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10 facts about the Treaty of Versailles

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Formally opened on January 18, 1919, the Paris Peace Conference was the international meeting that established the terms of peace after World War I. Peacemaking occurred in several stages, with the Council of Four, also known as the “Big Four”—Prime Ministers Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, Vittorio Orlando of Italy and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson—acting as the primary decisionmakers for the first six months, and their foreign ministers and ambassadors overseeing the remainder of the conference. By the time the Allies formalized peace with the former Central Powers through a series of treaties, including an additional negotiation with the new nation of Turkey in 1923, the fragmented process of “making peace” had lasted longer than the war.

The most significant treaty signed during the peace conference was the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919. Despite the multitude of issues to address and the lack of a clear agenda, the “Big Four” saw Germany as the top priority; prevailing sentiment perceived Germany as initiating war in 1914. It was clear, however, that different desired outcomes existed, especially as Clemenceau insisted Germany be geographically and militarily dismembered so to never again pose a threat to France. The most contentious issue, and most remembered today, was the question of reparations. Ultimately, Germany and its allies were assigned responsibility for all war damages, but exact payment amounts were left unspecified. The German delegation, not present throughout any of the discussions, was presented with the draft of the treaty in May 1919. After trying and failing to negotiate some of the more severe terms and facing threats of resumed war should they not sign, the German delegates signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.

The following are 10 facts about the Treaty of Versailles:

1. There are 15 parts and 440 articles in the treaty. While most of the document addresses Germany, there are also parts pertaining to prisoners of wars and graves and the creation of an international labor organization.

2. The United States was not a signatory. Despite President Woodrow Wilson’s role in the conference and his intense efforts to win the support of the American public, the Senate voted to reject the treaty in November 1919, due in part to reservations regarding potential involvement in European affairs as outlined in the League of Nations covenant.

3. The now infamous “war guilt clause” (Article 231) did not blame Germany for causing World War I. Carefully written by the young John Foster Dulles, later Eisenhower’s secretary of state, the article assigned responsibility to Germany and its allies for all damage caused by the war, with Article 232 recognizing that the amount paid would be restricted due to limited German resources.

4. Several countries threatened not to sign the treaty. Italy briefly walked out of the conference over territory promised by the British and French during the war. Japan stated that they would not be able to sign unless given all the former German possessions in East Asia. Belgium, who argued their country suffered most during the war, was angry over their desired reparations payments. In the end, however, all three signed.

5. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles concluded the most crucial period of the Paris Peace Conference. Although treaties with the remaining Central Powers had yet to be signed, the key decisions that affected events over the next several years had been made.

6. The location of the signing was deliberately selected. The Hall of Mirrors, where the signing took place, had also witnessed the crowning of Wilhelm I as king of a unified Germany in 1871. Now, in June 1919, it was the Germans’ turn to be humbled before both the French and the world.

7. The covenant of the League of Nations is the treaty’s first part. Even before arriving in Paris, Woodrow Wilson held his Fourteen Points, but especially the League of Nations, as his most important objective at the conference. Wilson’s insistence on the League’s inclusion in the Treaty of Versailles forced him to compromise with Allied leaders on other points.

8. The Treaty of Versailles was only the first of five treaties signed between the Allies and former Central Powers. Due to the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain on September 10, 1919, and Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920. Bulgaria signed the Treaty of Neuilly on November 27, 1919. It took the Allies two treaties to finally make peace with the former Ottoman Empire. First, the Treaty of Sevres, which was rejected by Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kamal (later Ataturk), and then the Treaty of Lausanne which recognized the new nation of Turkey.

9. The primary negotiators of the treaty were Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Vittorio Orlando. Known as the “Big Four” and representing the United States, Great Britain, France and Italy, they met in closed-door sessions to make all major decisions which were later ratified by the full conference assembly.

10. China was the only nation present at Paris that did not sign the treaty. Having unsuccessfully argued for the return of the Shantung Peninsula, a German colony seized by Japan during the war, the Chinese delegation refused to sign the treaty and left feeling betrayed by the West.

Jennifer Zoebelein, Ph.D, is the special projects historian at the National WWI Museum and Memorial.


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Indiana Legion hosting special celebration June 30

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The American Legion Department of Indiana is hosting a public event June 30 to celebrate recent renovations and the burial of a 25-year time capsule.

The public is invited to attend the event, which will include a dedication ceremony for the new department sign and new columns in front of the building, the installation of the Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Indiana’s plaque dedicating the flag-pole display and the burial of a 25-year time capsule.

The time capsule will feature over 30 items that represent the Hoosier American Legion Family, and both department and national programs and local leadership.

The event begins at 11:30 a.m., is free and will include entertainment and food provided by the Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Indiana.

The Indiana Department Headquarters are located at 5440 Herbert Lord Road, Indianapolis, Ind., 46126.


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Severe storm tears off roof of centennial Legion post

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Heavy rain and strong winds swept through Jackson, Mo., last Friday, June 21 and ripped off the middle section of American Legion Post 158’s roof. As rain poured in, members of the post arranged buckets across the floor to collect water and to prevent further damage to the building.

Post 158 Finance Officer Larry Koehler thought a tornado came through the town because of all the damage to homes and businesses and trees down. “It was just straight-line winds but it sure did a lot of damage. Until we get a roof put on we will have to be meeting somewhere else,” Koehler said.

While the post is currently in the clean-up process, VFW Post 3838 in nearby Cape Girardeau offered their meeting hall for the Legionnaires to meet and conduct business. Post 158 was chartered in 1919 and has been at its current building since the early 1950s, where members hold their monthly meetings and rent out the hall to community members for weddings, blood drives and more. A wedding reception was to be held the Saturday following the storm and Post 158 had to sadly share the news with the bride and groom to be that the building was too damaged to host their reception.

Koehler said the post will see what it’s going to cost to get a whole new roof “because that’s about the only option we have at this point.”

To help offset the cost of a new roof, Post 158 is applying for an American Legion National Emergency Fund grant.

NEF grants provide immediate financial assistance for American Legion and Sons of The American Legion members who have been affected by the natural disaster. Legion posts also qualify. The NEF provides up to $3,000 for Legion and SAL members with an active membership who have been displaced due to damages to their primary residence, and up to $10,000 for posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community are impacted.

To learn more, check out the NEF resources, www.legion.org/nef. To donate, please visit www.legion.org/donate.


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We Want to Hear About Your Thanksgivings Spent in War Zones

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Tell us about your experiences and memories of celebrating this most American holiday while deployed in a conflict zone.

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Senate resolution calls for 'American Legion Week'

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On June 26, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a Senate resolution honoring The American Legion’s 100th anniversary of serving veterans, their families and communities.

Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a resolution designating August 23-29 as "American Legion Week" to coincide with the Legion's 100th anniversary convention in its home city of Indianapolis.

In a press release, Braun said, “The American Legion has been a cornerstone of American life from the local to the federal level since the beginning, and serves as a constant reminder of the enormous contributions America’s armed service members have made to enrich our nation during and after their military service. Indiana is proud to be home for the American Legion, and I'm proud to congratulate them on 100 years of service."

Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also praised the organization. “For generations the American Legion has played an undeniable role in strengthening the veteran community,” he said. “Since its inception, The American Legion has provided support to veterans and their families in Montana and across the country by helping them navigate the VA system to get the care and benefits they earned. During American Legion Week, we celebrate their accomplishments, honor their 100 years of service, and thank them for their continued advocacy.”

Praise also was offered by Brown. “Throughout the decades, The American Legion has remained dedicated to veterans and their families who have served and sacrificed so much for our country,” he said. “I’m proud to honor The American Legion on their 100 year anniversary of serving veterans of the armed forces, their families and our communities.”

Young, lead sponsor of The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, said, “For 100 years, the American Legion has advocated for our veterans. As an American Legion member myself, I can attest to the important work the Legion does to improve the lives of veterans across America. That’s why I was proud to help create The American Legion 100th Anniversary commemorative coin, and it’s why I’m proud to help introduce a resolution celebrating this milestone.”

U.S. Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who represents Indianapolis, is expected to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“The strong civic spirit found in Indianapolis is largely thanks to the enduring presence of the American Legion, which is headquartered here,” Carson said in a press release. “For 100 years, it has set an example of patriotism and service that has strengthened our community and many more across the nation. I’m pleased to congratulate the American Legion on its centennial, and honored to lead the resolution celebrating this milestone in the House of Representatives.”


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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.