For the past few blog posts, I have been chronicling a bit of the tour my husband and I made of World War I battlefields in Belgium and France. It was a sobering experience. Though most historians believe the US entrance into the war in 1917 really made the difference for the Allies- and I would concur- all the fighting happened “over there.” The US lost about 110,000 men dead- half to disease, half to wounds- certainly significant, but paltry compared to the about 4 MILLION deaths suffered by the Allies and over 3 MILLION by Germany and the other Central Powers. And of course our country was not the one devastated physically by the war. Therefore the war is not much remembered here.
Finally, Germany had to face the failure of a number of offensives in spring and summer 1918, the aggressive Allied offensive of the Meuse-Argonne in September and October 1918, and the seemingly endless ability of the U.S. to bring in new troops against them, and an armistice was agreed to, to begin at the 11th hour of November 11, 1918. After four bloody years, the “Great War” ended.
Our tour, sadly, did not include a trip to the battlefields of the Meuse-Argonne, where the greatest number of American casualties occurred, but we did go to the scene where the peace treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Versailles was begun as a hunting lodge in 1624 by the French king Louis XIII, but vastly expanded and used as his main palace by Louis XIV, then by his successors Louis XV and XVI through the 18th century. Of course the French Revolution of 1789 brought the reign of French kings to an end for a while, but the palace was reoccupied, renovated and further expanded by King Louis Philippe, who was King of France from 1830-1848.
Hall of Mirrors, site of the signing of the treaty of Versailles ending World War I
Painting of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the room above
Versailles is one of the must-see places on a tour of Paris- it is just outside the city- and has to be one of the most crowded museums I have ever been in. It’s pretty hard to imagine life there, or the atmosphere of the signing of the Treaty ending World War I while surrounded by so many tourists! The opulence is overwhelming. But in the end it is worth the trip.
The Treaty ending “The War to End all Wars” dictated harsh terms to the defeated Germans- in terms of reparations to be paid, land to be ceded, and limitations on its military. It also established the League of Nations. Many historians say that the harsh treaty made World War II all but inevitable.