Developments towards World War 1 and related Events

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Developments Towards World War I

'The most important thing about the First World War is that it was unsought, un-intended and the product of a long sequence of events which began in 1871'- David Thomson (Europe Since Napoleon). 

The First World War is one of the most significant events in the history of the world. More important than the military significance of the war were its social, political, economic, and diplomatic consequences. The international situation in Europe for a little over two decades before the war was one of 'armed peace'.

Causes for World War I

It is difficult to analyse why the assassination in Sarajevo developed into a world war. Some historians blame Austria for being the first aggressor by declaring war on Serbia; while some others blame the Russians because they were the first to order full mobilization; some blame Germany for supporting Austria, and others blame the British for not making it clear that they would support France. If the Germans had known this, so the argument goes, they would not have declared war on France, and the fighting could have been restricted to eastern Europe.

Causes of World War I are examined here- 

  • Imperialism:

    • The European nations of the 18th and 19th centuries began their policy of Imperialism in other countries of the world by colonial expansion.
    • England, France and the Dutches extended their empires in India, Indo-China and Indonesia respectively. Other nations of Europe extended their domination in Africa. Germany could not tolerate this, decided to adopt the policy of colonial imperialism.
  • Extreme Nationalism:

    • During the 19th century, Nationalism played an important role in Europe. At first, this insurgent nationalism took its birth in Germany. Its ruler Kaiser William II was the symbol of extreme nationalism.
    • Influenced by him England, France, Holland and Austria also became proudly about their nationalism. This resulted in internal rivalry among the countries.
  • Industrial Rivalry:

    • Due to the Industrial Revolution, there was a revolutionary change in the European economy.
    • Different European nations established factories and tried for more production.
    • There was competition among the European nations for selling those products at a cheap rate. Further, they engaged themselves to increase their capital. These interactions created friction among themselves.
  • Trade and Competition:

    • Competition in trade was another cause of the First World War.
    • Owing to the tremendous increase in production, the European nations were in need of new markets. They attempted to prove themselves the best in the world. These trade rivalries lead to deepening the hostility among each other.
  • Colonialism:

    • From the trade rivalry, Colonialism was born. The European nations began to colonise their trade centres established in Asia and Africa. 
  • Establishment of Alliances:

    • Due to the German Occupation of Alsace and Lorraine, France was afraid of the war and concluded the 'Dual Alliance' with Austria in 1867. In 1882, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy formed the 'Triple Alliance'.
    • In order to dominate the power of Germany, France, Russia and England formed the 'Triple Entente' in 1907. In this way, the European Continent was divided into two rival camps which indicated a political storm in future.
  • Lack of International Institutions:

    • Before the First World War, there was chaos and confusion in the whole of Europe. There were no international organisations like the League to maintain law and order at that time.
  • Naval Competition:

    • England felt that Germany had upset the European 'Balance of Power' by the increase of soldiers in her army. Further, England was threatened by Germany's bid for naval supremacy. England also started increasing her Naval Supremacy.
    • This Anglo-German Competition paved the way for the outbreak of the First World War.
  • The character of Kaiser William II: 

    • The character of the German Emperor Kaiser William II was responsible for the outbreak of the First World War. He attempted to make Germany the 'World Power'. His anti-British attitude could not solve the Anglo-German rivalry.
  • The Morraccan Problem:

    • First Moroccan Crisis
      • In 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the Moroccan port and denounced French influence in Morocco.
      • The visit provoked an international crisis, which was resolved in France'sfavor at the Algeciras Conference, 1906. 
    • Second Moroccan Crisis
      • This crisis erupted when the Germans sent the gunboat “Panther” to the Moroccan port of Agadir, to protect German citizens there.
      • Germany claimed that the French had ignored the terms of the Algeciras Conference. TheGermans agreed to leave Morocco to the French in return for rights in the Congo, leading to its humiliation
  • Immediate Cause: 

    • The assassination of the Austrian Prince Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophia was the immediate cause of the First World War.
    • On June 28, 1914, Archduke Ferdinand along with his wife Sophia was assassinated by a student of the 'Black hand', a revolutionary organisation, at Sarajevo, the capital of Serbia.
    • This was the last expression of the increasing bitterness between Austria and Serbia. Austria made Serbia responsible for this crime and gave an ultimatum to answer within two days.
    • When Serbia did not listen to it, Austria declared war against Serbia on June 28, 1914. Russia took the part of Serbia whereas Germany supported Austria.

Major Events of World War I

  • 1914, World War I begins
    • June 28 – Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austria-Hungary's throne, and his wife, Sophie, are assassinated by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip while the couple were visiting Sarajevo.
    • July 28- Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
    • August 1- Germany declares war on Russia.
    • August 3- Germany declares war on France.
    • August 4- The United Kingdom declares war on Germany after Germany invades Belgium.
    • August 6- Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia and Serbia declares war on Germany.
    • August 19- U.S. President Woodrow Wilson announces the U.S. will remain neutral- Isolation Policy
  • Key events in 1915 
    • May 7 – The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania is sunk by German U-boat, U-20 Submarines
    • May 23- Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary
  • Key events in 1917
    • January 19 Germany sends the secret Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico in an effort to entice Mexico to join the war. The British intercept and decipher the coded message.
    • April 6- The United States declares war on Germany.
    • November 7- The Bolsheviks successfully overthrow the Russian government during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
    • December 17- The armistice agreed upon between the new Russian government and the Central Powers goes into effect.
  • Key events in 1918
    • January 8 – U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issues his Fourteen Points to peace.
    • March 3 – Russia signs the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which is a peace treaty between Russia and the Central Powers. November 9 – German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees Germany.
    • November 11 – Germany signs the armistice at Compiegne, France. Fighting ends.
    • World War I draws to a close in 1919
  • June 28, 1919- The Treaty of Versailles officially ends WWI.


Versailles Treaty, 1919

  • World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
  • Representatives of the 'allied or associated belligerent powers' met in Paris in January 1919 to lay down the conditions of peace, after the end of hostilities. The conduct and the main terms of the peace settlement were determined by the 'Big Four' – President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Clemenceau of France, Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Britain, and Orlando, the Italian Premier.
  • The actual settlement was consequently, a series of bargains and compromises between these four powers. With the Treaty of Versailles, peace was formally restored throughout the world.
  • Terms of the treaty:
    • There was a total of 440 clauses in the final treaty. The first 26 clauses dealt with the establishment of the League of Nations. The remaining 414 clauses spelt out Germany’s punishment.
    • General Clauses:
      • The establishment of the League of Nations
      • War Guilt clause – Germany to accept blame for starting the war.
    • Financial Clauses:
      • Reparations – Germany was to pay for the damage caused by the war. The figure of £6,600 million was set sometime after the signing of the treaty.
      • France was granted the coal mines of the Saar region in Germany for a period of 15 years. After 15 years, the local inhabitants would decide by a plebiscite as to which country they would prefer to join.
      • Germany was required to deliver large quantities of coal to France, Belgium, and Italy and iron and rubber to the other Allied Powers.
    • Military Clauses:
      • Germany was asked to disarm and abolish conscription
        • Army – was to be reduced to 100,000 men and no tanks were allowed
        • Navy – Germany was only allowed 6 ships and no submarines
        • Airforce – Germany was not allowed an Airforce
        • Rhineland – The Rhineland area was to be kept free of German military personnel and weapons
      • Germany was asked to dismantle her fortifications along the river Rhine and open the Kiel canal to all nations.
    • Territorial Clauses:
      • Land – Germany lost land to a number of other countries.
        • Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France
        • Eupen and Malmedy were given to Belgium
        • North Schleswig was given toDenmark.
      • The land was also taken from Germany and given to Czechoslovakia and Poland. The League of Nations took control of Germany’s colonies.
    • Political Clauses:
      • Germany recognized the independence of Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia and German Austria
      • She was asked to give her consent to the invalidation to the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest (signed with Russia and Romania in 1918
      • She had to permit the Allies to make new arrangements regarding the affairs of Eastern Europe
  • Evaluation of the Treaty:
    • Treaty of Versailles was one of the most controversial settlements ever signed in history.
    • An examination of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles reveals that the Allies were motivated by two principles while concluding a peace settlement with Germany. These were:
      • to take penal measures against Germany for her war crimes,
      • to prevent her from doing anything that could prove detrimental to the peace and security of Europe in the future.
    • However, the Treaty of Versailles was regarded by the Germans as a dictated peace that had been imposed upon them.
    • First, the Germans were not allowed to participate in the discussion at Versailles. They were simply presented with the terms and told to sign. These unnecessary humiliations evoked hatred and bitterness in the minds and hearts of the Germans.
    • Second, the number of reparations was so high that the Germans protested it would be impossible to pay. The Germans, therefore, soon began to default on the payment of their reparation instalments.
    • Third, the disarmament clauses of the treaty were deeply resented by the Germans because although the Allied Powers made guarantees of a universal reduction of armaments, and while efforts were made to disarm Germany by reducing her military power to a minimum level, the victorious Allied Powers did nothing to disarm themselves.
    • The injuries thus inflicted on German interests and prestige by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, were a cause of the Second World War.
    • Hitler aimed to make Germany peerless in Europe by repudiating the humiliating clauses of the treaty and so it could be argued that the Versailles Treaty contained some of the seeds of the Second World War.

Why did the Central Powers lose the war?

The reasons can be briefly summarized:

  1. Once the Schlieffen Plan had failed, removing all the hopes of a quick German victory, it was bound to be a strain for them, facing war on two fronts.
  2. Allied sea power was decisive, enforcing the deadly blockade, which caused desperate food shortages among the civilian population and crippled exports, while at the same time making sure that the Allied armies were fully supplied. The German submarine campaign failed in the face of convoys protected by the British, American and Japanese destroyers; the campaign itself was a mistake because it brought the USA into the war.
  3. The entry of the USA brought vast new resources to the Allies and made up for the departure of Russia from the war. It meant that the Allied powers were able to produce more war materials than the enemy, and in the end this proved decisive.
  4. Allied political leaders at the critical time – Lloyd George and Clemenceau were probably more competent than those of the Central Powers.
    • Given the fact that the British had no experience of trench warfare, and they were junior partners to the French, British General Douglas Haig learned remarkably quickly and proved to be an imaginative commander.
    • He took a leading part in reforming the army and preparing it for a major war before 1914.
    • Between 1916 and 1918 he was responsible for transforming the British Expeditionary Force from an inexperienced small force into a mass war was a winning army.
    • His battles in 1916 and 1917 (the Somme. Arras and Third Ypres), though his troops suffered heavy losses, played a vital role in wearing down the Germans, whose losses were also heavy.
    • Haig's generalship is a crucial component of the Allied victory in 1918. He had learned lessons about the effective use of tanks, and the avoidance of salients by using small groups of infantry attacking at different points along the trench line.
    • His idea of transporting infantry in buses to accompany the cavalry was very effective. Eventually, too, there was a great improvement in the coordination between infantry, artillery and aerial observation.
  5. The continuous strain of heavy losses told on the Germans – they lost their best troops in the 1918 offensive and the new troops were young and inexperienced.
    • At the same time, the forces available to the Allies were increasing as more Americans arrived, bringing the total of American troops to around two million.
    • From July 1918 onwards the Germans were forced into their final retreat.
    • An epidemic of deadly Spanish flu added to their difficulties and morale was low as they retreated. Many suffered a psychological collapse.
  6. Germany was badly let down by her allies and was constantly having to help out the Austrians and Bulgarians. The defeat of Bulgaria by the British (from Salonika) and Serbs was the final straw for many German soldiers, who could see no chance of victory now. When Austria was defeated by Italy at Vittorio Veneto and Turkey surrendered, the end was near.

The combination of military defeat and dire food shortages produced a great war-weariness, leading to mutiny in the navy, destruction of morale in the army and revolution at home.


Consequences of World War I

Economic impact: The direct expenditure on the war was 1,000 million rupees, but it is difficult to estimate the indirect loss of people and property.

  • Loss of manpower:
    • In all 60 million people participated in military activities, which is unprecedented in history. The proportion of slain and wounded among them rose steeply to 40%.
  • War Debts:
    • The public debt in main countries on both sides was 80,000 million pounds in 1914 which rose to 4,00,000 million pounds in 1918.
    • Several countries had to face great difficulty because of the destruction of property. In all property worth Rs. 1,32,000 million was demolished.
  • Loss to trade and commerce:
    • Now every nation was trying to curtail imports and increase its exports. For this, they raised customs duties exorbitantly and this reduced international trade all the more.
  • Labour Movement:
    • Millions of young men joined military services during the war. This caused scarcity of labour. The supply of arms and ammunition and other military equipment spiralled up.
    • This raised demand for labour. So they began to demand higher wages and a reduction in the number of hours of work.
    • Several labour unions were organised which started movements to have these demands fulfilled.
  • Rise of National Socialism:
    • After the end of the war, the communists still wanted the government to maintain its hold on industries.
    • But they did not succeed in their objective and the industries once again passed into the hands of capitalists, however, the state intervention continued in several ways and paved the way for national socialism.

Social Impact:

  • The minority issue:
    • The Peace Conference of Paris forced Poland and Czechoslovakia to guarantee the safeguard of the language, religion and culture of the minorities permanently residing in these countries, but Italy, refused to comply.
    • They thought that it thwarted their sovereignty, and created disruption in their states. Therefore this task was handed over to the League of Nations.
    • But the League failed to suggest any permanent solution to this problem.
  • Change in women's status:
    • During the war millions of men left their jobs and joined military services and to take their place in mills and factories, shops and offices and industries women stepped in. They also rendered useful service on the battlefield as nurses.
    • Thus they entered the life of economic development and proved their competence by working hard. This increased their self-confidence.
  • Cultural damage:
    • Many cultural bequests were destroyed and a whole generation of artists and intellectuals was swept away. Several schools and colleges were razed to the ground and scientists, writers and artists were killed.
  • Scientific Progress:
    • Many war-time inventions gave a new machine power to the world. The scientists gave not only tanks, aeroplanes and submarines but also revolutionized means of transportation. They discovered chemical weapons as well as new medicines. 

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