World War I and II

First World War


It was a result of growing inter-imperialist rivalries, growing chauvinism, antagonism and conflicts within Europe, formation of alliances and secret pacts, growing militarization, feverish preparations for war, were some of the marked features that harbingered war. There had been a number of crises which were temporarily resolved, but led to deep tensions.

Economic rivalries perhaps played the most important role. Struggle for colonies and resources to fuel industries led to intense competition. Newly Industrialized countries like Germany wanted a share in the colonial pie which was limited in its size.

Political development also didn’t help either Change in economic conditions also prompted Germany to adopt a new political stance Policy of ‘Cautious Continentalism’ of Bismarck was replaced by ‘ ggressive Imperialism’ by Kaiser William II Bismarck adopted this policy as he was aware that Germany was still in nascent phase of development and has different priorities. His formation of Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy), adoption of neutral stance towards France, pseudo-friendship with Russia, normalcy of relation with Britain were highlights of his policy. He asserted that Britain was a naval power and Germany was a land power in a bid to reassure Britain. This atmosphere of peace provided an atmosphere for German growth. Kaiser Williams II assumed power in 1888 and he was an aggressive ruler and he removed Bismarck as Chancellor on superficial grounds. He expressed his expansionist desires through concepts like – ‘Welt Politics’ or World Politics which called it fit for Germany tontervene in other nations Simultaneously, military and navy were also strengthened. Germany took an open anti-British stance regarding Boer War in South Africa. Similarly, in Moroccan crisis also, it promised help to the sultan against Britain and France.

Kaiser Williams II took three important steps which shook supremacy of Britain –
I. Naval empowerment – Germany was first country to use submarines

II. Kiel Canal issue – to encircle Britain, the canal lied between North Sea and Baltic area

III. Proposed railway project from Berlin to Some important dates: Rise of Nationalism in Europe

Alexander Czar proposed Britain to ally and eliminate Sick Man of Europe i.e. Turkey. Britain, however, refuted this proposal as it saw Russia as a future threat to its power in West Asia. So, Russia took unilateral decision which led to Crimean Wars of 1854-56 between Russia and Turkey on pretext of saving of Christian brethren in the region under Ottoman Empire. However, France and Britain sided with Turkey for their own self-interests and Russia was defeated leading to Paris Peace Conference of 1856. Turkish Sultan promised of giving equal status to Eastern European subjects and introduced reforms. However, this never happened and situation became even worse after famine broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Taking advantage of this situation, Bulgaria, with Russian help, launched a war on Turkey and defeated it leading to signing of Treaty of San Stefano, 1877. Under this treaty, Romania,

Greece and Serbia were accepted as independent states by Turkey. Autonomy was provided to Bulgaria under Russia protection and Russian dominance was accepted in Asia Minor. This treaty was unacceptable to Britain and Bismarck appeared as peacemaker leading to Berlin Congress of 1878. This Congress was landmark for the following reasons –

I. Berlin became the center of European activity for the first time and this indicated rising status of Germany in Europe.

II. Black Sea (Asia Minor) region was declared as neutral zone ending Russian dominance.

III. Cyprus was given to Britain and Bosnia and Herzegovina were handed over to Austria. It led to an attack on Russian and Serbian interests as a significant part of Slav population was given to Austria. This and other provision of Berlin Congress sowed seeds of First World War and assassination of Archduke Ferdinand only hastened which was inevitable.

Berlin Congress complicated the Eastern Question instead of solving it. Two more events further complicated the situation Serbia raised the slogan of ‘Pan Slavism’ – creation of a Slav nation under Serbian leadership including the Slav in other nations as well. This was countered by ‘Young Turk movement’ in which the awakened youths of Turkey demanded greater political reforms. This further created rift in the rival camps i.e. Serbia, Russia and Britain, Turkey. This gave birth to Balkan League in 1911 which included Romania, Serbia and Greece. Montenegro was apprehensive of a Turkish invasion and instead launched an offensive with the help of The Balkan League which was known as First Balkan War in which Turkey was defeated and through London Conference of 1913, Turkey left its claim over Eastern Europe forever. But this was not the end of the problems of Balkan states and nationalism. They started fighting amongst themselves. It led to Second Balkan War of 1913.

Immediate cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital on 28 th June 1914by a secret group ‘Black Hand’ – an extremist Serbian nationalist group which aimed at uniting all Serbians into a single Serbian state. Sarajevo was recently annexed by Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary blamed it on Serbia and served an ultimatum on 23 rd July making 11 demands on Serbia. Serbia accepted most of them, but not all as total acceptance of them meant loss of sovereignty of Serbia. Unsatisfied by the reply, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 th July and Serbian capital Belgrade was bombarded on 29 th July 1914. World War had started with this event.

Events of First World War

ÿ Soon other countries which were also militarily linked to each other, also joined the war. Russia mobilized her forces against Austria to force her to stop war against Serbia and Russia also didn’t want ustria to expand into Balkans Russia also had her own ambitions vis-à-vis Serbia which could have suffered if Serbia were defeated. Russia also knew that Germany will also soon join on sides of Austria.
ÿ France was not as easy as Germany has thought and the war entered into a long stalemate as British forces joined French side. Trenches were dug by both sides. Trench warfare was a new feature of this war. Unbroken chains of trenches were dug for hundreds of kilometers with barbed wires. Soldiers in these trenches were protected from behind by machine gun and artillery fire and neither side could break other side’s trench defense Germany used poison gas and England used tanks for the first time in the warfare, but that too couldn’t overcome trenches.
ÿ Russia registered some initial gains, but suffered heavy losses in 1915. After October Russian Revolution, Russia left the war on highly unfavorable terms as she signed a peace treaty – Treaty of Brest Litovask – with Germany and had to cede many territories. Loss of Russia from side of Allies was made up by joining of USA a few months back.
ÿ Soon the two sides prompted others two join their side to swell their support by promising post- war territorial gains. In August, Japan also declared war on Germany as she had entered into an alliance with Britain in a hope to acquire German territories in Pacific and China. Portugal also joined on the British side and in May 1915, Italy declared war on Austria as Britain and France promised her territories of Austria and Turkey. Later Romania and Greece also joined British side and they all together came to be known as Allied Powers. In October 1915, Bulgaria joined on German side and was promised territories of Serbia and Greece. Turkey also joined on German side in November 1915. These countries – Germany, Austria and their allies came to be known as Central Powers.

ÿ Later USA joined on the side of Allies in April 1917 and number of countries engaged \in war was now 27 and there was at least one from each continent. More than 6.5 crore soldiers were mobilized for war from all sides.

ÿ Outside Europe, major battles were fought in North Africa and West Asia. Britain and France wanted to cease the territories of Ottoman Empire in Arab. Both the countries supported radical groups in Turkey on the name of supporting their cause of their freedom, but had actually other plans and had entered into a secret agreement – Sykes Picot Agreement – in 1916 to divide Arab territories amongst themselves. Britain also made a pledge in 1917 to make Palestine a home of Jews which had serious repercussions for stability of Arab region in coming years. German colonies in Asia and Africa were taken over by allies and Japan made advances in China.

ÿ The war was now an all-out war, not only weaponry, but other resources were also diverted to it. Every economic activity became subordinate to needs of war. Production lines were changed to produce goods for war. Countries also employed policy of blockade on other enemy countries to prevent any supply reaching to them and making them starve. Britain imposed naval blockade on Germany successfully and Germany in turn used U Boats for the first time to prevent supplies reaching to Britain. Often, these U Boats sank ships of neutral countries also and one of these also sank a US ship which led to USA entering into war. Though aircrafts were also used, they were less decisive in deciding the outcome of war.

ÿ USA had been supplying ammunition and goods to the Allied and its economy had gained from the war enormously. It had also advanced loans to the Allied Powers and hence had high economic stakes and it wanted them to win the war to recover its investments.

ÿ As the war protracted, both citizens and soldiers started to feel its heat and there were many protests, strikes and even army mutinies. By about middle of July 1918, the tide had started turning against Germany and it was now the only major Central Power by August 1918. In September, Bulgaria surrendered and in October, Ottoman Empire ceased to exist. Most of the ethnic groups of Austria-Hungary empire viz – Czech, Poles, Yugoslavs and Hungarians had already declared their independence. In November, revolution broke out in Germany and German Emperor fled to Holland and Germany was declared republic. New German government signed an armistice and on morning of 11 th November 1918, war came to an end.

Impact of First Wold War

ÿ War took a huge toll on human life and material losses. More than 90 lakh people died.

ÿ It also led to great economic hardship. Inflation was at historic high levels in Europe. Coffers of governments were empty as a result of war and people were heavily taxed. Situation of uncertainty also provided momentum to trade union movement.

ÿ Monarchy was ended in many European countries. Kaiser William II left Germany and
took shelter in Holland.

ÿ The even led to rise of nationalism in colonies especially Africa which had not witnessed rise of nationalism so far in a great manner. Propaganda of the rival camps exposed the hollowness of racial superiority of Western countries. Promises of self- determination were also reneged which further put colonial powers in bad light.

ÿ Fight for equal status for women and black also gained momentum as they played an important role during war.

ÿ Another significant outcome was the birth of the League of Nation.

The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles

The Paris Peace Conference convened in January 1919 at Versailles just outside Paris. The conference was called to establish the terms of the peace after World War I. Though nearly thirty nations participated, the representatives of the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Italy became known as the “Big Four.” The “Big Four” dominated the proceedings that led to the formulation of the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty that ended World War I.

The Treaty of Versailles articulated the compromises reached at the conference. It included the planned formation of the League of Nations, which would serve both as an international forum and an international collective security arrangement. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was a strong advocate of the League as he believed it would prevent future wars.

The League of Nations

The League of Nations was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. Though first proposed by President Woodrow Wilson as part of his Fourteen Points plan for an equitable peace in Europe, the United States never became a member.

The idea of the League was grounded in the broad, international revulsion against the unprecedented destruction of the First World War and the contemporary understanding of its origins. This was reflected in all of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which were themselves based on theories of collective security and international organization debated amongst academics, jurists, socialists and utopians before and during the war. After adopting many of these ideas, Wilson took up the cause with evangelical fervor, whipping up mass enthusiasm for the organization as he traveled to the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919, the first President to travel abroad in an official capacity.

Major failures of the league were –

I. It lacked power to enforce its decisions. Only power it had was moral power. Ramsay McDonald made a proposal through Geneva Protocol, but it didn’t happen

II. League of Nations remained dominated by European Powers right from the beginning and never had a democratic functioning.

III. At the earliest it worked as a platform to legitimize the unequal treaties and declaring the erstwhile colonies of Central Powers as ‘mandates’ – a disguised name for colonies – of the Allied Powers countries.

IV. Russia and Germany were not included as members initially US didn’t join the league Germany was admitted in 1926 after a conference. Soviet became a member in 1934, but by then both Germany and Japan had walked out. In 1937, Italy also left the League.

V. It proved a dismal failure when contentious issues big powers. It could not prevent even a single major aggression and could neither penalize the aggressor post aggression. Japanese aggression of Manchuria in 1931 was perhaps first major act of aggression. Though League criticized it and refused to recognize the puppet government of Japan in Manchuria, but it didn’t ask Japan to take steps to return to original situation. Italy invaded Ethiopia and later annexed it in 1936, but little was done to prevent invasion or penalize Italy.

VI. Finally, it collapsed completely in the storm of Hitler and fascism. Although it was largely a failure,

Its achievements were –

I. It solved many smaller disputes like – dispute between Finland and Poland.

II. It played a role in rehabilitation of refugees after the war.

III. It laid down the principles for protection and promotion of minorities. In India too, Karachi declaration had its echo.

IV. Most importantly, it played an important role in controlling deadly diseases like – malaria, small pox etc and its specialized agency finally evolved in form of WHO.

V. It was first attempt at global platform to make an attempt towards formulating international

Second World War

The Second World War was arguably the most significant period of the 20th century. It brought about major leaps in technology and laid the groundwork that permitted post-war social changes including the end of European colonialism, the civil rights movement in the United States, and the modern women’s rights movement, as well as the programs for exploring outer space. The primary combatants were the Axis nations (Nazi Germany, Facist Italy, Imperial Japan and their smaller allies) and the Allied nations, led by Britain (and its Commonwealth nations), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America. The Allies were the victors. Two superpowers, the USA and USSR, emerged from World War II to begin a Cold War with each other that would define much of the rest of the century.

Post WW-1 treaties prohibited political cooperation between Germany and Austria. Engelbert Dolfuss had established his dictatorship in Austria during early 1930s and there were clamors in Austria by fascist groups of its unification with Germany, but Engelbert was opposed to it and he was also opposed to socialism as well. Engelbert was assassinated in 1934 and Austrian Nazis tried to capture power through a coup, but it failed and Hitler also didn’t intervene But after success of fascist in Spain and success of Italy in Ethiopia embolden them and Hitler marched with his forces into Austria in March 1938 and Austrian Nazis assumed power and unification with Germany was complete in a gross violation of earlier treaties Western powers didn’t make an issue of it in furtherance of their policy of appeasement and according to them eastward expansion of Germany was not a threat to peace and instead strengthen it.

Most shameful incidence of appeasement came when Czechoslovakia’s Western allies – including France with whom she had an entente as well – handed her over to Germany. It was a democratic, Industrialized country which became independent after WW-1. A part of it called Sudetenland had significant German population and Germany made it a basis of putting forward its claim over it which Czechoslovakia had refused earlier. Only Soviet Union offered Czechoslovakia of help against aggression as she had a pact with her in 1935. In September 1938, Hitler, Mussolini and PMs of France and Britain met in Munich to sign the Munich Pact which made Czechoslovakia a part of Germany. Neither Czechoslovakia whose fate the pact decided, nor Russia was invited to discuss it. Czechoslovakia surrendered Sudetenland without seeking Soviet help. Later Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia to claim the remaining parts as well.

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