Condensed version of a major turning point in world history – A refresher course
Timeline: Prehistory (15 billion years ago to 3,000 BC); Antiquity (3000 BC to 476 BC); The Middle Ages (476 BC to 1450 AD); The Renaissance (1450 - 1650); The Enlightenment ( 1650 - 1770); Romanticism; The Realist Age; Modernism; Postmodernism.
Global reorganization 1914-1918
On June 28th, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, paraded through Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and a hotbed for Serb resistance. It was admittedly a dangerous place for a hated head of an empire to parade in public. The archduke escaped an earlier assassination, but later that same day a 19-year old student Gavrilo Princip, shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife at point blank range. He considered the assassination part of the struggle for his people’s independence. It became World War 1 (Coffin and Stacey).
1914-1918, World War 1 marked a turning point in world history. It reduced the global influence of Europe, destroying some of its monarchies and empires, diminishing the strength of others and enabled new nations to emerge. Shifting economic resources and cultural influences away from Europe, the war encouraged nations in other areas of the world, particularly the United States, to challenge Europe's leadership (Answer.com). Complex negotiations created two systems of alliance: the Allied Powers – Britain, France and Russia and the Central Powers – Germany, Austria- Hungary and Italy. Scramble for colonies abroad, fierce arms race at home, international suspicion, yet diplomats, spies, and military planners could not predict, nor expect, the Balkan crisis in 1914 would engulf all of Europe within a month. The effect extended far beyond the Western front and statistics can only hint at the loss of lives – 70 million mobilized, 9 million killed. Germany lost one third of men 19-22, similarly for France and England - called the “lost generation” (Coffin and Stacey).
England had been the great creditor nation of the world, providing shipping and insurance services, but by the end of the war England became heavily indebted to the United States. As a result of the war, the world's financial center shifted from England to the United States. In France, the heavy loss in manpower at the front decimated an entire generation of Frenchmen, and is thought to have created a leadership vacuum. They also suffered untold property damage since most of the war on the western front was fought on French soil. Germany entered World War I as the greatest power, immensely proud of their achievements since unification. Defeat in war was a profound shock, coupled with economic privation and collapse (Suny.edu). Trench warfare, Chlorine and Mustard gas were introduced with devastating effects.
Czechoslovakia, a relatively stable successor state in the north was divided among two Slavic nationalities. Romania, one of the Allied nations, was given a large share of territory inhabited by Hungarians. The areas inhabited by Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, were included together in the new multi-national state of Yugoslavia. The Austrian and the Ottoman Empires had been destroyed without there being any stable alternative. The United States was a great continental power; the war stimulated its economy, increased employment and wages, and brought profit to industry. They emerged clearly the greatest power as well as the creditor nation to the world (Suny.edu). President Wilson vowed that America would fight to “make the world safe for democracy,” to banish autocracy and militarism. Their primary interest was to maintain the international balance of power (Coffin and Stacey). At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the US and Japan were among the victorious powers. The League of Nations was an essential part of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, and the Allies refusing to recognize the Bolshevik government in Russia excluded the Soviet Union from Paris (Answer.com) .
Europe fought World War 1 on every front possible – military, political, social and economic. Discontent was planted around the world with powerful and economic consequences. The war’s most powerful legacy was disillusionment, voiced by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front – “Through the years our business has been killing; -- it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen to us afterwards? And what shall come out of us”. In retrospect, it’s hard not to see the period that followed as a succession of failures. Capitalism foundered in the Great Depression 1929-1933, democracy collapsed in the face of authoritarianism and the Treaty of Versailles proved hollow and by the 1930s even cautious optimism had given way to apprehension and dread (Coffin and Stacey).
Clearly hindsight tells of what followed – enter World War 2, The Cold War, fall of France, Ethnic Cleansing, the Holocaust; Soviet Union, unraveling of the British Empire etc. (events in random order). Most recently the 10 year battle on terrorism..…but that’s someone else’s tale to tell. So why do we need to know our history, mostly likely because we should not be doomed to repeat it (Shanti).