After it had been made clear that the government would attempt to have the two clauses dropped before signing, the National Assembly voted for the signing on June 22 with a considerable majority (237 votes to 138). But Clemenceau immediately rejected such a conditional acceptance, on behalf of the Allies, and demanded unconditional acceptance “within the remaining twenty-four hours,” threatening that, if this were not done, the allied armies would march into Germany. Once again the National Assembly was consulted and, weakly and hesitantly, without a roll call, stated that the authorization given the previous day covered the present situation. The Cabinet then decided not to exempt the two clauses from the signature, but to lodge a strongly worded protest and appeal to Wilson’s points.
Charged with the transmission of this momentous decision to our representative in Paris, I hurried late at night from the National Assembly to the grand-ducal palace, edited details of the text, and was present during the technical transmission to Paris. “The government of the German Republic, yielding to overwhelming power and without abandoning its view of the unheard-of injustice of the peace conditions, declares itself to be ready to accept and sign the peace conditions imposed by the Allied and Associated governments.”
Hindenburg and Groener resigned. General von Seeckt, appointed in place of Groener, was made directly subordinate to Minister of Defense Noske.
Looking back on the situation at that time and wondering what ought to have been done, I am unable even now to come to a determined, logically conclusive result. Unfortunately in politics there is not always a solution. Many political problems cannot be solved. This was such a problem. The question of its solubility or insolubility had nothing to do with the form of government.
Perhaps the fear of occupation by the Allies was too great. Had they occupied the whole of Germany they would have been responsible for governing Germany and would have had to assure reasonable living conditions, just as in 1945. After great humiliation in the beginning, a quicker and more constructive cooperation between the occupation forces and the democratic parties in Germany might have evolved. Rathenau was, therefore, perhaps not entirely wrong when he recommended that the German government resign without renewing military resistance, and leaving the responsibility to the Allies. In engaging in such afterthought, however, one should not ignore the fact that the successful cooperation between the Western powers and the West German democratic leaders after 1945 was stimulated by two factors which were not at work in 1919: awareness on the side of the Western powers of the serious mistakes they had made after 1918, and the pressure exercised by the policy of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, although leaving total responsibility to the Allies might have possibly averted the need of a one-sided confession of guilt, the Allies’ hold on the “war criminals” would have been probably much harsher.
Source of English translation: Arnold Brecht, The Political Education of Arnold Brecht, An Autobiography 1884-1970. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970, pp. 168-69.
Source of original German text: Arnold Brecht, Aus nächster Nähe, Lebenserinnerungen 1884-1927. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1966, pp. 282-83.