Aftermath of World War I

From Academic Kids

The fighting in World War I ended when an armistice took effect at 11:00 hours on November 11, 1918. In the aftermath of World War I the political, cultural, and social order of the world was drastically changed in many places, even outside the areas directly involved in the war. New countries were formed, old ones were altered, international organizations were established, and many new and old ideas took a firm hold in peoples' minds.


Blockade of Germany

Throughout the armistice the Allies maintained the naval blockade of Germany begun during the war. This blockade is estimated to have caused the death of 800,000 German civilians from malnutrition during the final two years of the war. The continuation of the blockade after the fighting ended, as Leckie wrote in Delivered From Evil, would "torment the Germans… driving them with the fury of despair into the arms of the devil". Some historians have since argued that the harsh post-war treatment was one of the primary causes of World War II, others have advocated the Allies should have been even harder on Germany.

Winston Churchill referred to the blockade during his March 3, 1919, speech to the British House of Commons: "We are holding all our means of coercion in full operation… we are enforcing the blockade with vigour… Germany is very near starvation. The evidence I have received… shows… the great danger of a collapse of the entire structure of German social and national life, under the pressure of hunger and malnutrition." The blockade was not lifted until June of 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed by most of the combatant nations.

Treaty of Versailles

After the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 officially ended the war. Included in the 440 articles of the treaty were the demands Germany officially accept responsibility for starting the war, and pay heavy economic reparations. The treaty also included a clause to create the League of Nations. The US Senate never ratified this treaty and the US did not join the League, despite President Wilson's active campaigning in support of the League. The United States negotiated a separate peace with Germany, finalized in August 1921.

Influenza pandemic

A separate but related event was the great influenza pandemic. A virulent new strain of the flu, originating in the United States but misleadingly known as "Spanish Flu", was accidentally carried to Europe by infected American forces personnel. The disease spread rapidly through both the continental U.S. and Europe, eventually reaching around the globe. The exact number of deaths is unknown but over 20 million people are estimated to have died from the flu worldwide.

Geopolitical and economic consequences


Perhaps the single most important event precipitated by the privations of the war was the Russian Revolution. Socialist and explicitly Communist uprisings also occurred in many other European countries from 1917 onwards, notably in Germany and Hungary.

As a result of the Bolsheviks' failure to cede territory, German and Austrian forces defeated the Russian armies, and the new communist government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In that treaty, Russia renounced all claims to Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (specifically, the formerly Russian-controlled Congress Poland of 1815) and Ukraine, and it was left to Germany and Austria-Hungary "to determine the future status of these territories in agreement with their population." Later on, Lenin's government renounced also the Partition of Poland treaty, making it possible for Poland to claim its 1772 borders. However, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was rendered obsolete when Germany was defeated later in 1918, leaving the status of much of eastern Europe in an uncertain position.


With Imperial Germany heading for defeat, on October 28, 1918, the German constitution was amended to make the Reich a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Civil unrest broke out the following day, later giving way to city and provincial uprisings and revolutionary attempts led by elements of the opposition Social Democratic Party and communist groups. In November Kaiser Wilhelm II was driven into exile. A new constitution was eventually signed into law on August 11, 1919, marking the start of the Weimar Republic under its first Reich President.

With the war ended, under the Treaty of Versailles, nearly 15 percent of the land area of the German Empire was ceded at Allied insistence to various countries. The largest confiscated part of Germany was given to Poland, which claimed most areas that had been part of Poland before partitions in 1772–1795. Those provinces had been incorporated into Germany in 1871; part of the ceded territories was sometimes referred to as the "Polish Corridor" because of its position between East Prussia and the rest of Germany.

Alsace-Lorraine, which had been part of France until 1871, was ceded to France.

Northern Schleswig, today South Jutland County, part of Schleswig-Holstein became part of Denmark after a plebiscite in 1920. Southern Schleswig voted to remain part of Germany. The vote in the area largely reflected ethnic divisions, Danes voting to join Denmark, Germans voting to stay with Germany. The former duchy of Schleswig had been seized by Prussia in 1864 despite the large Danish population living there.

Britain and France occupied the vast majority of former German and Ottoman colonies as "League of Nations mandates".

The peace terms were harsh, including the confiscation of a large amount of German property (not only that of the German government, but also of German citizens, including those living abroad) and regular reparations in money, coal and other goods for over 10 years. In comparison, the reparation imposed on France by Prussia in 1871 (See Franco-Prussian War) were paid after only 2 years. While Americans made some effort to apply the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson, Great Britain and especially France were interested in causing the greatest possible damage to Germany and receiving greatest possible reparations from it, and it's their vision that formed the basis of the peace treaty.

In 1923, the German economy collapsed partially as a result of the occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian troops, leading to significant civil unrest.

Despite the perceived humiliations of the peace (or perhaps because of them), Germany honoured its war heroes and commemorated its victories, notably with the construction in 1927 of a massive monument at Tannenberg to their victory there over the Russians. German militarists soon invented theories about the revolutions at home that they claimed prevented German victory in the Great War. Many Germans came to believe that they could have won the war but for the treachery of politicians on the homefront.


Russia, already suffering socially and economically, was torn by a deadly civil war that killed more than 15 million people in one way or another and devastated large areas of the country. During the Russian Revolution and Civil wars, many non-Russian nations gained brief or longer lasting periods of independence. The countries of Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia gained relatively permanent independence, although the Baltic states were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939.

Romania, initially formed from the union of Vallachia and Moldova retrieved the Eastern part of Moldova from Russia. Armenia, Georgia and Azherbeijan states were established in Caucasus region. In 1922 all these countries were invaded by Soviets and proclaimed Soviet Republics. Similar events happened in Central Asia. However, the Soviet Union, the successor of the Russian Empire, was lucky that Germany lost the war against the Western Allies because it was able to reject the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. That treaty would have taken huge portions of rich territory and population from them.

Austro-Hungarian Empire

With the war having turned decisively against the Central Powers, the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire lost faith in it, and even before the armistice in November, radical nationalism had already lead to several declarations of independence in September and October 1918. After their victory, the allied power decided to break up the empire, in accordance with Woodrow Wilson's 14 points. Throughout most of the war the Allies had hoped to maintain Austria-Hungary as a counterbalance to German power in central Europe, and had interpreted the 14 points within the framework of a federal Austria-Hungary. However, due to lobbying by separatists from various regions of the Empire, such as Czechs and Serbians, the Allied powers slowly began to recognise the nationalities as distinct entities.

The resolution of borders and governments in south-central Europe in the time after November 1918 was not easy. As the central government had ceased to operate vast areas, these regions found themselves without a government and many new groups attempted to fill the void. 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. In other areas, existing nation states such as Romania occupied regions that they considered to be theirs. These moves created de-facto governments that complicated life for diplomats, idealists, and the western allies.

The western allies were officially supposed to occupy the old Empire but rarely had enough troops to do so effectively. They had to deal with local authorities who usually had their own agenda to fulfill. At the peace conference in Paris the diplomats had to reconcile these authorities with the competing demands of the nationalists who had turned to them for help during the war, the strategic or political desires of the Western allies themselves, and other agendas such as a desire to implement the spirit of the 14 points.

For example, in order to live up to the ideal of self determination laid out in the 14 points, Germans, whether Austrian or German should be able to decide their own future and government. However, the French especially were concerned that an expanded Germany would be a huge security risk. Further complicating the situation, delegations such as the Czechs and Slovenians 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 nation states would allow for a new era of prosperity and peace in the region, free from the bitter quarelling between nationalities that had marked the preceding fifty years. However, this hope turned out to be far too optimistic. Changes in territorial configuration after World War I included:

  • Establishment of the new republics of Austria and Hungary, disavowing any continuity with the empire and exiling the Habsburg family in perpetuity.
  • A new Hungary was stripped of two thirds of its traditional lands, though it didn't lose most areas where the Magyars were in a majority. The new republic of Austria maintained control over most of the mostly German-dominated areas, but lost various other lands.

These changes were recognised in, but not caused by, the Treaty of Versailles. They were subsequently further elaborated in the Treaty of Saint-Germain and the Treaty of Trianon.

The new states of eastern Europe nearly all had large national minorities. Hundreds of thousands of Germans found themselves in the newly created countries as minorities. A quarter of ethnic Hungarians found themselves living outside of Hungary. Many of these national minorities found themselves in bad situations because the modern governments were intent on defining the national character of the countries, often at the expense of the other nationalities.

The interwar years were hard for the Jews of the region. Most nationalists distrusted them because they were not fully integrated into 'national communities.' In contrast to times under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Jews were often ostracized and discriminated against. Although anti-semitism had been wide spread in the days of the Habsburg monarchy the Jews faced no official discrimination because they were, for the most part, ardent supporters of the multi-national state and the monarchy. Jews had feared the rise of ardent nationalism and nation states, because they foresaw the difficulties that would arise.

The economic disruption of the war and the end of the Austro-Hungarian customs union created great hardship in many areas. Although many states were set up as democracies after the war, one by one, they reverted to some form of authoritarian rule. Many quarelled amongst themselves but were too weak to compete effectively. Later, when Germany was rearmed, the nation states of south central Europe were completely unable to resist its attacks and fell under German domination to a much greater extent than had ever existed in Austria-Hungary. After the second world war the German domination was exchanged for Soviet.

Ottoman Empire

At the end of the war the Ottoman government collapsed completely and the Ottoman Empire was divided amongst the victorious powers in the Treaty of Svres. France and the Britain got most of the Middle East, and the British were given the Mandate of Palestine under the League of Nations. Italy and Greece were given much of Anatolia. However, Turkish resistance forced out the Greeks while the Italians were unable to establish themselves. The independent state of Armenia was created in eastern Turkey, but the Red Army invaded it in 1920 and the state was annexed.

An autonomous Kurdish area was also created, but attempts to become independent in the 1920s were suppressed by the Turks. After Turkish resistance led by Atatrk had conquered the Greek, Italian, Armenian, and Kurdish areas (Turkish War of Independence), a new treaty was signed, the Treaty of Lausanne, which formally ended all hostilities and led to the creation of the modern Turkish republic.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, funding the War had a huge 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 [1] ( fell by 61.2%. Reparations in the form of free German coal depressed the local industry, precipitating the 1926 General Strike.

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. Traditionally loyal dominions such as Newfoundland were deeply disillusioned by Britain's apparent disregard for their soldiers. Colonies such as 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, and led indirectly to the outbreak of the Anglo-Irish War in 1919.

United States

In the USA, disillusioned by the failure of the war to achieve the high ideals promised by President Woodrow Wilson, the American people chose isolationism and, after an initial recession enjoyed several years of unbalanced prosperity until the 1929 Stock Market crash. However, American commercial interests did finance Germany's rebuilding and reparations efforts, at least until the onset of the Great Depression. The close relationships between American and German businesses became somewhat of an embarrassment after the Nazis took over Germany in the 1930s.


For France, the end of the War seemed to finally mark the end of Prussian-German domination which had lasted since the Prussians and British had ousted Napoleon in 1814, and especially since their defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.

However the Chief commander of the Allied forces, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, had demanded that for the future protection of France the Rhine river should now form the border between France and Germany. Based on history, he was convinced that Germany would again become a threat, and, on hearing the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that had left Germany substantially intact, he observed with great accuracy that "This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years." After this critical statement, Foch was amazed to see himself rise in power.

Also extremely important in the War was the participation of French colonial troops from Indochina, North Africa, and Madagascar without whom France might well have fallen. When these soldiers returned to their homelands and continued to be treated as second class citizens, many became the nucleus of pro-independence groups.

Social trauma

The experiences of the war led to a sort of collective national trauma afterwards for all the participating countries. The optimism of 1900 was entirely gone and those who fought in the war became what is known as "the Lost Generation" because they never fully recovered from their experiences. For the next few years much of Europe became obsessive in its mourning and thousands of memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns.

This social trauma manifested itself in many different ways. Some people were revolted by nationalism and what it had caused and began to work toward a more internationalist world through organizations such as the League of Nations. Pacifism became increasingly popular. Others had the opposite reaction, feeling that only strength and military might 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 Kthe 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 dishonouring the dead.

Remains of ammunition

Throughout the areas where trenches and fighting lines were located, such as the Champagne region of France, quantities of unexploded shells and other ammunition have remained, some of which remains dangerous and continues to cause injuries and occasional fatalities into the 21st century. Some are still found nowadays, for instance by farmers plowing their fields. Some of this ammunition contains chemical toxic products such as mustard gas. Cleanup of major battlefields is a continuing task with no end in sight for decades more. Squads remove, defuse or destroy hundreds of tonnes of unexploded ammunition every year in Belgium and France.

War memorials

Many towns in the participating countries have war memorials dedicated to local residents who lost their lives. Those of particular importance include:

Tombs of the Unknown Soldier


The first major television documentary on the history of the war was the BBC's The Great War (1964), made in association with CBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Imperial War Museum. The series consists of 26 forty-minute episodes featuring extensive use of archive footage gathered from around the world and eyewitness interviews. Although some of the programme's conclusions have been disputed by historians it still makes compelling and often moving viewing.

See also

External links

it:Conseguenze della prima guerra mondiale


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