On this day in Paris, France, in the sumptuous Salle d’Horloge on the Quai d’Orsay, delegates convene for the official opening of the peace conference that will end the Great War.
For Germany, already laid low in defeat, opening the peace conference on January 18 was an affront to national pride. On that same day in 1871, the efforts of Otto von Bismarck to unify Prussia and the German kingdoms into a single nation had culminated in the glorious coronation of Wilhelm I as kaiser of the new Germany. This was not a coincidence—George Clemenceau, the prime minister of the host country, had specially chosen the date.
Gathered in the Salle d’Horloge were representatives from far-flung nations: some established powers, some—like those from the contentious Balkan region—emerging new states struggling to carve out a place for themselves. Notable absences in the room included the Greek prime minister, Eleutherious Venizelos, who was annoyed that Serbia had been allowed more delegates than Greece; the Japanese delegation, who had not yet arrived; and, most importantly, representatives from Russia, an Ally in 1914 under the imperial regime of Czar Nicholas II, now in the grips of a revolutionary dictatorship led by a small group of radical socialists, the Bolsheviks.
The French president, Raymond PoincarÉ, addressed the assembled delegates, telling them, You hold in your hands the future of the world. All eyes would be on Paris during the coming months to see whether the peace brokered at Versailles would be worthy of the immense sacrifices made by both winners and losers during the Great War.