While this year June 28 news will be all about the two previous days of Presidential debates, one hundred years ago on June 28, 1919, a document was finished that would lead to the deaths of millions. And the signing date was deliberately chosen because of two murders that happened five years before.
June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and his wife were assassinated by the Black Hand terrorist group. This secret military society believed the only way to free all Serbians from the autocratic Austrian Empire was through violence. The two royal deaths on the 28th of June started the “first” global war that over the next four years killed or injured 40 million soldiers and civilians.
Known then as The Great War, this horrific cataclysm ended on November 11 1918. In January 1919, the victorious French, British, American, and Italian heads of state gathered in Paris to spell out the terms of Germany’s surrender. Ironically named the Paris “Peace,” Conference, what the following months of negotiations came up with promised not “peace,” but a second catastrophic global war. The vengeful Treaty of Versailles guaranteed a second conflagration now known to history as WW II. Thus ‘The Great War’ would become WW I.
The Versailles Treaty signed by the victorious Allied powers was soon known as the “Carthaginian Peace” comparing it to ancient Rome’s total destruction of Carthage after defeating the city in three wars. Despite American President Woodrow Wilson’s opposition to the harsh vindictive treatment of Germany, French leader Georges Clemenceau and Britain’s David Lloyd George were bent on having their pound of German flesh.
France’s determination to punish Germany started with signing the treaty in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors where the in 1871 the French had to sign their own humiliating treaty after France’s crushing loss in the Franco-Prussian (German) War.
In that shaming Hall of Mirrors setting, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to take full blame for the war. Never mind the fact the war wouldn’t have happened without the overlapping treaties among the British, French, and Russians—agreements committing each country to go to war if any treaty partner did. Despite this reality of blame among all combatants, Article 231, the War Guilt Cause, laid the cause of The Great War’s totally on Germany.
France and Great Britain went on to strip Germany of its resource-rich Rhineland, limit its military, forbid it ever having an air force or tanks, and forcing Germany to pay for the entire war damage: an impossible $33 billion in 1919 dollars.
Since Germany’s leaders were excluded from the peace conference, it wasn’t until May when they first learned the Carthaginian terms. Their horrified shock, bitterness, and anger—especially at Article 231—quickly reverberated across Germany and much of the free world. The seeds of another war were planted in Paris on June 28, 1919.
It didn’t take long. The next year a right-wing Fascist named Adolf Hitler took over the German Workers Party and added National Socialism to the name. Thus was the Nazi Party created in 1920. Three years later Hitler wrote Mein Kamp warning Germany that a Jewish conspiracy was taking over the world. The holocaust was born.
By 1934, a swift fifteen years after the “peace” treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors, Hitler was “Der Fuehrer,” the dictator of Germany. He quickly defied the Treaty of Versailles by expanding his army, rearming the Rhineland, and drafting Germans into the military.
September 1938 the French and British and Italy ‘appeased’ Hitler by handing over the Sudetenland he’d illegally occupied. November 1938 Nazi gangs burned 400 synagogues, destroyed 7,500 Jewish shops, and sent 20,000 German Jews to concentration camps. The holocaust had begun.
A mere twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland—so much for the Munich appeasement. September 3 World War II began and The Great War—the “war to end all wars”—would ever after be known as WW I.
And lest there be any doubt the Treaty created the Nazi party and started WW II, listen to it from Hitler himself in a 1941 speech. Try hearing this excerpt in Hitler’s screaming voice:
Der Fuehrer Adolf Hitler: The program of the National Socialist movement, in so far as it affected the future development of Germany’s relations with the rest of the world, was simply an effort to effect revision of the Treaty of Versailles…this revision was absolutely essential.
The conditions imposed at Versailles were intolerable, not only because of the humiliating discrimination, which deprived the German nation of all its rights, but even more because of the resultant destruction of the material existence of one of the great civilized nations of the world and the proposed destruction of its future…
The end of Hitler and Nazi Germany began 75 years ago on D-Day, June 6, when thousands died storming Normandy. Two wars that old men in dress suits created, but had to be fought by young men in uniforms.
A poem from The Great War by the British writer A.E. Housman speaks to the tragic reality of two world wars that didn’t have to happen.
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,