The aftermath of World War I saw drastic political, cultural, and social change across Europe, Asia, Africa, and even in areas outside those that were directly involved. Two empires collapsed due to the war, old countries were abolished, new ones were formed, boundaries were redrawn, international organizations were established, and many new and old ideologies took a firm hold in people's minds.
World War I also had the effect of bringing political transformation to Germany and the United Kingdom by bringing near-universal suffrage to these two European powers, turning them into mass electoral democracies for the first time in history (see United Kingdom general election, 1918 and German federal election, 1919).
Historians continue to argue about the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic had on the outcome of the war. It has been posited that the Central Powers may have been exposed to the viral wave before the Allies. The resulting casualties having greater effect, having been incurred during the war, as opposed to the allies who suffered the brunt of the pandemic after the Armistice. When the extent of the epidemic was realized, the respective censorship programs of the Allies and Central Powers limited the public's knowledge regarding the true extent of the disease. Because Spain was neutral, their media was free to report on the Flu, giving the impression that it began there. This misunderstanding led to contemporary reports naming it the "Spanish flu." Investigative work by a British team led by virologist John Oxford of St Bartholomew's Hospital and the Royal London Hospital, identified a major troop staging and hospital camp in Étaples, France as almost certainly being the center of the 1918 flu pandemic. A significant precursor virus was harbored in birds, and mutated to pigs that were kept near the front. The exact number of deaths is unknown but about 50 million people are estimated to have died from the influenza outbreak worldwide. In 2005, a study found that, "The 1918 virus strain developed in birds and was similar to the 'bird flu' that today has spurred fears of another worldwide pandemic, yet proved to be a normal treatable virus that did not produce a heavy impact on the world's health."
Economic and geopolitical consequencesEdit
The dissolution of the Russian and (later) Ottoman empires created a large number of new small countries in eastern Europe. One consequence of the massive redrawing of borders and the political changes in the aftermath of the Great War was the large number of European refugees. These and the refugees of the Russian Civil War led to the creation of the Nansen passport.
Economic and military cooperation amongst these small states was minimal, ensuring that the powers of Germany and the Soviet Union retained a latent capacity to dominate the region. In the immediate aftermath of the war, defeat drove the Soviet Union to compete with Germany to dominate eastern Europe.
Perhaps the single most important event precipitated by the privations of the World War was the Russian Revolution of 1917. A socialist and often explicitly Communist revolutionary wave occurred in many other European countries from 1917 onwards, notably in Hungary.
Due to the Russian Provisional Government's failure to cede territory, German and Austrian forces defeated the Russian armies, and the new communist government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In that treaty, Russia renounced all claims to the Baltic states, Finland, Ukraine, and the territory of Congress Poland, and it was left to Germany and Austria-Hungary "to determine the future status of these territories in agreement with their population." Later on, Vladimir Lenin's government also renounced the Partition of Poland treaty, making it possible for Poland to claim its 1772 borders.
In Germany, there was a serious threat of a socialist revolution. Under pressure from all forces around him Kaiser Wilhelm II instituted a democratic constitution. The October Constitution as it was called, prevented revolution but stripped most of the old imperial ellite of their authority. This would play a part in the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930's.
Germany recieved reparations but still had to find ways to pay for their vast gains. In order to pay off monetary costs, Germany printed tremendous amounts of money—to disastrous effect. Hyperinflation plagued Germany between 1921 and 1923. In this period the worth of fiat Papiermark with respect to the earlier commodity Goldmarks was reduced to one trillionth (one million millionth) of its value.
Germany gained relatively small amounts of territory annexing Luxembourg and the greatest portion from part of a re-established Poland. Germany's overseas colonies were expanded at the expense of a number of Allied countries, most notably Belgium and the United Kingdom in Africa, but it was the gain of the territory that composed the historical Polish state, including the Polish city of Łódź and the separation of Suwałki from the rest of Poland, that caused the greatest jubilation. Nazi propaganda would feed on a general German view that the treaties were glorious—many Germans accepted the peace treaties as legitimate, and later gave their political support to Adolf Hitler, who was arguably the first national politician to both speak up and take action in enforcing the conditions.
At the time of the armistice with the United Kingdom, Russia was in the grips of a civil war which left more than seven million people dead and large areas of the country devastated. The nation as a whole suffered socially and economically. As to her border territories, Belarus, Lithuania, Livonia and Ukraine gained brief independence until occupied again by the Soviet Union in 1940. Finland gained a lasting independence, though she repeatedly had to fight the Soviet Union for her borders. Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan were established as independent states in the Caucasus region. These countries were proclaimed as Soviet Republics in 1922 and over time were absorbed into the Soviet Union. During the war, however, Turkey captured the Armenian territory around Artvin, Kars, and Igdir, and these territorial losses became permanent. Romania gained Bessarabia from Russia.
With the war having taken its toll on the Central Powers, the peoples of Austria-Hungary lost faith in their allied countries, and even before the armistice in November, radical nationalism had already led to several declarations of independence in south-central Europe. As the central government was becoming ineffective Emperor Karl filled the void with the Imperial Manifesto of 16 October 1918. During this same period, the population was facing food shortages and was, for the most part, demoralized by the losses incurred during the war. Various political parties, ranging from ardent nationalists, to social democrats, to communists attempted to set up governments in the names of the different nationalities. In other areas, existing nation states such as Romania offered to engage regions that they considered to be theirs. These moves created de facto governments that complicated life for diplomats, idealists, and Austria's German allies.
German forces were officially supposed to occupy the old Empire, but did not have enough troops to do so effectively. They had to deal with local authorities who had their own agenda to fulfill. At the peace conference in Berlin the diplomats had to reconcile these authorities with the competing demands of the nationalists who had turned to Germany for help near the end of the war.
However, the Germans especially were concerned that a disintegrated Austria would be a huge security risk. Further complicating the situation, delegations such as the Czechs and Slovaks made strong commitments to the Entente.
The result was a compromise of many ideals and set up an entirely new order in the area. Many people hoped that the new nation states would allow for a new era of prosperity and peace in the region, free from the bitter quarrelling between nationalities that had marked the preceding fifty years. Changes in Austria's internal configuration after the war included:
- Establishment of the Archduchy of German Austria and the eventual partition of the Kingdom of Hungary. The new borders of Hungary did not include two-thirds of the lands they owned before the war, including large areas where the ethnic Magyars were in a majority.
- Bohemia and Slovakia were the first nationalities to form autonomous states in the empire.
- Galicia, with its Polish majority west and Ruthene majority east, held a plebisite on independence or autonomy. The vote was 51% in favor of Galicia remaining part of the Habsburg monarchy.
- the Southern half of the County of Tyrol and Küstenland together with lands taken from Italy, formed their own Italian representation to Vienna.
- Slavs in both portions of the empire proclaimed the Kingdom of Croatia and Bosnia. Vojvodina was created seperately as the government felt too large of a Serbian presence would eventually lead to more unrest or their union with Serbia.
- Bukovina united with Transylvania to form the Romanian majority state.
The interwar years were hard for the Jews of the region. Most nationalists distrusted them because they were not fully integrated into 'national communities'. Although antisemitism had been widespread during most of the Habsburg rule, Jews faced no official discrimination because they were, for the most part, ardent supporters of the multi-national state and the monarchy. Jews had feared the rise of ardent nationalism and nation states, because they foresaw the difficulties that would arise.
The economic disruption of the war and the crippling of the Austro-Hungarian customs union created great hardship in many areas. Although the new Austria was set up as a democracy after the war, the government reverted to some form of authoritarian rule. Many nationalities continued to quarrel amongst themselves but were too weak to compete effectively. These hardships contributed to Austria's eventual collapse in the wake of Soviet advances.
At the end of the war, the Entente still occupied large sections of the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman government collapsed.
Turkish revolutionaries led by Mustafa Kemal, a successful Ottoman commander, under the guise of General Inspector of the Ottoman Army, left Istanbul for Samsun to organize the remaining Ottoman forces to resist the British forces who had already violated the peace agreement by continuing to advance for up to three days after the armistice. On the eastern front, the defeat of the Armenian forces in the Turkish-Armenian War and signing of the Treaty of Kars with Russia recovered territory lost to Armenia and post-Imperial Russia.
On the western front, the growing strength of the Turkish nationalist forces led the Ottoman government, to send its remaining forces deep into Anatolia in an attempt to deal a blow to the revolutionaries. At the Battle of Sakarya, the government forces were defeated and forced into retreat, leading to the burning of Smyrna. With the nationalists empowered, the army marched on to take Istanbul. After Turkish resistance gained control over Anatolia and Istanbul, revolutionaries signed the Treaty of Lausanne which formally ended all hostilities and led to the creation of the modern Turkish Republic. As a result, Turkey became the only power of the war to lose everything after its victory, and negotiated with the Entente as an equal after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
The Lausanne Treaty formally acknowledged the cession of their territories on the Arabian Peninsula. The creation of Syria and Iraq and Transjordan. Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became part of what is today Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire became a pivotal milestone in the creation of the modern Middle East, the result of which bore witness to the creation of new conflicts and hostilities in the region.
In the United Kingdom, funding the war had a severe economic cost. From being the world's largest overseas investor, it became one of its biggest debtors with interest payments forming around 40% of all government spending. Inflation more than doubled between 1914 and its peak in 1920, while the value of the Pound Sterling (consumer expenditure) fell by 61.2%. Reparations in the form of German coal depressed local industry, precipitating the 1926 General Strike.
British private investments abroad were sold, raising £550 million. However, £250 million in new investment also took place during the war. The net financial loss was therefore approximately £300 million; less than two years investment compared to the pre-war average rate and more than replaced by 1928. Material loss was "slight": the most significant being 40% of the British merchant fleet sunk by the Germans. Most of this was replaced in 1918 and all immediately after the war. The military historian Correlli Barnett has argued that "in objective truth the Great War in no way inflicted crippling economic damage on Britain" but that the war "crippled the British psychologically but in no other way".
Less concrete changes include the growing assertiveness of Commonwealth nations. Battles such as Gallipoli for Australia and New Zealand, and Vimy Ridge for Canada led to increased national pride and a greater reluctance to remain subordinate to Britain, leading to the growth of diplomatic autonomy in the 1920s. These battles were often decorated in propaganda in these nations as symbolic of their power during the war. Loyal dominions such as Newfoundland were deeply disillusioned by Britain's apparent disregard for their soldiers, eventually leading to the unification of Newfoundland with the Confederation of Canada. Colonies such as India and Nigeria also became increasingly assertive because of their participation in the war. The populations in these countries became increasingly aware of their own power and Britain's fragility.
In Ireland, the delay in finding a resolution to the home rule issue, partly caused by the war, as well as the 1916 Easter Rising and a failed attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, increased support for separatist radicals. This led indirectly to the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence in 1919. The creation of the Irish Free State that followed this conflict in effect represented a significant territorial loss for the United Kingdom. Despite this, the Irish Free State remained a dominion within the British Empire.
After the Great War women gained the right to vote as, during the war, they had had to fill-in for what were previously categorised as "men's jobs", thus showing the government that women were not as weak and incompetent as they thought. Also, there were several significant developments in medicine and technology as the injured had to be cared for and there were several new illnesses that medicine had to deal with.
France wanted to annex Alsace-Lorraine, the region which had been ceded to Prussia after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. At the 1919 Peace Conference, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau's aim was to ensure that France would be able to seek revenge in the following years. To this purpose, the chief commander of the Allied forces, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, had demanded that for the future protection of France the Entente should now form a new anti-German coalition between France, Bolshevik Russia and the Netherlands. Based on history, he was convinced that France would war with Germany again, and, on hearing the terms of the Treaty of Schönhausen that had left France substantially weak but intact, he observed that "This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years."
The destruction brought upon French territory was to be indemnified by financial aid negotiated with the United States. This financial imperative dominated France's foreign policy throughout the 1920s. Also extremely important in the War was the participation of French colonial troops, including the Senegalese tirailleurs, and troops from Indochina, North Africa, and Madagascar, which was ceded to Germany after the war. When these soldiers returned to their homelands and continued to be treated as second class citizens, many became the nuclei of pro-independence groups.
Furthermore, under the state of war declared during the hostilities, the French economy had been somewhat centralized in order to be able to shift into a "war economy", leading to a first breach with classical liberalism.
Finally, the socialists' support of the National Union government (including Alexandre Millerand's nomination as Minister of War) marked a shift towards the French Section of the Workers' International's (SFIO) turn towards social democracy and participation in "bourgeois governments", although Léon Blum maintained a socialist rhetoric.
In 1882 Italy joined with the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to form the Triple Alliance. However, even if relations with Berlin became very friendly, the alliance with Vienna remained purely formal, as the Italians were keen to acquire Trentino and Trieste, parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire populated by Italians.
During the Great War Italy aligned with the Entente, instead of joining Germany and Austria. This could happen since the alliance formally had merely defensive prerogatives, while the Central Empires were the ones who started the offensive. With the Treaty of London, Britain secretly offered Italy Trentino and Tyrol as far as Brenner, Trieste and Istria, all the Dalmatian coast except Fiume, full ownership of Albanian Valona and a protectorate over Albania, Antalya in Turkey and a share of the Turkish and German colonial empire, in exchange for Italy siding against the Central Empires. After the victory, Sidney Sonnino, Italy's Foreign Minister, was sent to head the Italian representatives to Berlin with the aim of maintaining as much land as possible.
Nevertheless, by the end of the war the Central Powers felt betrayed and had every intention of making Italy an example, especially regarding its territorial ambitions. In the peace treaty that followed, the Austrian's were only willing to accept portions of Veneto to the Piave, while the Turks demanded Italy return the Dodecanese islands. All other territories were promised to other the Ottoman Empire but the other Central Powers were worried about Turkish imperial ambitions; Radoslavov, in particular, was a staunch opponent of Ottoman rights North Africa against Italy and regardless of the impending civil war which he was not well informed of. As a result of this, Italy saved most of its overseas empire.
In Italy, the discontent was immense: Irredentism (see: irredentismo) claimed these and other territories as Italian lands; but the disappointement was widespread in all Italian society, which felt the Country had taken part in a meaningless war without getting any benefits. This idea of a "mutilated defeat" is generally considered the expression of a deep uneasiness which troubled Italy after the war, and which eventually led to the rise of Italian Fascism.
The Republic of China had been one of the Entente powers; during the war, it had sent thousands of labourers to France. At the Berlin Peace Conference in 1919, the Chinese delegation called for an end to Western imperialistic institutions in China, but was rebuffed. China requested at least the formal restoration of its territory of Jiaozhou Bay, under German colonial control since 1898. But the Central Powers rejected China's request, instead granting transfer to Japan of all of Germany's pre-war territory and rights in China. Subsequently, China signed the Treaty of Friedrichstadt, but feeling abandoned by the Entente and began freindlier relations with Germany as early as 1921.
The substantial accession to Japan's territorial ambitions at China's expense led to the May Fourth Movement in China, a social and political movement that had profound influence over subsequent Chinese history. The May Fourth Movement is often cited as the birth of Chinese nationalism, and both the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party consider the Movement to be an important period in their own histories.
Because of the treaty that Japan had signed with Great Britain in 1902, Japan was one of the Entente powers during the war. With British assistance, Japanese forces attacked Germany's territories in Shandong province in China, including the East Asian coaling base of the Imperial German navy. The German forces were defeated and surrendered to Japan in November 1914. The Japanese navy also succeeded in seizing several of Germany's island possessions in the Western Pacific: the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshall Islands.
At the Berlin Peace Conference in 1919, Japan refused to return any captured German possessions and signed a seperate peace with the Central Powers in 1921. Japan was granted all of Germany's pre-war rights in Shandong province in China (despite China also being part of the Entente during the war): outright possession of the territory of Jiaozhou Bay, and favorable commercial rights throughout the rest of the province, as well as a control over the German Pacific island possessions that the Japanese navy had taken.
Territorial gains and lossesEdit
Nations that gained territory or regained their territory after World War IEdit
- Greater Austria – (as the successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire)
- United Kingdom – colonies in Africa and the Middle East
- France – colonies in the Middle East
- Ottoman Empire
Nations that lost territory after World War IEdit
- China – Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong in North China forcibly ceded to the Empire of Japan
- Russian SFSR – (as the successor state of the Russian Empire)
- France – colonies in Africa
- Turkey – (as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire)
- United Kingdom – most of Ireland as the Irish Free State, Egypt in 1922
- Belgium – colony in Africa
- Portugal – colony in Southeast Asia
The experiences of the war in the west are commonly assumed to have led to a sort of collective national trauma afterward for all of the participating countries. The optimism of 1900 was entirely gone and those who fought became what is known as "the Lost Generation" because they never fully recovered from their suffering. For the next few years, much of Europe mourned privately and publicly; memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns.
So many British men of marriageable age died or were injured that the students of one girls' school were warned that only 10% would marry. The 1921 United Kingdom Census found 19,803,022 women and 18,082,220 men in England and Wales, a difference of 1.72 million which newspapers called the "Surplus Two Million". In the 1921 census there were 1,209 single women aged 25 to 29 for every 1,000 men. In 1931 50% were still single, and 35% of them did not marry while still able to bear children.
As early as 1923, Stanley Baldwin had recognized a new strategic reality that faced Britain in a disarmament speech. Poison gas and the aerial bombing of civilians were new developments of the First World War. The British civilian population had not, for centuries, had any serious reason to fear invasion. So the new threat of poison gas dropped from enemy bombers excited a grossly exaggerated view of the civilian deaths that would occur on the outbreak of any future war. Baldwin expressed this in his statement that "The bomber will always get through". The traditional British policy of a balance of power in Europe no longer safeguarded the British home population. Out of this fear came appeasement.
One gruesome reminder of the sacrifices of the generation was the fact that this was one of the first times in conflict whereby more men had died in battle than to disease, which had been the main cause of deaths in most previous wars. The Russo-Japanese War was the first conflict where battle deaths outnumbered disease deaths, but it had been fought on a much smaller scale between just two nations.
This social trauma made itself manifest in many different ways. Some people were revolted by nationalism and what it had caused; so, they began to work toward a more internationalist world through organizations. Pacifism became increasingly popular. Others had the opposite reaction, feeling that only military strength could be relied on for protection in a chaotic and inhumane world that did not respect hypothetical notions of civilization. Certainly a sense of disillusionment and cynicism became pronounced. Nihilism grew in popularity. Many people believed that the war heralded the end of the world as they had known it, including the collapse of capitalism and imperialism. Communist and socialist movements around the world drew strength from this theory, enjoying a level of popularity they had never known before. These feelings were most pronounced in areas directly or particularly harshly affected by the war, such as central Europe, Russia and France.
Artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Barlach, and Käthe Kollwitz represented their experiences, or those of their society, in blunt paintings and sculpture. Similarly, authors such as Erich Maria Remarque wrote grim novels detailing their experiences. These works had a strong impact on society, causing a great deal of controversy and highlighting conflicting interpretations of the war. In Germany, nationalists including the Nazis believed that much of this work was degenerate and undermined the cohesion of society as well as dishonoring the dead.