Is it possible to cheat in war

Age of world wars

Sönke Neitzel

Sönke Neitzel is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He studied history, journalism and political science in Mainz, where he received his doctorate in 1994 and qualified as a professor in 1998. He then taught at the Universities of Mainz, Karlsruhe, Bern and Saarbrücken before being appointed to the Chair of Modern History at the University of Glasgow in 2011. He has been teaching and researching at the LSE since September 2012.
He became known to a wider audience through his book "Abgehört. German Generals in British Captivity, 1942-1945", which was published in 2005.
His main research interests are military history and the history of international relations in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Contact: [email protected]

The years after the end of the First World War were marked by instability from civil war and ethnic conflicts, and violence continued after 1945 in the form of regional wars, flight and displacement.

The war is over - the reactions and moods in the various countries, however, differ greatly in some cases: US soldiers in Camp Dix, New Jersey, are happy to be released from military service in 1918. (& copy picture-alliance / akg-images)

The Paris Peace Treaties

When the Paris peace negotiations began in January 1919, the hatred of peoples for one another was deeper than ever. The First World War claimed many victims: around ten million people died in the four years of the war, not counting the indigenous population in the colonies. 2,037,000 German soldiers fell and 4,950,000 were wounded. With around 13 million combatants, this corresponded to a loss rate of 15 percent. 1.8 million Russians died and 1.3 million French. As a percentage of the number of soldiers deployed, France suffered the highest loss rate of the great powers.

This war had not brought stable solutions, on the contrary - compared to the prewar period it had opened even more wounds and aroused even more desires. In addition, it was obvious that the victorious powers were by no means agreed on what should actually come out of the peace negotiations in Paris. With the delivery of the German deep-sea fleet and the occupation of the colonies, the most important requirements for London, for example, were already met at the beginning of the negotiations in January 1919.

France and the "Cordon sanitaire"

For France, the international constellation was quite different: with the revolution of the Bolsheviks, Russia ceased to be the central pillar of the French alliance system. This meant that there was no longer any two-front threat to Germany - for the first time since 1894. The best way to secure its own eastern border, which the Germans had invaded twice within 40 years, would have been to dissolve the German Empire into a number of independent and weak states . The French General Staff drew up such plans in 1916. However, such maximum demands could not be enforced in the negotiations. US President Woodrow Wilson in particular was vehemently opposed to a "Carthaginian peace".

But what should be done if the empire was not dissolved and therefore at least retained as a potential great power? The first task was to at least weaken the country by ceding territories in the west and east. But then a replacement for Russia had to be created: the "Cordon sanitaire", a belt of East Central European states that threatened Germany from the east and at the same time acted as a buffer against Soviet Russia. In order that Poland and Czechoslovakia in particular could fulfill their intended role as well as possible, the demarcation of borders and nationality conflicts were always designed in favor of the small states. At the same time, this prevented Berlin from being able to ally itself with Warsaw and Prague.

Instability due to civil war and ethnic conflict

However, the situation in East Central Europe was extremely unstable immediately after the First World War. In the winter of 1918/19 ten new states (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Soviet Russia as well as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) emerged on the territory of the disintegrated multi-ethnic empires Russia and Austria-Hungary; see also Map III). Most were in the midst of a revolutionary upheaval and were also at odds with their neighbors. In Styria and Carinthia, Serbian troops fought against Austrian home guards, in the Teschen area the Czechs fought against Poles, in Fiume Italians against Croats, in Silesia Germans against Poles, in Vilnius Poland against Lithuanians. Eventually Poles clashed with Russians, which in 1920 led to the Polish-Soviet Russian War. Above all lay the Russian civil war, in which the Bolsheviks and their "white" opponents struggled for power. The conflict claimed eight million deaths by 1922, almost as many as the entire First World War. With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the reorganization of the entire Middle East was also on the agenda, which attracted a large number of interested parties.

So much more was negotiated in Paris than just weakening Germany. The borders of Europe and Asia Minor were redrawn. Regardless of what the victorious powers might decide, there was no amicable solution in sight, as it was impossible to separate the ethnic groups in East Central Europe from one another. In addition, the victorious powers had to be primarily concerned with forming viable states and by no means with realizing the right of peoples to self-determination everywhere. Wilson had made this clear long before the armistice. And the "self-determination of the nations" was only one aspect among several - such as the economic viability of a state. It is obvious that all those involved always interpreted the right to self-determination in their favor - and in the process deliberately overlooked the fact that Wilson had a completely different understanding of this principle. Ultimately, he understood this to mean "bourgeois self-determination" in the sense of democracy and democratization, as he believed that democracies were in principle more peaceful than other political systems. Many, especially the Germans, were not aware of this Wilsonian interpretation.

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Results of the Russian Civil War

The Bolsheviks wanted to turn the still predominantly agrarian Russia into a modern industrial society, albeit not a capitalist one, but a different, socialist one. [...] The attempt to implement them immediately under the conditions of the civil war ended in chaos and violence.
The first years of Soviet rule brought no progress, but death, destruction and a regression to earlier forms of social organization: seven to eight million people were killed, another five million fell victim to the famine that followed the civil war, and two million emigrated. The constitutional and administrative structures that the late tsarist empire had begun to establish were radically destroyed, the political elites were extensively exchanged, and the approaches to civil society that had existed since 1905 were swept aside. Authoritative discipline and tutelage were to characterize Soviet rule for the next 70 years. [...]

Revolution and civil war created economic chaos. Entrepreneurs, managers and skilled workers fled or were expelled from the factories and factories, workers and unskilled Bolshevik officials took control, and factories were destroyed in the course of the war. Production largely came to a standstill, the money economy collapsed, and economic relations fell back to the level of exchange in kind. The country was devastated in an unprecedented manner in the civil war. Hunger and epidemics decimated the population. Streams of refugees moved through the country. Even the largest cities were in an indescribable condition, as a report from May 1919 illustrates: "In all of Moscow all shops except a few grocery stores are closed. The tram does not work. The streets are not cleaned of dirt and snow. The public toilets are Soiled and nailed up; that's why all the squares, gardens, gates and courtyards are filthy with rubbish and dung. Horse and dog carcasses lie on the streets behind the garden ring. The sidewalks are under water that freezes at night. [...] Man meets starving and madmen. On Tverskaya Street, in Cˇernyšov Street, we came across a child's corpse that had been torn to pieces by ravens. "

Because of the collapsing supply, the cities were temporarily depopulated as people fled to the countryside, where they could get food more easily. Many workers still had connections in the village so they could hide with their relatives. In 1921, however, the misery also worsened in the villages. In times of need there was robbery, murder and plunder. The reports from contemporary witnesses evoke images as we know them today from the Congo: corpses on the streets, rampant violent crime, hosts of homeless people and neglected children. Around seven million orphaned children and adolescents roamed the country in gangs, spent the night in train stations or on the open streets, ate rubbish or lived off begging, prostitution, theft and robbery. [...]
The civil war had far-reaching consequences in terms of the history of mentality and collective biography. The young people of this time were supposed to act as inhuman henchmen of the Stalinist terror in the 1930s and kill fellow citizens as an everyday act. Large parts of the population were traumatized by the civil war and its effects. Others who fought within it learned to perceive their own reality in a very specific way, namely as encircled by enemies against whom one had to fight at gunpoint, which one had to kill. The image of the outside shifted to the enemy within, which resulted in black and white thinking and a permanent classification of people into "friend" and "enemy". The medium-term mental result for those who joined the Bolsheviks was radical militancy, the glorification of struggle and violence, a desire to prove oneself in the struggle against internal and external enemies. These are the effects of the Civil War that reappeared in the 1930s, when the generation that saw their youth and rise during the Civil War had advanced to middle and senior positions.

Dietmar Neutatz, dreams and nightmares. A history of Russia in the 20th century, C. H. Beck Verlag Munich 2013, page 168 ff.



Effects of the Paris suburb contracts

On the individual provisions of the five Paris subcontracts (on June 28, 1919 in Versailles with Germany, on September 10, 1919 in St. Germain with Austria, on November 27, 1919 in Neuilly with Bulgaria, on June 4, 1920 in Trianon with Hungary , on August 10, 1920 in Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire) cannot be entered here. On Versailles only this much: the conditions were not far-reaching enough for a hard peace, but they were too far-reaching for a compromise peace.

The result was an unfortunate mean thing with which the winners and the vanquished were equally dissatisfied: In Germany, the struggle against "Versailles" was the only common denominator in society - which is not emphasized enough in view of the deep divide between left and right political forces in the Weimar Republic can be. The defeat was not accepted as final. In particular, many military personnel were permeated with the idea of ​​doing "better" next time.

In Hungary, too, it was clear that the Trianon peace would never be accepted - after all, a third of the Hungarian people now lived outside the Hungarian state.

But that's not all. Sèvres was certainly the toughest of all the Paris peace treaties. While Germany was de facto preserved as a great power, Turkey was reduced to a barely viable rump state at the expense of the Greeks, Armenians, British, French and Italians. There was massive resistance very soon, and after the victory of Turkish troops against the Greeks, renegotiations took place.

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Greco-Turkish conflict

With British approval, Greek troops landed in Smyrna in May 1919 - a big step towards the realization […] of a Greater Greece on both sides of the Aegean. Outwardly, Greece legitimized the expansion to the east with the existence of a strong Greek minority in western Asia Minor and the restoration of public order. [...]
In 1921, with renewed British approval, the Greek Army moved into interior Anatolia, where it left a trail of devastation. [...] This colonial war in terms of its objectives and execution provoked energetic resistance. [...] In August 1921, Kemal Pasha defeated the Greek army 70 kilometers from Ankara. Then not only the Greek troops, but almost all Christian civilians fled the counter-offensive. On the one hand, they feared a fate like that of the Armenians in 1915, on the other hand, the scorched earth tactic left them with little choice when the army withdrew. [...]
When the Turkish troops marched into Smyrna / Izmir in September 1922, hundreds of thousands of refugees had already arrived there. With the invasion, riots began, in which paramilitary units took part. Women were raped, people were killed in the street, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Chrysostom was lynched. [...]
The tragic climax of the Greco-Turkish war was the great fire of Smyrna, which destroyed the Greek and Armenian quarters. [...]
As a result of the refugee drama, the international community decided to intervene. The great powers sent ships to take in refugees and bring them to Greece, and at the beginning of October, through the Allied High Commissioner in Istanbul, sounded out whether the Turkish government would agree to a population exchange. Turkey finally agreed to a peace conference led by the great powers in neutral Switzerland and an immediate ceasefire. [...]

The signatory countries and powers legitimized the Treaty of Lausanne as "true pacification". In addition, the participating states argued, in order to exonerate them morally, that Lausanne had merely confirmed a mass exodus. In fact, the resolutions broadened the arena of ethnic cleansing. Although the Greco-Turkish war only affected western Asia Minor, the agreement covered areas far away from the fighting, such as along the Black Sea coast and in the Anatolian highlands. Only Western Thrace and Istanbul were spared from the "population exchange", from which, besides the Greeks, especially the Armenians in the then capital of Turkey benefited. [...]
A total of 700,000 people only lost their homes after the conclusion of the Lausanne Agreement. When the news about the outcome of the conference spread in Greece and Turkey, the minorities affected responded with protests and demonstrations. As tense as the situation might be, very few people apparently wanted to leave their home and their belongings behind. The resistance did not help, however, because the Lausanne Agreement stipulated the compulsory nature and non-exception of migration.
Although the agreement was initially intended to primarily help the refugees, the humanitarian situation did not improve in many areas. Before being transported away, the refugees were often mistreated and robbed. Contrary to all technocratic optimism, there were no ships on the Black Sea coast for transport in 1923. In Greece there was a lack of camps and accommodation for reception. [...]
There are no reliable numbers of victims of the Greco-Turkish war and the associated ethnic cleansing, but according to official Greek statistics, 75,000 people died of malnutrition, epidemics and epidemics after arriving in "their" national state alone. During the war, the number of victims among the refugees is likely to have been significantly higher. [...] [T] he "population exchange" sanctioned in Lausanne [was] total, apart from the exceptions in Istanbul and Western Thrace. From then on Turkey was considered a homogeneous nation-state, in Macedonia the Greek population increased from 43 percent in 1913 to almost 90 percent in 1926. [...]

Philipp Ther, The dark side of nation states. "Ethnic cleansing" in modern Europe, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, page 96 ff.



In the Peace of Lausanne in 1923, Turkey's national borders, which are still valid today, were established.This treaty was important not only because a loser in World War I revised the peace conditions negotiated in Paris, but also because it was followed by the expulsion of 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor and 500,000 Turks from Greece, which was accompanied by numerous massacres. In a climate of violence it no longer seemed possible for both peoples to live peacefully side by side.

Horrified by the harsh terms of the Paris Peace Accords, the US Congress refused President Wilson's approval. The USA withdrew politically - if not economically - from European politics. In France they were bitterly disappointed at the lost peace. Is that what the country should have bled for? Accordingly, Paris aimed to get even more out of it and still secretly enforce the Rhine border. When this did not succeed, large parts of society fell into a deep resignation after 1923, which in turn had an effect on politics. This development was one reason for the passive French foreign policy of the 1930s and ultimately for the defeat of 1940.

It is also important to mention that as a result of the Peace of St. Germain, the social division in Italy intensified: In view of the 460,000 dead, the neutralists felt confirmed in their rejection of the war, while the supporters of the war wanted the spoils of victory, for example saw the city of Fiume and land gains on the Adriatic coast, betrayed. The breeding ground for Mussolini's takeover in 1922 was laid.

The greatest weakness of the Paris Treaties and the League of Nations that emerged from them was undoubtedly that - unlike the Congress of Vienna in 1815 - they did not create a basis for a stable state system. Soviet Russia stood apart, and soon the United States too. Above all, the losers of the world war were excluded for the time being. So it was only a partial order of Western and Central Europe, which was under constant pressure to revise from small and large powers.

Despite this devastating record, the Paris suburb contracts were better than their reputation. One is too tempted to look at them from the perspective of the 1930s and not - as is actually necessary - from the time of the First World War. In 1919/20 the divided victorious powers were faced with the challenge of creating a stable peace order in a climate of distrust and aversion to unstable states. No masterpiece could come out of it. The future had to show how flexible the system would be, whether it would evolve further in order to at least alleviate the injustices to the extent that the states of Europe could find a lasting coexistence.