One of the most important consequences of World War I, the most tragic, was the death of 12 million people among soldiers and civilians. It was the first war in which the civilian population was bombed. The war was a major economic catastrophe and led to the disintegration of much of Central Europe. Moreover, the peace treaties signed after the war established a false peace, as for the defeated powers, especially for Germany, treaties fed high levels of resentment, as would be seen years later.
Demographic and cultural consequences of war
What was the demographic impact of World War I? The most significant was the high number of deaths among combatants and the civilian population. But we must also consider all those who were not born as a result of the war.
As a percentage, the distribution of deaths by country was as follows:
- Serbia: 30% of human losses
- Russia: 18%
- Austria-Hungary: 9.5%
- Germany: 8%
- France: 7.7%
- Italy: 7.6%
In the cultural field, the First World War had important effects on the mentality of the time, above all, it changed the valuation of violence and the idea of death.
Those who survived the long conflict did so after having lived through barbarism, and it resulted:
- The growth of pacifist thought;
- The rejection of wars.
The world of demobilized combatants and ex-military could not always recover their pre-war job. The ex-combatants longed for war. German writer, philosopher and historian Ernst Jünger, who participated in the First World War, wrote the book “Storm of Steel,” a song to war for which he had inner experience, in which he did not reject or temper the brutality of war and which catapulted him to fame. Jünger helped create a spirit of assaulting comradeship among German ex-combatants, key to the later rise of the Nazi movement.
Such ideas helped reunite the former soldiers and make them feel like honourable citizens. And this generated violent movements that in many cases ended in fascism. These groups, which defended violence, soon organized as political movements with armed groups inside, as fascists.
The socialist parties, as response, organized also their violent groups as a protective measure. In Germany, they founded the “parallel army” of the social democratic party.
Political consequences of war
The First World War forced States to embark on the path of reform of the political system. The liberal political system of free market competition, arising from the revolutions of the nineteenth century, was replaced by a liberal democratic system in which the state was increasingly present in the regulation of the economy and society.
The war also made inevitable the reform of the democratic electoral system, in which the right to vote was extended:
- 1915: Denmark establishes universal suffrage;
- 1909: Sweden establishes male suffrage. In 1921 came universal suffrage (women and men);
- 1917: The Netherlands establishes male suffrage. Universal suffrage was established in 1918;
- 1892: Belgium establishes male suffrage. It is granted according to the so-called plural voting system. Every man over 25-30 years of age has the right to one vote. If he also had a certain level of money, he could vote twice. And if he also had higher education, he would have 3 votes. It was not until 1919 that the single universal male vote was established. Universal suffrage was granted in 1948;
- In the nineteenth century in Britain the census vote was held. It gradually evolved into an electoral system in which wealth was not valued. In 1918 the universal male vote was established and the female vote in part (it was required to be more than 30 years old and be independent). In 1926, universal suffrage was introduced on an equal footing between women and men;
- 1919: Universal suffrage in Germany;
- 1919: Universal suffrage in the United States;
- In France, the Senate blocked universal female suffrage until after World War II.
The process of reform of liberal systems, which in some countries had begun before World War I, spread throughout Europe once the war was over. The most important aspect of political reform was the opening of the electoral process to all citizens. And this was due, among other reasons, to the important weight of the workers’ and socialist parties.
In Western Europe, the war meant that the working classes were given the right to vote. In Eastern Europe agrarian reform was promised, by the hatching of peasant parties, which would be done by expropriating owners who did not belong to the patriotic party, at the cost of land redistribution after the war.
Between 1917 and 1919 the revolutionary cycle ended: The Russian (communist) revolution, the German (democratic) revolution, defeated the revolutionary processes in Bulgaria and Bavaria.
The war also led to a reorganization of the world map, especially in Europe
- Disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire;
- Disappearance of the German Empire;
- Disappearance of the Russian Empire;
- Disappearance of the Ottoman Empire;
- Changes in the borders of Central and Eastern Europe.
- Beginning of a growing presence of Asia in the world dynamics in competition with the United States, England and France.
- The entry of the United States as a world power.
The war had direct consequences for the economy, but from the point of view of production it did not have catastrophic consequences, only in the areas where the war was suffered. The war did not affect the main European industrial centres. It was not so much the destruction of the industrial centres as the modification of the productive structures, in the modernization process.
The war led to the emergence of monopolies (cartels). This process favoured governments and also the process of union affiliation. They were interested in agreeing on production, social peace…. Modification of the business structure.
It also meant the modification of the economic policy of the states. From “laissez-faire, laissez-passer”, characteristic of classic 19th century liberalism, to the opposite: state interventionism in the economy. Interventionism that went through the regulation of the economy: prices and wages and intervention in sectors in crisis. This was the economic configuration of the 20th century.
Tendency to alliance between governments, businessmen and military commanders. Modifications in the way of working: the war economy favoured the expansion of the scientific organization of work. Chain work, in the United States by the hand of Henry Ford. Or Taylorism. The new monopoly capitalism was formed, where scientific works were carried out and factors such as productivity were contemplated.
Direct negative elements of war in production
|FRANCE. PUBLIC BUDGET, 1914-1918 (%)|
|Revenue : 16.5%|
|Extraordinary inflows: Bank of France loan: 13%|
|Public Debt: 69.7%|
|Foreign Debt (UK & US): 17%|
|National Debt: 52.7% (loans of war)|
|Short-term Debt: 25%|
The war in Germany and Great Britain oversized certain economic sectors, such as coal and steel (necessary to build war and transport machinery), so that during the war there was considerable overproduction of these materials. What happened next? The problem of coal mining in Great Britain: after the end of the war a good part of the mines had to reduce their production and there was the most important social conflict in Great Britain, which was not resolved until 1926.
Once the war was over, a period of inflation and indebtedness began, hindering economic recovery. It was part of the origin of the 1929 crisis. Public budgets skyrocketed.
The advances of the Bank of France had a very negative consequence for the economy, since they produced the increase of inflation. Loans from foreign countries turned war into business.
From 1920, Germany began to suffer the effects of the loss of the productive sector and the war reparations imposed by the peace treaties. It would have repercussions on social conflict. The biggest strikes will take place at this time.
|Inter-allied Loans (in millions of US$)||USA||UK||FR|
The United States was the country that lent money to all the states and in greater quantity.
As for inflation, it was a consequence of:
- The increase in money in circulation;
- The increase in loans;
- The change from a war economy to a consumer economy. The reduction in consumer goods generated inflation. Daily needs became more expensive.
The peace treaties caused the loss of the productive capacity of the defeated, in Germany and Austria-Hungary where there was an important textile industry. With the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the industrial capacity of this territory was divided in two. Fabric production was maintained in Austria and yarn production in Bohemia (then Czechoslovakia). Under the Treaty of Versailles, was created the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (from 1929, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). The new country had 5 different railway systems. It was therefore very difficult to unify a country.
France had raised the idea that Germany should pay for war reparations and should be held responsible for the war. Germany was eventually forced to pay a large part of the reparations. The Treaty made an assessment of all the infrastructure destroyed during the war and forced Germany to pay for it, which was also obliged to pay widowhood pensions…
In total, Germany was asked to pay Reichsmark 131 million, to be distributed as follows:
- France 52%;
- Great Britain 22%;
- Italy 10%;
- Belgium 10%;
- The Netherlands 6.5%.
Germany refused to pay everything demanded of it, and this provoked the reopening of the economic conflict.
Peace Treaties of the First World War
The Treaties of Versailles of 1919 were a series of agreements of the victors over the defeated. In Germany, they were received as a “dictation”, (diktat in German), an imposition.
The victors of the war were France, Great Britain and the United States. Italy was only partially compensated. The protagonists of the peace treaties were Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau (France), David Lloyd George (England), Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Italy) and President Woodrow Wilson (United States of America).
French Prime Minister Clemenceau had a double objective:
- To neutralize any German reaction for a long time, by its maximum territorial and military reduction. He wanted Germany to be weakened and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to be dissolved;
- Strengthen the steel sector in France by controlling a large part of German production in the Ruhr area.
British Prime Minister Llyod George wanted:
- To expand its colonial possessions at the cost of Germany;
- Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire;
- To stop France to prevent an excessive weakening of Germany from implying France’s empowerment. Great Britain defended the Europe of Versailles with France, but it was contradictory, as it slowed down as much as it could France.
U.S. President Wilson wanted the following:
- Let France and Britain play this game, carrying forward two fundamental ideas:
- Arbitrate European conflicts to launch the United States as a world power;
- Promote the League of Nations, as an organization that regulates international relations and prevents future wars. Wilson considered that a good part of the European conflicts were due to the existence of national empires, hence the idea of the self-determination of nations.
They all shared one goal: for everyone present at Versailles, the Russian Revolution was a threat. Revolutionary Russia had to be surrounded by a belt of strong states to contain Soviet Russia.
Great Britain achieved its objectives at Versailles. Germany has always considered France to be to blame for its situation. German policy thereafter was to re-establish relations with Britain.
President Wilson succeeded in replacing European national empires with national states, but these new states continued to have complex national realities (Czechoslovakia would be the sum of 3 nationalities).
Wilson’s success lay in the creation of the League of Nations. What happened was that the gallant of the League of Nations was the United States, but the United States never participated in the League of Nations, as the U.S. Senate never ratified the Treaty of Versailles.