The Treaty of Versailles: A Concise History by Michael S. Neiberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) offers a detailed account of the players, events, and political environment that contributed to the drafting of arguably the most significant document of the twentieth century. In his preface, Neiberg reminds the reader that the Paris Peace Conference “had as much to do with postwar politics as perceptions of prewar guilt,” and that the treaty itself was a “great missed opportunity.”
The victorious Allies justified their actions by correctly claiming that had Germany emerged victorious, the terms of the treaty would have been much harsher, as was the case in 1871 with Germany’s unification. Although the purpose of the text is to describe the circumstances rather than argue a position, Neiberg does incorporate the theme of vengeance throughout the book; an inescapable motif when writing on this matter.
The Paris Peace Conference began on January 18, 1919, which was the forty-eighth anniversary of the coronation of Wilhelm I after the Franco-Prussian War, wherein the new Germany seized Alsace and Lorraine from France. Additionally, Wilhelm’s coronation was held at the Palace of Versailles, a fact not overlooked when the allied delegation determined the location for the signing of the 1919 treaty. The dates and locations selected by the victors of the Great War glaringly support the premise of vengeance.