First World War
The First World War united key issues of the XX century: social disagreements, geopolitical contradictions, ideological struggle and economic confrontation. The war started despite the fact that at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries, it seemed to many that the wars in Europe had sunk into oblivion. Then, armed clashes occurred only on the periphery, in the colonies. The development of science and technology, the refined culture, according to many contemporaries, did not envision a “bloodbath” costing millions of lives and burying the four great empires. This was the first war of total nature: all social strata of the population, all spheres of life were affected. There was nothing left that would not have been involved in this war.
The question arises: what goals did each of the participants in the conflict pursue? Germany wanted the war exactly as much as France and Britain wanted. Russia, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, which turned out to be the weakest links in this conflict, were less interested in the conflict. The reasons for the conflict were the following (Hewitson, 2014, p. 64). In 1871 in the Mirror Hall of the Palace of Versailles, a triumphal unification of Germany was documented. The proclamation took place against the background of the Franco-Prussian War, when France suffered a catastrophic defeat. This became a national shame for France (Hewitson, 2014, p. 64). According to the Frankfurt Treaty of 1871, Alsace and Lorraine were alienated in favor of Germany and became German imperial territories. In addition, France undertook to pay Germany an indemnity of 5 billion francs. To a large extent this money was allocated on the development of the German economy, which later by the 1890s led to its unprecedented rise (Ross, 2013, p. 28).
Britain was concerned about Germany’s economic domination in Europe and the world. By the 1890s Germany ranked first in terms of GDP in Europe, pushing Britain back to second place. The British government could not accept this fact, given that for many centuries Britain has been a “world`s workshop,” the most economically developed country. Therefore, Britain wanted a kind of vengeance, but economic (Ross, 2013, p. 30).
For Russia, the key issue was the question of the Slavs, that is, the Slavic peoples living in the Balkans. The ideas of pan-Slavism, which are gaining momentum in the 1860s, led to the Russo-Turkish War in the 1870s, and this idea remained in the 1880s and 1890s, and so it went into the twentieth century, and finally incarnated by 1915. The main idea was the return of Constantinople, to put a cross over St. Sophia. In addition, the return of Constantinople was to solve all the problems with the straits, with the transition from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. This was one of the main geopolitical goals of Russia. Additionally, Russia willed to push the Germans out of the Balkans (Howard, 2014, pp. 58-59).
As we see, several interests of the main participating in the war countries intersect here at once. Thus, the political, geopolitical, economic, and cultural levels were equally important in the consideration of this issue. Do not forget that during the war, at least in its first years, culture becomes a basic part of ideology. No less important is the anthropological level.
After the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, Washington announced the neutrality of the United States. The policy of the Wilson government was complicated. For the USA, a complete and quick victory of one of the two military-political coalitions was unprofitable. For America, a long war of attrition was profitable. Such was that could maximally weaken all the powers and destroy Europe, create conditions for the collapse of the old empires such as the German, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian, as well as deplete France and England was of the best for the USA (Annika, 2002, p. 104). This allowed the US to raise its value to a qualitatively new level, to become the economic and military leader of the planet. Therefore, the United States bet on the Entente. Washington did not need a quick victory for England, France and Russia. In particular, the struggle for the place of the “senior partner” continued between the USA and England.
However, the main thing – neutrality was extremely beneficial to the US. Huge military supplies to Europe allowed the US to turn into a global lender by the end of the war, brought huge profits to American corporations, helped to solve or at least significantly alleviate the acuteness of many social problems. While the war exhausted their main competitors in the international arena, the neutral United States steadily strengthened its position as one of the world’s leading powers (Barber, 2013). Meanwhile, the US was solving strategic tasks. First, they strengthened their positions in Latin America, which, according to the intention of US owners, should become a raw material appendage, a market for American goods, entangled in financial and economic bonds by the semi-colony. Secondly, the US profited from military deliveries, turned from a world debtor to a creditor. After the campaign of 1914 it became obvious that the war would be protracted and it would require a huge amount of weapons, ammunition and various equipment. Since the beginning of 1915, military orders from the Entente countries were plentiful in the United States. Third, the United States, while maintaining neutrality, was rapidly turning into a powerful naval power that could claim world domination (Cowley, 2013, p. 48).
The US entry into the war undoubtedly improved the Entente’s prospects for victory, at least Washington did not doubt it, as they were convinced that America was called upon to play a major role in the post-war settlement. In January 1918, Wilson made a public presentation of the American plans for a post-war peace. This program went down in history under the title “14 Wilson points”. Central to it was the proposal to establish the League of Nations – a universal international organization designed to ensure the stable and sustainable development of the postwar system of international relations. Naturally, it was assumed that the key role in it would be played by the United States (Cowley, 2013, p. 56).
The First World War ended in November 1918 with the defeat of Germany and its allies. Then the victorious powers were to determine the parameters of the postwar world. These questions were resolved in the course of the sharpest struggle at the Paris Peace Conference (Cowley, 2013, p. 89). For the United States, its outcome was controversial. Although at the conference the American delegation managed to prevent the implementation of the plans of Great Britain and France in full and achieved the approval of certain provisions of the Wilson program (first of all the League of Nations was created), the president could not fully implement his large-scale plans. The ambivalence of the results of the Paris Peace Conference for the United States predetermined the unusually tense nature of the struggle in Congress on the question of ratification of the signed peaceful treaties. Nevertheless, US activity was unprecedented after the war. After all, it was, in fact, about the re-division of the world in which the Americans took on the rights of one of the winners the most lively and interested participation. In the postwar message of Woodrow Wilson, he voiced about the creation of the League of Nations, the liberation of Belgium, the return of Alsace and Lorraine of France, securing Serbia’s access to the sea, the restoration of Poland.
Ross, Stewart. (2013). Causes and Consequences of the First World War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Howard, Michael. (2014). The First World War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Cowley, Robert. (2013). The Great War: Perspectives on the First World War. New York, NY: Random House.
Hewitson, Mark. (2014). Germany and the Causes of the First World War. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers.
Annika, Mombauer. (2002). The origins of the First World War: controversies and consensus. UK: Pearson.
Barber, Tony. (4 Oct 2013). The causes of the first world war. Financial Times. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/248f6960-29d3-11e3-bbb8-00144feab7de