War And Peace

The Political Economic Social and Cultural Consequences of World War i

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At the outbreak of the First World War few had foreseen the revolutionary changes that were to transpire as a result of the conflict. These included political outcomes like the Treaty of Versailles, the decline of European power, democratic states taking the place of monarchies, and the rise of Communism and Fascism. There were also economic consequences, including the economic deterioration of Europe, and the rise of the United States as a global economic power. Meanwhile. the war's socio-cultural legacy included the emergence of a variety of revolutionary new artistic, literary, philosophical, musical, and cultural movements, and increased malice towards the Armenians in Turkey.

An immediate consequence of World War One, and the catalyst for many others, was the 1918 Treaty of Versailles, the excessively punitive covenant that formally ended the war. Widely lampooned, especially in retrospect, there can be little doubt that the treaty was grossly unfair. "The economic clauses of the treaty were malignant and silly to an extent that made them obviously futile [condemning] Germany to pay reparations on a fabulous scale" (Winston Churchill, The Second World War- Volume One, Sydney, 1948, p. 7). Article 231 of the treaty, the "War Guilt Clause", that held Germany responsible for the war, "imposed upon [the Allies] by the aggression of Germany and her Allies" (Article 231, Treaty of Versailles, 1919), was also widely considered to be unjust. Yet another flawed attribute of the treaty was the fact that it was devised by dissimilar people, with clashing objectives, and different interpretations of Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points", upon which the treaty was supposed to have been based. It was therefore "a maze of compromises and a clash of principles" (Geoffrey Blainey, A Short History of the 20th Century, Melbourne, 2005, p. 101) neither harsh enough to ensure Germany's continued incapacity to wage war, nor weak enough to allow for its gradual reintegration into a "new" post-war Europe.

Europe's economic, military, and decline was also directly attributable to World War One. Incapacitated by their appalling death tolls, in France for example, twenty percent of young men eligible for military service had lost their lives (Norman Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, London, 2005, p. 32), the countries involved, struggled to maintain a sufficient labour force. Damage to roads, railroads, vast areas of farmland and other important infrastructure, blockades and interruptions to shipping during the war, the gargantuan cost of the war, $US 196.5 billion, adjusted for 1990 dollar values (Nofi, Statistical Summary: America's Major Wars', [Online] at http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/cwc/other/stats/warcost.htm [accessed 15 March 2007]), and the looming spectre of having to repay war loans further contributed to the demise of Europe. The fact that Europe, seen previously as the bastion of civilization, could have allowed itself to wreak such havoc was understood, quite rightly, by the rest of the world as a sign that a cessation to the world's Eurocentricity was imminent (Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, p. 31).

Additionally, The First World War spurred the collapse of centuries-old empires, and the subsequent formation of various "successor" states. Dynasties such as the Habsburgs, Romanovs, and Hohenzollerns, which had dominated the European political landscape for centuries, and their empires, fell during or after the four-year war. This, the partitioning of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in particular, owing to its former confluence of different nationalities and the Wilsonian concept of national self-determination, paved the way for the establishment of a number of new national states. These states, the most notable of which were Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and Poland, were intended to serve as a democratic stabilizing influence in central and eastern Europe, and as a buffer against prospective attacks from communist Russia (Ibid., p. 59).

Out of these conditions of widespread upheaval and economic turmoil rose the first 1917 Russian revolution, and subsequently, the Bolshevik Revolution. Triggers of the first revolution included catastrophic Russian losses in World War One, financial hardship and food scarcity instigated by the war, and discontent amongst the "intensely patriotic" Russian general populace, faced with the daunting prospect of losing a third major war in a row, after the Crimean War in the 1850s and the 1905 Sino-Japanese War (Blainey, A Short History of the 20th Century, p. 88). Widespread dissatisfaction due to increasing governmental corruption, and the intransigent policies of Tsar Nicholas II also contributed to the general atmosphere of discontent, although it cannot be said that the uprising would inevitably have taken place as early, was it not for the catalysing conditions instigated by The First World War. The moderate provisional government established by the first revolution was perceived to have fared no better than had Tsar Nicholas II (Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, pp. 344-345). As a result, they too were overthrown, in November 1917, by Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik associates, forming the worlds first socialist state.

Another political movement to arise from the harsh conditions brought about by the First World War was Fascism, fundamental to which were the principles of extreme nationalism, totalitarianism, economic self-sufficiency, and military strength. Although Italy had been on the winning side, the war had been a drain on her resources, and she was heavily in debt. Additionally, the rise of communism in Russia had many Italians concerned, particularly wealthy landowners and industrialists, who feared losing their land. Others felt that they had been short-changed by the Treaty of Versailles, having been deprived of the territories in Dalmatia, Adalia, and the Aegean that they had been promised. Additionally, the current Italian government was thought by many to be feeble and indecisive (Ibid, p. 288). Largely because of these factors, Benito Mussolini and his fascist cronies rose to power in Italy in 1922.

Similarly, conditions in post-war Germany eventually gave rise to Fascism. It is though to have been brought about by a difficult economic situation due to hyperinflation and war debt, Germany's desire to avenge her loss in the First World War, the unpopularity of the "Weimar Republic, [which] with all its liberal trappings and blessings, was regarded as an imposition of the enemy" (Churchill, The Second World War - Volume One, p. 8), Germany's harsh treatment under the treaty of Versailles, the fear of communism, and militarist young men who had been agitated by war-time propaganda campaigns and were now reaching their mid-thirties. All of these factors were a result of the First World War.

The accelerated emergence of The United States as an economic superpower was an additional significant outcome of the Great War. In the years between 1914 and 1919, America experienced a one hundred percent increase in its share of world trade (Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, p. 59), largely due to economic opportunities presented by World War One. Countries such as China and India, which would otherwise have obtained their essential commodities from Europe were unable to do so, as a result of the First World War disrupting trade. Desperate for indispensable goods, coal for example, they turned to the United States, and, largely for reasons of convenience, continued to do so following the conclusion of the war. The buoyant American economy was further boosted by the prospect of the repayment of inflated war loans, if necessary.

Additionally, the advent of World War One resulted in an oft-disregarded escalation in the killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. As the Ottoman army mobilised, Armenians who should supposedly have been serving their country desisted, instead taking the side of the Russians. As the Ottoman army reported: "From Armenians with conscription obligations those in towns and villages east of the Hopa-Erzurum-Hinis-Van line did not comply with the call to enlist but have proceeded East to the border to join the organization in Russia." (Speech given by Dr. Justin McCarthy at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Ankara, March 24, 2005.) This was seen by the Young Turks as an opportunity to eliminate the empire's unpopular Armenian population. They proceeded to "embark upon the total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia" (Major General Otto von Lossow at the 1918 Batum Conference, attesting to the intentions of the Ottoman Government). The Armenian genocide of 1915-1918 is thought to have resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million people (Anon, Armenian Genocide - 1915-1918 - 1,500,000 Deaths' [Online] at
http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/Genocide/armenian_genocide.htm [accessed 13 March 2007]).

The horrors of the First World War led to widespread social trauma. This Disillusionment following the war manifested itself in a number of ways, sparking manifold artistic, literary, philosophical, musical, and cultural movements. In contrast to pre-war artistic movements, such as Impressionism, post-war art became bleak and cynical, changing the rules, abandoning tradition, experimenting with the unknown, and, above all, exposing the sham of western civilization (Kreis, The Age of Anxiety: Europe in the 1920s' [Online] at http://www.historyguide.org/europe/ lecture8 .html [accessed 15 March 2007]). Abstract movements such as surrealism, minimalism and futurism flourished. Modernist literature mirrored these new artistic movements, in its experimentation, cynicism, and austerity. Additionally, the disenchanted populace turned to nihilism, dadaism, and various other radically sceptical philosophies. A newfound disrespect for the elderly, who were seen by many youth to have caused the war, led to the formation of a rebellious "youth culture", along with the widespread popularisation of a defiant new style of music, jazz. Not all reduced themselves to miserable moping, however. Horror at the war's atrocities also prompted widespread pacifism and anti-nationalist sentiment. This led to the formation of a revolutionary new global mediation body, of sorts, the ill-fated League of Nations.

World War One was the world's first "total war" (Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, p. 31), meaning that it had involved "not just armies and navies but entire populations, and was the first big conflict between modern, industrialized nations" (Ibid). Because of this it resulted in outcomes the scale, magnitude, and horror of which were unprecedented. Entire generations of youth were traumatised by the misery of the war, whilst their countries struggled to recover from the severe economic downturns that resulted from the war. Because of this, it was hoped that World War One would be the "war to end all wars". However, this was not to be. Outcomes of the First World War included manipulated discontent over the Treaty of Versailles, people's misplaced confidence in The League of Nations, a sustained economic slide and the rise of communism, and subsequently Fascism. These were eventually among the primary causes of World War Two. Even the Armenian Genocide influenced the unspeakable horrors that were to come, with Hitler using the fact that "[no one] speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians" to justify his genocidal policies. As Marshall Foch foresaw upon the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, "This is not peace. It is armistice for twenty years." (Churchill, The Second World War - Volume One, p. 7.)


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