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William L. Shirer 1961

William Lawrence Shirer (February 23, 1904 – December 28, 1993) was an American journalist, war correspondent, and historian, who wrote "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" a groundbreaking history of Nazi Germany which has been widely read and cited in scholarly works for over fifty years. Originally a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Shirer was the first reporter hired by Edward R. Murrow for what would become a storied team of journalists for CBS radio. Shirer became famous for his broadcasts from Berlin, from the rise of the Nazi dictatorship through the first year of World War II. With Murrow, Shirer organized the first broadcast world news roundup, a format still followed by major news broadcasts. Shirer's other books include Berlin Diary (published in 1941), The Collapse of the Third Republic which drew on his experience spent living and working in France from 1925 to 1933, and his three volume autobiography, "Twentieth Century Journey."


Early years

Born in Chicago in 1904, Shirer attended Washington High School and Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He graduated from Coe in 1925. Working his way to Europe on a cattle boat, intending to spend the summer there, he remained in Europe for the next fifteen years.

He was European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune from 1925 to 1932, covering assignments in Europe, the Near East and India. In India he formed a close friendship with Mohandas K. Gandhi. Shirer lived and worked in France for several years beginning in 1925. He left in the early 1930s but returned frequently to Paris throughout the decade. He lived and worked in the Third Reich from 1934 to 1940.

In 1931, Shirer married Theresa Stiberitz, an Austrian photographer. The couple had two daughters, Inga and Linda. Shirer and his wife divorced in 1970, and he married Irina Lugovskaya, a long-time teacher of Russian at Simon's Rock College. Shirer and Irina had no children.

Pre-war years

As a print journalist first and later as a radio reporter for CBS, Shirer covered the strengthening of one-party rule in Nazi Germany beginning in 1934. Shirer reported on Adolf Hitler's peacetime triumphs like the return of the Saarland to Germany and the remilitarization of the Rhineland.

Shirer was hired in 1934 for the Berlin bureau of the Universal News Service, which was one of William Randolph Hearst's two wire services. In Berlin Diary, Shirer described this move, in a self-proclaimed bad pun, as going from “bad to Hearst”. When Universal Service folded in August 1937, Shirer was first taken on as second man by Hearst's other wire service, International News Service, and then laid off a few weeks later.

On the very day when Shirer received his two weeks' notice from INS, he also received what was to be a fateful wire from Edward R. Murrow, European manager of Columbia Broadcasting System, suggesting that the two men meet. At their meeting a few days later in Berlin, Murrow commented that he couldn't cover all of Europe from his London office and indicated that he was seeking an experienced correspondent to open a CBS office on the Continent. He offered Shirer the job on the spot, subject to an audition — a "trial broadcast" — to allow the CBS directors and vice presidents in New York to judge whether Shirer's voice was suitable for radio.

In spite of Shirer's fears that his reedy voice was unsuitable for radio, he was hired by CBS. As "European bureau chief" for CBS, Shirer set up headquarters in Vienna, a more central (and more neutral) spot than Berlin. Shirer's job was to arrange broadcasts and, early in his career with CBS, expressed his disappointment at having to hire newspaper correspondents to do the actual broadcasting; at the time, CBS correspondents were prohibited from speaking on the radio themselves.

Shirer was the first of the group that would be called "Murrow's Boys" — the groundbreaking broadcast journalists who provided outstanding news coverage during World War II and afterward.

CBS's prohibition on its correspondents talking on the radio — viewed by both Murrow and Shirer as "absurd" — ended in March 1938. Shirer was in Vienna on March 11, 1938 when the German annexation of Austria (Anschluss), took place after weeks of mounting pressure by Nazi Germany on the Austrian government.

As the only American broadcaster in the Austrian capital at the time — NBC rival Max Jordan was not in town — Shirer had a major scoop, but lacked the facilities to report the momentous events of the Anschluss to his CBS radio audience. He was not permitted to broadcast by occupying German troops controlling the Austrian state radio studio. At Murrow's suggestion, Shirer flew to London via Berlin — he recalled in Berlin Diary that the direct flight to London was filled with Jews frantically trying to escape German-occupied Austria. Once in London, Shirer broadcast the first uncensored eyewitness account of the annexation. Meanwhile, Murrow flew from London to Vienna to cover for Shirer.

The next day, CBS's New York headquarters asked Shirer and Murrow to arrange and produce a "European round-up" — a 30-minute broadcast featuring live reporting from five European capitals — Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Rome, and London. The broadcast, arranged in a mere eight hours using the primitive telephone and broadcasting facilities of the day, was a major feat of journalism. As the first-ever news roundup, this broadcast established a formula used in broadcast journalism to this day. It also turned out to be the genesis of what became the CBS World News Roundup, which still airs on that radio network each morning and evening, and is network broadcasting's oldest news series.

Shirer also reported on the Munich Agreement and Hitler's march into Czechoslovakia before going on to report on the growing tensions between Germany and Poland in 1939 and the German invasion of Poland that launched World War II on September 1, 1939. During much of the pre-war period, Shirer was based in Berlin and attended most of Hitler's major public speeches and other political or propaganda events like several of the massive Nazi party rallies (Reichsparteitage) in Nuremberg.

Reporting the war from Berlin

Shirer, at right, at Compiègne reporting on the French surrender

When active warfare broke out on the Western Front in 1940, Shirer moved forward with the German troops, providing reporting that still gives crucial first hand information on the operation of the German "Blitzkrieg." Shirer reported on the invasion of Denmark and Norway in April from Berlin, and then in person on the invasion of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in May. As German armies closed in on Paris, he traveled to France with the German forces.

In one of the biggest journalistic triumphs of the war, Shirer reported the signing of the German armistice with France on June 22, 1940 to the American people before the news had even been announced by the Germans. His commentary from Compiègne was widely hailed as a masterpiece of reporting. On the day before the armistice was to be signed Hitler personally ordered all of the foreign correspondents covering the German Army from Paris back to Berlin. It was Hitler's intention that the news of the Armistice should be reported to the world solely by Nazi sources. Shirer avoided being returned to Berlin by leaving the press hotel early in the morning and hitching a ride to Compiegne with a German officer who despised Hitler. Once on site, Shirer was able to following the proceedings inside the famous railway car, by listening in to the transmission being relayed to Berlin through a German army communications truck. After the Armistice was signed Shirer was allowed to transmit his own broadcast to Berlin, but only for recording and release after the official Nazi version had been disseminated. However, with a broadcast journalist's instincts, Shirer spent five minutes before he went on calling CBS radio in New York, hoping that the broadcast would somehow get through. In fact it did get through. When the German engineers in Berlin heard Shirer calling New York, they assumed he was authorized to broadcast. Instead of sending his report to a recording machine as they had been ordered to do, they put it on the shortwave transmitter. When CBS heard Shirer's call he was put on the network live. For six hours Shirer's report was the only news the world had of the Compiegne Armistice. [1]

In peacetime, Shirer's reporting was subject only to "self-censorship". He and other reporters in Germany knew that if Nazi officials in Joseph Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry objected to their reporting, they could withdraw the reporters' access to the state-owned broadcasting facilities or expel them from Germany. Still, Shirer's early reporting was permitted more freedom than were German reporters writing or broadcasting for domestic audiences. At the beginning of the war, German officials established censorship; Shirer recalled that the restrictions were similar to wartime censorship elsewhere, and were concerned primarily with restricting information that could be used to Germany's military disadvantage by its enemies.

However, as the war continued and as Britain not only rebuffed Hitler's peace overtures to end the war, but began to bomb German cities (including Berlin), the tightening Nazi censorship became more onerous to Shirer and his colleagues. In contrast to Ed Murrow's live broadcasts of the German bombing of London in the Blitz, foreign correspondents in Germany were not allowed to report British air raids on German cities. Furthermore, reporters were not permitted to cast doubt upon statements made by the Propaganda Ministry and Military High Command. Reporters were discouraged by the Propaganda Ministry from reporting news or from using terms like Nazi that were liable to "create an unfavorable impression." For a time, Shirer resorted to subtler ways of attempting to convey his message until the censors caught on.

As the summer of 1940 progressed, the Nazi government put increasing pressure on Shirer to broadcast the official accounts which he knew were incomplete or false. As his frustration grew, he wrote to his bosses in New York that the tightening censorship was undermining his ability to report objectively in Germany and mused that he had outlived his usefulness reporting from Berlin. Shirer was subsequently tipped off by an acquaintance that the Gestapo was building a case against him, and began making arrangements to leave Germany, which he did in December 1940.

Shirer managed to smuggle his diaries and notes out of Germany and used them as the basis for his Berlin Diary, which provides a first-hand, day-by-day account of events inside the Third Reich during five years of peacetime and one year of war. It was published in 1941.

He returned to Europe to report the Nuremberg trials in 1945.

Post-war years

William L. Shirer and Edward R. Murrow, early 1950s.

The close friendship between Shirer and Murrow ended in 1947, in one of the great confrontations of American broadcast journalism, that culminated in Shirer leaving CBS.

The dispute started when J. B. Williams, maker of shaving soap, withdrew his sponsorship of Shirer's Sunday news show. CBS, through Murrow, who was then vice president for public affairs, and CBS head William S. Paley, decided not to seek another sponsor, moved Shirer's sponsorless program to an undesirable Sunday midday time slot, and decided to stop producing it, all within a month. CBS maintained that Shirer resigned based on a comment that he made in the heat of the moment in an impromptu interview, but Shirer said he was fired [2]

Shirer contended that the root of his troubles was the network and sponsor not standing by him because of his on-air comments, such as those critical of the Truman Doctrine, and what he viewed as an emphasis on placating sponsors instead of on journalism. Shirer blamed Murrow for his departure from CBS, at one time bitterly referring to Murrow as "Paley's toady."

The episode hastened Murrow's own desire to give up his network vice presidency and return to newscasting, and foreshadowed his own later misgivings about the future of broadcast journalism and his own difficulties with CBS founder and chief executive William S. Paley.

Shirer himself briefly provided analysis for the Mutual Broadcasting System, then found himself unable to find regular radio work. His appearance in Red Channels blacklisted him, effectively barring him from broadcasting or print journalism, and he was forced into the lecture circuit for income. Times remained tough for Shirer, his wife Tess and daughters Eileen, Inga, and Linda until Simon & Schuster published his book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in 1960. A best seller for many years, the book went through twenty printings in the first year after publication.

The friendship between Shirer and Murrow never recovered. In her preface to This is Berlin, a compilation of Shirer's Berlin broadcasts published after his death, Shirer's daughter Inga describes how Murrow, suffering from lung cancer that he knew could be terminal, tried to heal the breach with Shirer before his death by inviting the Shirers to his farm in 1964. During this visit, Murrow tried to discuss the breach so as to heal it. Though the two men chatted in a superficially pleasant manner, Shirer stubbornly steered the conversation away from the contentious issues between the two men, and the men never had another opportunity to air their grievances before Murrow died in 1965. Shirer's daughter also writes that, shortly before her father's own death in 1993, he rebuffed her attempts to learn the source of the breach that opened between the two journalists 45 years earlier.

Some strong clues are possibly given in The Nightmare Years (1984), the second volume in Shirer's three-volume memoir, Twentieth Century Journey. In a number of places, Shirer describes the birth and growth of an exceptionally warm and intimate relationship with Murrow in the 1930s. Although his personal reminiscences are wound together with his version of their professional relationship, he emphasizes that he and Murrow were very close friends, as well as colleagues. He does not mention their break at all in this volume. A number of very touching recollections are included. Thus it is somewhat easy to understand that their eventual break in 1947, which was based strictly upon business disagreements, was made especially bitter by the close personal relationship they once had.

Another important aspect of The Nightmare Years is Shirer's description of his and Murrow's three-way relationship with William S. Paley. Shirer says that, in private, he and Murrow were often contemptuous of Paley, and they almost always sided together against him in the 1930s. Thus, when Paley and Murrow ganged up on Shirer in 1947, this was probably another very big shock, although Shirer does not say so explicitly in any of his written work.

Death and legacy

Shirer died in 1993 in Boston. He was 89. [3]

In 2001 a compilation of Shirer's CBS broadcasts from Europe, called This Is Berlin: Reporting from Nazi Germany, 1938-40 (ISBN 1-58567-279-3) was published.



* These 3 books form the 3 volumes of Shirer's autobiography.


  • The Traitor (1950)
  • Stranger Come Home (1954)
  • The Consul's Wife (1956)

Fictionalized versions of Shirer

  • In the 1982 movie Gandhi the composite American Journalist character played by Martin Sheen is said to represent Shirer.[citation needed]
  • William Dreiser, the American reporter who appears in the first part of S. M. Stirling's alternate history WWII novel Marching Through Georgia (1988), is clearly based on Shirer.[citation needed]
  • In the 1989 movie Nightmare Years Shirer is played by Sam Waterston. The TV movie is based on Shirer's bestselling book, "The Nightmare Years" and covers the period from Shirer's arrival in Germany in 1934 until Shirer's fleeing from Berlin in 1940.

See also


  1. ^ Shirer, William L.; The Nightmare Years; Little, Brown, Boston; 1984; pp537-41
  2. ^ William L. Shirer (1990). 20th Century Journey: A Native's Return. Little Brown. 
  3. ^ "William L. Shirer, Author, Is Dead at 89". New York Times. December 29, 1993. "William L. Shirer, the author of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and a foreign correspondent whose pioneering live trans-Atlantic radio broadcasts on the eve of World War II helped inform Americans about Nazi Germany, died yesterday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was 89 years old and lived in Lenox, Mass. His daughter Inga Dean of Lenox said he had been hospitalized since Dec. 5 with heart ailments, The Associated Press reported." 
  4. ^ reprinted by Francis US, New York, 2002. 10-ISBN 0-801-87056-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-801-87056-9

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

William L. Shirer (February 23, 1904 – December 28, 1993) was an American journalist and historian and one of the most famous journalists in the world. He became known for his broadcasts on CBS from the German capital of Berlin during the Third Reich through the first year of World War II.

Shirer first became famous through his account of those years in his Berlin Diary (published in 1941), but his greatest achievement was his 1960 book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. This book of well over 1000 pages is still in print, and is a detailed examination of the Third Reich filled with historical information from German archives captured at the end of the war, along with impressions Shirer gained during his days as a correspondent in Berlin and a denunciation of the evils of Nazism and tyranny. Later in 1969, his work The Collapse of the Third Republic drew on his experience spent living and working in France from 1925 to 1933. This work is filled with historical information about the Battle of France from the secret orders and reports of the French High Command and of the commanding generals of the field. Shirer also used the memoirs, journals, and diaries of the prominent British, French, Italian, Spanish, and French figures in government, Parliament, the Army, and diplomacy.


The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959,1960) by William L. Shirer is the complete story of Adolf Hitler's empire. William Shirer was the CBS radio's foreign correspondent in France and Germany from 1925-1945. This work was extensively researched through the writer's access to captured Nazi documents that escaped destruction during the Nazi defeat in 1945.

Neville Chamberlain's legacy of appeasement to Hitler

"Chamberlain's stubborn, fanatical insistence on giving Hitler what he wanted, his trips to Berchtesgaden and Godesberg and finally the fateful journey to Munich rescued Hitler from his limb and strengthened his position in Europe, in Germany, in the Army, beyond anything that could have been imagined a few weeks before. It also added immeasurably to the power of the Third Reich vis-à-vis the Western democracies and the Soviet Union."

Chamberlain sends a telegram to Hitler

On September 12, 1938 Hitler gave one of his typical, fanatical speeches at Nuremberg. It was regarding the Czech president's refusal to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. Shirer reports:

"Though brutal and bombastic, and dripping with venom against the Czech state and especially against the Czech President, the Fuehrer's speech, made to a delirious mass of Nazi fanatics gathered in the huge stadium on the last night of the party rally, was not a declaration of war. He reserved his decision -- publicly at least, for, as we know from the captured German documents, he had already set October 1 for the attack across the Czech frontier. He simply demanded that the Czech government give "justice" to the Sudeten Germans. If it didn't, Germany would have to see to it that it did.

At eleven o'clock that same night Neville Chamberlain got off an urgent message to Hitler:

In view of the increasingly critical situation I propose to come over at once to see you with a view to trying to find a peaceful solution. I propose to come across by air and am ready to start tomorrow. Please indicate earliest time at which you can see me and suggest place of meeting. I should be grateful for a very early reply.

The surrender that was to culminate in Munich had begun.

Ich bin vom Himmel gefallen!

Shirer reports:

"Good Heavens!" ("Ich bin vom Himmel gefallen!") Hitler exclaimed when he read Chamberlain's message. He was astounded but highly pleased that the man who presided over the destinies of the mighty British empire should come pleading to him, and flattered that a man who was sixty-nine years old and had never travelled in an airplane before should make the long seven hours' flight to Berchtesgaden at the farthest extremity of Germany. Hitler had not had even the grace to suggest a meeting place on the Rhine, which would have shortened the trip by half.


William Shirer writes in his works Berlin Diary and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich that on the morning on September 22, 1938, prior to Hitler's meeting with Neville Chamberlain over the future of Czechoslovakia, "Hitler was in highly nervous state. On the morning of the twenty-second I was having breakfast on the terrace of the Hotel Dressen, where the talks were to take place, when Hitler strode past on his way down to the riverbank to inspect his yacht. He seemed to have a peculiar tic. Every few steps he cocked his right shoulder nervously, his left leg snapping up as he did so. He had ugly, black patches under his eyes. He seemed to be, as I noted in my diary that evening, on the edge of a nervous breakdown. "Teppichfresser!" muttered my German companion, an editor who secretly despised the Nazis. And he explained that Hitler had been in such a maniacal mood over the Czechs the last few days that on more than one occasion he had lost control of himself completely, hurling himself to the floor and chewing the edge of the carpet. Hence the term "carpet eater." The evening before, while talking with some of the party leaders at the Dreesen, I had heard the expression applied to the Fuehrer -- in whispers, of course."


According to William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, on August 22, 1939 the day after the Nazi-Soviet Pact was formed between Hitler and Stalin, Hitler had this to say at his military conference in anticpation of the invasion of Poland:

Four days ago I took a special step which brought it about that Russia announced that yesterday that she is ready to sign. The personal contact with Stalin is established. Now Poland is in the position which I wanted her...A beginning has been made for the destruction of England's hegemony. The way is open for the soldier, now that I have made political preparations.

The way would be open for the soldiers, that is, if Chamberlain didn't pull another Munich. "I am only afraid that some Schweinehund (dirty dog) will make a proposal for mediation."

Hitler's incestuous genealogy and relationship with his niece

"Adolf Hitler was the third son and the fourth of six children of Alois Hitler (born Schicklgruber) (1837–1903), a minor customs official, and Klara Pölzl (1860-1907), his second cousin, and third wife. Alois was born illegitimate and for the first thirty-nine years of his life bore his mother's name, Schicklgruber. The name Hitler appears in the maternal and paternal line. Both Hitler's grandmother on his mother's side and his grandfather on his father's side were named Hitler, or rather variants of it, for the family name was variously written as Hiedler, Huetler, Huettler and Hitler. Because Adolf's mother was his father's second cousin, an episcopal dispensation had to be obtained for the marriage."

"Hitler's native district in the Waldviertel, is a hilly, wooded country of peasant villages and small farms, and though only some fifty miles from Vienna it has a somewhat remote and impoverished air, as if the main currents of Austrian life had passed it by. The inhabitants tend to be dour, like the Czech peasants to the north of them. Intermarriage is common, as in the case of Hitler's parents, and illegitimacy is frequent."

  • pp. 6,7

"In the summer of 1928, Hitler aged 39, was the Nazi party leader, and he fell in love with Geli Raubal, his 20 year old niece, the daughter of his widowed half-sister, Angela Raubal. He took her everywhere, to meetings and conferences, on long walks in the mountains and to the cafés and theaters in Munich. Gossip about the party leader and his beautiful blond niece was inevitable in Munich and throughout Nazi circles in southern Germany. By 1931, some deep rift whose origins and nature have never been fully ascertained grew between them."

"Whatever it was that darkened the love between the uncle and his niece, their quarrels became more violent and at the end of the summer of 1931 Geli announced that she was returning to Vienna to resume her voice studies. Hitler forbade her to go. The next morning Geli Raubal was found shot dead in her room. The coroner reported that a bullet had gone through her chest below the left shoulder and penetrated the heart; it seemed beyond doubt that the shot was self-inflicted. Yet for years afterward in Munich ther was murky gossip that Geli Raubal had been murdered -- by Hitler in a rage, by Himmler to eliminate a situation that had become embarassing to the party. But no credible evidence ever turned up to substantiate such rumors."

  • pp. 131,132

Hitler's decision to destroy Germany

"On March 19, 1945 Hitler issued a general order that all military, industrial, transportation and communication installations as well as all stores in Germany must be destroyed in order to prevent them from falling intact into the hands of the enemy. The measures were to be carried out by the military with the help of the Nazi gauletiers and "commissars for defense." "All directives opposing this," the order concluded, "are invalid."

Germany was to be made one vast wasteland. Nothing was to be left with which the German people might somehow survive their defeat.

Hitler told Albert Speer, the Minister for Armament and War Production:

If the war is lost, the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis for which the people will need to continue a most primitive existence. On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation [Russia]. Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have been killed.

This "scorched earth" directive was followed the next day, on March 23 by an equally monstrous order by Martin Bormann, the Fuehrer's secretary. Speer described it on the stand at Nuremberg: "The Bormann decree aimed at bringing the population to the center of the Reich from both East and West, and the foreign workers and prisoners of war were to be included. These millions of people were to be sent upon their trek on foot. No provisions for their existence had been made, nor could it be carried out in view of the situation. It would have resulted in an unimaginable hunger catastrophe.

And had all the other orders of Hitler and Bormann -- there were a number of supplementary directives -- been carried out, millions of Germans who had escaped with their lives up to then might well have died. Speer tried to summarize for the Nurmeberg court the various "scorched earth" orders. To be destroyed he said were:

"all industrial plants, all important electrical facilities, water works, gas works, food stores and clothing stores; all bridges, all railway and communication installations, all waterways, all ships, all freight cars and all locomotives.

That the German people were spared this final catastrophe was due to -- aside from the rapid advances of the Allied troops, which made the carrying out of such a gigantic demolition impossible -- the superhuman efforts of Speer and a number of Army officers who, in direct disobedience (finally!) of Hitler's orders, raced about the country to make sure that vital communications, plants and stores were not blown up by zealously obedient Army officers and party hacks."

    • pp. 1103,1104

The Collapse of the Third Republic

The Treaty of Guarantee

The Treaty of Guarantee came out of a proposal by Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, at the allied conference of Paris as a compromise to Marshal Ferdinand Foch's insistence that the Franco-German border be pushed back to the Rhine. Foch felt that this new border would prevent another German invasion into France. The Germans had invaded France from across the Rhine five times within a century in 1814, 1815, 1870, 1914, and 1918. Its terms called for solemn guarantees by Britain and America of the French frontier against future German aggression.

Origins at Versailles

Along with Foch, the French Premier, Georges Clemenceau had demanded that Germany's Western border be fixed at the Rhine. Clemenceau relented when the Treaty of Guarantee was proposed. However Foch insisted that the French occupation of the Rhineland was crucial to halting future German aggression.

William L. Shirer in The Collapse of the Third Republic:

"What the French wanted above all else from the peace settlement was a guarantee of their security, and for reasons difficult now to comprehend their chief allies, Great Britain and the United States, never quite understood this -- perhaps because Woodrow Wilson, the American President, and Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, lacked a sure grasp of European history. The French could not ignore that history. They could not forget that since the days of the Huns invaders had broken into their fair country some thirty times from across the Rhine"

German post-WWI strength relative France

The Collapse of the Third Republic:

"What Wilson and Lloyd George failed to see was that the terms of peace which they were hammering out against the dogged resistance of Clemenceau and Foch, while seemingly severe enough, left Germany in the long run relatively stronger than before. Except for the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France in the west and the loss of some valuable industrialized frontier districts to the Poles, form whom the Germans had taken them originally, Germany remained virtually intact, greater in population and industrial capacity than France could ever be, and moreover with her cities, farms, and factories undamaged by the war, which had been fought in enemy lands. In terms of relative power in Europe, Germany's position was actually better in 1919 than in 1914, or would be as soon as the Allied victors carried out their promise to reduce their armaments to the level of the defeated. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had not been the catastrophe for Germany that Bismarck had feared, because there was no Russian empire to take advantage of it. Russia, beset by revolution and civil war, was for the present, and perhaps would be for years to come, impotent. In the place of this powerful country on her eastern border Germany now had small, unstable states which could not seriously threaten her and which one day might easily be made to return former German territory and even made to disappear from the map.

By 1922, General Hans von Seeckt, commander of the German armed forces, was secretly advising his government: "Poland's existence is intolerable, incompatible with the essential conditions of Germany's life. Poland must go and will go". He added that Poland's obliteration "must be one of the fundamental objectives of German policy...With the disappearance of Poland will fall one of the strongest pillars of the Versailles Peace, the hegemony of France."

German post-WWI strength relative former European empires

The Collapse of the Third Republic:

"There was much idle talk at the Conference of Paris about the disappearance of four mighty empires, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish. But the cynical Clemenceau, at the head of the French delegation knew that the strongest of them remained -- even though it had reluctantly become a Republic. His task at the peace parleys, as he saw it, was to see that Germany was permanently weakened, or, if this could not be achieved, confronted for at least a generation with an Allied coalition which, having won the war, would keep the peace by guarding France's northeastern border to make sure that any future invasion from across the Rhine would be met with overwhelming force.

Prodded by the implacable Foch, Clemenceau at first demanded that Germany's western border be fixed at the Rhine, with the French army standing guard on the left bank and the German population on that side formed into an autonomous state dominated by France. Lloyd George and Wilson would have none of it. "You're trying to create another Alsace-Lorraine," Wilson charged."

Lloyd George's proposal and Foch's protest

Shirer reports:

"Lloyd George suggested a compromise. If France relinquished her claims on the Rhine, Britain and the United States would guarantee France's boundary against future German aggression. Wilson agreed and treaties to that effect were drawn up. Marshall Foch, pressed by the uncompromising Poincaré, (former French Premier), made one last desperate effort to save for France the only natural barrier there was against the hereditary enemy. On March 31, he demanded to be heard in person by the Big Four, Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and the Italian premier, Orlando, who were responsible for drawing up the peace terms.

If we do not hold the Rhine permanently [Foch told them] there is no neutralization, no disarmament, no written clause of any nature, which can prevent Germany from breaking out across it and gaining the upper hand. No aid could arrive in time from England or America to save France from complete defeat.

Britain and the United States reject both the Treaty of Guarantee and Versailles Treaty

"It was a prophetic pronouncement. But Clemenceau gave in. In return for abandoning the Rhine he accepted solemn guarantees of his country's frontier from his two great allies. Neither ally kept its word. Both houses of the British parliament approved the Treaty of Guarantee in July 1919, but on the condition that the United States also ratify it. The U.S. Senate refused to approve either it or the Versailles Treaty, and the British assent was nullified.

The French regarded this as a betrayal. It was. They spoke of being cheated by their wartime allies. They were. Clemenceau whose outspoken sympathies for Britain and America (he had been a newspaper correspondent in the United States shortly after the Civil War, had learned American English and married an American) had earned charges from the Right before the war that he was an Anglo-Saxon "tool", was embittered and disillusioned. As the Premier who had pulled France together in the closing period of the war, he realized what so many Frenchmen tended to forget, that without British and American help the war could not in the end have been won. He saw too that without Anglo-American promises of military aid in the future it would be beyond France's power to repel the next German invasion. He had been promised that aid in return for giving up the security of the Rhine, which his generals had demanded. Now France had neither.

The deceit of the Allies would have fateful consequences. Germany, even under Hitler, would never have risked invading France again if her rulers and her generals had known in advance that Britain and America would oppose it by military force. The U.S. Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Guarantee brought a certain responsiblility on the United States for the subsequent course of events which pushed western Europe to the brink of destruction by Germany, though this was scarcely recognized in America. The Senate's action did not spare the American republic in the end. It only made the reconquest of western Europe from the Germans, when the Second World War came, infinitely more costly in American lives and treasure than it would have been had a President's word been honored in the first place by the Senate. The United States, supremely complacent in its shortsighted isolation, was lost as a factor in guarding the peace of Europe it had helped to win, and in which its fate would always be intertwined."

The Anglo-German Naval Agreement

"Shortly after the British government had protested Hitler's violation of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty on March 16 and then joined Italy and France in proclaiming their determination to uphold the sanctity of treaties, it had, behind the backs of its two Stresa allies, negotiated a naval agreement which violated the naval clauses of the Versailles Treaty and gave Hitler the right and encouragement to build all the warships his shipyards could construct for at least ten years.* The Naval Pact was signed in London on June 18, 1935, without the British government having the courtesy to consult with France and Italy, or later, to inform them of the secret agreements which stipulated tht the Germans could build in certain categories more powerful warships than any the three Western nations then possessed. The French regarded this as treachery, which it was. They saw it as a further appeasement of Hitler, whose appetite grew on concessions. And they resented the British agreeing, for what they thought a private gain, to scrap further the peace treaty and thus add to the growing overall military power of Nazi Germany.

Germany agreed to restrict her Navy to one third the size of the British but was accorded the right to build submarines, explicitly denied her by the peace treaty, up to 60 percent of British strength, and to 100 percent in case she decided it was necessary to her security, which she shortly did. Germany also pledged that her U-boats would never attack unarmed merchant ships, a word that she went back on from the very beginning of the second war. As soon as the deal with Britain was concluded Germany laid down two battleships, the Bismarck and Tirpitz, with a displacement of over 45,000 tons. By the terms of the Washington and London naval accords, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States had to limit their battleships to 35,000 tons. Great Britain, as the French contended, had no legal right to absolve Germany from respecting the naval clauses of the Versailles Treaty. And, as many Frenchmen added, no moral right either.

    • Book Three, Chapter 15, Aftermath: Widening of the Gulf: 1934-1936, discussing the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.

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