The Significance of World War I


The echoes of World War I are heard in different parts of the world even now. World War I formally ended in 1918, but it caused the discord and violence in the Middle East, which have no end in sight. Borders defined by the victorious powers in 1919 at Versailles failed to establish peace. The following factors are seen as the reasons for the outbreak of the war. The objective laws of capitalist development inevitably led to the intensification of the struggle for sources of raw materials and markets for goods. During the unification of Germany and Italy, there were not so many countries in Africa, Oceania, and Asia that may have been hypothetical colonial conquests. The consequence of this situation is the exacerbation of aggression of Germany starting from the 19th century. Thus, it was the unspoken reason for the accumulation of discontent that promoted the beginning of World War I. According to the historian James Jolla, the July Crisis of 1914, which led to World War I, was, in the end, most fully documented in the modern history. However, researches on the causes and consequences of World War I have not lost its relevance even today. The First World War demonstrated the critical state of civilization. The paper investigates the significance of World War I and emphasizes its origins according to the global knowledge and recent researches.

The Significance of World War I

World War I did not just fail to eradicate the contradictions between the parties, but it even worsened the situation, which formed the ground for World War II. According to British historian Eric Hobsbawm, the meaningful XIX century has its origins in 1789, starts with the French Revolution, and ends in 1913. In turn, the XX century - not the calendar one, but in its historical meaning - begins in 1914, with the First World War, and continues in 1991, when the global changes took their place. This chronology allowed many historians to speak of a "long XIX century" and "short XX century".


World War I outlined the key problems of the century: social differences, geopolitical conflicts, ideological struggle, and economic confrontation. Interestingly, at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries, many people thought that the war in Europe was not possible. If collisions occurred, it happened only on the periphery and in the colonies. The development of scientific and technological knowledge, as well as refined culture, in the opinion of many of his contemporaries, did not presuppose the death of millions of people and the end the four great empires. This was the first war in the world that affected all social strata and all spheres of life.

The First World War began in Europe, and it was the first terrible example of modern warfare. It lasted from August 1914 to November 1918, and it was one of the bloodiest in human history, in which more than 10 million people were killed and 20 million were injured. The hostilities took place in 38 countries with a general population of over 1 billion people. The war in one way or another affected the political and economic situation of all countries, including the neutral ones. Thus, the whole world directly or indirectly participated in the war. The First World War led to serious changes in the economic situation of the colonial world, violating the established pre-war international trade relations. Since the import of industrial products from the metropolis was reduced due to the war, the colonies and dependent countries were able to organize the production of many goods that were previously imported from the outside, and this entailed a rapid development of national capitalism. Consequently, the war caused great damage to agriculture in the colonies and dependent countries.

World War I and a set of its bloody battles were not successful for Germany in the long run as it eventually lost the war. However, although Britain was one of the countries that won the war, the situation in it stayed tough. Britain’s spending on the war was enormous. The public debt increased three times during the war. The interest on debt and the need for pension payments were a heavy burden. Moreover, one should also take into account that for the first time in its history, England was the victim of the devastating bombing and heavy rocket attacks, because of which it lost much of its merchant fleet. Since the communication and trade in England could be only possible with the help of the fleet, those losses were particularly significant. For Austria-Hungary, the consequences of defeat in the war turned into a national disaster and the collapse of the multinational Habsburg Empire. Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was a symbol of the empire for 68 years of his reign, died in 1916. He was replaced by Charles I, who was not able to stop the centrifugal national forces of the empire, which, coupled with the military defeat, led to the collapse of Austria-Hungary.

World War I put an end to the four greatest empires: Russian, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and German. Consequently, they were be replaced by the new states. After the First World War, there appeared the idea of grandeur and importance in many European countries that led to the creation of the concept of national exclusiveness and the special political design in the interwar period. From an economic point of view, due to the debt and losses, which led the war, the most pressing problem of the postwar period was the transition from a war economy to a peacetime economy. This process proved to be more difficult and time consuming than expected and continued during the Great Depression. In addition, before the depression was over, there appeared the agenda of the preparation for a new war. Even David Fromkin called the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, as the one aimed to eradicate all forms of the world. Thus, everyone thought that the First World War would solve the problem, but it created a new and more serious one.

The Concepts of Historically Contingent and Objective Conflict to World War I

Despite the fact that since the beginning of World War I a hundred years passed, its causes has been revised until now. The formal reason for the war was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife were shot in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The murderer was a terrorist from the Serbian nationalist organization "Young Bosnia". Sarajevo assassination caused an unprecedented scandal in which many parties were involved and to which profound interest was demonstrated by all the main parties.

However, in contrast to the generally accepted opinion of the main cause of the beginning of the war, there are other actual causes. One of them was the creation of the ultimate truth theory of imperialism in its Leninist interpretation. Few people have grounds to reject it as a whole, condemning the concept of imperialism as a malicious fabrication of the insidious Bolsheviks. For example, Fromkin in his book mentions and analyzes the Leninism concept of war. According to him, Germany was late in its desire to implement the imperialist ideas.

The nature of the outbreak of massacre that happened in August 1914 universally determined the lands that were not protected. Moreover, nobody cared about the salvation of cultural values and civilization from the barbarians or Slavic-Russians who were aimed at the imperialist expansion in the form of capture, division, or the redistribution of the land of others to establish spheres of influence, etc.. The whole theory of imperialism cannot be discarded, but it urgently needed correction and further development. It seems necessary to expand on the appearance of features of imperialism. The one that greatly affected the flare-up of the conflict was nationalism. Furthermore, Fromkin points both the rise of nationalism in the great nations and small societies. The scientist notes that Europe was fast becoming a continent of nation-states, but, at the same time, it was not well established what was considered a national, as well as there was no agreement about which groups were the nations, and which were not. The desire for independence of small nations on the territory of the Habsburg Empire, including Serbs, Croats, and Czechs, pushed Austria to war. Thus, nationalism did not simply stood at the origins of the war, but also determined its future character. It must be emphasized that French nationalism, fueled by the loss of Alsace and Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, was strengthened as a result of the successful expansion of the French colonial empire in 1911 after taking control of Morocco.

Other unspoken factors that acted as a catalyst for the development of military operations were militarism and the arms race. The Europeans did not seem to take the war seriously, and society's attitude to the war was based on the concept of defensive patriotism. Mutual dislike, according to Fromkin, was clearly expressed not only between future opponents but also between the allies. Basing on the analysis of the sentiment in the first days of the war and the course of the mobilization, he comes to a conclusion that Europeans were ready for it, and not only agreed with, but actively supported their governments.

In recent years, more people tend to support the idea that World War I took place in spite of the desire of rulers to keep the peace. Therefore, Fromkin in his book indicates that in the summer of 1914, none of the European great powers believed that the other nation could launch a military aggression against them, at least in the near future. According to him, an illusion of the pre-war conditions of the Old World was based on the fact that for nearly half a century there was no war between the great powers, and globalization of the world economy implied that the war would never start. Nevertheless, despite all the current studies and hypotheses, the reality does not change, and the consequences of the First World War echoes in the historical memory of the inhabitants of the planet.


World War I was a catalyst for further economic and political changes in the whole world. The consequences of the war were disastrous for the economy of most countries. They included the widespread and prolonged economic crises, which were based on the giant economic imbalances that emerged during the war years. The outbreak of the war was the result of a common political culture as its proponents did not imagine possible horrors and consequences of the war and had no specific goals. The fours years of war showed its senselessness and absolute disaster it brought, proving that there are no winners and losers. Today, there is a continuing debate on the immediate guilt of Germany for starting the war. Furthermore, there is the necessity to conduct further research that would shift the focus of the investigation of World War I from its reasons to the evaluation of the political responsibility for it.

Jun 26, 2020 in Research
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