Aspects Of The War Guilt Clause & What It Tells Us

Updated February 25, 2020

Reviewer Tanya Harell

Now, it's time for some history. In this post, we shall discuss Article 231, or the War Guilt Clause. For those who are into studying the World Wars, this is an important clause to look at.


What Is The War Guilt Clause?

The War Guilt Clause, or Article 231, is part of the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty helped end the world war between Germany and the allied powers. Article 231 was the first article in the reparations sections. Despite the name of the War Guilt Clause, the article itself does not mention guilt. Instead, it's how Germany was convinced legally to pay reparations.

Article 231 said that Germany accepts responsibility for its loss, and any damages done to the allies must be paid back by Germany. As you can imagine, this was quite a humiliating defeat for Germany. It said that Germany must be able to have full responsibility for causing World War I, even if there may have been other causes as well. Many politicians in Germany were outraged, and people tried to stop the treaty.

As for the Allies themselves, they were a little confused. They just saw the War Guilt Clause as a way for Germany to give them compensation. However, it was all about the wording of the article, which Germany believed to be humiliating.

In hindsight, the damage done by the clause seems to be unintentional. The clause was a legal document that was meant to get some compensation out of Germany, but some people saw it as an admission of guilt. This made the German people angry and resented the Allies, possibly setting the stage for the next World War.

The Reparations

Reparations are when a country pays money to a group of people or to another country that has been perceived as being wronged in some way. The reparations in the treaty were made for the families of the dead soldiers and a way to rebuild after the war.

Germany had to pay around 12.5 billion dollars for reparations. It hurt the German economy to try to pay those back, but Germany was able to pay them and ended up paying less than what was proposed. Instead of the German economy being rebuilt, many of the burdens were shifted to paying for the economies of the Allies. Some payments helped Germany, such as the rebuilding of towns, the opening of mines, and so on, but the basic end of the reparations hurt Germany in the long run.

How Did It Affect The German People?


It is interesting to note how the article affected the German public. There was opposition, as you can imagine, and a burden was created. Politicians who were trying to seek power in Germany would use the clause to rile up the German people and even lied about its impact. While the clause did not mention guilt at all, many of the public had not read the article, so the politicians just claimed that it implied guilt. This was enough to rile up the German people.

This right here is an interesting concept. The idea of people not doing their research and getting mad over something a politician says is still going on today. In our modern times, we have access to a trove of information, but many of us remain willfully ignorant and get mad at the things we are told to be mad about. The German people at least had the excuse of the clause not being easily accessible to the public.

There was also the belief that if guilt could be disproven, then Germany would not have to pay reparations. The German government even created its department to study how the war happened, and it was called the Centre for the Study of the Causes of the War.


We can't talk about the war without mentioning Hitler. Hitler, like many of the politicians, used the implied guild as a way to rise to power, and a US Senator by the name of Henrik Shipstead believed that because the article was not revised, it was the contributing factor to Hitler's rise.

Some other historians believe this too. They believe that because the War Guilt Cause was harsh on the German economy, Hitler came to power as a result. However, there are some who believe the article has nothing to do with it, and blamed other factors for the rise of the Nazi party. They believe that Hitler's rise to power would have happened regardless of the treaty.


However, despite never reading it, the German people believed that they were being shamed, and it's understandable how Hitler or another politician could rile them up. By claiming the world was against them, it would make them learn more and more extreme and eventually, form the Nazi Germany that history has studied extensively to this day.

Other Interpretations Of The War Guilt Clause

The War Guilt Clause has been studied quite a bit in history, and there have been many different interpretations of it. Here are just a few interpretations the clause has.

Luigi Albertini wrote his own opinion about the war in his 1942 book The Origins of War of 1914. At this point, it had been almost 30 years since the war, so there was some time to study it historically. He believed that Germany had most of the responsibility for the war. In fact, his work was the first time the concept of war guilt had been studied. Since the publishing of that book, there have been other works that have tried to study war guilt and the aspects that surround it.

There have been studies of the term "war guilt." Stephen Neff pointed out that according to lawyers, the term "guilt" means that the people were criminally liable. However, others believe that the treaty itself was just the Allies being honest, but the clause was undiplomatic. Instead of making the German government feel guilty, the Allies should have let the German government move on from the war.

One argument is by Elazar Barkan, which believes that the Allies should have encouraged healing rather than trying to make the Germans believe in war guilt. This admission guilt seemingly made the Germans feel resentment, and this may have caused fans to rise.

However, other arguments say that Germany should have been guilty over the war. The idea is that the old German regime should be dismantled, and a new government should come in its place to encourage healing amongst the people. This belief may come from the fact that the Germans had at least some blame of the ear.

What Can We Learn?

The War Guilt Clause is something we can learn from. Historically, it shows us that things can be misinterpreted and miscommunication can cause plenty of problems. The Allies thought they had a fair deal with the clause. They believed that they were getting fair compensation for a war that was costly and fatal. Meanwhile, Germany felt like the clause was rubbing salt on the wound. Many politicians used the resentment the German people had to their advantage, and Nazi Germany was seemingly born because of it.

It shows how obsessed people can get with their own country. A citizen may take it personally when two countries have a deal, and they're the ones who were burned as a result. This can create resentment and can make the citizens elect what they think of as a hero that has the same resentment.

One thing we can learn is to do your research. Read into a law or a clause rather than getting outraged because someone told you their interpretation of it. They could be wrong, or they could be lying at you. Don't give into sudden outrage, but instead be cool until you can find the facts.

Seek Help!

In life, guilt doesn't come in the form of a treaty. Instead, guilt can come from within. You may feel guilty about a lot of aspects in your life. Sometimes, you're too hard on yourself. Other times, there may be a good reason to feel guilty, but how you display your emotions of guilt may be unhealthy. Sometimes, you need to learn to move on and healthily accept responsibility. Other times, learning how to feel proud of yourself rather than guilty is the best solution.


Whatever your feelings are about your guilt, there's a time where talking to a counselor may be the wisest decision you can make. A therapist can tell you whether or not you're guilty, and if you are, what you should do to move on. If you shouldn't feel guilt over an event, a counselor can tell you how you can be more confident in yourself.

Whatever your opinions on guilt are, a counselor is here to help. Speak to one today.

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