Learning Curve, The Great War
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Transcript: Source3
Comments of the German leaders on the draft terms of the Treaty of Versailles, 7 May 1919
(Catalogue ref: FO 374/19)
Source 3a

Count Brockdorff-Rantzau's Speech.

(Translation.)

Gentlemen,
WE are deeply impressed with the lofty character of the task which has brought us together, namely, to give the world a speedy and enduring peace. We cherish no illusions as regards the extent of our defeat, the degree of our impotence. We know that the might of German arms is broken. We know the force of the hatred which confronts us here, and we have heard the passionate demand that the victors should both make us pay as vanquished and punish us as guilty. …

We are required to admit that we alone are war-guilty; such an admission from my lips would be a lie. We are far from seeking to exonerate Germany from all responsibility for the fact that this world war broke out and was waged as it was. The attitude of the former German Government at The Hague Peace Conferences, their actions and omissions in the tragic twelve days of July, may have contributed to the calamity, but we emphatically combat the idea that Germany, whose people were convinced that they were waging a defensive war, bears the sole guilt. …

Source 3b

Public opinion in all the countries of our adversaries is echoing with the crimes which Germany is alleged to have committed during the war. Here, again, we are ready to acknowledge wrong which has been done. We have not come here to belittle the responsibility of the men who controlled the political and military conduct of the war, and to disown breaches of international law which have actually been committed. We repeat the declaration which was made in the German Reichstag at the beginning of the war: wrong has been done to Belgium and we wish to redress it.

But again, in regard to the method in which the war was conducted, Germany was not alone at fault. Every European nation knows of deeds and persons on whose memory its best citizens are reluctant to dwell. I do not wish to answer reproaches with reproaches, but if it is from us that penance is demanded, then the armistice must not be forgotten. Six weeks passed before we obtained it, and six months before we learnt your conditions of peace. Crimes in war may not be excusable, but they are committed in the struggle for victory, in anxiety to preserve national existence, in a heat of passion which blunts the conscience of nations. The hundreds of thousands of non-combatants who have perished since the 11th November through the blockade were killed with cold deliberation, after victory had been won and assured to our adversaries. Think of that, when you speak of guilt and atonement. …


Source 3c

The German nation is earnestly prepared to accommodate itself to its hard lot, provided the agreed principles of peace remain unshaken. A peace which cannot be defended in the name of justice before the whole world would continually call forth fresh resistance. No one could sign it with a clear conscience, for it would be impossible of fulfilment. No one could undertake the guarantee of fulfilment which its signature would imply.

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