Causes and Consequences of the First World War

The First World War, called at that time the Great War, was an international war conflict with its epicenter in Europe that lasted from 1914 to 1918. Let’s see its main causes and consequences in development.

Causes of the First World War

radicalization of nationalism

Towards the end of the 19th century, the ideology of nationalism had already been consolidated in the European imaginary. Nationalism posited the idea that a people would be united on the basis of a shared culture, language, economy, and geography, and that a destiny for which it would have been born would spring from there.

Along with this, nationalism embraced and embraces the idea that the legitimate way of administering the nation is national self-government.

In these circumstances, the already formed nations would struggle to create a repertoire of symbols and elements to define their identity and compete against others in achieving their destiny. In those regions where imperial models persisted, such as the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a process of erosion began.

See also Nationalism.

Exponential development of the arms industry

The arms industry also reached a very high level of development, which involved the design of new and better weapons: biological weapons, flamethrowers, machine guns, grenades, war tanks, battleships, submarines, planes, etc.

Countries had invested huge amounts of money in making these weapons and there were those who were willing to use them.

Expansion of European imperialism

In the 20th century there was an excess in the production of industrialized consumer goods, which required new markets, as well as the acquisition of more and new raw materials.

Fueled by nationalism, and having lost control over America in the 19th century, European states began the competition to dominate African territory as a source of resources, as well as the competition for control of non-European markets.

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Imperialism represented a serious internal problem for Europe due, among other factors, to the inequality in the distribution of African colonies.

While Great Britain and France concentrated more and better territory, Germany had little and was less advantageous, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire claimed some share in the distribution.

See also Imperialism.

Geopolitical tensions in Europe

The situation was no better within Europe. Nations fought each other to extend their zones of control and demonstrate their power. Thus, a series of conflicts began within the region that exacerbated tensions. Among these we can mention:

  • Franco-German conflict: Since the Franco-Prussian War in the 19th century, Germany, under the leadership of Bismarck, had succeeded in annexing Alsace and Lorraine. In the 20th century, France returns to claim dominance over the region.
  • Anglo-German conflict: Germany vied for control of the market with Great Britain, which dominated it.
  • Austro-Russian conflict: Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire dispute control of the Balkans.

Formation of international alliances

All these conflicts aroused the creation or renewal of international alliances theoretically oriented to control the power of some countries over others. These alliances were:

  • the german union in the hands of Otto von Bismarck (1871-1890), which intended to form a Germanic unit and served to contain France temporarily.
  • The Triple Alliance formed in 1882. In this, initially were Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. However, during the war, Italy will not support the Triple Alliance and will side with the Allies.
  • The Triple Entente, established in 1907 against Germany. The countries that originally formed it were France, Russia and Great Britain.

See also Triple Entente.

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was not so much a cause as a detonating of the First World War.

It occurred on June 28, 1914 in the city of Sarajevo, capital of what was then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was perpetrated by the extremist Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian nationalist group Black Hand.

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As an immediate consequence, the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Joseph I, decides to declare war against Serbia on July 28, 1914.

The Franco-Russian alliance rose up in defense of Serbia and Great Britain sided with them, while Germany sided with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Thus began the First World War.

See also World War I.

Consequences of the First World War

Human and material losses

World War I was the first war conflict on a massive scale known to mankind. The balance was truly terrifying, and left Europe mired in thousands of difficulties.

The biggest problem? The Europeans went to the battlefield with the mentality of the 19th century, but with the technology of the 20th century. The disaster was colossal.

From the human point of view, the Great War, as it was then known, left a balance of deaths of 7 million civilians and 10 million soldiers during the attacks, only during the attacks.

In addition, the impact of indirect deaths caused by famines, by the spread of diseases and by disabling accidents caused during the attacks, which generated problems such as disability, deafness or blindness, is considered.

Signing of the Treaty of Versailles

The First World War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, from which conditions of surrender are established for the Germans, whose seriousness will be one of the causes of the Second World War

With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the formation of the Society of nations in 1920, immediate antecedent of the United Nations Organization. This body would ensure mediation between international conflicts in order to guarantee peace.

See also Treaty of Versailles.

Economic consequences

In economic terms, the First World War meant great losses of money and resources. The first thing was the destruction of the industrial park, especially the German one.

In general terms, Europe was exposed to a widening of the social gap between rich and poor, stemming from both material losses and physical disability after combat, induced widowhood and orphanhood.

The economic sanctions established against Germany would plunge the country into extreme poverty and hinder its recovery, which would generate great discomfort and resentment against the allied countries.

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Despite all European efforts to maintain its dominance, the First World War dealt it a severe economic blow that undermined its international hegemony and favored the rise of North American economic hegemony.

geopolitical consequences

As a consequence of the First World War, the German empires disappeared; Austro-Hungarian; Ottoman and Russian Empire. The latter was fractured by the Russian Revolution that took place in 1917, moved, among other reasons, by the participation of this Empire in the Great War.

The European map was restructured and nations such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Yugoslavia appeared.

Furthermore, Germany suffered heavy territorial losses which, numerically, represented 13% of its domains in Europe alone.

Germany had to hand over Alsace and Lorraine to France; to Belgium he gave the regions of Eupen and Malmedy; to Denmark, northern Schleswig; to Poland, some regions of West Prussia and Silesia; to Czechoslovakia, Hultschin; to Lithuania, Memel and, finally, to the League of Nations, he ceded control of Danzig and the industrial region of Saar, which remained under his administration for about fifteen years.

Added to this was the delivery of its overseas colonies, which were distributed among the allies.

See also Russian Revolution.

ideological consequences

The consequences of the First World War were not only economic or material. New ideological discourses would appear on the scene.

To the extreme left, the expansion of the communismwhich had risen to power for the first time with the Russian Revolution of 1917, since its theoretical formulation in 1848.

To the extreme right, the birth of the national-socialism (nazism) in Germany and the fascism in Italy, with their respective sources of irradiation.

Despite their deep differences, all these theories would have in common the rejection of the model of liberal capitalism.

See also:

  • Communism.
  • Nazism.
  • Fascism.