The effects of the First World War were felt worldwide and from a multitude of angles. Politically, economically, and culturally all of Europe was affected and some nations way more than others. As with the origins of the war, the war’s end and consequences are still debated. The two nations most affected by the war were Germany and France, but you also see disruption among places like Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. World War I was before its time, the world was not ready for such a large-scale conflict that involved more countries than ever before. It was the deadliest and most expensive war than any one previous, using technology and tactics never seen before. The effects of World War I are still being felt today and set the frame work for the 20th century.
World War I was the deadliest war the world had ever seen up to that point. Resulting in the deaths of over 9 million soldiers and another 21 million were wounded. Civilian casualties caused by the war were close to 10 million. Countries such as France and Germany sent almost “80 percent of their male populations between the ages of 15 and 49 into battle.” World War I is often referred to as “the first modern war”, due to the many new technologies that were introduced. This made the war way more violent and trauma inducing. The technologies that were introduced were machine guns, submarines, tanks, airplanes, long range artillery, and poison gas. These technologies all contributed to a slaughter and massive death toll. The culture of war was changed forever, it was no longer stand in a field across from the enemy with bugles playing patriotic music and then shoot at each other and reload. It was now full blown total warfare, technology was ahead of its time and the tactics of previous wars, this eventually resulted in trench warfare and stalemates. It was no longer heroic to go to war, after World War I soldiers came back and could not assimilate back into society.
Other than the massive effects due to technology on warfare and how it changed the culture of war forever. Europe experienced a vast cultural change across its boarders. The map of Europe had been redrawn after the war. Due to the Treaty of Versailles and many other subsequent treaties, much of the territory in central Europe gained a new status. The fall of the major four imperial dynasties, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and The Ottoman Empire. Independent states grew out of these such as, “Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the Baltic to a reconfigured Poland, from the greatly reduced and now autonomous nations of Austria and Hungary, to new states such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.” Nations like Bulgaria were ignored in their claims, while Romania and Greece gained territory. There was a vast migration of as “minority” populations were transferred to other states. “1.3 million Greeks “returned” to Greece, and some 400,000 Turks and 200,000 Bulgarians joined Turkey.” There was also a reshaping in the Middle East, The Ottoman Empire had lost control of its possession in that region and would emerge as Turkey. Britain and France also had secretly had a deal called the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, dividing the empire between themselves. The Ottoman Empire found themselves unhappy within the imperial orbit of Britain and France. This unhappiness within nations and ethnicities all around Europe and within Europe gave rise to the atmosphere that would lead to World War II. Another cultural upheaval during the war was the massive influx of women in the workplace. Women were forced to run businesses while the men were fighting and labor laws started to be enforced due to the mass production and mechanization. Overall people wanted better living and working standards. Finally, people became more nationalistic and the war marked the end of colonialism. The mother countries like France and Britain became significantly weaker militarily and economically. One after another colonial revolt started up in Southeast Asia and Africa calling for independent nation states. The culture and the maps of the modern world was changed forever due to the first modern war.
Economically World War I took an insurmountable toll on most countries, but Germany was significantly more affected than others. Given the shakeup of the European empires and the redistribution of powers, the economic consequences of the peace varied from state to state. All participants faced the costs of war, whether it be lives lost, material damage, or the destruction of property and key industries. The war changed the economic balance of the world, resulting in European countries deep in debt and leaving the U.S. in the best financial shape. The U.S. became the leading industrial power and creditor in the world. The defeated powers all faced extremely difficult economic situations, but even France and Britain faced the economic challenges of postwar reconstruction and substantial debt. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay reparations for the war mostly to France and, to a lesser extent, Britain received money “to help compensate them for wartime losses and to finance rebuilding efforts.”1 Germany’s economy was in shambles and was never close to paying the full amount of the demanded reparations from France and Britain. Germany was the clear loser, they were forced to pay roughly $32 billion dollars, which is an insurmountable sum. Economists argued that this big of a bill would not be paid off until 1988. Reparations did not only come in the form of money, there were a variety of forms such as, coal, steel, agricultural products, and even intellectual property, which was the trademark for Aspirin. Germany had to keep printing money in order to pay these reparations and this resulted in “hyperinflation”, the worst ever seen in the history of civilization. Germany had such terrible inflation that citizens had to walk around with wheelbarrows full of money just to buy simple groceries. One hundred thousand marks, which was life savings for some Germans, would not buy a loaf of bread. People were starving and poor, the state of Germany was in such turmoil it was unprecedented. It took the Dawes Plan of 1924 and the help of U.S. money for the German economy to start to recover. Nonetheless, this is a real reason for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. The far-right Nazi’s pressured the Weimar Republic, which was the Socialist German Workers’ Party. The Nazi’s gained power from the harsh conditions of Germany and blamed capitalism, liberalism, the ruling class, communists, and trade unions for the nation’s problems. All which they claimed, were connected to the Jews. The economic effects of World War I were felt all over Europe and impacted every nation. No impact was as great as Germany’s and for this reason the hardships of the German nation and people due to the staggering costs they had to pay set the blueprint that resulted in the Nazi Party and World War II.
There were evident political effects that followed World War I. The collapse of four monarchies: German, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman, and Russian. The war took such a toll on society that it made people more open to other ideologies, such as the Bolsheviks that came to power in Russia and the Nazism that took ahold in Germany. The collapse of the monarchies of Austria-Hungary and Ottoman, this created individual nation states with new governments and rulers. Changing the political map of Europe. Russia went straight from the brutality of war and right into the brutality of revolution and civil war, overthrowing the Tsarist regime. The ruling family collapsed as a result of the war and communist ideology spread. There was a general unhappiness among common people and farmers. The war for Russia was more of a slaughter than a war as the German technology far outgunned the capabilities of Russia’s. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and the ideas of Marx started a revolution with communist ideals. The Bolsheviks ruled Russia with an iron fist and communist ideals spread to many other countries around Russia. The Bolsheviks were willing to help start up revolutions to anyone interested in communism. Another political effect of World War I was the rise of fascism Italy. Rising from radical idealist in Italy who were unhappy with the current state of affairs at home, especially in Southern Italy. They emphasized nationalism and was created to bring stability for a brighter future. Led by Mussolini, he proclaimed himself as a nationalist socialist and claimed socialism to be a failure. He was successful amongst the people because he was opposed to class discrimination and warfare. The Italian people feared a socialist coup after World War I and they looked to Mussolini to prevent that. Hitler took Fascism to an ultra-radical state with the Nazi Party. Hitler and the Nazi’s usurped the weak Weimar Republic that was in place after the war and rallied the poor German people due to the Treaty of Versailles and promised them the revival of the “Greater Germany”. World War I and it’s ending was a time bomb that set off radical political ideologies that promised better lives for the people. The Italy of the 1920s, Germany of the 1930s, and the young Soviet Union, were among the citizens disappointed that the better post-war world that had been promised had not come into being. They were reclaimed by different forms of totalitarianism and the power of attraction that these ideologies had on the “‘new men’ born of the Great War, the ‘new men’ that the totalitarian regimes were out to promote.”3 It wasn’t long before these ‘new men’ born from World War I and its effects became the assassins that would start the next Great War. The political effects of the war are undeniable and changed the world forever.
World War I shattered millions of lives and the war is associated with waste and the sacrifice of innocent people. Lessons are learned from this war, as well as long term legacies. The war led to an altered cultural, economic, social, demographic, and political landscape across the European and Asian continents. Some countries emerged stronger than ever before, confident in their new global status and some countries rose out of the ashes of imperial collapse. Not just nations were affected by this war, the individual was as well. What survivors made of themselves after the war depended on a wide variety of things such as, ethnicity, class, age, nationality, religious faith, geographic location. There is no denying the numerous effects of World War I and that the people and nations that survived the Great War had a lasting influence on the world today.