One hundred years later, World War I still provokes confusion and controversy. Scholars can’t even agree on who started the war, with major books accusing Russia,France, Britain, and Austria and Germany. If no one knows who started it, everyone agrees how it ended: A vengeful France and Britain imposed massive and unpayable reparations on Germany resulting in the collapse of the German economy and the rise of the Nazi Party.
This view owes its popularity to none other than economist John Maynard Keynes. Before he was duking it out with Friedrich Hayek over questions of recession and economic stimulus, Keynes served as a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference. Frustrated that he failed to find support for his proposals to rebuild the European economy, Keynes resigned halfway through the conference and wrote a book entitled “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” in which he argued that the Versailles Treaty was a “Carthaginian Peace” which would impoverish Germany and Europe, leading to another war. It rapidly became a bestseller in Europe and America, leading to disillusion with the treaty in the English-speaking world.
It’s a good time to challenge conventional wisdom on the war, and that includes asking: Was the Versailles Treaty really so unfair, and did it actually cause World War II?
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