John Maynard Keynes pictured in the 1920s.
December 12 1919, London–British Economist John Maynard Keynes had worked in the Treasury for much of the war, and had assisted at the negotiations in Paris, before quitting in the final weeks of the conference. Since then, he had been organizing his criticism of the Versailles treaty into a book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, drawing heavily from memoranda he wrote during the conference.
Keynes heavily criticized the Allied treatment of Germany after the Armistice, and the Allies’ lack of consideration for a rebuilding of Europe’s economy after the war. Instead of reopening European trade that had been disrupted with the outbreak of war, the blockade of Germany lasted until after the peace had been signed, and the peace terms only reinforced trade barriers between Germany and the Allies. Keynes believed the reparations on Germany were far too harsh, forming part of a “Carthaginian peace” intending to destroy the enemy. He laid the blame for these reparations, somewhat unfairly, almost entirely at the hands of the French. Germany would be unable to reasonably pay the reparations, crippling her economy and causing widespread resentment–especially since the final treaty bore little resemblance, in Keynes’ view, to the outline of a peace based on the Fourteen Points hoped for in October and November 1918.
Keynes included scathing critiques of Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau, though much of the criticism of Lloyd George was omitted from the first edition, on the recommendation of Asquith.
Largely focused on the Big Three and economic questions, Keynes paid little attention to other major issues–including Central and Eastern Europe, German disarmament, and the League of Nations. Nevertheless, the book proved extremely popular and influential, doing much to shape world opinion of the treaty in interwar years and beyond, especially in Britain, America, and Germany, and it has never left print to this day.
Sources include: Gregor Dallas, 1919: War and Peace; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.