The First World War

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Purpose[edit]

This page is dedicated to learning about the causes and effects of the First World War.

Introduction[edit]

The American diplomat and scholar, George Kennan, described the First World War as "the Seminal Catastrophe of this century." The war is often seen as a starting point, for without World War One, the great struggles of the 20th Century would have taken on a very different nature. Although it may be too much to say that the war "caused" National Socialism or Bolshevism, it did indeed lay fertile ground for the revolutions and change that defined the world after the war. Much of those ideological struggles were tied up into the economic turmoil of the war and its aftermath. The "Great Inflation" that occurred in postwar Germany remains one of the most studied economic phenomena in history and was deeply linked to the subsequent rise of Fascism. Large-scale mobilization and the economics of "total war" destroyed the pre-war economic order: after 1919, no country was able to go back onto the gold standard for any lengthy period of time, and attempts of nations to return to the gold standard are considered by many modern economists the most important causing factor of the worldwide Great Depression.

By the end of the war, the multi-ethnic, multi-national empires that had been the mainstay of early-modern and pre-modern world history had collapsed. Long known as the ailing great powers of Europe, both the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) empires fell and left nation states in their place.

World War One was not only a European phenomenon; it had great influence on the development and history of colonial empires. It is forgotten that over a million Indian troop fought on behalf of the British Empire, many of whom died. The Sykes–Picot Agreement was entered into secretly by the British and French and marked the national boundries of the Middle East which still largely exist in the same form today. Indian, Egyptian, Australian, South African and Canadian nationalism became more pronounced after the war; this development was connected to the contribution to the war effort of those colonies.

Causes of World War 1[edit]

1. The Rise of Prussia, the Creation of Germany and the Rise of the Second Reich

Through a series of wars in the late 1860s which culminated with the Prussian invasion of France in 1871, the creation of the German state became a reality. To understand the implications of this event, one must consider the "Balance of Powers" system that dated back to the end of the Napoleonic wars and the ensuing 50 years of peace. The system was built on the idea that no one state should be dominant and that the various states should be roughly equal in strengh. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist, and in its place, the Congress of Vienna created the German Confederation which was made up of about thirty independent states, including Austria, Prussia and Saxony. The peace settlement left central Europe intentionally weak to help balance the diplomatic situation in Europe. The confederation, in reality, had very little political power, and over time, Prussia became the most powerful state within the Confederation, and after successfully warring against Austria and France, Bismark was able to form a German state (which incidently excluded Austria) with Berlin, the capital of Prussia, as its capitol. The creation of German Empire is relevant to the First World War because the new state became a source of destability to the nation-state system in Europe. Although this assertion is certainly open to discussion and debate, it has been argued the mere creation of a German Empire would result in conflict so that the system could acquire a new balance.]