World War I, also referred to as the Great War, was one of the largest wars fought in the history of mankind. It was a global conflict and over 65 million troops were deployed by the Allied and Central Powers. The belligerents of World War I include –
- German Empire
- Ottoman Empire
- British Empire
- United States
A cursory glance at this list may not reveal the extent of the countries involved. We must remember that this was a time when European colonization was at its peak and the countries that formed part of German, British, and French colonies also participated in the war.
Before the beginning of World War I, the major nations in Europe were engaged in an arms race. This is considered to be one of the factors that precipitated a bitter rivalry and antagonism in the continent. The Triple Entente signed by the Britain, France, and Russia and other military support alliances that these nations forged with Brazil, Japan, Portugal, Spain, and the United States led to the ready formation of the Allied Powers when war ultimately broke out. The German Empire had entered into a similar treaty with Austria-Hungary and Italy (though Italy joined the Allies). The colonial conquests of France, Britain, and Germany had let too much rivalry and discord between the nations.
The map of the world that we see following the World War I is a testimony to the sweeping political changes that this Great War brought about. The collapse of three large and important empires – the Russian Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire are among the important fallouts of this war. Eventually, it would also lead to the rise of nationalism and demand for independence in British and French colonies but that would take a few decades to precipitate.
By the time the first declaration of war came in 1914, the Ottoman Empire was already staggering and on the verge of decline. The Empire joined hands with the Central Powers and was defeated in 1918. While most of the empire came under Britain, France, Greece, and Russia, the empire was formally abolished in 1922 and in 1923, the Republic of Turkey was established.
The Treaty of Versailles that was negotiated in 1919 redrew the boundaries of Germany and much of the land captured during the war was returned. German colonies were taken away and the regions of Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium, Memel to Lithuania, a number of the eastern territories to Poland, and most of Schleswig to Denmark. Germany lost the Saar region which was occupied and governed by the UK and France between 1920 and 1935. The abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II let to the establishment of the Weimar Republic in Germany.
The collapse of Austria-Hungary was another outcome of the World War I. A number of unstable states succeeded in the territory that had comprised Austria-Hungary. The more important among these include the First Austrian Republic, Hungarian Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Second Polish Republic, State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, and West Ukrainian People’s Republic. Some of these joined Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, Italy, and the Kingdom of Serbia. This was a time of much flux and many of these states were soon replaced by others.
The massive economic burden placed on the Russian Empire by its participation in World War I also started to weigh in and the outbreak of the Russian Revolution was a natural consequence. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (which formed a part of the greater Russian Revolution) exposed the deep divide between the Tsarist autocracy and the commoners and the resentment that Russians bore the Czar for having drafted commoners and peasants into the military. This clearly led to the downfall of the Russian Empire and to the establishment of the Russian Republic.
A study of the world map before World War I and of the world map after World War II will serve to educate us about the disastrous consequences of an international conflict of this scale. In a matter of 4 years, the socio-political landscape of most countries had undergone a complete change. The economic disaster that this war brought about was a catastrophe in itself. Politically, the boundaries of most central and eastern European nations were redrawn. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, we can see the rise of new states including –
Visit the following to learn more about World War I: