World War I, abbreviated as WWI, is known by various names like the First World War, the Great War, and the War to End All Wars. It was a global war although its arena was primarily in Europe. World War I happened between July 28 1914 and November 11, 1918. This War involved not only the major European powers but also eventually involved most of the major nations around the world, the dominant forces being Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. Trench warfare was the primary characteristic of the strategy of this war, while the basic characteristic was the massive loss of life.
The catalyst came on June 28, 1914, in the form of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Archduke, by a Serbian activist, Gavrilo Princip. Serbia was of course a Russian ally. On receiving the promise of total support from Germany, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia on July 28, 1914. When Russia moved to support Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia. Russian ally, France, laid siege on Germany. In the process of reaching France, German troops entered Belgium. Britain, a French ally, entered the fray and declared war on Germany. Such Declarations of war continued until almost all of Europe joined hands with one or the other of the two poles in their war efforts against each other. Only the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, the Scandinavian nations, and the states of Andorra and Monaco retained their neutrality till the end of the war. One of the most tragic aftermaths of this war was the casualties and the deaths of military and civilians. (Bessel, 59-61).
Vladimir Lenin held imperialism, particularly economic imperialism to be responsible for this World War. The economic theories of Karl Marx and John A. Hobson, an English economist, predicted that unlimited competitive and expanding markets would result in global conflict. Lenin used these theories to infer the causes of the First World War. It was pointed out that the rapid development of German industry threatened the global economic dominance of Great Britain. Since Britain was a large empire, she had a wider commercial and economic advantage over Germany and thus a conflict was inevitable. This argument gave Communism popularity and aided its rise. Lenin also argued that the hawkish banking and financial interests pursued by the capitalist and imperialist powers also gave the war efforts its much-needed fillip.
Cordell Hull, American Secretary of State under Franklin Roosevelt, attributed trade barriers as the root cause of both World War I and World War II. In 1944, Bretton Woods Agreements were worked out to reduce trade barriers to eliminate the cause of the conflicts. (Bessel, 143)
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased for Britain, Italy, and the U.S., but decreased for France, Russia, Netherlands, and the Central Powers. This misbalance throughout Europe had a far-reaching impact the world over.
On the other hand, this increase in the governments’ share of the GDP led them to take loans from other countries. For example, Britain borrowed heavily from not only the Government of the US but also from the American railways and Wall Street. The repayment of these loans was funded by German indemnity funds and a vicious circle of loans and repayments was created. By 1931, this circle collapsed resulting in major economic crises throughout the world. Germany naturally was impacted the most. (Bessel, 188-90).
These economic doldrums lead to food shortages throughout Europe. In Austria, pigs were slaughtered on such a large scale that by the end of the war there was practically no meat. Rationing was imposed in many countries. In Britain rationing in meat, sugar butter, etc was imposed in 1918, but the bread was spared.
Continued warfare created widespread grievances among the worker regarding price rise working overtime and on Sundays, dispute pay alcohol control, etc. the grievances were expressed through frequent strikes. Membership to the trade union doubled between 1914 to 1918. (Bessel, 192)
This war polarized the world based on allegiance! The two poles or power blocks being the Entente Powers, or ‘Allies’ and the Central Powers. Allied countries were Russia, France, Britain, and their allies, and the Central Powers being constituted of Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey, and their allies. The latter group was called Central Powers since they were located around the center of the European continent. First, in October 1914 the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, then Bulgaria a year later. Later the US joined the Entente Powers. Although Italy, was initially a Central power she switched over to join the Allies. All these aggravated the global economic crisis. This turbulent economic scene was further aggravated by the conscription policy, whereby nearly all physically fit man was eligible to be put in uniforms. Of those who joined the army, many lost their lives and an even greater number were wounded. Workforce shortage was a major problem faced by most countries. (Vogt, 234-6).
Abdication of the Kaiser
The most significant fallout of WWI was perhaps the various revolutions causing the rise of a wave of communism in many of the European countries. The most significant was, of course, the Russian Revolution of 1917. A wave of socialist revolution swamped over Germany and Hungary. Several communist parties became politically active and powerful. Eventually, the Kaiser had to abdicate and the Third Reich or the Weimer Republic was formed.
Extremist views towards the government
As WWI entered into the fourth year, it became evident to many Germans that the war was virtually lost. Thus, moves were required in the direction of peace so that amends could be made to the best advantage of Germany. In November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and the Weimar Republic was constructed.
The treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919. By this Treaty, Germany had to take the entire blame for the war and had to pay an indemnity of £ 6.6 billion. The amount was so large that it was to take seventy years for Germany to make the full payment. The German nationalists were much enraged by it. The other most significant clause of the treaty that affected Germany and displeased its people more was the downsizing of the German army, renouncing the tanks, and dissolving the Air Force. German territories were transferred while the German colonies were redistributed among the Allied powers. (Vogt, 229-30).
Foundation of the Third Reich
The German nationalists naturally did not agree to the above clauses and did not accept it as legitimate. They began active propaganda against the unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles. This provided the base for the future political rise of the Nazis under Hitler.
Roles of women
The decisive role that the women performed during World War I had a significant impact on their later lifestyles in terms of their social status, professional disposition, etc. Illustratively, while, a very large number of women were deployed in the front, being enlisted for services in the Navy in the US, in factories, offices, and hangars for building aircraft, a large number of them adopted the nursing and other voluntary works at the back end, keeping the “home fires burning”. This diverse involvement of women considerably redeemed their image of professionalism and versatility and expanded their possible role in society, with several of them later finding employment in the Red Cross and several European countries, extending the right of franchise to women, following the war.
However, the question of whether the War had left an edible mark in changing for good, the societal perception of women as an emancipated force, is open to debate.
As WWI neared its end, the victorious Allied Powers blamed Germany for the war. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles put the blame squarely on Germany’s shoulder and expected Germany to pay for it in various ways. (Massie, 198-9).
Blame of the war
However, during the 1920s and 1930s, gradually the situation changed and a softer attitude towards Germany developed mainly by the efforts of the War Guilt Section of the German Foreign Office. ‘Revisionist’ historians (most significantly American historian Sydney Bradshaw Fay) and the Marxist (Communist) historians tried to put forward a different view of German responsibility for the war during the 1930s and blamed nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the system of alliances, while some historians blamed the European politicians for the WWI. (Massie, 74-6).
Prospects of the new government
The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George (1934) it seems, tried to accept some of the blame in his War Memoirs by saying “We muddled into war.” (Morris, 198)Though purposeful initiatives were taken much before the abdication of Kaiser, with clear signals of the war slipping out of hand, dawning on the German political establishment, the Weimer Republic was announced only in November 1918, after the formal abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. With a political vacuity looming large, efforts were made to establish an alternative government that would legitimize the decision-making process in terms of the peoples’ will. The Interim government was formed on 9 November 1918. In August 1919, the constitution was framed and the Weimer Republic was formed, which remained in power until 1933 thereafter Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 and Third Reich rose to power. (Morris, 211).
Why Germany felt the most impact from World War I
Amount of military spending
WWI caused widespread economic problems for virtually all the European nations involved in the war. Funding the First World War proved a severe economic strain on all the European nations, particularly Britain and, of course, Germany. Britain was the largest investor in the world. It became one of the biggest debtors. The political doldrums affected the German government along with the allies, the Central Powers.
The early twentieth century saw dichotomous opinions among European politicians. One opinion was that progress would prove to be the antidote to warfare. The other opinion was that war would be rendered inevitable given the arms race that was fiercely followed by several nations. Germany accelerated the process a few steps further by holding that not only was war inevitable and that it should happen at the earliest, while they still had an edge over their primary enemy, Russia. Since Russia was an ally of France, Germany was apprehensive about a dual attack from both sides. Tensions escalated. This resulted in providing more for the army. Sustaining the army, refurbishing it, as well as maintaining the basic economic structure of the country were proving to be a major strain for Germany. (Morris, 176).
Implications of the treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the German exchequer with its fantastic war indemnity and truncated commercial endeavors economic recession was widespread with the scarcity of food. (Choudhry, 3)
Conclusion: why repercussions of the First World War affected Germany the most
The end of the War was heralded by several treaties, of which the most significant being the Treaty of Versailles, [28 June 1919], despite the armistice of Allied powers with Germany [11 November 1918]. One of the most significant results of WWI was the redefinition of the international borders throughout Europe. The countries, which formed the Central Powers, lost much territory, and many new states were formed. (Choudhry, 7)
As a post-war effort, to avert any future war of this magnitude the League of Nations was created. This international organization was thus formed to provide a platform to the majority of the nations throughout Europe and find ways to solve their diplomatic problems amicably, thereby, avoiding any future differences and wars. (Choudhry, 5)
Bessel, Richard; Germany after the First World War; Oxford University Press, 1995.
Vogt, Hannah, Gregory Peter Ed Peter Ed Vogt, Gordon A. Craig & Herbert Strauss; The Burden of Guilt: A Short History of Germany, 1914-1945; Oxford University Press US, 1966.
Massie, Robert K; Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea; Ballantine Books, 2004.
Morris, Warren Bayard; The Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany; Nelson-Hall, 1982.
Choudhry, Taufiq; Month of the year effect and January effect in pre-WWI stock returns: evidence from a non-linear GARCH model; International Journal of Finance & Economics; Volume 6, Issue 1, 2001, Pages: 1-11.