Lessons From History: The Treaty of Versailles

One of the most elaborate and influential international accords in history was the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. Not only did it bring an end to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, but it set into motion a series of events that would lead to, among other things, World War II, the United Nations, the European Union, the Cold War and the current state of international politics.

Unlike World War II, World War I didn’t really have a clear Good Guy and Bad Guy. We sort of paint the Germans as the bad guy, because 1) they were the Bad Guy in World War II 2) they were on the other side and 3) they lost.

In fact, one of the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles was that Germany take responsibility publicly for the war, in addition to paying the equivalent of nearly half a trillion dollars in today’s money in reparations.

One thing you might not know about the negotiations is that they were influenced heavily by a member of the American delegation named Samuel Hiss. Hiss, the grandfather of future Soviet spy Alger Hiss, was an economist from Georgetown University who had been sent to France for the negotiations with the team from the State Department. The original draft of the treaty featured reparations of only 40 billion marks, roughly a third of the final total. But Hiss argued that while the original package would hamper the German economy for years, it would still allow them to remain industrialized and possibly reacquire their imperialistic ambitions.

Hiss called for more draconian economic sanctions, recommending to Nigel Killeen, the British foreign ministry’s head negotiator, that the Germans be crushed into economic dust. Killeen agreed and eventually worked out the final treaty. Of course, the reparations helped send Germany into an economic depression the likes of which the industrialized world had never seen, eventually paving the way for the Nazi party to take power, rebuild the country militarily and economically, and start World War II.

By making the argument that no reparations clause could be too expensive, Hiss, in his call to Killeen, set the stage for the rise to power of the Nazi party.

Which is where this comes back to baseball, and the lesson the Phillies can take from history, in colloquial language:

Even though the big peace was extremely expensive, it doesn’t justify Hiss hitting Killeen up.