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Posted on April 19th, 2012, by

The First World War produced a profound impact on the development of the world in the 20th century. In fact, it was the first, truly global military conflict in the world, which actually occurred because of the imperialist ambitions of the leading world’s powers. At the same time, it should said that the major region where the war was provoked and ended was Europe that is quite natural for the leading countries were located in this continent at the epoch.

However, it is important to understand that the First World War was the first and terrible lesson the mankind had to learn but, unfortunately the mankind failed to learn this lesson and prevent World War II. In such a situation, it is important to understand the origin, causes and effects of World War I, because this war, to a significant extent, defined the development of the world for the next decades to follow. On the other hand, it should be said that the outbreak of World War I was the consequence of policies which dominated in international relations at the early 20th century. In fact, the war became an inevitable outcome of the growing antagonism between leading countries of the world and it was the war for the dominance in the world.

On analyzing the causes of World War I, it is necessary to point out that the beginning of the war was closely intertwined with the growing contradictions between leading powers in Europe. In this respect, it should be said that European countries, namely Great Britain, France, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia and the Ottoman Empire played the dominant role in the continent, while many of them played the dominant role in the entire world. The latter is particularly true in relation to western European countries, including Germany, Great Britain, France and Austro-Hungary. In the late 19th early 20th centuries these countries attempted to take the leading position in the world by means of colonization of underdeveloped countries of the world, mainly in Africa and Asia. By the early 20th century European superpowers practically established their control over Africa and a large part of Asia, but their national interests naturally came into clashes as the colonization slowed down because of the lack of independent countries the countries could occupy or which they could establish their control over. In this regard, the tension between Great Britain, Germany and France was particularly significant.

As for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, they pursued their own interests in the war since they had frontiers with each other and by means of war they attempted to strengthen their position in Eastern and Southern Europe, where the empires wanted to become the dominant powers.

In such a way, it should be said that the main cause of World War I was the imperialism which stimulated the international aggression and territorial expansion of leading countries of the world. However, the formal pretext for the outbreak of the war was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia, which provoked the military intervention and occupation of Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. This step from the part of Germany and Austro-Hungary provoked Great Britain and France to respond to the aggression, which also involved the Russian Empire, which was the ally of Serbia and was obliged to defend this country from external aggression. The involvement of Russia in the war naturally led to the involvement of the Ottoman Empire because the latter played a strategically important role in Europe since the Ottoman Empire was a kind of southern gates of Europe, which should prevent the military aggression from the part of Russia in the South. As a result, the two major military alliances were formed. On the one hand, there was the Triple Entente, comprised of Great Britain, France, and Russia, and the Triple Alliance, comprised of Germany, Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.

Later, other countries were involved, including the USA after the German U-boat bombarded the American liner Lincoln and sank it. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the US supported Great Britain and it was the major ally of Britain since the US provided technical and military support to Great Britain. Moreover, it is due to the trade with the USA, Great Britain managed to get the stable socioeconomic situation within the country.

At the same time, it is necessary to point out that the World War I was the unique war, different from any other war that had ever taken place in the world history. In fact, countries involved in the war used the trenched warfare, which was applied shortly after the beginning of the war. To put it more precisely, after the occupation of Serbia and Belgium, the countries started the trenched warfare, which deprived military operation of dynamic which was typical for traditional warfare. In addition, countries amply used innovations in warfare attempting to overcome the resistance of the opponents. For instance, the use of chemical weapon became a powerful tool which was supposed to change the balance of power in the world, but, in actuality, the use of the chemical weapon led to huge casualties but failed to change the situation on the frontline consistently. In this respect, it is necessary to mention the battle of Ypres, when the German assault was accompanied by the use of chlorine gas killing thousands of enemy soldiers.

As for the parallels in the World War I, it should be said that in the 20th century the countries basically competed in the development of new weapon. For instance, Germany started the notorious chlorine gas in the Ypres attack and Allies army was absolutely unprepared for this. In fact, in this war, advances in military technologies meant that the defensive firepower out-weighed offensive capabilities. For instance, barbed wire prevented the attacks of infantry, artillery had been more lethal than ever before and had been enforced by the use of machine guns. However, some technological innovations turned to be ineffective. For instance, tanks were initially used by Britain and than by Germany but they were unreliable and ungainly.

The trenched warfare led to the prolonging the war, which became an unbearable burden for the parties involved because all resources of the countries, including not only financial and material but also human resources, were directed to the frontline. In such a way, the countries spent their wealth on the war that inevitably undermined the socioeconomic situation in the countries.

Eventually, the World War I led to the instability within the countries, which were forced to stop the war under the pressure from within. For instance, the revolution in Russia led to the peaceful agreements between Russia and its opponents. The situation in other countries was also close to revolutionary. It is often argued that the World War I was ended basically because of the revolutionary situation that overwhelmed Europe. On the other hand, it is estimated that the war basically ended because of the military exhaustion of Germany. In fact it is possible to estimate that the revolutionary situation in Europe seems to be rather more persuading because it is a well-known fact that after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia socialistic ideas had started to spread rapidly among the soldiers of all countries participating in the war that undermined their morality and made them refuse to continue the war. This is why it is possible to agree that revolutions were the main factors that determined the end of the World War I.

In this respect, it is important to stress the fact that the revolution in Russia led to the seize fire and peace talks between Russia and its opponents, which eventually resulted in signing of the peace agreement in Brest. In such a way, Western allies of Russia, France and Great Britain faced all the power of the Triple Alliance, which concentrated all its forces on the western frontline. However, the expectations of Germany and its allies to finish the war defeating opponents in the west failed. Ironically, it was the internal instability in Germany that eventually resulted in the revolution of 1918 that determined the failure and defeat of Germany in the war. In fact, the revolution put the end to the ambitions of Germany and its allies to make consistent advancements in the west. Germany was unable to continue the war being totally exhausted, while its people were tired of the permanent state of war which had lasted for four years.

As a result, the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, which put the end to the war. The defeated countries had lost their position as leading powers in Europe and world, while the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires felt apart and seized to exist. World War I had changed dramatically the balance of power in the world, while the map of Europe and the world had changed dramatically too. Great Britain and France became the dominant colonial powers, while the role of the USA as one of the leading world’s powers also increased consistently.

In contrast, Germany, Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire as well as Russia laid in ruins because the revolutionary events put the end to all these empires but Germany, which managed to preserve the main part of its territory, though Germany as well as other defeated states, had to pay off reparations to winners and were deprived of its army and navy.

However, the end of World War I did not really bring the desirable balance in the world. In stark contrast, World War I increased the tension between countries and revanchist trends in Germany and its allies, while the winners could benefit from their dominant position, but they could not eventually prevent World War II which broke out two decades after the end of World War I. In such a way, World War I became a terrible lesson the world failed to learn.

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