The First World War was the most destructive war fought between the highly organized states of the 20th century. It was the first war on a large scale that dislocated the political, social, economic and military structures and the whole world. Every belligerent state bore lasting scars of the terrible ordeal between the years 1914 - 1918. Its impact will directly and indirectly continue to affect the style and pattern of life of mankind in the universe.
i) Political freedom
The war gave rise to new and independent states on the map of Europe. The Versailles peacemakers granted independence to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia etc. The independent Republic of Yugoslavia was created by merging Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro.
Rumania also became independent and even acquired Bessarabia from Russia and Transylvania from Austria-Hungary. Most of the newly created states were formerly under the Ottoman Empire. However, the merging of different nationalities brewed conflict, which led to political instability that characterized the inter-war period.
ii) Territorial re-adjustment
Some territorial changes were witnessed due to the outcome of World War I. At Versailles, France regained the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, the works of arts and her flag that were confiscicated by Germany in 1871. Germany also lost Schleswig to Denmark, Eupen and Malmedy to Belgium amongst others. Italy gained Trieste and Trientino from Austria which were inhabited by Italians but still ruled by Austria. Austria lost Bosnia and Herzegovinia to the newly created state of Yugoslavia and Slovenia to
Czechoslovakia. These territorial re-adjustments created new boundaries and redrew the map of Europe.
iii) Formation of the League of Nations
The formation of the League of Nations in Jan 1920 was an outcome of the First World War. The devastations and sufferings of the Great War cautioned the great powers of the necessity to avoid a war of such nature in future. This gave rise to the League of Nations as an international organisation to maintain peace in Europe. This was because the weakness of the International Court of Justice was partly responsible for the outbreak of World War I and its disastrous consequences. The League of Nations was to diplomatically resolve conflicts and protect the territorial integrity and independence of weaker states as a strategy of creating a lasting peace.
iv) Rise of Japan and USA
The war led to the rise of Japan and USA since they were not greatly affected. After the collapse of the Tsarist regime in Russia, Japan expanded in the east. She took advantage of the eastern markets to strengthen her economy. By 1917, USA had supplied the allies with ammunitions and other supplies, which brought her economic prosperity. She also gave loans to states for financing the War and post war recovery from which she reaped a lot of interest after the war. After the war Japan and USA continued their dominance In the supply of manufactured goods to the world. This consolidated the economic, military and political influence of Japan and USA alongside Britain in European and World affairs.
V) The triumph of communism in Russia and its spread to Eastern Europe
The First World War led to the rise of communism in Russia that spread to Eastern Europe by 1939. The chaos and catastrophic effects of the war in Russia created a revolutionary mood against the Tsarist regime led by Tsar Nicholas 11. Consequently, revolutionary leaders like Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky mobilized the Russians in a dual revolution that ended in a communist government on Nov 1917. Thereafter, communism spread to Eastern Europe and became a threat to capitalist Western Europe by 1939. This later created an ideological struggle between communist Eastern Europe led by USSR and capitalist Western
Europe led by USA that is known as the Cold war.
vi) The downfall of conservative and autocratic governments
The collapse of conservative and dictatorial governments in Europe was also a consequence of the First World War. The negative effects of the war were blamed on conservative and autocratic regimes that were accused of provoking the war. The Germans blamed the Hohenzollem dynasty, the Russians accused Tsardom, Austrians and Hungarians 'fixed their eyes' on Hapsburg Empire as the Balkan states held the Ottoman Empire responsible for the horrible experience they went through. By 1939 these conservative and autocratic governments were over thrown and replaced by new once.
vii) The rise of Republicanism in Germany
The First World War led to the rise of constitutional and democratic government in Germany. As Germany was on the verge of her final defeat towards 1918, there was public outcry against Kaiser William II who eventually fled to exile and left a political vacuum in Germany. European powers like France and Britain were fed up of the autocratic German monarchical government and wanted a republican government in Germany. The British and the French therefore advocated for the establishment of a democratic government similar to those in Britain and France, which would be a puppet government of foreign powers. This led to the rise and existence of the Weimer republic which transformed Germany from a Monarchy to a democratic state between 1919to 1933.
viii) Destruction of social class division
The war ended social class division in a number of European states. The war destroyed investments and properties of wealthy people especially the middle class and landlords in states like Britain and France.
The chaotic atmosphere created by the war favoured looting by the poor especially peasants some of whom became rich and moved to the level of middle class. During the war, people of different social classes and nationalities fled and hid together and shared the same camps, sickbays and hospitals.
After the war, it became difficult to differentiate between a peasant and a middle class since the social gap was narrowed by the war. It led to the spread of the idea of social equality and fraternity that led to the rise of cultural tolerance in Europe. This ended Social class conflicts in Europe as there was mutual respect for all mankind without prejudice.
ix) Women emancipation
The First World War contributed to the growth of women emancipation movement. It created an environment that led to social changes in Europe and indeed the world. The war led to acute shortage of men since most of them were killed and disabled. It made women to be employed in factories, shops, public office, hospitals and schools that were formally for men. They started putting on tight miniskirts and trousers as they did work that were originally preserved for men. This led to women emancipation and the idea of equality since women's talents were realized. Women formed social movements to advocate for equality with men. Consequently, in Britain all women aged 30 and above were given the right to vote.
Thus the war led to social changes in the status of women that made them to play more active role in their communities.
x) Improvement in education
There was improvement in education, science, technology and further spread of industrial revolution. This was done because it was realized that Europe needed educated labour force for progress. In Britain, the 1918 education act tried to provide a full and adequate education for the country's children. Science and technology were also improved. After the war, wartime research and inventions were used to make industries more efficient and organized. For instance, there was development of bomber aircraft industry and air travel after the war. However, the progress of science and the sufferings experienced during the War made many people to lose faith in religion and the idea of the existence of the almighty God. This led to a decline in religious beliefs that made 1920'sto be referred to as the Gay years.
xi) Romanticism and merry making
The War led to a culture of romanticism and merry making in Europe. The physical and psychological effects of the war made the youngsters and other survivors to resort to merry making in an attempt to forget the miseries, trauma, and stress from the war^ In London and other big cities of Europe, people resorted to dancing, jazz music, parties and other leisure activities. Other drew pictures and made art pieces depicting the terrible experience they had witnessed. All these made the post-World War I period to be code-named Gay Twenties.
The greatest effect of World War I was the loss of millions of abled bodied persons let alone disabling many more. It's estimated that 13,000,000 people were killed in the actual fighting while 10,000,000 were permanently disabled. For every minute of fighting, four soldiers were being killed and nine wounded. At the national level, David Thomson reports that one Frenchman was killed every minute between August 1914 and Feb 1918. This death toll was further accelerated by famine, diseases during the war, appalling condition of prisoners of war and other calamities related to the war. The .overall consequence was depopulation that left about 10,000,000 orphans and widows.
ii) Change in the population structure
The war changed the population structure in Europe. The massive death of men especially at the battle field created a demographic structure dominated by women and children than men. The high death rate was also followed by low death rate since the number of productive people was greatly reduced. It created labour shortage that made industrialists to resort to women and children. However most of the women and children were inexperienced and inefficient, which often resulted into production of sub standard commodities that could not be solved in the world market. On the other hand, employment of children in dangerous factories and mines was the beginning of child abuse, which is a social evil up to today. Thus, the First World War can be blamed for availing a favourable atmosphere that led to child labour with all its dangers on the children.
iii) Displacement of people
The war led to massive displacement of people in Europe. There was a large influx of homeless refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. It's estimated that about 21 million people were displaced and became homeless. Many of these were kept in camps in Western Europe during and after the war. This left the allied powers with the problem of how to repatriate and rehabilitate such displaced persons. This burden was shouldered by the international community through the League of Nations.
iv) The plight of prisoners of war
The war left behind the challenge of prisoners of war. During the war, the allied powers got many Germans, Austrians, Bulgarians, and Turks etc as prisoners of war. The central powers also managed to take a good number of Russians, British, French, Belgians etc as prisoners of war. After the war, belligerents had so many prisoners of war. For instance, Russia had about 427,000 prisoners of war. The challenge was big as such a state had to provide basic services like food, water, accommodation, medical services and security. This challenge ended after the League of Nations took over and repatriated the prisoners of war to their countries.
v) Destruction of property and infrastructure
The war led to wanton destruction of property and infrastructure with the exception of USA and associated powers outside Europe. Production assets like industries, mines, hospitals, clinics, educational institutions, shops, hotels, administrative centers, residential houses, roads, railways, bridges, military equipments and weapons all suffered destruction during the war. Of equal importance was agriculture where valuable food and cash crops together with livestock were killed, confiscated or destroyed. France, Germany and Belgium experienced the worst damage because they were at the centre of the war. The damages led to famine, starvation and malnutrition in the whole world. These were worst in Germany where production fell by 70%. The Russians suffered severe famine due to the German destruction of Ukraine wheat field that used to be the principle supplier of wheat in Russia.
vi) Economic decline
The war seriously drained the economy and resources of the world leading to economic decline and hardships. Huge chunks of money were squandered in financing the war and economic recovery programs after the war, yet most of the productive assets like industries and mines were razed to the ground. Some other industries that survived were closed and those that initially produced consumer goods resorted to production of war materials. This led to shortage of commodities, inflation, unemployment, heavy debt burden, poor standard of living and decline in international trade.
Britain that had dominated trade as the workshop of Europe suffered greatly due to the war. She concentrated on the production of war materials, which made her customers to switch to other countries for essential commodities. When the War ended, they could no longer renew their trade relations with Britain. Yet the few customers that remained were so devastated by the war that they did not have the money to buy British goods. Germany herself was crippled by reparations that she paid in kind and this destroyed the British trade the more. ' " "
Germany's economy suffered most as she was deprived of all her colonies in Africa, Middle East and Asia. She was disarmed and forced to pay a heavy war indemnity of £6,600m. This made Germany to be on top of the great economic depression in Europe. For instance, by 1931 Germany had 6,000,000 unemployed people while Britain had 3,000,000.
vii) The Great Depression of1929-1933
The First World War, contributed to the outbreak of the World economic depression of 1929-1933.
Destruction and closer of industries led to mass unemployment and low purchasing power that huge quantities of commodities unsold. International trade declined because countries were left so poor that they could not import large quantities of foreign products yet their own domestic markets were flooded with surplus products. Above all many European countries were heavily indebted to USA as a result of loans borrowed to finance the war and reconstruct the economy after the war. The repayment of such debts to USA more over in form of Gold reduced money supply and led to the outbreak of the Great Depression by 1929.
viii) The downfall of Germany and her allies
The war led to the fall and disintegration of Germany and her allies. After her defeat, Germany was partitioned into two with the Polish Corridor mining through it to the port of Danzig. The Austrian empire disappeared from the map of Europe. Austria was reduced to a small land locked country with a population entirely German speaking of about 7 million while Hungary was isolated with a population almost entirely made up of Magyar of about 8 million.
ix) The end of former treaties and alliances
The First World War destroyed and ended the then existing treaties and alliances. The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 violated the London treaty of 1839 that had guaranteed the independence and neutrality of-Belgium. In 1915, Italy signed the treaty of London by which she joined the triple entente to fight against the triple alliance which she had been a member (sincel882whenshe signed). With this, Italy fought against Austria and Germany who were her former allies. In 1917, Russia signed the treaty of Brest Litovsk with Germany by which she abandoned the triple entente and crossed to Germany's side after being defeated (by Germany). These shifting of sides weakened former treaties and alliances and made it impossible to renew them after the war. However, new treaties and alliances like the little entente of
Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and France (1921-1927) and the axis alliance of Germany, Italy and Japan (1937) reemerged in the inter war period. The new treaties and alliances had different membership some of which included former enemies of World War I, hence the dynamics of inter war politics.
x) Political changes in favour of dictatorship
The war resulted into political changes that favoured the rise of dictatorship in Europe between 1919 and 1936. The social and economic problems created by the war made people to lose faith governments that led them into the war. This undermined the pre-war governments that was used by ambitious men like Lenin, Mussolini, General Franco and Hitler to mobilize the masses that led to the collapse of the then existing governments. This was responsible for the rise of Communism in Russia in 1917, Fascism in Italy (1922) and Spain (1939), and Nazism in Germany in 1934. These were because the masses preferred strong, militant and authoritarian governments that could effectively defend their territorial integrity and independence.
xi) The Negative implications of the 1919 Versailles settlement.
The First World War was concluded with the Versailles treaty of 1919 that had negative implications on Europe. The treaty was dictated and Germany plus her allies were forced to sign against their will. The terms of the treaty liketates; war guilt, reparations, disarmament, territorial and mandate clauses brought several negative changes against the defeated nations in favour of the victorious powers. Japan and Italy who were on the side of the victorious powers were also unfairly rewarded for their efforts. Consequently, they joined Germany in the Tokyo-Rome -Berlin axis and waged a network of aggressions that destabilized European peace in the inter war period.
xii) The outbreak of World War II
The First World War laid foundation for the outbreak of World War II. The destroyed European economy and led to economic depression that destroyed diplomatic relations and led to the outbreak of World war II by 1939. The war was also concluded by the unfair Versailles settlement that left Germany, Italy and Japan with a high spirit of revenge rather than reconciliation. It also led to the rise of aggressive leaders like Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy who waged a series of aggression that climaxed into the German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II. To this extent, one can conclude that the Second World War was a continuation of the First World War.