The statesmen who met in Paris in 1919 to draw up a peace settlement faced a daunting task. Lloyd George, the leader of the British delegation, claimed that ‘it is not one continent that is engaged — every continent is affected’.1 The collapse of the four empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Turkey and the demands of previously subject national groups necessitated a major redrawing of the map in Europe and the Middle East. In Africa, China and the Pacific, the future of Germany’s former possessions had to be considered. Many diverse and often conflicting hopes and aspirations depended on the outcome of the negotiations. Some were inevitably disappointed and those disappointments fuelled the criticism of contemporaries and have influenced the judgement of historians. The fact that the settlement was followed twenty years later by another major war has led to the assumption that it must have been fatally flawed. There has been less agreement on the nature of the flaws. Its treatment of Germany has been criticised both as too harsh and as not severe enough. The peacemakers have been accused of failing to appreciate the full strength of nationalist aspirations but they have also been blamed for too easily acquiescing in the break-up of the multinational Austro-Hungarian empire. Most frequently the settlement has been criticised for failing to fulfil expectations that it would be the first major act of the new open diplomacy of which Wilson had been the advocate.
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