The Treaty of Versailles, between the Allied and the Central Powers, established the terms of peace and post-war reconstruction. This agreement was the result of months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, starting in January 1919. The conference was the subject of immense international interest because of its potential to shape future relationships between world powers. Aside from Germany, delegates were sent from the ‘big four’ countries (Britain, France, Italy and the USA). Numerous other countries such as China, Japan and Greece, also sent delegates to participate in discussions. On the 7th May 1919, the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) were presented with a treaty whose terms had been worked out by the victorious nations.
Although each country had its own hopes and agendas in these negotiations, the primary aim of the treaty was to resolve and repair the damage caused by the war. Feelings ran high on this point, and Germany, as the defeated nation, was expected to bear the burden of the war’s devastation. The final treaty reflected this, with Germany was obliged to accept moral responsibility for the war. Germany also lost a significant amount of territory, and agreed to restrictions on the size of its military. Most notoriously, it agreed to pay sizeable reparations to the allied countries, to cover the cost of war damage.
A secondary aim of the Peace Conference was to establish a more hopeful vision of international relations after the end of the war. A major advocate of this aim was the American President Woodrow Wilson. His famous ‘Fourteen Points’ plan of January 1918 set out a liberal vision of peaceful and free intercourse between self-governing nations. The major result of this ambition was the establishment of the League of Nations, an international organisation to promote world peace.
Coverage in The Illustrated London News demonstrates the vital importance of the Conference and Treaty, from the perspective of the British people. Although some attention is given to the League of Nations, the primary interest was in the various delegates, and the historic capitulation of the Central Powers. Reports showed the arrival of British delegates to the conference, the German representatives in Versailles, and scenes of the negotiation itself. Such reports indicate more interest in the symbolism of German defeat, rather than the terms of the treaty itself. Articles focus on images such as a photograph of the signed treaty, the German signatories on their way to the conference, and illustrations of rejoicing crowds in London.
The Treaty has been the subject of serious controversy, particularly over its role in the build up to the Second World War. For the readers of the Great Eight publications, however, the signing of the Treaty was a moment of triumph, promising a new era of peace in the twentieth century.
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