Part 5

The Twentieth Century and Beyond

The beginning of World War I was the beginning of the end of European dominance. The nationalism that eventually spread around the world ended their reign. The United States and Soviet Union fought a Cold War for that position. In the end the United States came out on top; for how long is another question.

The global trading network that developed in the previous period expanded, and its influence can be seen in the phenomenon of globalization. With globalization has come problems, including substantial environmental issues. In addition, globalization has often brought cultural traditions into question. Fundamentalist religious movements have been a reaction against that trend.


Chapter 23

The War to End All Wars

In This Chapter

• The causes of World War I

• August 1914

• Trench warfare

• The Russian Revolution

• The coming of the Americans

• The end of the War to End All Wars

World War I was a watershed event in world history. It marked the beginningof the end of European imperial dominance of the world. The war also created the right environment for a shift in power in the West. The long-term causes of the war were some of the “isms” of the nineteenth centuryincluding industrialism, nationalism, and imperialism; but there were more immediate causes.

The Seeds of War

The Balkan Peninsula had gained gradual autonomy from Austria-Hungarybeginning in the late nineteenth century. By 1878, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro were all independent nations, but other states remained under the influence of the European powers. Bulgaria was a Russian protectorate; Bosnia and Herzegovina were Austria-Hungarian protectorates.

Notable Quotable

"Serbia will some day set Europe by the ears, and bring about universal war on the Continent.”

—Sir Maurice de Bunsen, British Ambassador to Austria, 1913

Both Bosnia and Herzegovina were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908. This angered the nation of Serbia, which had its own designs in the region. Backed by the Russians, who competed with Austria in the region, the Serbs prepared for war. Germany stepped in to back Austria-Hungary, so the Russians backed down and so, necessarily, did the Serbs. Tensions subsided for the moment in the Balkans, but various wars during 1912 and 1913 caused tensionsto rise again.

The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

In June 1914, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir to the imperial throne in Austria-Hungary—decided to visit the annexed state of Bosnia. During this officialstate visit, Gavrio Princep, a 19-year-old member of the Black Hand, a Serbian Nationalist group, assassinated both the archduke and his wife while they were riding through the streets of Sarajevo. Tensions in Eastern Europe went from hot to boiling in a matter of days.

Austria-Hungary had wanted a reason to crush Serbia for some time, due to competinginterests in the state of Bosnia, and the assassination provided it. But Russia was certain to back Serbian interests, so the Austrians again looked to Germany for help. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany gave the Austrians his full unconditional support for an invasion of Serbia. Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia on July 23, 1914, with extreme demands including suppressing any dissent against Austria, which the Serbians could not meet. Five days later when the demands remained unanswered, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This had a domino effect on the nations of Europe.

Tensions Boil Over

The first nation to respond to this small regional conflict was Russia. Czar Nicholas II ordered the mobilization of the Russian army. In the political and military world of 1914, mobilization was an act of war. For Russia to partially mobilize to just fight Austria was not plausible. It was all or nothing, meaning that Russia was going to take on Germany, also. So when the Russian czar gave the order for full mobilization on July 29, Germany declared war on Russia.

The German declaration of war broadened the conflict from a regional to a continentalaffair. There were several reasons for this. Germany, led by Alfred von Schlieffen, had a long-standing plan developed for war with Russia and France. France was part of the German plan because they knew that Russia and France had an alliance. The plan recognized that Germany could not survive a two front war, so it called for an immediate one-two punch by hitting France first and Russia afterward. The plan’s success—and Germany’s survival—depended on it being implemented immediately, so military necessity quickly outran political caution or restraint.

Germany declared war on France on August 3, then issued an ultimatum to the Belgium government to allow German troops to pass through their borders on the way to France. Belgium was neutral and refused, so German forces invaded Belgium en route to France. At that point on August 4, Great Britain declared war on Germany for violating Belgium neutrality—and because Great Britain had secretly allied itself with France and Russia.

A small conflict had turned into the Great War. On one side were the Allied powers of France, Great Britain, and Russia. On the other side were the Central—or Axis— powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.

The Great War

When the Great War started, all of the sides involved were euphoric with nationalism.Most saw the war as a chance for glory and adventure. These feelings were aided by the mass of new media propaganda being cranked out of the government presses of Europe. Hundreds of thousands of men volunteered to fight for their nation’s honor. But the Great War did not progress like the propaganda said.

Notable Quotable

"The world of peace which has now collapsed with such shattering thunder—did we not all of us have enough of it? Was it not foul in all its comfort? Did it not fester and stink with the decomposition of civilization …. Morally and psychologically I feel the necessity of this catastrophe and that feeling of cleansing, of elevation and liberation which filled me, when what one had thought impossible really happened.”

—German writer Thomas Mann, 1914

Dig In!

Germany’s plan to win the war was a military gamble. They needed to take Paris quickly, as in the Franco-Prussian War, but the plan did not work that way. The German forces moved swiftly at first, but were stopped cold by French and British forces at the First Battle of the Marne, from September 6-10.

The German armies kept trying to swing around French forces, but were stopped by a series of trenches protected by barbed wire. These trenches stretched from the English Channel to neutral Switzerland. The German forces responded by building their own set of trenches. The Western front of the Great War had begun in a thunderclap.Once entrenched, the great armies stayed in relatively the same positions for four long years.

The Eastern Front

The Eastern front, where Germany and Austria faced Russia, had more movement.Germany defeated the Russian armies in eastern Germany at the Battle of Tannenberg on August 30 and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes on September 15. The Austrians were not so successful. They were defeated in the region of Galicia and thrown out of Serbia.

As a result, Italy, initially allied with the Central powers, decided to switch sides to the Allied powers. They then attacked southern Austria in May 1915 with some success. Seeing Austria as the weak link, Germany aided the Austrians in defeating the Russians in Galicia. This put the Russian armies on the verge of collapse on the Eastern front. Bulgaria saw its chance to cash in on the war and joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in August 1915.

The Meat Grinder

As the war slowed to a crawl, the casualties rose to incredible numbers. The unprecedentedcasualty rates had to do with advances in weapons technology and the lack of advances in war strategy. The use of millions of miles of barbed wire, machine-guns, and heavy artillery created a no-man’s land between the trenches of the soldiers. No one seemed able to figure out tactics to capture enemy trenches that did not involve sending thousands of men in charges to break the other’s lines. These charges were futile despite the bravery of the men involved. From 1914 to 1917, millions of young men were sent to their deaths charging the enemy’s trenches. Eventually the war became one of attrition.

Notable Quotable

"They advanced in line after line, dressed as if on parade, and not a man shirked going through the extremely heavy barrage, or facing the machine-gun and rifle fire that wiped them out.”

—British Brigadier Rees, July 1916

The Air War

Above the trenches, another new type of battle was going on. Invented only a decade earlier by the Wright brothers, aircraft were first used in war during the Great War. At first they were used for reconnaissance to track troop movements. Soon pilots dropped bombs on unsuspecting targets. Then things really started to heat up. Pilots started to fire at each other using pistols, then machine guns. Rapidly the air filled with “dogfights” as planes battle for air superiority.

The Germans were quite adept at creating and using airships called zeppelins to bomb London and even eastern England. These zeppelins contained hydrogen, which allowed them to float in the sky propelled by a systemof controls and propellers. Of course, hydrogen is very flammable, making them very vulnerable to enemy fire. The bombings in England did little damage but had a psychologicaleffect on the English.


A zeppelin is a rigid, cigar-shapedballoon designed to carry passengers and bombs, named for its inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

The War Spreads

In a matter of time, the regional conflict that turned into a continental conflict finally became a global conflict. The declining Ottoman Empire joined Germany in August 1914, seeing an opportunity to expand their influence in the Balkans. In response, the Allied powers tried to invade the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli southwestof Istanbul in April 1915. After a disastrous campaign, they were forced to withdraw. Still wanting to create problems for the Ottoman Turks, a British officer, Lawrence of Arabia, was charged with encouraging the local Arab princes to rise up against the Ottoman Empire. Additionally in 1918, the British seized control of Egypt from the Turks.

Japan also wanted to get into the war, seeing it as a good opportunity to expand influencein the Pacific Rim. Unlike the Turks, they picked the right side. The Japanese allied themselves with the British and the Allied powers. With the backing of the alliance, they seized several German colonial possessions in the Pacific. Australia also did the same and took control of German New Guinea.

The position of the United States on the conflict was a topic of intense interest. The United States maintained a policy of neutrality, but blockades of British and German ports caused problems. The German navy, in a fit of impatience decided to use its submarine fleet in a campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare. On May 7, 1915, a German submarine sank the Lusitania, a passenger vessel, killing over 1,000 civiliansincluding 100 Americans. This changed the relatively neutral American view of Germany and the Central powers to a very negative one. After the incident, the German navy stopped unrestricted warfare, but the negative image stuck.

What in the World

Just before the German invasionof Belgium, two German naval cruisers shelled French ports in Algeria. These ships were chased by the British navy and escaped to a Turkish port, where the German government sold them to the Turks. The acquisitionof these advanced ships convinced the Ottoman Empire to side with the Central powers.

A year later the German government became desperate.They were convinced that the British would starve before the United States would respond to the unrestricted warfare on merchant vessels. So the German navy, again, used unrestricted warfare on all ships coming into Britain. It was the wrong call. The United States had enough and entered the war. (The Anglo-American bond is strong even to this day.) By early 1918, American troops had arrived in Europe in large numbers, a significant psychological and military boost for the Allies.

Revolution in Russia

Russia was not prepared for war, which was economically, culturally, politically, and socially disruptive. The czar was not a good political or military leader, and he insisted on having control of both during the war. Also Russia was not ready or able to equip its troops for the new industrialized warfare. The lack of leadership and preparation led to the deaths of over 2 million Russian soldiers on the Eastern front from 1914 to 1916. The confidence of the Russian people in their government was at an all-time low.

Adding to the complexity of the situation was the figure of Rasputin, a Siberian peasant and holy man who garnered the support of the Russian royal family because he was able to stop the bleeding of the czar’s son Alexis who had hemophilia. The Russian people believed that he had too much influence on the royal family and Russian politics. This resentment eventually resulted in Rasputin’s assassination, in December 1916. Finally, the Russian economy, which had suffered before the Great War, suffered even more once the war commenced.

The March Revolution

The Russian Revolution began with the March Revolution, which started in March 1917 when the women of Petrograd, the Russian capital, went on strike citing lack of bread and long work hours. The strike escalated on March 8, 1917, when 10,000 women marched on the capital. This unrest spread to all the industries and there was a general strike. The czar ordered his palace soldiers to break up the striking protestors,but instead they joined the women. The Duma, which had been dissolved by the czar, met and on March 12, created a provisional government, forcing Czar Nicholas to step down on March 15.

In the span of a week, Russia went from an autocracy to a democracy. Alexander Kerensky emerged to lead the Russian nation, and one of his first decisions was to continue the war on the Eastern front. That was a big mistake. A group of soviet councils made of workers and soldiers and influenced by socialism opposed the war. They were the key to a larger takeover.

Red October

The Marxist Party had many factions across Europe during the early twentieth century.One faction was the Russian Social Democrats, led by Vladmir Ilyich Ulianov, better known as Lenin. Lenin always believed there should be a violent overthrow of the Russian government. He was exiled to Switzerland for his extreme views from 1900 to 1917.

In April 1917, German leaders, thinking his subversive ideology would be detrimentalto the Russian war effort, shipped him back to Russia in secret. Once in Russia, Lenin and his Marxist followers, called Bolsheviks, took over the socialist-leaning soviets by promising to end the war and give the factories to the workers, the land to the peasants, and power to the soviets.


A soviet was a council of representativesmade up of workers and soldiers.

By October 1917, the Bolsheviks held a slight majority in the soviets in Petrograd. Impatient for change, Lenin gave Leon Trotsky the go-ahead to start another revolution.On November 6, 1917, Bolshevik forces seized the Winter Palace where the provisional government met.

Once in control, Lenin turned the power of the government over to the Congress of the Soviets, but the real power resided in the Council of People’s Commissars dominatedby Lenin. As a result, the Bolsheviks changed their name to communists and the Russian nation to the Soviet Union. Trying to keep some of his promises, Lenin also immediately made diplomatic maneuvers to end the war for the Soviet Union. On March 3, 1918, the Soviets signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in which it gave up eastern Poland, Ukraine, Finland, and the Baltic Provinces to Germany.

The Reds Versus the Whites

The Bolshevik takeover of Russia did not go unopposed. Civil war raged across the Russian landscape. Those who opposed the communist revolution were czar loyalists, liberals, anti-Lenin socialists, and the Allied powers. The Russian opposition formed the White Army, supported by the Allied powers with supplies and a small number of soldier advisors. But the communists, or Red Army, fought the White Army fiercely. As a result, they were able to take control of the Ukraine, Georgia, Russian Armenia, and Azerbaijan from the White Army. The Red Army also ended the threat of a royal returning to the throne by murdering the czar and his family on July 16, 1918.

In due time, Lenin and the communists took control of the former Russian Empire. Some of this was due to the leadership of Trotsky, who organized their forces and instituted a draft to aid in the civil war effort. Additionally, Lenin had a clear goal— centralize the state under government control—while the White Army had no goals other than to fight the communists. The communists also used the Cheka, or secret police, to root out sympathizers to the White Army cause. Finally, the people of Russia saw the White Army as anti-nationalists, since they were aligned with the foreign armies of the Allied powers. So by 1921, the Red Army had prevailed and the civil war for control was over. Russia was officially a communist nation.

The Final Years of the Great War

The last year of the war was difficult for all the nations involved, especially the Allied powers. The Battle of the Somme did not go well for the Allied powers; in fact, the British lost over 21,000 men on the first day of the battle. The Russian Revolution knocked out Russia as an ally. And finally the Allied powers suffered numerous other defeats on the Western front. The only glimmer of hope that the Allied powers had was the coming of the Americans.

One Last Try

The Germans recognized the coming of the Americans as a turning point in the war. They knew that, for Germany to win the war, they needed to mount a major offensive before the Americans reached the shores of Europe in vast numbers. So the leader of German military operations, Erich von Ludendorff, devised a plan for an offensive.

Starting in March 1918, the Germans renewed the offensive at the Second Battle of the Marne. By July 18, the German forces were completely halted by Allied forces using the new military technology of tanks. With the failed offensive, the war was over for Germany. The trickle of fresh American troops had turned into a flood, with 2 million people reaching Europe’s shores.

What in the World

Over 300,000 African Americans served in the U.S. Army during World War I in segregated units. Some units fought alongside French regiments. Because of their distinguished service with the French, 171 African Americans were awarded the French Legion of Honor.

German Revolutions

Seeing the writing on the wall in September 1918, General Ludendorff demanded that the German government sue for peace. They tried to negotiate with the Allies, but to no avail. The Allied powers did not want to make peace with the unreformed government of Germany. As a result, the Germans began to reform the governmentto create a more liberal government. But the reform process was slow and the German people grew impatient.

On November 3, German sailors at the port of Kiel mutinied. This inspired other soldiers and workers to make sovietlike councils. A revolution appeared to be brewing;so on November 9, Kaiser William II fled the country (he understood what happened to despots during revolutions). Quickly, the Social Democrat party formed under Fredrich Ebert to take a lead in creating a democratic republic. This satisfied the Allied powers and on November 11, an armistice was signed to end hostilities on the Western front.

Turmoil and revolution did not stop in Germany with the armistice. The German Communist Party tried to seize power from the democratic republic in December 1918. This violent revolution was put down, but it resulted in a widespread fear of communism in the German middle class. This was an important factor for the rise of the Nazi party in the 1930s.

Peace at Last?

With the armistice, a peace settlement needed to be arranged. The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had been discussing a basis for a peace settlement before the end of the war. Wilson called his basis the Fourteen Points. In his points, Wilson called for open peace agreements rather than secret diplomacy. He also wanted to reduce the armaments of all of the nations. For the people of Europe, Wilson wanted self-determination.Finally, to ensure that everyone would follow these points, he wanted to see the creation of a general association of nations called the League of Nations.

Paris Peace Conference

In January 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson, with his Fourteen Points and 26 representatives, met to discuss the arrangements for peace. It became painfully obvious to Wilson when he arrived that secret agreements had already been made before the end of the war. In addition, the European nations had many different goals for the talks. David Lloyd George of Great Britain just wanted Germany to pay for the cost of the war, while Georges Clemenceau of France wanted Germany stripped of weapons, reparations for the war, and the creation of a buffer zone in the Rhineland.

Wilson, George, and Clemenceau made the most important decisions of the Conference;other important nations were not involved in the decision making. Russian delegates refused to be a part of the process, and Germany was not even invited to attend. One of the important decisions reached was the creation of the League of Nations on January 25, 1919. Sadly, Wilson could only get the creation of the League arranged after agreeing to territorial changes that compromised his Fourteen Points. Wilson was not the only leader who compromised. Clemenceau gave up the idea of a buffer zone in the Rhineland under the condition that if Germany attacked France then Great Britain and the United States would come to France’s aid.

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty to World War I was in reality five separate treaties with the defeated nations of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. The most important was the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed by Germany on June 28, 1919. Germany agreed that they were responsible for the war and had to pay reparationsfor it. In addition, Germany reduced their army and navy and eliminated their air force under the terms of the treaty. The treaty also took territory from Germany, including Alsace and Lorraine, which were returned to France, and part of eastern Germany, which was given to the new nation of Poland. Finally, Germany agreed to create a demilitarized zone on the German and French border.

The end result served to humiliate an already beaten nation. It was a mistake that would come back to haunt Europe.

A New Map

At the end of the Great War, a new map of Europe and the Middle East had to be drawn. Germany and Russia had lost a lot of territory that went to enlarge or create other nations. The Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared to become the independentnations of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Other new nations appeared including Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. But the complex mixture of ethnic groups in Eastern Europe made the drawing of nations without problems next to impossible. The seeds of more ethnic conflicts were sown with redrawn boundaries.

Also, the Ottoman Empire was broken up. Independent Arab states were created from regions that supported the Allies. These Arab states were Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. They did not retain their independence long. France took control of Lebanon and Syria, while Britain took control of Iraq and Palestine as mandates that were governed on the behalf of the League of Nations.

Real Result of the Great War

What were the real results of the Great War beyond the obvious political changes? First the war undermined the idea of progress and nationalism. Both concepts put the nations of Europe into the nightmare of World War I. Industrial progress created the guns and bombs that killed in such merciless numbers. Nationalism incited the passions that made men able to use those guns and bombs.

With millions dead, European global domination began to slip and decline. A generationof men was wiped out. Europe was weak economically and physically. Also the centralized power of European governments increased in response to the policy of total war. Once centralized, it remained as such into the twenty-first century. Finally, those who survived the war were left looking for answers and security. Some found those answers and security in more revolutions.

During World War I, there were some significant social changes in the nations involved. The social status of women changed, at least temporarily. First there were many new job opportunities open to women as millions of working men went to war. This increase in economic status led to many women gaining the right to vote.

With the advent of the Great War came the beginnings of policies that would create “total war,” which involved the entire nation, not just the soldier in the field. The power of the people, economy, civil liberties, and information were all given over to the national government to coordinate the war effort. So the entire society was involved and affected by the war. Not only that, government took control of people’s lives to a much greater degree than ever before and has not relinquished that control without political struggle.

Of course in the aftermath, no one believed that any nation would willingly start another horrific war like the Great War. The need for peaceful rather than military solutions to political problems was felt by all the people and nations that witnessed the devastation firsthand. So to most the Great War became “the war to end all wars.” Little did they know that more was in store for Europe and the world.

The Least You Need to Know

• Industrialism, nationalism, and imperialism set the stage for a world war.

• The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist was the immediate cause for the war to end all wars.

• The Russian Revolution, caused by Russia’s involvement in the war, ended with a communist takeover.

• The U.S. entry in the war tipped the scales in favor the Allies.

• The Treaty of Versailles caused resentment among the nations of Europe, especially Germany.

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