November 11, 1918, 11:00am. The Great War ends. Europe and the entire world involved in that cataclysmic war may finally dream of homecoming, going back, and living a normal life again. But in those four years of war, everything had changed dramatically while men and women focused their minds on fighting and surviving. The world these people went back to was not the world they knew. There was no going back.
The bells of France rang on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The war was over. The conflict that was supposed to be over in a few months lasted 52 months – 1560 days of hell on earth. It claimed 10 million lives. It maimed 21 million more. It devastated 2.5 million hectares of farmland and destroyed 60.000 kilometres of roads and thousands of buildings in France alone.
Old nations had disappeared. New nations emerged. The economies of nations across the globe were changed and often disrupted. Social change happened everywhere. A pandemic was brewing in the wings.
Everyone hoped to simply go back to normalcy. But it was only a desperate dream.X Hour (The Great War #AtoZChallenge 2021) November 11, 1918, 11:00am. The Great War ends. Europe and the entire world involved in that cataclysmic war may finally dream of homecoming and a normal life. But there was no going back… Click To Tweet
The political heritage of the Great War
The geopolitical upheaval that the Great War produced went beyond any foresight and its consequence too.
Old and new empires collapsed and didn’t exist anymore after the war. The old Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, as well as the young German Empire, all disappeared from the new political maps. New nations emerged from their dissolution, like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia. In both the Middle East and North Africa, the nations who won the war were able to organise their power, dividing large territories often on arbitrary borders.
For the most part, this created unbalances that would drag on for decades, sometimes even beyond World War II.
In Europe, the main theatre of battle, new democracies emerged from the ashes of the old empires. Many of them didn’t survive the harsh times of the interwar years, besieged, and ultimately defeated by the rising power of nationalism. Widespread dissatisfaction for how things had settled in after the war certainly helped the work of nationalism and authoritarianism. All across Europe, authoritarian regimes slowly but surely replaced republican governments. In 1938, on the eve of WWII, Czechoslovakia was the only republic left in Central Europe.
The shift in the perception of war itself
The war affected consciousness as well as the social state. The safe, stable Edwardian world – and its counterparts in all of the European countries – was gone forever, replaced by a state of insecurity and anxiety that was going to stay for a long, long time. “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them again in our lifetime,” British Lord Grey said.
Insecurity was really the word that best describes the feeling the Great War left. The young people who had joined the war effort for the love of their nation, going after glory and heroism, came home with a different notion of life and, therefore, of their possible future. In this sense, the Great War created a deep shift in the public attitude toward war itself.
Gone were the ideals of warrior prowess and glory, the concept that it was right and honourable to give your life for your nation. On the battlefield of WWI, there was no glory and no heroism. There was not even the opportunity for glory and heroism. The new industrial war was simply a life-destroying machine. It was mindless fear, painful vulnerability, mental war tactic with the total disrespect of life. It was dying in the mud, disappearing from the face of the earth, if not for the memories of your comrades.
Glory had no sense again. War didn’t match the concept of glory anymore.
If this created the disillusionment that was going to be the main characteristic of the interwar years, it also created a new attitude towards pacifism.
The idea that international conflict should be solved peacefully came to the fore again. It had saved the 19th century from major conflicts, at least in Europe. Now the idea that diplomacy and alternative solutions should be the way to go became prevalent again. Countries should resolve their conflicts peacefully, as advocated by the League of Nations first established by the Treaty of Versailles.
In total contrast with the prevalent feeling before the Great War, now pacifism became a viable way. The preferred way. Although this concept came full circle only after WWII, wars started now to be considered an unacceptable solution to international problems.
The Week – The Legacy of World War I
The Guardian – First world war: 15 legacies still with us today
CNRS News – The Legacy of World War I
The New York Times – The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever
The Atlantic – How the Great War Shaped the World
Syracuse University News – 100 Years after WWI: The Lasting Impacts of the Great War
Heinrich Böll Stiftung – The Impact of the First World War and Its Implications for Europe Today