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Nobody could deny that the terms of peace were severe to the point of harshness, and that in certain instances, such as the seizure of the German cables and the exclusion, at least for a time, of Germany from the League of Nations, they might seem unjust. Yet this severity was applauded, and this seeming injustice excused, because nobody was convinced that there had been any real change of heart in the German people; they regretted the war only because they lost it. They were paying for all the political duplicity that they had so ardently defended for five years, from the invasion of Belgium to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Had they kept faith even in the matter of Russia, that alone would have given them some of the standing in court that was now universally denied them. In the hour of her extremity, Germany's official protests against the severity of the peace terms therefore fell on deaf ears. The world regarded them as only another form of the German propaganda with which everybody had become familiar. Nobody was quite sure whether the German Government at heart regarded the provisions of the treaty as impossible of fulfilment, or whether this was not a new example of German camouflage. Therein lay the real tragedy of Germany. A great nation had waged war in such manner that it had become an object of universal distrust, and even when its autocracy was swept away, that distrust still ran through the Entente world at flood-tide. Men took it for granted that German diplomacy was again playing its old game with loaded dice, and all efforts on the part of German officials to excite sy thy with their cause were fruitless because nobody believed in their sincerity. The German mark, which had recovered to forty-seven francs per hundred, fell on the publication of the peace terms to thirty-seven, and all shades of bonds connected with German enterprises dropt proportionately in price. By September the mark was worth less than four cents in gold.
The German reply and counter-proposals to the conditions of peace laid down to them at Versailles on May 7 were made public on June 15 in a note covering 119 pages. The Germans maintained that the Allied and Associated Powers had forsaken the peace of justice to which they solemnly pledged themselves in the armistice negotiations and had offered a peace of might, in which all the principles quoted from the speeches of statesmen among the Allied and Associated Powers had been violated. Germany demanded immediate admission to the League of Nations in part fulfilment of the spirit of the armistice agreement and as necessary for the acceptance of the proposed military, naval, and air terms. Germany profest to be wholly unable to accept the Reparations Commission set up by the Allies as involving an infringement of her sovereignty, but proposed a cooperative German commission to work alongside it. She
accepted responsibility only for civilian losses in occupied Belgium and France and agreed to a maximum payment of 100,000,000,000 marks, provided the other terms as to colonies, overseas trade, and territories were accepted as she proposed. She refused to sanction the trial of the former Kaiser or to accede to his extradition from Holland, on the ground that no German could be brought before a foreign court without established law or legal basis. Similarly, she could not agree to extradite other Germans accused of violations of the laws and customs of war. Instead, she proposed a court of neutrals to judge the fact of crime, punishment to remain with the court.
A letter covering the Entente's reply to this plea from Ger
many for what she called “a peace of justice," was signed by M. Clémenceau, President of the Peace Conference, and addrest to Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau, President of the German delegation. It contained the following passages that were widely praised in Entente circles at the time:
“The Allied and Associated Powers feel it necessary to begin their reply by a clear statement of the judgment of the world, which has been forged by practically the whole of civilized mankind. In the view of
the Allied and Associated Powers the war which began on the 1st of August, 1914, was the greatest crime against humanity and the freedom of the peoples that any nation calling itself civilized has ever consciously committed. For many years the rulers of Germany, true to the Prussian tradition, strove for a position of dominance in Europe. They were not satisfied with that growing prosperity and influence to which Germany was entitled, and which all other nations were willing to accord her, or the society of a free and equal position.
“They required that they should be able to dictate and tyrannize over a subservient Europe, as they dictated and tyrannized over a subservient Germany. In order to attain their ends they used every channel through which to educate their own subjects in the doctrine that might was right in international affairs. They never ceased to expand German armaments by land and sea, and to propagate the falsehood that it was necessary because Germany's neighbors were jealous of her prosperity and power. She sought to sow hostility and suspicion instead of friendship between nations.
“They developed a system of espionage and intrigue through which they were enabled to stir up international rebellion and unrest, and even to make secret offensive preparations within the territory of their neighbors, whereby they might, when the moment came, strike them down with greater certainty and ease. They kept Europe in a ferment by threats of violence, and when they found that their neighbors were resolved to resist their arrogant will they determined to assert their predominance in Europe by force.
“As soon as their preparations were complete, they encouraged a subservient ally to declare war on Serbia at forty-eight hours' notice, a war involving the control of the Balkans, which they knew could not be localized and which was bound to unchain a general war. In order to make doubly sure, they refused every attempt at conciliation and conference until it was too late and the world war was inevitable for which they had plotted, and for which alone among the nations they were adequately prepared.
“Germany's responsibility, however, is not confined to having planned and started the war. She is no less responsible for the savage and inhuman manner in which it was conducted. Altho Germany was herself a quarantor of Belgium, the rulers of Germany violated their solemn promise to respect the neutrality of this unoffending people. Not content with this, they deliberately carried out a series of promiscuous shootings and burnings with the sole object of terrifying the inhabitants into submission by the very frightfulness of their action.
“They were the first to use poisonous gas, notwithstanding the appal. ling suffering it entailed. They began the bombing and long-distance shelling of towns for no military object, but solely for the purpose of reilucing the morale of their opponents by striking at their women and children. They commenced the submarine campaign, with its pirati. cal challenge to international law and its destruction of great numbers of innocent passengers and sailors in mid-ocean, far from succor, at the mercy of the winds and waves, and the yet more ruthless submarine
crews. They drove thousands of men and women and children with brutal savagery into slavery in foreign lands. They allowed barbarities to be practised against their prisoners of war from which the most uncivilized people would have recoiled.
“The conduct of Germany is almost unexampled in human history. The terrible responsibility which lies at her doors can be seen in the fact that not less than 7,000,000 dead lie buried in Europe, while more than 20,000,000 others carry upon them the evidence of wounds and suffering, because Germany saw fit to gratify her lust for tyranny by a resort to war. The Allied and Associated Powers believe that they will be false to those who have given their all to save the freedom of the world if they consent to treat the war on any other basis than as a crime against humanity and right. Not to do justice to all concerned would only leave the world open to fresh calamities. If the German people themselves, or any other nation, are to be deterred from following the footsteps of Prussia; if mankind is to be lifted out of the belief that war for selfish ends is legitimate to any State; if the old era is to be left behind, and nations as well as individuals are to be brought beneath the reign of law, even if there is to be early reconciliation and appeasement, it will be because those responsible for concluding the war have had the courage to see that justice is not deflected for the sake of a convenient peace.
“It is said that the German revolution ought to make a difference, and that the German people are not responsible for the policy of the rulers whom they have thrown from power. The Allied and Associated Powers recognize and welcome the change. It represents great hope for peace and a new European order in the future, but it can not affect the settlement of the war itself.
“The German revolution was stayed until the German armies had been defeated in the field and all hope of profiting by a war of conquest had vanished. Throughout the war, as before the war, the Ger. man people and their representatives supported the war, voted the credits, subscribed to the war loans, obeyed every order, however savage, of their Government. They shared the responsibility for the policy of their Government, for at any moment, had they willed it, they could have reversed it.
“Had that policy succeeded they would have acclaimed it with the same enthusiasm with which they welcomed the outbreak of the war. They can not now pretend, having changed their rulers after the war was lost, that it is justice that they should escape the consequences of their deeds. The Allied and Associated Powers, therefore, believe that the peace they have proposed is fundamentally a peace of justice. They are no less certain that it is a peace of right on the terms agreed.”
In the reply itself it was stated that the Powers could not "entrust the trial of those responsible for the war to those who have been their accomplices.” The tribunals for the trial would represent the deliberate judgment of the greater part of the civilized world,
and there could be no question of admitting the right of jurisdiction of representatives of countries which took no part in the
The Allies, it was declared, would stand by the verdict of history for the impartiality and justice with which the accused would be tried. The accused would be insured full rights to defense and the judgment of the tribunal would have the most solemn judicial character. The demand for the trial of the Kaiser, regardless of what its results might be, was in part based on other grounds than those commonly urged. There was more to the matter than the bare question of whether the Hohenzollern was to be punished. The world needed the fullest inquiry into the exact circumstances surrounding the decision of the German Government to launch the war. Much had been revealed—enough to warrant general conclusions—but many details were covered and others had been contradicted. The best way to obtain them was to try the Kaiser who was the center of information. At his trial the truth could be extracted concerning what went on in Berlin in July, 1914, for the truth existed in documents and witnesses, altho unwilling, could be induced to tell what they knew. Particularly was this desirable for its possible effect on the German people. To charges, deductions, arguments, general probabilities, they had thus far been blind, but their eyes might be opened when a narrative was made concrete and so another effort to open them was at least worth making.
In conclusion, the Allied and Associated Powers said “they must make it clear that this letter and the memorandum attached constitute their last word.” They believed the treaty as drafted was "not only a just settlement of the war, but that it provided the basis upon which the peoples of Europe can live together in friendship and equality.” It was frankly “not based upon a general condonation of the events of the 1914-1918 period. It would not be a peace of justice if it were. But it represented a sincere and deliberate attempt to establish that "reign of law based upon the consent of the governed and the organized opinion of mankind” which President Wilson in 1918 had declared to be the Entente purpose for further prosecution of the war.
After a brief reference to a long memorandum from the German delegation in which it was sought to show that, in the pre-war crisis Germany tried to induce moderation on the part of Austria, the reply stated that there was nothing in the memorandum to shake conviction that the immediate cause of the war “was the decision, deliberately taken by those responsible for the German policy in Berlin and their confederates in Vienna and Budapest to impose a solution of a European question upon the nations of Europe by a