clause of having to surrender all of its current subs as part of the armistice this removed Germany’s underwater fleet. Germany was also not allowed to build any large surface ships. The topic that would occupy far more time at the conference was what to do with the ships and subs that had been surrendered to the British as part of the armistice. These discussions never involved giving them back to Germany but instead the best way to split them up among the Allies. The British and Americans did not really want them, since they would be expensive and challenging to integrate into their own fleets, but they did not really want any other countries to have them. It ended up being a moot point after the German surface fleet scuttled itself in Scapa Flow in 1919. There would also be some lengthy discussions about coastal fortifications. The British initially wanted all of Germany’s coastal forts to be destroyed, a desire driven by the British Admirals just hoping to remove any possible hindrance to British naval power. Wilson and the Americans did not agree to this initially, after all coastal fortifications were solely defensive in nature, so why should they be removed. The two nations came to a compromise, defensive fortifications could stay, offensive fortifications would have to be removed. I am not precisely sure how it was decided which fortifications were offensive and defensive, but the British were able to make sure that any fortification that they wanted to be removed were classified as offensive.
The final arm of the German military that was reduced by the treaty was the Air Force. Germany would have to hand over most of its military aircraft and also drastically reduce the number of aircraft that it was producing. Similar to the concern that the army would use civilian groups or the police to boost the number of men ready to join the army, there were concerns that the Germans would use civilian aviation to prepare for a quick expansion of their air force. However, unlike in the army where there was a pretty good understanding about the divisions between the civilian police and the military for the air force there was some ambiguity about where military aviation stopped and civilian aviation began. Civilian aviation was really just getting started after the war, and unlike a battleship, a submarine, or a large piece of artillery, a military aircraft, and especially its engine, could be made into a useful civilian aircraft almost overnight. The German aircraft manufacturers took the matter into their own hands and began removing as much stock and material as possible from the country. Fokker alone would move 350 train cars of material into Holland to set up an export business to avoid the sanctions that he knew would be put on Germany after the war. Countries in eastern Europe, along with some neutral countries, also bought up huge stocks of German aircraft from the war before they were confiscated by the Allies. Part of these purchases were for immediate military use, but other countries saw it as an easy way to jump start their domestic aviation industry.
We discussed some areas of Germany that would be part of Germany at the end of the war but would then be awarded to other nations by the Conference, this included the Danzig Corridor and Upper Silesia which both would go to Poland. These two areas would not be the only pieces of territory that would be under discussion for removal from the German state after the war, and we will discuss the final two today, the first was Schleswig-Holstein and the second was the Rhineland. When the war ended and pieces of territory from Germany were up for grabs one unexpected entrant into the discussion was neutral Denmark. Denmark had stayed neutral for the entire war, mostly due to the threat of a German invasion which the Danes would have been powerless to stop. With the war over they now put in a claim for the northern pieces of Schleswig-Holstein. This area had been a part of Prussia, and then Germany, since the 1860s but it was still very Danish in nature. Many of the people still spoke Danish, not German, and the percentage increased greatly from south to north. Much like in Upper Silesia the area was not totally removed from Germany, but instead the Conference called for a plebiscite which would be administered by an international commission. It would be a simple majority vote for each district, to stay with Germany or to be joined with Denmark, unsurprisingly the northern areas voted to join Denmark and the southern areas voted to stay in Germany.
One piece of territory that I have already mentioned several times in this episode is the Rhineland. The Rhineland was a critical piece of the French goals going into the conference. For the majority of French citizens their views were echoed by Prime Minster Poincare, to put it bluntly they believed that the Rhineland area shoudl just be handed over to France. There should be no strings, no conditions, no plebiscites, it should just become a part of france. With French politicians and the public behind this path Clemenceau started to try and make it happen at the conference. In the early stages he was careful not to put a French Rhineland up for discussion, out of fear that it would be rejected before he had time to work on the other leaders. He would discuss it with some of the other leaders but always in privte conversations, trying to feel out their positions. It very quickly became apparent that the Americans were strongly against the idea. Wilson was supportive of moving Alsace and Lorraine over to France as there was a really good excuse since it had only recently been removed from France and there were large numbers of French people in it. The Rhineland was a very different story, it was very German and had been a part of the German States for a very long time. Clemenceau tried to work the angle that it was about protection, not expansion, for France. He would argue that it was only through expanding French territory eastward that the country could protect itself from Germany. This did not change Wilson’s mind, he believed that the League of Nations was the path to peace, not territorial shuffles.
Up until February 25th all of these discussions were not official Supreme Council discussions, but that would change on the 25th when the French proposal for the Rhineland was presented by Andre Tardieu. The document that he presented proposed that the French be given all of the land to the west of the Rhine, and that Allied forces should occupy permanent bridgeheads over the river. This proposal would not be well received, with Lloyd George saying “We regarded it, as a definite and dishonourable betrayal of one of the fundamental principles for which the Allies had professed to fight, and which they blazoned forth to their own people in the hour of sacrifice.” It would quickly become apparent that due to the British and American resistance a fully French Rhineland simply was not going to happen, and so the French moved onto their next request, that of an independent Rhineland. Many high ranking French politicians and military leaders believed that an independent Rhineland would be enough to guarantee security since they hoped to make it little more than a French puppet state. Even this lesser objective would not come to pass. Lloyd George and Wilson made a deal with Clemenceau, the French would drop the concept of a permanent independent Rhineland and they would provide a guarantee against German aggression. Clemenceau would accept this, in the hopes that it would result in the war time alliance sticking together after the treaty was signed. If this happened it would provide far more security for France than a small strip of land on the Rhine would.
The the French giving up on their goals of either getting the Rhine or turning it into a permanently independent state they had to settle for a 15 year occupation of the area. This was technically an Allied occupation area, but the French would aways make up the vast majority of the occupation forces. The important part of the agreement was that at the end of the 15 year period there would be a plebiscite and the people could decide to either join with France or stay in Germany. It would also be declared a permanently demilitarized zone, in the hopes that this would provide the defensive protection which was so critical to French interests. Of course the French had plans to try and skew the eventual plebiscite in their favor, which we will see the fruits of in some later episodes when we look at the Ruhr Crisis. In early 1919 when this deal became public knowledge within the French government there was a huge amount of concern. Many believed that Clemencaeu and the others at the conference had bargained away far too much. Poincare and Foch were heavily critical of the plan and they were certainly not alone in their discontent. Looking back it is hard to see how Clemenceau could have gotten more out of the deal. The British and Americans were strongly against either of the better options for the French, and they felt that it was against the entire concept of the peace conference. The Rhineland question would be very important, and would occupy a good amount of discussions at hte conference, but it would be mostly forgotten when the largest battle of the conference began, and that was the battle over reparations, a topic that we will cover next episode.