The most worrisome crises were in Russia. No sooner had the Germans been forced to withdraw from the regions they had gained at Brest-Litovsk than the Allies sent detachments to various points along the perimeter of Russia—on the Black Sea, on the White Sea in the far north, and on the Pacific. The Allies’ dread of final Bolshevik success and of the possible spread of Bolshevism westward added to the tensions at Versailles.
Bolshevism was clearly spreading westward. While the German revolution of November 1918 had been carried out under socialist auspices, through the winter of 1918-1919 there were communist riots and uprisings, and in Bavaria in April a soviet republic was proclaimed. The new republican government of Germany put these communist movements down, but only by an appeal to the remnants of the old army and to officers thoroughly hostile to any type of republic.
After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in the autumn of 1918, the successor states—Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania—were disturbed by deep social and economic upheaval. In Hungary Bela Kun (c. 1886 c. 1940), who had worked with Lenin in Moscow, won power through a socialist-communist coalition and then set up a Bolshevik dictatorship. In August 1919 a Romanian army forced Kun to flee.
Finally, groups of German ex-soldiers—Freikorps (Free Corps) made up of embittered officers and recruits who could not adjust to civilian life, and joined by university students—were clamoring for the return of the monarchy and were attacking communists. Two major communist theoreticians, Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919), founder of the Spartacus parry, which mounted the 1919 revolt, and Rosa Luxemburg (18701919), who had helped found the Communist party in Germany, were killed by soldiers while being taken to prison.
In the Near East the Allies had even greater instability to contend with. Greece was now up in arms against the Turks. Its nationalists had revived the hope of a restored Byzantine Empire. Greek armies landed at Smyrna in Asia Minor in the spring of 1919. The French and British, to whom control over different parts of the former Turkish Empire had been assigned, began at once having trouble with Arab leaders, while Jews were pressing for a national home in Palestine in accordance with the Balfour Declaration, to which the Arabs were bitterly opposed.
In India the aftermath of war was particularly disastrous as the epidemic of influenza swept the subcontinent. Indians had fought well as professional soldiers on the Allied side during the war; educated Indians thought their country was ripe for much more self-rule. Widespread disorders culminated in the Amritsar massacre in April 1919, in which a British general ordered his soldiers to fire on an unarmed crowd, killing or wounding some sixteen hundred people.
The situation in China was even less stable. There a revolution in 1911-1912 had ended the rule of the Manchu dynasty and inaugurated a precarious republic. The internal distractions of the Chinese and the weakening of Russia led the Japanese to renew their ambitious plans in north China. The presence of American troops in occupation of Archangel and Murmansk in north Russia, and within the port at Vladivostok, would color future relations with the Soviet Union.
The world was in turmoil when the Allies assembled to make peace. The problems that faced the peacemakers were worldwide, complex, and often insoluble, in the sense that no decision on a given problem could possibly satisfy all the groups concerned. Yet the world expected more from them than from any previous settlement. In the minds of many, this war had been a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” a war to end war.
In 1918 many of these hopes were embodied in Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Wilson’s primary concerns were to secure the freedom of the seas and to create a League of Nations to organize peace thereafter. He and his advisers had formulated the language of the Fourteen Points to make them useful in case of complete victory, a stalemate, or even defeat, for they were put forward as negotiating points. At the peace conference, however, they became rigid demands. These points were:
1. Open covenants of peace must be openly arrived at.
2. Absolute freedom of the seas must be guaranteed.
3. Economic barriers must be removed to establish equality of trade conditions among nations.
4. Guarantees must be given to reduce national armaments.
5. Colonial claims must be adjusted impartially, with the interests of the colonial populations given equal weight.
6. Russian territory must be evacuated.
7. Belgium must be restored.
8. All French territory should be freed, and Alsace-Lorraine restored to France.
9. The frontiers of Italy should be adjusted in accordance with “nationality.”
10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary should be assured of autonomous development.
11. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated and Serbia given access to the sea.
12. Turkey should be assured its sovereignty, but the nationalities under Turkish rule should be given an opportunity for autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be opened to free passage.
13. An independent Polish state should be created with secure access to the sea.
14. A general association of nations must be formed to afford mutual guarantees “to great and small states alike.”
Other hopes and promises that contradicted the Fourteen Points were not embodied in a single document. There were three categories: the previous diplomatic commitments made by the Allies; the widespread popular hopes fanned by Allied propaganda and promised at the end of the war by some Allied leaders; and the long- established habits and traditions that had become part of the dominant policies and trends of each nation.
In the first category, the most difficult of the diplomatic commitments was the contradictory set of promises made to Italy and Serbia by the original Entente, including Russia, about the disposal of Habsburg lands. In the second category were the promises, widely believed by the British and French peoples, that Germany would be made to pay the whole cost of the war in reparations, its war criminals would be punished, and it would be forever rendered incapable of aggression.
In the third category were the deeply rooted drives of the various nations—French drives for revenge against Germany, for hegemony in Europe, and for security; British longing for Victorian serenity and economic leadership, safe from German commercial competition; and the nationalist aspirations of the new states of central Europe. Important, too, was the American desire to be free from European alliances and entanglements as soon as possible.
The question of German war guilt seemed to be confirmed by the peace settlements, but in the years to come the issue would be much debated, and by the 1930s, a resurgent German nationalism would have renounced both the guilt and the settlements. Historians have debated the question of war guilt, or primary responsibility for the war, or more simply the exact nature of the chain of cause and effect, and have arrived at often differing conclusions. Following a second World War, some German scholars in particular argued that blame for the first World War should not have been laid at Ger- many’s door.
Questions of war guilt are vexations, but it seems irreduceably true that Bosnia and Serbia bore much of the responsibility for putting a match to the powder keg. Yet, two small and undeveloped nations can hardly be held responsible for a war that engulfed the world, and specific decisions made by specific leaders in all the participating nations must also be taken into account. Still, when one asks which nation finally disturbed the status quo in Europe sufficiently to bring on the war, it is difficult to answer with any other name than Germany.