Review of "Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World"
Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World
By: Margaret MacMillan
Throughout Margaret MacMillan’s book, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, the author explores the post-World War One environment in Europe through the eyes of a French, British, and American perspective. By focusing primarily upon the experiences and viewpoints of Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson throughout the Paris Peace Conference, MacMillan offers an interesting vantage point into the lives of the various actors and nations involved in the talks. In doing so, the author illustrates the many complex issues and debates that arose as a result of the different and often opposing ideologies each nation had in regard to postwar Europe. More than offering up points of comparison, however, the author’s main goal in Paris 1919 is to debunk some of the myths that surround the Treaty of Versailles, as well as to demonstrate some of the more long-lasting effects of the talks that are still relevant across European society today.
MacMillan's Main Points
Of particular interest in this book is MacMillan’s attempt to debunk the traditional view held by historians that the Second World War was a direct consequence of the peace talks in Paris. As her work clearly demonstrates, this assessment is far too simplified and does not take into effect Hitler’s aggressive, racist, and over-ambitious mindset during the 1930s. As she states: “Hitler did not wage war because of the Treaty of Versailles…he found its existence a godsend for his propaganda” (MacMillan, 493).
She goes on to explain that “even if Germany had been left with its old borders, even if it had been allowed whatever military forces it wanted, even if it had been permitted to join with Austria, he [Hitler] would have wanted more” (MacMillan, 493). This is a particularly interesting point because it portrays the origins of World War Two in a manner that goes against accepted ideology and serves as a great counterpoint to traditional historiographical interpretations already in existence.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, MacMillan's work also explores the social and ethnic dimensions of the Paris Peace talks as well. Her work serves to demonstrate that ethnic conflicts of the late twentieth-century (and today’s world) can all trace their roots to the Paris Peace talks of 1919. By not taking into account the diversity of Europe's numerous populations, MacMillan asserts that the main actors behind the negotiations sought to divide Europe into spheres and boundaries that largely ignored the racial tensions of their day. As a result, their carelessness served to bolster hatred and animosity in the years that followed, and culminated into a century of conflict and destruction on a scale never before seen.
MacMillan’s book is both informative and compelling with its overall approach to the Paris Peace Conference. MacMillan's arguments are clear and concise, and leaves no room for doubt as to what her main focal points will be. However, one of the weaknesses of MacMillan’s book is that her argument(s) are not entirely persuasive. This is particularly true when considering the issue of Hitler and the Second World War. One cannot help but question the veracity of her argument due to the connections that clearly exist between Versailles and Hitler's rise to power. Thus, is it safe to dismiss the Treaty of Versailles entirely in regard to its impact on WWII? The fact that Hitler used the treaty for propaganda purposes shows that its impact was clearly detrimental to the German people since it gave Hitler a great opportunity to rally his people around a strong, racist, revenge-driven mindset in the years that followed.
Even with this small shortcoming, I give this book 4/5 Stars and highly recommend it to those interested in a history of diplomacy, post-war politics, and the interwar years of the early Twentieth Century.
Questions for Discussion
1.) Was Germany punished too severely for its actions in World War One? If so, how could the situation have been handled differently by the peacemakers in Paris?
2.) Did the situation unraveling in Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution play a role in how the Paris Peace talks proceeded?
3.) What is MacMillan's target audience for this work?
4.) How are the other peace treaties presented in this book? Does MacMillan focus too much on the Treaty of Versailles?
Suggestions for Further Reading
Andelman, David. A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today. Hoboken, New Jersey: J. Wiley, 2008.
Elcock, Howard. Portrait of a Decision: The Council of Four and the Treaty of Versailles. London: Methuen Publishing, 1972.
Lansing, Robert. The Big Four and Others of the Peace Conference. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921.
Mee, Charles. The End of Order, Versailles 1919. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1980.
Sharp, Alan. The Versailles Settlement: Peacemaking in Paris, 1919. London: Macmillan, 1991.
History.com Staff. "Treaty of Versailles." History.com. 2009. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/treaty-of-versailles
MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House, 2001).