U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- This weekend marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War—if we don’t count the Napoleonic Wars as a global conflict, of course. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, and though it was called the Great War, it turned out to be only the first act of what would be a much greater horror to come. The lessons are many. One that I wish to draw here is what the Versailles Treaty can teach advocates of gun control.
The treaty is reminiscent of today’s advocates to restrict gun rights in several ways. It singled out Germany as responsible for the war, despite there having been multiple participants whose military and diplomatic policies made the conflict inevitable and a terrorist attack by a Serbian nationalist that put everything in motion. But in the same way that gun owners are blamed for violence in our nation, Germany was declared to be the villain and beaten down financially and militarily.
It was legislation passed by the Weimar Republic to satisfy the demands of the Versailles Treaty that disarmed the German people, not the Nazis. That was in keeping with the broader goal to make Germany unable to start a war again. Citizens had to surrender their guns, and the nation’s military was cut down to numbers and equipment that would have been inadequate for defense had France, for example, decided to invade. Submarines and military aircraft were also prohibited.
Unsurprisingly, none of this worked. Paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps and other right-wing precursors to the Nazi Sturmabteilung fought the communists, and both sides killed people who weren’t involved, and the politically motivated violence primed the nation for the rise of an authoritarian leader who promised peace.
As readers of this magazine will know, disarming civilians who refuse to comply is a fool’s errand. But the Allies missed—willfully or otherwise—the more difficult to hide efforts of the German government to maintain skills and technical advancement in the weapons of war, particularly in the development during the intervening decades of submarines and airplanes. The Germans bought interests in maritime design companies in the Netherlands and Spain, developing vessels for several nations, including Turkey and future enemy, Soviet Russia as a cover for thinking through the U-boats that Churchill would later say was the only thing that really frightened him during the Second World War. Willy Messerschmitt and others not only worked with aircraft manufacturers of other countries but also understood that racing planes made the basis of fighters and passenger craft had much in common with bombers, an example of a dual-use technology that has become of such concern today.
In other words, vindictiveness and enforced disarmament failed. It failed because demonizing an entire group of people when the responsibility is much more complex creates resentments that fester. It failed because people who are determined to be armed will find a way. And it failed because it neglected to address the factors that motivated the second round of conflict in Europe. Advocates of gun control would do well to learn this lesson.
About Greg Camp
Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.