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The Politics of World War 1 and How It Shaped Modern European and World History

by Drew Williams 5 years ago in history
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The Importance and History of the Neglected Times of 1914-1918

German soldiers lie dead in a trench after an artillery shelling and gas attack, Western front, 1917

World War 1, the often overshadowed war, was in my humble opinion, the most influential event in 20th Century European history, and possibly world history for that matter. Aside from all the wartime advancements, such as tank warfare, amphibious assaults, and aerial terror bombing, the political environment was completely reformed and shows us how a breakdown of these integral positions of leadership can lead to mass destruction and millions murdered in the most brutal of ways. What led up to it was a sheer lack of diplomacy.

Before the war, Tzar Nicholas II of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and George V of Britain were all first cousins, stemming out of the Victorian era. The monarchy system was all well and alive throughout the continent of Europe, mainly dominated by the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, French and British Empires. The beginnings of tension between mainly the Germans and French had been present for decades before, really beginning in 1848 with the Rhine Crisis, and escalating to the Prussian capture of Paris in 1871, and the subsequent unification of the German Empire. They continued to be bitter rivals leading up to 1914, with both sides pumping out propaganda used to vilify the others, either as uncivilized runs in the case of the Germans, or "surrender monkeys," in the case of the French. This propaganda battle was also integral to the outbreak of war.

Not just focused on Western European border disputes, the divide between the forming Central Powers and remaining Empires was exacerbated through the struggle for power in Africa. It was almost a scramble, seeing who could colonize Africa the quickest. The same ensued throughout parts of Asia as well. Every side wished to expand their Imperialistic Empire beyond their European borders.

People for decades had assumed that a widespread war would break out in Europe, pointing mainly towards the Balkan region, after the first and second Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. The area soon became known as "the powder keg of Europe." In many cases, they were correct. War broke out in summer of 1914 after Serbian nationalist Gavrillo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. What ensued next was chaos. Everyone jumped to the defense of their allies, with the monarchs of each country seeing it as a way to push the limits of their Empires within Europe, the "Promise Land," if you will, of European Imperialism. Fueled by the industrial revolution, Europe let loose a full bombardment of crippling modernized warfare on an unready world, physically splitting the landscape of Europe and sending 13 million people to their graves in four short years.

It's no secret that the political landscape of Europe was completely reformed after the war. The German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires all ceased to exist, capitulating not only their prized land and resources but massive amounts of monetary compensation under the treaty of Versailles and unforeseeable amounts of casualties and suffering. People everywhere began to abandon support for the previously unchallenged monarch system, in favor of the more "Western" governing system we have come to know today, though this didn't always come peacefully, especially in the case of the Russian revolution of 1917 and the subsequent rise of communism.

Now we must ask, why did this change occur? Leading into the war, every side had the utmost confidence and respect for their monarchies and militaries, but this crippling patriotism would in itself be crippled just four years later. What perpetuated WWI was not only the endless streams of propaganda and patriotism, but the vile idiocy of European leaders, willing to send millions to death in a demented game of Risk with other Sovereigns, and their inability to compromise for the greater good, due to their hyper-nationalistic worldviews and destructively large senses of pride. It was clear by the end of the war that the people had come to realize it: that their leaders were not "Gods on Earth," as had been portrayed in popular culture, but simply men corrupted by the pursuit of power and glory. By 1918, The Kaiser fled in exile to the Netherlands, communists took over Russia and executed Tzar Nicholas and his family, the Austro-Hungarian Empire completely collapsed, resulting in the formation of countless new countries like Yugoslavia and Slovakia, the allies chopped up the Ottoman Empire into the hectic borders of the Middle East we know of today, and sewed the seeds for the greatest tragedy on Earth to occur a short 20 years later with the Treaty of Versailles.

This political view, that the "absolute reign of the Empire must be maintained and advanced," in turn from every side, was what led to this conflict. It is extremely sad to think about, that the "war to end all wars," ended absolutely nothing, and in fact, led only to more unprecedented suffering. WWI ranks among one of the most pointless wars of all time.

As I stated, the war led to some of the most important events of 20th and even 21st Century history. World War 2, the rise of Communism and abolition of Imperialism, the crises of the Middle East such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the rise of America as a world superpower, and much more that can all be traced back to their metaphorical father. It is a tragedy that the history of this war is neglected today, given that modern-day Geopolitics and conflicts are still a spawn of the Hell on Earth known as "The Great War."

The lessons you can draw from this conflict are many. Not only does it show us how extreme nationalism and naivety can blind the senses of everyone no matter how vigilant, but also it teaches us to always question the authority. We have to remain on our feet, stay informed about current affairs, and always approach large political referendums with caution, because you never really know what the consequences might be.


About the author

Drew Williams

Just a 16 year old kid who loves politics and history.

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