Questions about the Versailles Treaty

You wouldn’t expect discussion of war crimes tribunals in a thread about the Treaty of Versailles.

I think there was some Allied investigation into alleged ill-treatment of POWs after WW1 - while I was researching in the National Archives for anything to do with the Turkish POW camps my uncle died in, there was a reference to some official body investigating the conduct of German doctors there.

But of course there hadn’t been anything on the egregious scale of what the Nazis were to do, particularly against civilians, and a lot of atrocity stories were being dismissed as exaggerated propaganda quite soon after the war.

That’s because the concept of war crimes wasn’t very well developed at the time of WW1. International law of armed conflicts at the time was still based on the traditional concept of combatant’s privilege - the rule that in a war, soldiers are legally allowed to kill, and that they may not subsequently be prosecuted for that. The rule still applies, but only if the killing occurred in hostilities conducted in accordance with the accepted rules of war. Such rules existed at the time of WW1 (especially in the form of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907), but the idea of translating them into tangible criminal liability for individuals hadn’t won much ground yet.

The Belgian atrocity stories were exaggerated, but they were far from baseless either, and by even 1945 standards there was plenty of culpability.
Of course the fact that the German state still existed, and that it was united in hostility to the settlement that was imposed on it, ensured that the Germans weren’t going to cooperate in finding, or effectively punishing, the persons responsible.

Here’s an interesting side-detail I read about many years ago: At Versailles, a young diplomat from French Indo-China came to argue for independence for his people. That being a minor issue compared to the major issues at hand, he was basically ignored.

That young diplomat was Ho Chi Minh, arguing for independence for the land that later became Viet Nam. But at the time, French Indo-China remained a French colony, setting in motion the later fights for independence and ultimately leading to American intervention in what became the Viet Nam War.

The language of the treaty is a maddening hard point to pin down, but I think this second image from top on a page shows signatures under English text. That doesn’t preclude a second set of signatures on a French-language text but I haven’t seen any evidence of that.

Another site featuring European newspaper coverage of the treaty, reports that “The Bozner Nachrichten also reported a small detail, which might look rather strange for us nowadays, namely that the proceedings were not only held in French, as common in diplomatic circles of the time, but also in English.”

A quick note on the sideline here on debt repudiation. A British song set to “Yankee Doodle” includes:

Yankee has some public works,
Well he may parade them,
English money paid for all,
And Irish labour made them.

Then hey for Yankee Doodle’s luck,
And for Annexation;
Hey for Yankee Doodle’s pluck
And for Repudiation.

This was a specific comment on US debt repudiation. It was also an issue after the Civil War, more complicated because the rebel states were repudiating and the federal government was keen to insist it had nothing to do with it.

The Versailles Treaty was concluded in both English and French, and both versions are equally authentic. The treaty itself says so im the final provisions after the last article and before the signatures: Treaty of Versailles/Protocol - Wikisource, the free online library

Good find. Thanks.