Imperialism and World trade had made the entire world to become affected by events in some parts. As Europe was the center of trade and colonization a war that broke out in this area would soon spread out and affect policies in the colonies too that were spread around the world. The wars prior to this were confined to warring armies and the civilian population wasn’t affected. But in this war the damage to civilian areas exceeded that of the military.
Due to its extent and impact it was known as the First World War.
The European nations had started a scramble for colonies but by the end of 19th century the race had finished and now more colonies didn’t exist. In order to capture more the country had to dispossess other imperialists. The conquer of Africa saw many European nations coming to a confrontation. However direct war was avoided by negotiations but sometimes war was fought e.g. Russia – Japan.
New imperial nations developed like Italy ad Germany. They had started the race for colonies late and wanted to compete with the existing powers. Germany raced ahead of England and France in terms of manufacturing and set its sights on declining Ottoman Empire in Turkey. It built the Berlin Baghdad railway to achieve its goals. This alarmed England and France who also had imperial ambitions in Turkey.
Russia too was in confrontation with other imperial powers as it sought to expand into Iran and Constantinople.
Conflicts within Europe
The internal conflicts were present in the countries of Europe namely Austria -Hungary, England, France, Germany, Russia. Italy claimed certain territories captured by Austria, France wanted to wreck humiliation on Germany for the defeat in 1870 and also wanted the Alsace Lorraine region.
The Balkan countries were fighting for freedom from Ottoman empire. Russia had started the Pan Slav movement and wanted all Slav origin people to be united under it. Serbia a Slav nation in Balkan wanted to unite all Slavs and was encouraged by Russia.
England, France were alarmed at the rising influence of Russia in the Balkans.
Formation of Coalitions
The conflicts in these nations increased and there was a arms race and propaganda for war. Each nation claimed glory over others. The coalitions were formed of Triple Alliance and Triple Entente. But these were only loose agreements made over colonial possessions. A conflict seemed inevitable and also the tension that a war in Europe would reach to all parts of the World as most of these nations had colonial possessions.
Fig 1: Alliances during WWI
Incidents Preceding the War
Balkan nations had begun the freedom struggle and soon Turkey lost all its possessions in Europe. The independent nation of Albania was created by Austria and Serbia which coveted Albania was frustrated. Bosnia and Herzegovina which were coveted by both Austria and Serbia were captured by Austria. Serbia and Austria almost came into conflict with Russia backing Serbia and Germany backing Austria but war was averted.
Germany came in conflict with France on Morocco as the German Emperor had promised support to Morocco but it was annexed by France. Negotiations between Germany and France avoided a war but created further bitterness between them.
An incident occurred which otherwise wouldn’t have affected much but due to prevailing tensions started a European conflict which escalated into the WWI – Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian national in Bosnia.
Austria – Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia joined on Serbia’s side and Germany declared war on France and Russia. German lightning strikes through Belgium succeeded in reaching the borders of Paris but army was diverted on the Russian front too. The army of either side couldn’t dislodge the other and a stalemate continued for four years.
The war extended to colonies in Far East, Africa too. The German colonies in Africa were captured by England and France and Far East too by Japan. A different kind of warfare was started where each side dug trenches and attacked the other. The civilian populations were bombed. Each side wanted to cutoff food and supply lines of the other. Poison gas was used.
Submarines and Aerial bombings, liquid fire, tanks were used on a large scale. Civilians population of colonies were used to dig trenches and fight on behalf of their mother countries.
Russia was facing a revolution by the Bolsheviks and soon the Czar was defeated. The Bolsheviks pursued peace against the Germans and Germany put heavy terms on them. The Entry of USA turned the tides of the War.
USA had become a supplier of arms to the Central powers and were generally sympathetic to England. the central powers had taken loans from US and these could be repaid only if they won. US was also apprehensive f German domination that could challenge its own strength. When a British ship Lusitania was sunk by German U-Boats USA joined the War.
The Revolution in Russia led to a civil war as Czar and supporters were fighting against the revolutionary government of Bolsheviks. The rebels were supported by England , France but the Bolsheviks won and foreign powers were defeated. USA, Britain, France launched an offensive against the Triple Alliance and the Alliance was crushed. Austria Hungary surrendered, Turkey and Bulgaria also saw revolutions against the rulers and surrendered.
German Emperor faced protests and abdicated to Holland. Surrender of Germany ended the War and this was met with jubilation’s.
President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 point plan was proposed about creating an international agency for peace, handing back captured territories etc. But the Treaty of Versailles was framed by victorious nations. In this the victors imposed conditions on the defeated nations. The Republican government of Germany was forced to accept the treaty by which a huge war indemnity was imposed, The army was limited to 1 lakh and navy, air force were disbanded. Alsace Lorraine was handed over to France along with Saar coal mines.
The victors like British, France also divided the colonial possessions amongst themselves. Some of the allies like Italy and Russia didn’t get the colonies they were seeking. The Sphere of Influence of Germany in China was handed over to Japan due to its alliance with Britain and France.
Ottoman empire had disintegrated and newer independent states were created. Some of the protectorates of the Empire were given as mandates to France and Britain. Old dynasty rulers in Russia, Germany, Austria were destroyed and new governments emerged.
A new international organization was created to have international peace but Russia and Germany weren’t allowed to join. Also USA did not join it. This made the League of Nations ineffective. Many aggression’s were committed but the league couldn’t handle them. It also couldn’t solve the problem of colonization.
Thus, the imposing peace treaties and impotent organizations created couldn’t keep a lasting peace in Europe but in fact became a reason for another devastating war which started after 20 years.