The armistice of 11 November 1918 was to remain just that – a cessation of hostilities without surrender, without admission of guilt, not much more than a statement of mutual exhaustion but one sought by Germany on behalf of the Central Powers. It had made gains at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk at the expense of the new regime in Russia and had not been driven out of France or Belgium.
These two countries, together with Great Britain, were insistent that Germany was totally blameworthy and would pay heavily for its unprovoked aggression, the despoliation of land and the losses in blood and treasure inflicted upon them.
The German government delegation was largely passive throughout the conduct of the gathering at Versailles, as well they might have been. Going to war had been plotted but not by Bethmann-Hollweg’s civilian government, although it could have been more robust in opposing the dominant militarism of the Prussian Junkers cabal, which paved the way to war from at least the time of commissioning the Schlieffen plan of 1905. Germany went to war for no better reason than its conviction that it would win.
France had suffered most from the war fought largely on its soil where their tormentor, for the second time in 45 years, had bullied its neighbour and remained in situ afterwards. Its prime minister, George Clemenceau, pressed for the most severe sanctions against the hated enemy, with the support of David Lloyd George, calling for Germany to admit total war-guilt, the acceptance of minimal arms production in perpetuity and a crippling level of war reparations.
However much such strictures may have been deserved they ought, in retrospect, be seen as inflammatory, waiting for a zealous reaction to Germany’s humbling or beware the wounded animal allowed to escape. This occurred soon enough in the person of a dedicated and charismatic individual who would soon make his entry on the world stage, as foreseen by General Pershing, to light the fuse once again in anticipation of a German victory.