Aftermath of the Great War

The Great War devastated the countries involved, both winners and losers. Nearly ten million soldiers were killed and another twenty million were wounded, not counting civilian deaths due to the war of another 7, 700,000. Battlefields became ugly scars on the land, and the emotional reaction to the war was equally scarred. Nearly the only reason for optimism after the war was the hope that it would be the last war of history, the war that ended all wars.

Because they called for an armistice before enemy soldiers had crossed the borders of their land, Germany and Austria (along with their allies Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) expected to approach the negotiating tables as equal partners with the Allied nations. Instead, Britain and France were determined to make their wartime enemies suffer, to make them pay the cost of the war. Meetings were scheduled in five suburbs of Paris, France: German representatives were sent to Versailles, Austrian to Saint Germain, Hungarian (being separated from Austria) to Trianon, Bulgarian to Neuilly, and Ottoman to Sevres. All these nations lost territory. All were required to reduce the size of their military strength. Germany and Austria in particular were required to pay penalties—reparations—to Britain and France. These large financial payments not only crushed the economies of Germany and Austria in the short term; they also hindered their ability to rebuild after the war for the long-term benefit of their citizens.

What could the representatives of these governments do? They were unable to return to the battlefield and continue the fight. Given no option, they signed the agreements they were handed and returned home. In the following months, the Ottoman Empire ended in civil war, producing the modern country called Turkey. Many of their west Asian possessions were put under the control of Britain and France. Meanwhile, leaders from the United States were equally disappointed by the injustice of the treaties written by Britain and France. The only American goal that was accepted in Europe was the concept of the League of Nations, an institution where nations could bring international problems for reconciliation without warfare. Britain and France and Italy all joined. Germany and Austria and the Soviet Union eventually joined. Most of the other countries in the world joined the League. But the United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty that would have included the United States in the League of Nations. Partly, the Senators’ refusal stemmed from disapproval of the negotiations. Largely, they resulted from “Isolationism,” determination not to become entangled in the problems of other nations. Ironically, the one American proposal that was accepted in Paris and put into practice by much of the world was refused and renounced by the government of the United States

Another aftermath of the Great War was an influenza pandemic. A new variety of the flu virus arose in the central agricultural section of the United States, probably in Nebraska or Kansas. Conscripted soldiers carried the virus into training camps, from which it spread to American cities. Then the soldiers brought the disease to the European battlefields, from which the new form of flu traveled to all the countries of the world. The disease, which became known as the Spanish Flu, killed more people than the war killed. It remains the most serious and deadly spread of disease in modern times.

The Great War also contributed to the Russian Revolution which produced the Soviet Union. Russian government had reformed after a revolution in 1905, but the war destabilized the Russian economy and politics, enabling a second revolution. Karl Marx had predicted that workers would rise against industrialization and capitalism, beginning where those phenomena had first appeared. Instead, the first Marxist government was formed in Russia. Lenin first called his party the Bolsheviks, which means majority (although they did not include, by far, a majority of the Russian people). They later changed their name to the Communist Party. They offered, not Communism, but Socialism, with a Marxist dream that sometime in the future the government would disappear and true Communism would emerge. The Revolution was not over in Russia when the Great War ended; fighting extended in some parts of Russia into 1923. By that time, even Lenin was willing to reconsider some of the socialist grabs of economic power and to allow some private ownership of property. But after Lenin died, Joseph Stalin emerged as a stronger and bolder leader. He placed the Soviet Union on a track of centralized government control, one of several totalitarian states established in Europe due to the aftermath of the Great War.

In general, the Great War led to an economic decline that was difficult to reverse. The pain was not felt at first in the United States, which benefited greatly from wartime sales of material even before American formally entered the war. A decade later, the United States also fell into Depression, a consequence of overproduction of materials for a world that was unable to buy what America had to sell. But the Great Depression was more than an economic upheaval. Depression of various kinds struck human society through the catastrophic destruction of the Great War. J.

4 thoughts on “Aftermath of the Great War

  1. Woodrow Wilson said we must enter the war to make the world safe for democracy. Sometimes I think the world would have been safer for democracy if the Germans had won the war. Certainly Hitler and the Nazi Party would never have come to power if that had been the case.

    Liked by 1 person

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