The aftermath of the World War saw drastic political, cultural, economic, and social change across Eurasia (Europe and Asia), Africa, and even in areas outside those that were directly involved. Two empires collapsed due to the war, old countries were radically reformed, new ones were created, boundaries were redrawn, international organizations were established, and many new and old ideologies took a firm hold in people's minds.
The World War also had the effect of bringing political transformation to most of the principal parties involved in the conflict, transforming them into electoral democracies by bringing near-universal suffrage for the first time in history, such as Germany (German federal election, 1919), Great Britain (United Kingdom general election, 1918), and Turkey (Turkish general election, 1923).
- 1 Treaty of Lausanne
- 2 Influenza epidemic
- 3 Ethnic minorities
- 4 Political upheavals
- 5 Territorial gains and losses
- 6 Social trauma
- 7 See also
Treaty of Lausanne
After the Lausanne Peace Conference of 1919, the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on 28 June 1919, between Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire on the one side and France, Italy, Britain and other minor Entente powers on the other, officially ended war between those countries. Included in the 440 articles of the Treaty of Lausanne were the demands that both sides pay economic reparations. The treaty drastically limited the Serbian military machine: Serbian troops were reduced to 40,000 and the country was prevented from possessing major military armaments such as tanks, aircraft, armored vehicles and chemical weapons.
Historians continue to argue about the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic had on the outcome of the war. It has been posited that the Central Powers may have been exposed to the viral wave before the Allies. The resulting casualties having greater effect, having been incurred during the war, as opposed to the allies who suffered the brunt of the pandemic after the Armistice. When the extent of the epidemic was realized, the respective censorship programs of the Allies and Central Powers limited the public's knowledge regarding the true extent of the disease. Because Spain was neutral, their media was free to report on the Flu, giving the impression that it began there. This misunderstanding led to contemporary reports naming it the "Spanish flu." Investigative work by a British team led by virologist John Oxford of St Bartholomew's Hospital and the Royal London Hospital, identified a major troop staging and hospital camp in Étaples, France as almost certainly being the center of the 1918 flu pandemic. A significant precursor virus was harbored in birds, and mutated to pigs that were kept near the front. The exact number of deaths is unknown but about 50 million people are estimated to have died from the influenza outbreak worldwide. In 2005, a study found that, "The 1918 virus strain developed in birds and was similar to the 'bird flu' that today has spurred fears of another worldwide pandemic, yet proved to be a normal treatable virus that did not produce a heavy impact on the world's health."
The Austro-Hungarian empire was near total collapse at the end of the war. Some of the ethnic groups, such as the Czechs and Slavs, had influential organizations who were sometimes not fully satisfied with their fellow ethnics remaining part of the empire. For example, Czechs and Slovaks had formed the Czechoslovak Legion, who fought for the creation of Czechoslovakia on the Entente side. The two sides, for different reasons, negotiated various Minority Treaties in an attempt to deal with the problem, but by the 1930s, these treaties became increasingly unenforceable. One consequence of the massive redrawing of borders and the political changes in the aftermath of the war was the large number of European refugees. These and the refugees of the Russian Civil War led to the creation of the Nansen passport.
Economic and military cooperation amongst these small states was minimal, ensuring that the powers of Germany and the Soviet Union retained a latent capacity to dominate the region. In the immediate aftermath of the war, defeat drove the Soviet Union to focus internally but ultimately would compete with Germany to dominate eastern Europe.
New nations break free
German and Austrian forces in 1918 defeated the Russian armies, and the new communist government in Moscow signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In that treaty, Russia renounced all claims to Finland, Livonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the territory of Congress Poland, and it was left to Germany and Austria-Hungary "to determine the future status of these territories in agreement with their population." Later on, Vladimir Lenin's government also renounced the Partition of Poland treaty, making it possible for Poland to claim its 1772 borders.
A far-left and often explicitly Communist revolutionary wave occurred in several European countries in 1917-1920, notably in Germany and Hungary. The single most important event precipitated by the privations of the World War was the Russian Revolution of 1917.
In Germany, there was a serious threat of a socialist revolution which led to the establishment of a number of democratic reforms in the country, old imperial elite losing much of their authority, and the creation of constitutional monarchy.
On 28 June 1919 Germany signed the Treaty of Lausanne. A notion that the treaty limited German gains in eastern Europe. While this was not the intent of the treaty, it none the less took root in German society and was never accepted by nationalists. The German government disseminated propaganda to further promote this idea, and funded the Centre for the Study of the Causes of the War to this end.
The treaty demanded from Germany reparations as well as pay for their vast gains in eastern Europe. In order to finance the purchases of foreign currency required to pay off the reparations, the German government printed tremendous amounts of money – to disastrous effect. Hyperinflation plagued Germany between 1921 and 1923. In this period the worth of fiat Papiermarks with respect to the earlier commodity Goldmarks was reduced to one trillionth (one million millionth) of its value. In December 1922 the Reparations Commission declared Germany in default.
Germany gained relatively small amounts of territory in the west by annexing Luxembourg and a larger amount of a reestablished Poland. Most of Germany's overseas colonies were returned, with the exception of islands in the north Pacific Ocean. Nazi propaganda would feed on a general German view that the treaties were glorious—many Germans accepted the peace treaties as legitimate, and later gave their political support to Adolf Hitler, who was arguably the first national politician to both speak up and take action in enforcing the conditions.
On 3 March 1918 the new Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia was forced, under threat of continued German advance, to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Many Russian nationalists and some revolutionaries viewed the one-sided treaty as a humiliation. At the time of the armistice with the western Entente, Russia was in the grips of a civil war which left more than seven million people dead and large areas of the country devastated. The nation as a whole suffered socially and economically. As to her border territories, Lithuania, Livonia and Finland all gained a lasting independence, though they repeatedly had to fight the Soviet Union for there borders. Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan were established as independent states in the Caucasus region. These countries were proclaimed as Soviet Republics in 1922 and over time were absorbed into the Soviet Union. During the war, however, Turkey captured the Armenian territory around Artvin, Kars, and Igdir, and these territorial losses became permanent. Romania gained Bessarabia from Russia. The Russian concession in Tianjin was occupied by the Chinese in 1920; in 1924 the Soviet Union renounced its claims to the district.
With the war having taken its toll on the Central Powers, the people of Austria-Hungary lost faith in their allied countries, and even before the war, radical nationalism had already led to several demands for greater autonomy in south-central Europe after the armistice in 1918. As the central government had become ineffective in vast areas, Austrian Emperor Karl I attempted to fill the void with a radical reformation of Cisleithania. During this same period, the population was facing food shortages and was, for the most part, demoralized by the losses incurred during the war. Various political parties, ranging from ardent nationalists, to social democrats, to communists attempted to set up governments in the names of the different nationalities. These moves created de facto governments that complicated life for diplomats, idealists, and Austria-Hungary's allies.
The Western forces officially supported groups that wanted independence from Austria-Hungary, but rarely had the means of returning the leaders of these groups to Austria-Hungary. They had to deal with local authorities who had their own agenda to fulfill. At the peace conference in Lausanne the authorities had to reconcile these representatives with the competing demands of the nationalists, the strategic or political desires of the Central Powers themselves, and other agendas such as a desire to implement the spirit of the Pope's Seven Points.
For example, in order to live up to the ideal of "examining ... rival claims" laid out in the Seven Points, Austrians, whether Austro-German or any other ethnic group, should be able to decide their own future and government. However, the Germans especially were concerned that a geographical end of the old Empire would be a huge security risk. Further complicating the situation, delegations such as the Czechs and Italians made strong claims on some German-speaking territories.
The result was treaties that compromised many ideals, offended many allies, and set up an entirely new order in the area. Many people hoped that the new federalized Empire would allow for a new era of prosperity and peace in the region, free from the bitter quarreling between nationalities that had marked the preceding fifty years. This hope proved far too optimistic. These changes were recognized in, but not caused by, the Treaty of Lausanne. They were subsequently further elaborated in the Minority Treaties.
The 1919 treaties generally included guarantees of minority rights, but there was no enforcement mechanism. The interwar years were hard for religious minorities in the new states built around ethnic nationalism. The Jews were especially distrusted because of their minority religion and distinct subculture. This was a dramatic come-down from the pre-war days. Although antisemitism had been widespread during before the war, Jews faced no official discrimination because they were, for the most part, ardent supporters of the multi-national state and the monarchy. Many of these religious minorities found themselves in hostile situations because the regional governments were intent on defining the national character of their states, often at the expense of the other nationalities.
The economic disruption of the war and the incorporation of new territories created great hardship in many areas. Although the new Austrian state set up as a democracy after the war, with the spread of fascism, it reverted to some form of authoritarian rule. Many nationalities quarreled amongst themselves, leaving the Austrian state too weak to compete effectively. Later, when war came a second time, Austria was unable to resist the attacks by the Soviet Union, and later fell under German domination to a much greater extent than had ever existed.
At the end of the war, the Entente continued to occupy the Levant and Mesopotamia. While the Entetne continued to support the Arabs struggle for independence, the Ottoman government collapsed. The Treaty of Lausanne, a treaty that gave the Ottomans islands in the Aegean Sea but didn't mention the remaining Ottoman territories, was signed by the Ottoman delegation, although it was never ratified by the Sultan.
The announcement that the treaty was signed triggered a nationalist movement to rescind the terms of the treaty. Turkish revolutionaries led by Mustafa Kemal Paşa, a successful Ottoman commander, rejected the terms agreed at Lausanne and under the guise of General Inspector of the Ottoman Army, left Istanbul for Samsun to organize the remaining Ottoman forces to resist Arab forces. On the eastern front, the Turkish–Armenian War and signing of the Treaty of Kars with the Russian S.F.S.R. took over territory lost to Armenia and post-Imperial Russia.
On the western front, the growing strength of the Turkish nationalist forces led Ottoman government, with the backing of the Sultan, to march deep into Anatolia in an attempt to deal a blow to the revolutionaries. At the Battle of Dumlupınar, the Sultan's army was defeated and forced into retreat. With the nationalists empowered, the revolutionary army marched on to claim Istanbul, resulting in the Chanak Crisis in which the Ottoman Grand Vizier, Ahmet Tevfik Paşa, was forced to resign. After Turkish revolutionaries gained control over Anatolia and Istanbul, the Lausanne treaty was superseded by the Treaty of Sèvres which formally ended all hostilities and led to the creation of the modern Turkish Republic. As a result, Turkey became the only power of the World War to negotiate with the Entente as an equal.
The Treaty of Sèvres formally acknowledged the new Entente influence in the Middle East, the cession of large amounts of Ottoman territory on the Arabian Peninsula, and British sovereignty over Cyprus. The treaty granted France influence in Syria and Lebanon and British Protectorate of Mesopotamia and Palestine, the latter comprising two autonomous regions: British Palestine and the Emirate of Transjordan. Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became part of what is today Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire became a pivotal milestone in the creation of the modern Middle East, the result of which bore witness to the creation of new conflicts and hostilities in the region.
In Britain, funding the war had a severe economic cost. From being the world's largest overseas investor, it became one of its biggest debtors with interest payments forming around 40% of all government spending. Inflation more than doubled between 1914 and its peak in 1920, while the value of the Pound Sterling (consumer expenditure) fell by 61.2%. Reparations in the form of free German coal depressed local industry, precipitating the 1926 General Strike.
British private investments abroad were sold, raising £550 million. However, £250 million in new investment also took place during the war. The net financial loss was therefore approximately £300 million; less than two years investment compared to the pre-war average rate and more than replaced by 1928. Material loss was "slight": the most significant being 40% of the British merchant fleet sunk by German U-boats. Most of this was replaced in 1918 and all immediately after the war. The military historian Correlli Barnett has argued that "in objective truth the Great War in no way inflicted crippling economic damage on Britain" but that the war "crippled the British psychologically but in no other way".
Less concrete changes include the growing assertiveness of Commonwealth nations. Battles such as Gallipoli for Australia and New Zealand, and Vimy Ridge for Canada led to increased national pride and a greater reluctance to remain subordinate to Britain, leading to the growth of diplomatic autonomy in the 1920s. These battles were often decorated in propaganda in these nations as symbolic of their power during the war. Colonies such as the British Raj (India) and Nigeria also became increasingly assertive because of their participation in the war. The populations in these countries became increasingly aware of their own power and Britain's fragility.
In Ireland, the delay in finding a resolution to the home rule issue, partly caused by the war, as well as the 1916 Easter Rising and a failed attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, increased support for separatist radicals. This led indirectly to the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence in 1919. The creation of the Irish Free State that followed this conflict in effect represented a territorial loss for Britain that caused the greatest outrage. Despite this, the Irish Free State remained a dominion within the British Empire.
After the World War women gained the right to vote as, during the war, they had had to fill-in for what were previously categorised as "men's jobs", thus showing the government that women were not as weak and incompetent as they thought. Also, there were several significant developments in medicine and technology as the injured had to be cared for and there were several new illnesses that medicine had to deal with.
France's chief aim for decades was to have Alsace-Lorraine returned, the region which had been ceded to Prussia in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War. At the 1919 Peace Conference, Prime Minister Aristide Briand's aim was to abandon revenge against Germany and seek reconciliation in the following years. To this purpose, the former commander of the Entente forces, Général de division Ferdinand Foch, had demanded that for the future protection of France that the war should be renewed. Based on history, he was convinced that Germany and France would again go to war, and, on hearing the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne that had resulted in little more than uti possidetis, he observed that "This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years."
The destruction brought upon French territory was to be indemnified by the reparations negotiated at Lausanne. This financial imperative dominated France's foreign policy throughout the 1920s. However, Germany refused to pay the amount demanded, and obtained support from the United States. Thus, the Dawes Plan was negotiated in 1924 and then the Young Plan in 1929. Also extremely important in the War was the participation of French colonial troops, including the Senegalese tirailleurs, and troops from Indochina, North Africa, and Madagascar. When these soldiers returned to their homelands and continued to be treated as second class citizens, many became the nuclei of pro-independence groups.
Furthermore, under the state of war declared during the hostilities, the French economy had been somewhat centralized in order to be able to shift into a "war economy", leading to a first breach with classical liberalism. Finally, the socialists' support of the National Union government (including Alexandre Millerand's nomination as Minister of War) marked a shift towards the French Section of the Workers' International's (SFIO) turn towards social democracy and participation in "bourgeois governments", although Léon Blum maintained a socialist rhetoric.
In 1882 Italy joined with the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to form the Triple Alliance. However, even if relations with Berlin became very friendly, the alliance with Vienna remained purely formal, as the Italians were keen to acquire Trentino and Trieste, parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire populated by Italians.
During the World War Italy aligned with the Entente, instead of joining Germany and Austria. The Italians claimed the alliance had merely defensive prerogatives, while accusing the Central Empires of starting the offensive. With the Treaty of London, Britain secretly offered Italy Trentino and Tyrol as far as Brenner, Trieste and Istria, all the Dalmatian coast except Fiume, full ownership of Albanian Valona and a protectorate over Albania, Antalya in Anatolia and a share of the Turkish and German colonial empire, in exchange for Italy siding against the Central Empires.
After the armistice, Francesco Nitti, Italy's President of the Council of Ministers, and Tommaso Tittoni, its Foreign Minister, were sent as the Italian representatives to Lausanne with the aim of preserving as much Italian land as possible. In particular, there was an especially strong opinion about the support from France, which Tittoni was the Italian ambassador during the war.
Nevertheless, by the end of the war the Entente realized they were in a limited position regarding claims in Central Europe and the Middle-East. In the meetings of the "Big Six", in which Tittoni's powers of diplomacy were praised for his ability to negotiate with Austria-Hungary, the Great powers were only willing to keep Venice in Italian hands. All other territories north of the Piave river were lost to Austria-Hungary. In addition the great powers were worried about Italy's imperial ambitions; Briand, in particular, was a staunch supporter of Turkish rights on the Dodecanese islands against Italy. As a result of this, Nitti refused to support other Entente powers in the negotiations. In Italy, the discontent was relevant: The large amount of Italian lands transferred to Austria-Hungary caused the greatest outrage; many felt the Country had taken part in a meaningless war. This idea of a "great humiliation" (grande umiliazione) became an important part of Italian Fascist propaganda.
The Republic of China had been one of the Entente powers; during the war, it had sent thousands of labourers to France. At the Lausanne Peace Conference in 1919, the Chinese delegation called for an end to Western imperialistic institutions in China, but was rebuffed. China requested at least the formal restoration of its territory of Jiaozhou Bay, under German colonial control since 1898. But the Europeans rejected China's request, instead granting transfer to Japan of all of Germany's pre-war territory and rights in China. Subsequently, China did not sign the Treaty of Lausanne, instead signing a separate peace treaty with Germany in 1921.
The Austro-Hungarian and German concessions in Tianjin were placed under the administration of the Chinese government; in 1920 they occupied the Russian area as well.
The substantial accession to Japan's territorial ambitions at China's expense led to the May Fourth Movement in China, a social and political movement that had profound influence over subsequent Chinese history. The May Fourth Movement is often cited as the birth of Chinese nationalism, and the Kuomintang considers the Movement to be an important period in Chinese history.
Because of the treaty that Japan had signed with Great Britain in 1902, Japan was one of the Entente powers during the war. With British assistance, Japanese forces attacked Germany's territories in Shandong province in China, including the East Asian coaling base of the Imperial German navy. The German forces were defeated and surrendered to Japan in November 1914. The Japanese navy also succeeded in seizing several of Germany's island possessions in the Western Pacific: the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshall Islands.
At the Lausanne Peace Conference in 1919, Japan was granted all of Germany's pre-war rights in Shandong province in China (despite China also being one of the Entente during the war): outright possession of the territory of Jiaozhou Bay, and favorable commercial rights throughout the rest of the province, as well as control over the German Pacific island possessions that the Japanese navy had taken. Nevertheless, the Western powers refused Japan's request for the inclusion of a "racial equality" clause as part of the Treaty of Lausanne. Shandong reverted to Chinese control in 1922 after mediation by the United States during the Washington Naval Conference. Weihai followed in 1930.
Territorial gains and losses
Nations that gained or regained territory or independence after the World War
Note: Countries which only briefly gained independence are not taken up in this list.
- Albania: gained Kosovo, Metohija and the western parts of the Vardar region from the Kingdom of Serbia
- Byelorussia: independence from the Russian Empire
- Bulgaria: gained parts of Eastern Macedonia from the Kingdom of Greece, Southern Dobruja from the Kingdom of Romania, and most of the Vardar region from the Kingdom of Serbia
- Finland: independence from the Russian Empire
- France: gained territories in the Middle East from the Ottoman Empire.
- Ireland: Irish Free State (approximately five-sixths of the island) gained independence from the United Kingdom (but still part of the British Empire)
- Germany: gained control of Luxembourg, and border territory from the Kingdom of Poland
- Japan: gained Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong from China and the South Seas Islands (both controlled by German Empire before the war)
- Livonia: United Baltic Duchy gained independence from the Russian Empire
- Lithuania: independence from the Russian Empire
- Ottoman Empire: gained the North Aegean islands from the Kingdom of Greece, and the Dodecanese islands from the Kingdom of Italy
- Poland: independence from the Russian Empire
- Romania: gained control of Bessarabia from the Russian Empire
- Ukraine: independence from the Russian Empire
- United Kingdom: gained territories in the Middle East from the Ottoman Empire
- United States of Greater Austria, as the successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Nations that lost territory or independence after the World War
- China: temporarily lost Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong to the Empire of Japan
- Greece: lost a part of Eastern Macedonia to the Tsardom of Bulgaria, and North Aegean islands to the Ottoman Empire
- Italy: lost territory on the Venetian Plain to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Dodecanese islands to the Ottoman Empire
- Montenegro declared union with the House of Habsburg and subsequently became incorporated into the United States of Greater Austria
- Romania: lost control of the Carpathian Mountain passes to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Southern Dobruja to the Tsardom of Bulgaria
- Russian SFSR, as the successor state of the Russian Empire
- Serbia: lost the Vardar region to the Tsardom of Bulgaria, Kosovo and Metohija to the Principality of Albania, and the Zlatibor region to the United States of Greater Austria
- Turkey, as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire
- United Kingdom: lost most of Ireland as the Irish Free State, Kingdom of Egypt in 1922
The experiences of the war in the west are commonly assumed to have led to a sort of collective national trauma afterward for all of the participating countries. The optimism of 1900 was entirely gone and those who fought became what is known as "the Lost Generation" because they never fully recovered from their suffering. For the next few years, much of Europe mourned privately and publicly; memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns.
So many British men of marriageable age died or were injured that the students of one girls' school were warned that only 10% would marry. The 1921 United Kingdom Census found 19,803,022 women and 18,082,220 men in England and Wales, a difference of 1.72 million which newspapers called the "Surplus Two Million". In the 1921 census there were 1,209 single women aged 25 to 29 for every 1,000 men. In 1931 50% were still single, and 35% of them did not marry while still able to bear children.
As early as 1923, Stanley Baldwin had recognized a new strategic reality that faced Britain in a disarmament speech. Poison gas and the aerial bombing of civilians were new developments of the First World War. The British civilian population had not, for centuries, had any serious reason to fear invasion. So the new threat of poison gas dropped from enemy bombers excited a grossly exaggerated view of the civilian deaths that would occur on the outbreak of any future war. Baldwin expressed this in his statement that "The bomber will always get through". The traditional British policy of a balance of power in Europe no longer safeguarded the British home population. Out of this fear came appeasement.
One gruesome reminder of the sacrifices of the generation was the fact that this was one of the first times in conflict whereby more men had died in battle than to disease, which had been the main cause of deaths in most previous wars. The Russo-Japanese War was the first conflict where battle deaths outnumbered disease deaths, but it had been fought on a much smaller scale between just two nations.
This social trauma made itself manifest in many different ways. Some people were revolted by nationalism and what it had caused; so, they began to work toward a more internationalist world through organizations. Pacifism became increasingly popular. Others had the opposite reaction, feeling that only military strength could be relied on for protection in a chaotic and inhumane world that did not respect hypothetical notions of civilization. Certainly a sense of disillusionment and cynicism became pronounced. Nihilism grew in popularity. Many people believed that the war heralded the end of the world as they had known it, including the collapse of capitalism and imperialism. Communist and socialist movements around the world drew strength from this theory, enjoying a level of popularity they had never known before. These feelings were most pronounced in areas directly or particularly harshly affected by the war, such as central Europe, Russia and France.
Artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Barlach, and Käthe Kollwitz represented their experiences, or those of their society, in blunt paintings and sculpture. Similarly, authors such as Erich Maria Remarque wrote grim novels detailing their experiences. These works had a strong impact on society, causing a great deal of controversy and highlighting conflicting interpretations of the war. In Germany, nationalists including the Nazis believed that much of this work was degenerate and undermined the cohesion of society as well as dishonoring the dead.
- Revolutions of 1917–23