When wars end, non-war begins. Negotiations are held and treaties signed, and with luck peace follows. But that is not always the case. On the 11th of November 1918 the First World War finally ended, with an armistice, leaving some 20 million people dead, half of them civilians, and more or less the same number wounded, mostly military. In 1919 the Paris peace Conference followed: a vast event bringing delegations from far and wide, with the purpose of recreating not only Europe but also the world. Empires ended in Paris, and new states were born. Hope was apparent, as was a desire for retribution. In the end, peace was declared — but it would take another, even more horrendous Second World War to attain the shining goal, at least in western Europe and some other parts of the world.
In this episode Ilana Bet-El traces the outlines of these momentous events with Margaret MacMillan, emeritus professor of History at the University of Toronto and an emeritus professor of International History at Oxford University. The author of many significant books on war and peace, she is a world expert on the Paris Peace Conference, having literally written the most significant book on it.
The conversation starts with the point of ending, the armistice — still a day marked with sadness and remembrance in many parts of the world, but also with joy of creation in others. And it moves to the point of beginning, the Paris conference, often thought of as the Versailles Treaty — which dealt with Germany but was only one of five treaties signed in Paris, each dealing with a collapsed empire or region. And all five were brought together into a larger framework, detailing a new system of world governance centred around the League of Nations. It was a visionary moment, but far from simple or coherent; and as the conversation reflects — it has many lessons for our times.
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