In the five years between 1925 and 1929, a certain portion of humanity believed that everlasting peace might have been at hand. Nowadays knowing the disasters, we know better and it is hard for us to believe that such things could have been believed but this mirage, this kind of lie hadn’t existed before.
People had never believed so much in the possibility of the smallest chance of peace. On September 10 in 1926 when Germany was initiated into the League Of Nations everything seemed to be moving for the better.
The Start of the Dream
Before we descend into the journey of this I will introduce the key players to watch for in the upcoming events. First on the list is Aristide Briand.
He was a French statesman. In the pre-war times, he was a minister of Justice under Clemenceau, the guy who helped write the Versailles treaty later to make it as hard on Germans as he could. His policies after the war were more conciliatory in style meaning he was more likely to go for a compromise than some of his coworkers.
He supervised the French in the Washington Naval Conference in 1921-22 in which the new ratio was decided to limit naval power and thus disarm the states in some way and this was done by agreeing to a ratio for ships for America, Britain, Japan, France, and Italy.
These powers agreed to carry specific amounts of ships and to scrap extra ones as well as cease construction for more ships for a specific amount of time.
Though this move wasn’t particularly favored by the French at home. The French were forced to accept the lowest ratio among the powers which would already be an insult to a former empire but to add salt to injury they shared that ratio with Italy who they considered a weaker power.
So though these moves weren’t popular at first after the Ruhr Crisis his way of doing things became more popular yet again. Ruhr crisis probably deserves its own article for an important step in the eventual failure of collective security and the role it played in reshaping the ideas around Germany as an aggressor but to keep things short here because the French were seen as the villains of the story after they stormed in and occupied german region of Ruhr they had no choice but to become friendlier in their approach to Germany for the international powers watching and Briand's ways of doing this worked well.
Briand has ideas for an economic union of Europe. He wanted collaboration between different industrial areas of Europe to guarantee political security as if the states were dependent on each other for key goods they would be less likely to start a war as a war would bring the economy to a halt.
This would of course involve Germany as this framework would work to contain Germany as well as strengthen it just enough so it could contribute to the overall growth for other European nations.
Next up on the people that will become very important in the upcoming article is Kellog, Frank B. Kellog.
PS. B stands for Billings if you wish to know.
He was an American fellow who supported Woodrow Wilson in all his efforts when he was in office. He had a career before that of course but this is the period that interests us.
He stood for Wilson’s ideas about Collective security and though he didn’t agree with the entire covenant for the League of Nations he still tried his hardest to get the Senate to ratify it, he didn’t succeed it caused problems later but again we must stay focused.
In his time in the Senate, he tried to keep the isolationist policies while keeping his interferences in other countries' politics as non-military as he could. His policies were described as “retreat from imperialism” and he continued to pursue his faith in the effectiveness of arbitration as a solution to problems that later drove him to involve himself in many bilateral treaties.
He was a believer in the idea that war was in fact not a continuation of diplomacy and he shared that idea with Briand.
Finally, this one played a more minor role but some background on him might be of use and that is Hermann Müller.
Hermann was a member of SPD, which was a party of social democrats who led the Weimar Republic.
The Weimer republic always had a bit of a tough time in trying to lead the new Germany because of reasons such as the competition between three separate leftist parties and the 20s were not an exception to that struggle.
Hermann was an early advocate for joining the newly formed League of Nations and moving to be closer to the west politically and was critical of the Soviet Union’s government. So he of course didn’t agree with the more radical leftist party that led the country at the time. He was for diplomacy as a measure to bring Germany closer to western powers and he supported Stresseman the chancellor of Germany in doing so.
The Locarno Pact of 1925 was an agreement between Britain, Belgium, Italy, Germany, and France.
Stresemann, the foreign minister of Germany, believed that it would increase the confidence the other countries had in Germany as well as the people’s own confidence in their country.
The pact had three main aims. One, to secure the borders of Europe, giving France security with its borders would be done by Germany completely taking away their claim to their territories in western Europe, aka the territories that border France and territories that they had had a conflict over.
Second, to ensure the permanent demilitarization of Rhineland - the most important condition to ensure France’s security.
Third, to begin the negotiations that would allow Germany, the country that was previously excluded, to join the lineup for the League of Nations.
These treaties promised a start to a new era where the European powers would finally reconcile and continue their economic growth together, a new era where peace would become a very real possibility.
The Spirit of Geneva
This hope was nicknamed “the spirit of Geneva,” and Briand was one of the statesmen associated with it. Briand Stresseman even offered an advance payment at Geneva, of their reparations in attempts to help France with their fiscal crisis.
And this expression of kindness and goodwill as well as the removal of certain military control commissions in Germany made Britain and the US ask questions. One of the main inquiries was why there was still a need for France to maintain what at the time was the largest army in Europe especially as of now when Germany had stopped being a threat to French security.
This caused a clash between France's desire to continue to have a defense against Germany, which required for the country to stay unequal and weakened, and the German demands for equality which in turn would undermine French Security. And this demand for equal treatment ended up impressing the English and the American delegations.
Kellog and Briand around this time negotiated a new treaty, a treaty that would challenge the previous views on war, that renounced war as an instrument of national policy and as the continuation of diplomacy. It was signed in 1928 and was the highest point for hopes after the war.
After Locarno, more negotiations continued on. Müller and Stresemann continued trying to push for equality for the German people. They wanted to try and speed up the revision of the Treaty of Versailles and they were ready to offer an early payment of reparations for this to happen sooner.
A similar treaty like Locarno was created to secure borders in eastern Europe. According to the Young Plan, Germany would pay reparations until 1989 and in return, the reparations commission would be abolished giving or rather restoring the financial independence of the country and with all of this an early evacuation of Rhineland was also promised by 1930 which was five years ahead of schedule established in the Versailles treaty.
The young plan was important as it was a continuation of the west being more lenient on Germany because of the continued negotiations. The new plan reduced the total amount of reparations that German people owed by around 17% and it reduced the amounts of payments that had to provide.
Even better it removed the previously established control that the international powers had over the railway industry. It was a continuation of the hope fuelled politics that started after the Locarno treaties though it was never actually paid in the end.
The date 1989 ended up being quite an empty promise in the long run but at the time of its signing, the plan was a continuation in the belief that things were going to be okay.
End of the Dream
As the 1920s came to a close most Europeans expected this time of peace to continue, but suddenly Stresemann died in 1929.Three weeks later, the stock market crashed and the great depression occurred. In a time of economic downfall, the political shift to the right to preserve the national interests.
When everything is going to the worst, politicians try their best to save their countries. To create jobs amidst the crisis, Germany started remilitarization which violated the Versailles agreement and this can be read as a symbolic manner of the stop of the peaceful times and the start of the turbulent occurrences.