The Rhineland Republic: Part I

Julian Piggott shows how, with the help of a puppet state on the Rhine, France between 1919 and 1923 attempted to solve the perpetual problem of her eastern frontier.

“Poincaré, the strongest figure who succeeded Clémenceau, attempted to make an independent Rhineland under the patronage and control of France.” Thus does Sir Winston Churchill in Volume I of The Second World War briefly refer to an episode of considerable interest and importance in the long history of Franco-German conflicts. During those years, Britain was in perpetual disagreement with M. Poincaré, and eventually played a major part in frustrating his plans; there is little doubt that we were right to do so, but at this distance of time it must be admitted that the French Prime Minister had much excuse for taking the law into his own hands, and every reason for making a supreme effort to ensure that there should be no more German irruptions into France.

Before the First World War ended, the French Government had let it be known, both in London and Washington, that the French people expected nothing less than the Rhine frontier. At the Armistice, Foch had insisted on it as a matter of right, and during the bitter disputes of the Peace Conference Clémenceau returned again and again to this demand, with threats of independent action were it refused. With equal obstinacy President Wilson and Lloyd George continued to resist. Finally, to break the deadlock, they offered France a joint Anglo-American guarantee against renewed German aggression. But Wilson was disowned by his people, and Britain refused to carry the burden alone. Thus was France thrown back on her own resources and compelled to make what she could of the three clauses of the Treaty of Versailles—the disarming of Germany, a demilitarized zone 50 km wide east of the Rhine, and a 15-year Allied occupation of the Rhineland—which together purported to guarantee her security. Let us see how she set about her task, supported at the outset by the Belgian Government.

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