World War I: Political Consequences


Figure 1.--The drawing by French illustrator Francisque Poulbot show the depth of feeling that developed among the World War I combatants. The French script read in street boy language, "--Allez cavale ! On les poursuit jusqu' Berlin. --Maman veut pas que je traverse la rue." That translates as "--Let'chase after them. We will pursue them right to Berlin." The younger boy replies, "-- Mum, doesn't let me cross the street."

Europe before World War I was dominated by the diffeent royal houses. The continnt was largely controlled by four monarchial based empires: Austro-Hungary, Germany, the Ottomans, and Russia. Each were either absolute monrchies or monsrchies in which the king or emperor dominated the empire. And most of the rest of the continent ws governed by various other monarchies. France was the continent's only republic. World War I swept aside this imperial structure. Each of the great empires with histories dating back centuries were destroyed as a result of the war. New countries were created out of the old empires. The people of the combatatant nations made huge sacrifices to support their country's war efforts. The sacrifices in the trenches was beyond belief and the war casualties were staggering. People on the homefront also sacrified. The consequences of the War varied significantly from country to country. The British people were promissed, "A land fit for heroes" after the War. The experienced of the War radicalized politics and made the Labour Party in Britain an other socialist parties into a political force that continues to this day. The cost of the War affectded post-War conditions which did not improve like many had expectd. The German people were shocked in 1918. They had knocked Russia out of the War in 1917 and thought that they were about to win the War. Rationing had reached very severe levels, but the collapse of the Western Front surprised many. This commbined with the inflation of the 1920s and Depression of the 1930s radicalized German politics, paving the way for the NAZIs to seize power. Another major political impact was the rise of the Soviet Union on the corpse of the Tsarist Empire. The rise of totalitarian regimes would play a major role in the 20th century.

Fall of Empires

The political decesions that led to World War I were for the most par made by the ruling monsrchies of Europe. The 20th century was not kind to those great royal houses. The turn of the 20th century saw a Europe still largely dominated by monarchial government. The continnt was largely controlled by four monarchial based empires: Austro-Hungary, Germany, the Ottomans, and Russia. Each were either absolute monrchies or monsrchies in which the king or emperor dominated the empire. And most of the rest of the continent ws governed by various other monarchies. The only important republic was the France. All other European states, with only minor exceptions, were ruled by hereditary monarchs. This vast monarchial system was virtually swept away in a few years by the malestorm of the First Word War. More than half of the monarchs were forced to abdicate. The Romanovs were shot. Most of the monarchs steped down peacefully in the face of poopular outrage over the war. New counbtries based on natiomal ethnic groups emrged Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. At the time it was seen as a progressive democratic step, but the nationalistic passions unleased play a major role in the horrors of the Second World War. Monarchies in Austria, Italy, Germany, and Russia were replaced or eclipsed by totalitarian regimes of the left and right that were to challenge the very principle of democratic ruke. And as seen still today in the Balkans, where the First World War erupted, the ultra-nationalist excesses that were once constrained by European monarchies have still not yet fully played out. Another major political impact was the rise of the Soviet Union on the corpse of the Tsarist Empire. The rise of totalitarian regimes would play a major role in the 20th century.

Rise of Totalitarianism

Another major political impact was the rise of the Soviet Union on the corpse of the Tsarist Empire. The rise of totalitarian regimes would play a major role in the 20th century.

Country Developments


Australia

The British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa were automatically at war with Germany in World War I when the United Kingdom declared war in 1914. The ituation was different in World War II. Each Dominion made its own declaration of war in 1939, after winning the right to be consulted by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

Austria

The War left many Austrians disillusioned. Austria under the Hapsburgs had for 5 centuries been one of the major Europwan powers. The peace treaties left Austria stripped of its empire and a small virtualally poweless state. The econnomy was a disaster both because of the war and the fact that Austria had benefitted from beig the center of a multinational empire. Most Australians wanted to join Germany, but was prvented from doing so by the Versailles Treaty. The Anschlus when it finally came in 1938 was tremendously popular in Austria.

Belgium

Belgium was devestasted by the War. Much of the fighting in the Western Front occirred in Belgium and most of the country was occupied by Germany for most of the War. There was massive damage to towns and villages in Belgium, especially those along the lines of trenchs are close to them.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria was the only member of the Central Powers that managed to retain its monarchy.

Canada

The British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa were automatically at war with Germany in World War I when the United Kingdom declared war in 1914. The ituation ws different in World War II. Each Dominion made its own declaration of war in 1939, after winning the right to be consulted by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

Estonia

Estonia was able to achieve its independemnce after defeatin the red army which attempted to regain control of the Baltics.

France

I am not sufficently familiar with France to discuss the consequences of the war in France. France obtained what it most cherished, the return of Alsace-Loraine, but at a terrible price. The French public demanded that Germany pay retributions for the war, a provision not included in Wilsom's 14 Points. Certainly the huge casualties affected virtually every French family. There was a determination to avoid such a costly war in the future. The French Government decided on a huge, emensly costly defensive line to ensure that Germany could never invade again--the Maginot Line. French defensive strategy failed to appreciate the advances in modern warfare that the Germans who lost the War took to heart. The huge casualties suffeed by the French left the public with a commitment to avoid a future war. This widely held attitude must have affected the attitudes of the French soldiers and public when Hitler launched a new war in 1939.

Germany

The Germans as other Europeans went to war enthusiastically in August 1914. In Germany more than in mny other beligerant countries, the "August experience" had the impact of melting down entrenched social barriers. Romantic German nationalists had dreamed of just such a emontional momment for decades. The resulting horror of the War which continued for 4 years was a sobering education in war to the German people. After all that suffering the Russian capitulation seemed to signal that victory was within grasp. The German people were shocked to the core when General Eric Ludendorf on October 4, 1918 requested an armistace. Rationing had reached very severe levels, but the collapse of the Western Front surprised most Germans. Defeat changed the German outlook on life. One historian maintains that the Grmans and other defeated nations tend to view history as less the inevitable movement of progress and events less capable of human mastery than victoriou nations. The Germans, like other defeated nations, conceived the notion that they had won in spirit. Many Germans believed that their soldiers and technology was superior, but had only been overwealmed by crude force--superior numbers of men and greater resources. America was embraced by German writers and officials. American books, jazz, and movies were popular, until supressed by the NAZIs. The concept of mass consumerism was also embrased. The German response to Henry Ford's Model T was the Volkswagen. [Schivelbusch] The Germans like the French after the Franco-Prussian War studied the reasons for military defeat. The British had introduced the tank in World War I with considerle success. It was the Germans after the War that developed the most efficent tank forces and the tactics to effectively use them on the modern battlefield. Defeat was also a factor in Germany's embrace of innovative weaponry such as an expanded use of airpower and tactics such as Blitzkrieg. The shock of defeat came rise to widely held belifes that defeat had come as a result of a "failure of nerve". Even more widely believed was that Germany had been "stabbed in the back" by weak leaders, intelectuals, Socialists, and Jews. This belief in particular was exploited and promoted by the NAZIs in their rise to power. A major principle of the post-war peace treaties was national self-determination. As implemented this left Austria separated from other Germans, Germans expelled from Alscace Loraine, and large numbers of Germans within foreign boundaries (primarily Czecheslovakia and Poland). Defeat in World War I commbined with the inflation of the 1920s and Depression of the 1930s radicalized German politics, paving the way for the NAZIs to seize power. The "August experience" was born again with the "spirit of 1933". German writers describe the elation of the German people with NAZI torch light parades and goose-stepping soldiers. One German author writes, "Without the past war, such a purely military phenomenon could not have been possible." [Suuhrkamp] The preceived humiliation of the Versailles Treaty and the impage of defeat fired a desire for national regeneration and revenge through violence. [Schivelbusch] Here this desire seems to have been most hearfelt by young Germans. Many older Germans that had experienced the War had no desire to relieve it. Hitler in 1938 was apauled by what he saw as a lack of national nthusism for war.

Greece

Greece rashly attempted to fight the Ottimans for more territory and lost its territory in Anatolia as well as Thrace.

Hungary

Hungary became an independent country after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The monarchy, unlile on Austria, was not abolished. Admiral Horrthy, the regent, however, did not permit Emperor Karl to take control of the Government. The Hungarians were disturbed by the loss of territory they claimned, including areas assigned to Czechoslovakia (Slovakia), Romania, and Yugoslavia.

Ireland

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) staged the Easter Rebellion in Dublin during the War (1916). British repression and the Irish casulties during the War seem to have been factors in stoking anti-British sentiment. The IRA conducted a campaign of terror aimed at the British and their Irish allies. Counter terror conducted by the Black and Tans only fueled anti-British sentiment. The IRA campaign finally forced the British Government to recognize an Irish Free State (1924). This eventually led to the formation of the Irish Republic which did not include the heavily Protestant northern counties.

Italy

Italy had been allied with the Central Powers. British and French diplomats convinced the Italian Government, however, to change sides. Italy entered the war (1915) primarily seeking territorial expansion. Like the other countries entering the War, the Italian Government had no idea what the cost of the War in blood and treasure would be. Italy did receive some territory. The South Tirol was annexed from former Austrian territory. Italy had wanted much more. The South Tirol seemed a small reward for so much effort and suffering. Disorder and instability in Italy after the War led to the rise of Fascism. Fear of Communism, economic problems, and the difficulties of army veterans all appear to have been factors in the rise of Fascism and Mussolini's seizure of power.

Japan

Japan quickly joined the Allies after receiving a request from the British. As a result, Japan acquired the German treaty city in China as well as some of the German Pacific island territories. These islands were converted into imporant island bases. There names at the time were virtually unknown, but became well known during World War II as the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in World war II. Political developments in Europe were stronly influenced by the War. This is less true in Japan. There were very limited Japanese casulaties in the limited operations agaist the Germans during the War. Japan was clearly intent on creating an empire, having seized Formosa (Taiwan) and Korea and fought a war with Russia to expand territory and concessions in Manchuria. The rise of milirarism in Japan after the War seems more concerned with previous trends and economic developments after the War than World War I itself. The War does seem to have confirmed among many Japanese that war was a legitmate tool in achieving national objections. Ironically the disarmament conferences following the War, especially the Washington Naval Conferences appear to have enflamed Japanese sentiment much more than World War I.

Latvia

Latvia was able to achieve its independemnce after defeatin the red army which attempted to regain control of the Baltics.

Lithuania

Lithuanoa was able to achieve its independemnce after defeatin the red army which attempted to regain control of the Baltics.

New Zealand

The British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa were automatically at war with Germany in World War I when the United Kingdom declared war (1914). The situation wss different in World War II. Each Dominion made its own declaration of war in 1939, after winning the right to be consulted by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

Palestine

Palestine was an Ottoman province for four centuries. As a result of the war, Palestimne becane a British Mandate, authorized by the Legue of Nations. Britain moved to involve the Palistinins in the administration of the Mandate. Surprisingky after four decades of authoritarian rule by the Ottomns, there was opposition to British offers of self government. Palistianian leaders like the Grand Mufti objected to the British proposals. Whilec they would have led to majority Palistinoab rule, thecGrand Mufti objected to secular rule and provisions which woukld have provided constiutional guarantees to minjority Jews and Christians. The Grad Mufti orcestrated riots targeting the British and Jews which had to be put down by force.

Poland

Poland disappeared from the map of Europe with the three Partitions in the 18th century. Much of Poland was seized by Russia. The Germans during the War overan the areas of Poland that thad been ruled by Rusia, including Warsaw. The Germans set up the Government General to administer the Polish areas seized from the Russians. It did not include the Polish populasted areas of Germany. After the War a new Polish state was founded. As part of the Versailles Peace Treaty, the Germans were forced to ceed Polish populated areas including a corridor to the Baltic which included many Germans. In a war fought with the Bolsheviks the Poles seized areas of the former Russian Empire with Lithuanian, White Rusian, and Ukranian populations.

Romania

Romanian fought on the allied side during World War I. Its army was defeated and most of the country occupied. After the War it was rewarded by territory transferred from Bukgraia and Hungary (a new state firnmed from Austria-Hungary. Romania also occupied areas of the former Russian Empire. This created tensions between Romania abnd its neigbors. The monrchy continued in power.

Russia

The suffering of the Russian people was emense in World War I. Russia suffered more casualtiesthan any other country. Russian soldiers were poorly led and inadequately armed. There were not even gas masks to protect soldiers from German poison gas attacks. Food shortages disrupted the home front. The decession by the Tsar to honor commitments to the allies o persue the War led to te Russian Revolution and eventully the seizure of power by the Bolshevicks. The rise and fall of Communism was one of the major series of events in the 20th century.

South Africa

The British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa were automatically at war with Germany in World War I when the United Kingdom declared war in 1914. The ituation ws different in World War II. Each Dominion made its own declaration of war in 1939, after winning the right to be consulted by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

Turkey


United Kingdom

The British public demanded that Germany pay retributions for the war, a provision not included in Wilsom's 14 Points. The British people were promissed, "A land fit for heroes" after the War. The experienced of the War radicalized politics and made the Labour Party into a political force that continues to this day. The cost of the War affectd post-War conditions which did not improve like many had expectd. The huge casualties fueled anti-war feeling in Britain. This was accentuated by the anti-War philosophy prevalent in the strong Socialist faction in the Labour Party. Military budgets were cut to the bone. The Depression also adversely affected mikitary budgets. Labour demabded welfare soenbding. As a result, after the rise of Hitler in Germany, a massive NAZI rearmanment program soon left Britain dangerously vuknerable. British Governments also took an accomodating position, adopting a policy of appeasement. The few politicans like Churchill who warned of German rearmament were pilloried as war mongers and relegated to the back benches. The policy culminated in the Munich Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Chamberlin.

United States

America despites its reluctnce, also entered the War with enthusiasm, primarily because of British war propaganda. This was hightened by incredibly inept German policies toward the United States (sinking passager liners, sabtoge efforts, the Zimmerman telegram, and unrestricted submarine warfare). Unlike European countries which entered the War with territorial objectives in mind, President Wilson's justification was essentially idealistic in nature--"to make the world safe for democracy. President Wilson's peace program, the 14 Points, provided for no territorial gains on the part of the United States, but rather had provisions that were conceived to prevent future wars. The American infannty in large measure turned the course of the War. Compared to other beligerant countries, American casualties were relatively light. Despite this and the incorporation of the 14 point in the post-war peace treaties, substantial elements of the American public came to view American participation in the War a mistake. America in particular refused to join the League of Nations and participate in collective security. Republican politicans demanded a "return to normalcy". The casualties were part of the change in attitudes toward the War. Even more important was a growing national consensus that all war is evil. The enfranchisement of women after the War with the 19th Amendment may have been a factor here. A great deal was written about the international arms trade and the "merchants of death". There were Congressional invesigations of arms sames which fojnd nothing to suggest they were responsibkle for the War. The investigation got more press coverage than the findings. The fact that World War I proved not to be "the war to end all wars" further fueled American cynacism about participation in the War as did relevations about British war propaganda. The rise of Hitler in Germany convinced many Americans that Europe was inherently corrupt and tha America must never again send its boys to fight in another European war. There was such a national consensus that Congress passed neutrality acts. The strength of American neutrality was such that President Roosevelt faced severe obstacles in his efforts to confront Hitler and the NAZI aggressions even though they were a clear threat to American security.

Yugoslavia

Serbian terrorism set World War I in motion. The country suffered during the War both in the fighting and during the Central Powers occuption. After the War Serbia was rewarded . The new state for the southern Slavs. Yuoskavia was built around Serbia abnd the Serbian monarchy. The Serbs were the largest ethnic group in Yugoslavia, but several other groups including the Slovenes, Croats, Macedinians, and Kosovars. The Croats in particular resented Serb rule, destabilizing the new country.

Wars and Conflicts Following the War

There were a series of calametous events following World War I. Many were associated with the collaose or dismanling of the great empires that had dominated European history for centuries. After the Young Turks seized powe in the Ottoman Empire, they conducting an ethnic cleansing of the Armenians, the first genocide of the 20th century. Greece and Turkey fought a war which resulted in the expulsion of the Greeks from Anatolia. The Russian Civil War also involved internation conflicts such as war with Poland. Other conflicts did not result in actual fighting, but remained largely unresolved and would be involved in future wars of the 20th century.

Sources

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery (Metropolitan, 2003), 404p.

Suuhrkamp







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Created: July 15, 2003
Last updated: 1:58 AM 11/1/2015