WWI and the International System

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7 Apr 2011
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Loh Yong Sheng
HIS103Y reading summary The first world war and the international system
Bibliography Citation
Steiner, Zara S. The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2005.
Scope
Time Period: 1919-1933
Characters: Georges Clemenceau (French Premier), David Lyod (British Prime Minister),
Woodrow Wilson (United States President), Vittorio Orlando (Italian Prime Minister)
Main events: Paris Peace Conference 1919
Main Points
The long wait following the armistice resulted from elections in the United States and Britain
and also from the time delegates from the far corners of the world needed to arrive (eg. It took
the Japanese delegation 2 months to reach Paris) and also the allies wanted the political
situations in the former enemy states to be clarified and that the governments in place would be
able to discuss peace terms.
The leaders faced the unresolved problems of pre 1914 Europe and also the situations created
after the war. It was a time of systemic change, when it was possible to contemplate a new
international regime to replace the one that has so spectacularly collapsed
Compared between the peace in 1815 and 1914, the former was made by five powers and the
latter had twenty seven allied states present, Britain only had 14 staffs present in 1815 but in
1914 they had more than 200 people attending the conference. The number of states represented
and the variety of people demanding to be heard were the inevitable result of the expansion of
the diplomatic map, both geographically and in the subjects of international concern.
The shape of the conference evolved as the representatives of the great powers steadily took
command. Two delegates each from Britain, France, Italy, United States and Japan formed the
Council of Ten, where smaller states were to present their views to the council. As in every
twentieth century peace conference, the essential decisions were made by the very few.
The council did not review the draft treaty in its entirety due to time constraints and the victor
delegations only saw the texts a few hours before it was given to the Germans, and then they
realized the harshness of the terms.
France paid the highest price of all for victory. She lost 1.3 mil soldiers which was a quarter of
males aged between 18-27, devastated industries and population scarred by war. She had a
security problem that the other victor powers did not share, only she had to live next to
Germany. Clemenceau felt that neither military defeat nor the fall of the Kaiser would
permanently weaken Germany or curb her continental ambitions, he wanted Germany to be
disarmed.
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