World War I (WWI) was a world-wide issue, majorly centered in Europe. This global war broke out on the 28th of July 1914 and went on until 11th November 1918. From the time it broke out to about the time the Second World War began in 1939; it was simply referred to as World War or the Great War (Barber, 2012). In America, it was initially known as the European War. However, it was later commonly called the First Word War or World War I. It was characterized by industrial and technological sophistication, and tactical stalemate of the belligerents, factors that exacerbated the causality rate. According to rough estimates, more than nine million combatants were killed in the course of the conflict. History has it that it was the fifth deadliest conflict to ever occur in the world. Following its occurrence, major political changes were witnessed in the world, part of them being revolutions in some of the participating nations.
Drawn into the war were the world’s major economic powerhouses that fought in two opposing alliances. These were the Allies, comprising of the Triple Entente of France, the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom, against the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany. These alliances were expanded and reorganized as more and more nations were drawn into the war (Barber, 2012). In spite of Italy having belonged to the Triple Alliance together with Austria-Hungary and Germany, it decided not to join the Central Powers, for an offense against the terms of the Alliance had been taken by Austria-Hungary. As the war gained momentum, Japan, the United States, and Italy joined the Allies. Likewise, the Central Powers got a boost when Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire joined them. The ultimate result of these developments was the mobilization of more than seventy million military personnel, sixty million of whom were Europeans (Bosco, 2010).
Imperialism resurgence was the major underlying cause of the war, but the immediate trigger was the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. He was assassinated at Sarajevo by a Yugoslav nationalist, a student called Givrilo Princip (Gregory, 2012). What followed this development was a month of intense diplomatic maneuvering involving Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Britain, and Russia. This happened in the month of July, earning it the title: the July crisis. During this time, Austria-Hungary wanted to end Serbian influence in Bosnia. This prompted her to issue the July Ultimatum to Serbia. These were a series of ten demands made to Serbia, and they were intentionally meant to provoke a war, owing to their mainly unacceptable nature. For instance, Serbia was to dismiss all officials to whom Austria-Hungary objected, suppress all communities that were anti-Austrian and allow the Austro-Hungarian police to enter Serbian territory. Only eight of the ten demands made were accepted by Serbia, prompting Austria-Hungary to declare war on her on 28 July 1914. That marked the beginning of the First World War.
Germany attacked Luxembourg and neutral Belgium, and then moved towards France. Britain then declared war on Germany. Germany’s march on Paris was halted, and the Western Front of the war became a battle of attrition, with a trench line that never really changed much till 1917. On the Eastern Front, Russians succeeded against Austro-Hungarians but Germans stopped them in their invasion of East Prussia. November 1914 saw the Ottoman Empire join the war, opening new fronts in Mesopotamia, the Sinai, and the Caucasus. Bulgaria and Italy went to war in 1915. Romania and the United States joined in 1916 and 1917 respectively.
The collapse of the Russian government in March 1917 opened the possibility of a resolution to the war. Indeed, Russia came to terms with the Central Powers after a revolution in November. Austria-Hungary agreed to an armistice in November 1918. Following a German offensive in 1918, they (Germans) were driven back in a chain of successful offensives. Germany had its own domestic problems with revolutionaries. It agreed to a ceasefire on 11 November 1918, effectively ending the war. The Allies won (Barber 2012).
The First World War, just like any other war had its effects and significance. The effects ranged from political, social, economic, and technological changes, some of which have up to date shaped the history of the world (Murphy 2008). The political effects were best reflected in the decline of empires and nations that had been in existence for centuries. For instance, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire entirely collapsed. Much of what had been the Ottoman Empire was awarded to the Allies, who turned it into respective protectorates. Interestingly, many new countries emerged. In some cases, already existing nations had their national territories and boundaries shifted and redefined. The fall of Austria-Hungary culminated to its being divided into several successor states. These included Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. These partitions were done mainly on ethnic lines. Transylvania shifted from Hungary to the Greater Romania. The Treaty of Trianon and the Treaty of Saint-Germain contained details of this. As a consequence of the treaty of Trianon, 3.3 million Hungarians were subjected to foreign rule. The Russian Empire that had, in 1917, withdrawn from the war lost much of its territory since nations like Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Latvia were carved out of it. Bessarabia became under Romania control in 1918 (Oxlade 2010).
Much of what happened after the war was majorly defined and guided by treaties. Among them was the Versailles Treaty that blamed Germany for being solely responsible for the First World War. It was also upon this treaty that the League of Nations was founded, to prevent the outbreak of a probable future World War. The Treaty of Versailles forced German to accept responsibility for the outbreak of the war back in 1914, as such was required to pay huge war reparations and indemnity .On more specific terms, it was blamed for all the damage and loss incurred by the Allied Powers and their friend governments. What followed this was a period of suffering for the Germans, a factor that encouraged the spirit of nationalism. As a result, National Socialism developed in German under Adolph Hitler, a figure who was directly responsible for the Second World War. In this context, one would be right to say that the First World War led to the Second World War. Also, the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany led to the Holocaust. This would not have happened had it not been for WWI (Gregory 2012).
Another significant effect of WWI was the Great Depression experienced worldwide since nations had spent heavily during the war. The large spending and losses incurred during the war caused great economic crisis in the world. Due to this, the United States of America emerged as the world superpower. This was directly attributed to the role it played in the war, helping the Allied Powers emerge victorious. In addition, Western literacy leadership ceded from Europe to the United States. This was because many literary scholars in Europe died during the war, leaving their American counterparts the only ones alive. The mantle of leadership in the arts thus passed to the U.S. from Europe, and U.S.S.R. was also created. The Russian Empire was taken over by communists after WWI. Before, it was destined to become a constitutional Monarch, like Britain, but this path was changed by the war (Oxlade 2010).
Many of the never-ending civil wars in Africa have been connected to the First World War that dismantled empires that had been in place for centuries. The kingdoms that existed before had ensured relative peace and co-existence, for people were generally united that time. The fall of the Ottoman Empire left a power vacuum in the Middle East, creating a crisis that has lasted to this day. In fact, the Palestinian problem can be traced back to the war. As already mentioned, the Holocaust would not have occurred had it not been for the rise of Nazism and Hitler in Germany. The slaughter of Jews prompted the search for a solution to the Jewish question (Barber 2012). This culminated to the creation of the state of Israel. Perhaps the Middle East would have peace if this would not have happened.
All in all, the First World War had far-reaching effects, some of which can be felt to this day. It is only sensible that everything is done to avoid a repeat of such an occurrence. Considering that entire generations of men and women were lost that time, it is unimaginable what would happen now if a war of such a scale broke out. Technological advancements that have been witnessed in recent years imply even more sophisticated weapons have been invented. More countries now have nuclear arms and are willing to use them even at the slightest provocation. This is why nations should find amicable solutions to conflicts such as border disputes and disagreements over natural resources. They should be more bound by international treaties and ratifications, which should be respected by all.
An examination of the role the League of Nations played in efforts to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War reveals weaknesses and great failure by the global body. For this reason, world bodies like the United Nations should remain firm in their stands on major issues and display impartiality at all times. This way, such a costly misfortune, can be avoided. The world has witnessed an arm’s race especially in the nuclear field, a development not so healthy. Peace programs and initiatives should be encouraged, and people educated on the importance of peace and the negative effects of war. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Victory in war is sweet, but short-lived”. All should embrace peace.
Barber, N. (2012). World War I. Chicago, Ill: Heinemann Library.
Bosco, P. I., & Bowman, J. S. (2010). World War I. New York: Chelsea House.
Gregory, J. (2012). World War I. New York: Children’s Press.
Murphy, D. J. (2008). World War I. San Diego, Calif: Greenhaven Press.
Oxlade, C. (2010). World War I. Mankato, Minn: Arcturus Pub.