According to Steven Mintz, a recent list of the hundred most important news stories of the twentieth century ranked the onset of World War I eighth. This is a great error. Just about everything that happened in the remainder of the century was in one way or the other a result of World War I, including the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, World War II, the Holocaust and the development of the atomic bomb. The Great Depression, the Cold War, and the collapse of European colonialism can also be traced, at least indirectly, to the First World War.
The First World War was the first global war. What began as a relatively small conflict became a war between European empires fought on a geographical scale not seen before. Over 30 nations declared war between 1914 and 1918. The majority joined on the side of the Allies, including Serbia, Russia, France, Britain, Italy and the United States.
They were opposed by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, who together formed the Central Powers. Fighting occurred not only on the Western Front but also in eastern and Southeast Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
It was a war of destruction. It killed more people—more than 9 million soldiers, sailors, and flyers and another 5 million civilians, involved more countries and cost more money ($186 billion in direct costs and another $151 billion in indirect costs) than any previous war in history. Four years of war killed a million troops from the British Empire, 1.5 million troops from the Hapsburg Empire, 1.7 million French troops, 1.7 million Russians, and 2 million German troops. The war left a legacy of bitterness that contributed to World War II twenty-one years later.
Over 65 million men worldwide volunteered or were conscripted to fight and millions of civilians contributed to the war effort. Millions of civilians also contributed to the war effort by working in industry, agriculture or jobs left open when men enlisted. National resources were mobilized as each combatant nation raced to supply its armed forces with enough men and equipment. Advances in weaponry and military technology provoked tactical changes as each side tried to gain an advantage over the other. It was the first war to use airplanes, tanks, long range artillery, submarines, poison gas.
The introduction of aircraft into war left soldiers and civilians vulnerable to attacks from above for the first time. Major innovations were made in manufacturing, chemistry and communications. Medical advances made the First World War the first major conflict in which British ths in battle outnumbered deaths caused by disease.
When the world war was over, the victorious governments of Britain and France did not suffer any major political changes as a result of the war. However, there were huge changes in Central Europe, where the map was completely redrawn. Before 1914, Central Europe had been dominated by multi-national, monarchical regimes. By the end of the war, these regimes haw all collapsed.
When the delegates of the ‘victorious’ powers met at Versailles near Paris in 1918 to attempt to create a peace settlement, they faced a Europe that was very different to that of 1914, and one that was in a state of turmoil and chaos.
The map of Europe began to resemble the one we know today. The old empires of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary had disappeared, and various successor states were struggling to replace them. A communist revolution was spreading across Europe. In addition, there had been terrible destruction, and the population of Europe now faced the problems of starvation, displacement, and a lethal flu epidemic.
Against this difficult background, the leaders of France, Britain, the USA, and Italy attempted to create a peace settlement. The fact that their peace settlement was to break down within 20 years had led many historians to view it as a disaster that contributed to the outbreak of World War II. More recently, however, historians have argued that the peacemakers did not fully comprehend the scale of the problems in 1919; therefore it is not surprising that they failed to create a lasting peace
The economic impact of war on Europe was devastating. The war cost Britain alone more than £34 billion. All powers had financed the war by borrowing money. By 1918, the USA had lent $2,000 million to Britain and France. U-boats had also sunk 40 per cent of British merchant shipping.
Throughout the 1920s, Britain and France spent between one-third and one half of their total public expenditure on debt charges and repayments. Britain never regained its pre-war international financial predominance, and lost several overseas markets.
The physical effects of the war also had an impact on the economic situation of Europe. Wherever fighting had taken place, land and industry had been destroyed. France suffered particularly badly, with farm land (2 million hectares), factories and railway lines along the Western Front totally ruined.
Belgium, Poland, Italy and Serbia were also badly affected. Roads and railway lines needed to be reconstructed, hospitals and houses had to be rebuilt and arable land made productive again by the removal of exploded shells. Consequently, there was a dramatic decline in manufacturing output. Combined with the loss of trade and foreign vestments, it is clear that Europe faced an acute economic crisis in 1919.
Germany, however, particularly suffered following the war. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to make monetary payments to the Allies, called reparations. The heavy reparations, combined with the devastated economic infrastructure throughout Germany and political tension under the Weimar Republic, led to an economic depression.
Hyperinflation and unemployment in Weimar Germany were staggering. Reich marks, the German currency, became so devalued, that it took wheelbarrows full of money to buy basic items, such as a loaf of bread.
Territorial Gains and Losses
The aftermath of World War I marked the practical end of monarchy on the continent. It destroyed four Empires (German Empire, Hapsburg Empire, Turkish Empire, Russian Empire), gave birth to seven new nations. The net territorial gains and losses were the following:
Nations that Gained Territory after World War I
- Yugoslavia (as the successor state of the Kingdom of Serbia) e Romania, Greece France, Italy ,Denmark, Belgium, Czechoslovakia.
- Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania United Kingdom – League of Nations Mandate Japan
Nations that lost territory after World War I
- China — Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong in North China forcibly ceded to the Japanese Empire
- Bolshevist Russia (as the successor state of the Russian Empire) Weimar Germany (as the successor state of the German Empire)
- Austria (as the successor state of Cisleithania and the Austria-Hungarian Empire)
- Hungary (as the successor state of Transleithania and the Austria-Hungarian Empire)
- Turkey (as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire)
- Bulgaria, United Kingdom — most of Ireland as the Irish Free State Impact on Germany, Russia and USA .
Impact on Germany
Even before the war ended on the 11th of November 1918, revolution had broken out in Germany against the old regime. Sailors in northern Germany mutinied and took over the town of Kiel. The action triggered other revolts, with socialists leading uprisings of workers and soldiers in other German ports and cities.
In Bavaria, an indépendent socialist republic was declared. On the 9th of November 1918, the Kaiser abdicated his throne and fled to Holland. The following day, the socialist leader Friedrich Ebert came as the new leader of the Republic of German. The German Revolution of 1918-1919 resulted in the creation of the left-leaning Weimar Republic.
On 28 June 1919, Germany was not present to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
The treaty placed blame for the entire war upon Germany (a view never accepted by German nationalists). Germany was forced to pay 132 billion marks ($31.5 billion, 6.6 billion pounds) in reparations (a very large amount for its day which was finally paid off in October, 2010).
It was followed by Inflation in the Weimar Republic, a period of hyperinflation in Germany between 1921 and 1923. In this period the worth of fiat Paper marks with respect to the earlier commodity Gold marks was reduced to one trillionth (one million millionth) of its value.
On December 1922 the Reparations Commission declared Germany in default, and on 11 january 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr until 1925.
Because Germany could mobilize the single strongest army in Europe— ibility seen as an ongoing threat by France—blaming Germany for the war created a justification to force Germany to permanently reduce the size of its army to 100,000 men, renounce tanks and have no air force (her capital, ships, moored in Scapa Flow, were scuttled by their crews).
Germany saw relatively small amounts of territory transferred to Czechoslovakia, and Belgium, a larger amount to France and the smallest portion of all to Poland. Germany’s overseas colonies were divided amongst a number of Allied countries. It was the loss of territory to Poland that caused by far the greatest resentment. Nazi propaganda would feed on a general German view that the treaty was unfair—many Germans never accepted the treaty as legitimate, and later gave their political support to Adolf Hitler, who was arguably the first national politician to both speak and take action against the treaty’s conditions.
Impact on Russia
The single most important event precipitated by the World War I was the Russian Revolution of 1917. In this revolution, the Russian Empire was overthrown and replaced by a socialist government led by Vladimir Lenin.
Socialist and often explicitly Communist revolutionary wave occurred in many other European countries from 1917 onwards, notably in Germany and Hungary. Russia not only withdrew from the War but also government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In that treaty, Russia has renounced all claims to Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (specifically, the formerly Russian-controlled Congress Poland of 1815) and Ukraine, and it was left to Germany and Austria-Hungary to determine the future status of these territories in agreement with their population. New states of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania emerged after the war.
Impact on USA
Woodrow Wilson hoped that America would now play a larger role in international affairs and worked hard at the peace conference to create an alternatives world order in which international problems would be solved through collective security. However, the majority of Americans had never wanted to be involved in World War II, and once it ended they were keen to return to concerns nearer to home.
On the other hand, in stark comparison to the economic situation in Europe, the USA emerged from the war as the world’s leading economy. Throughout the war, American industry and trade had prospered as US food, raw materials, and munitions were sent to Europe to help with the war effort.
In addition, the USA had taken over European overseas markets during the war, and many American industries had become more successful than their European competitors. The USA had, for example, replaced Germany as the world’s leading producer for fertilizers, dyes, and chemical products. The war also led to US advances in technology. The USA was now the world leader in areas such as mechanization and the development of plastics.