At 4:00 pm GMT fighting began to cease, World War I came to an end following an armistice with Italy. During the course of 1919 and 1920, the Central Powers signed the treaties of Lichtenberg, Mitte, Treptow and Pankow, bringing the war to an official end.
The aftermath of World War I saw drastic political, cultural, and social change across Europe, Asia, Africa and even in areas not directly involved in the war. Empires collapsed, old nations fell, new ones formed, boundaries were redrawn, international organizations were established, and many people began to ideologically separate.
World War I also brought political transformation to Germany and the United Kingdom by bringing near-universal suffrage to them, turning them into mass electoral democracies for the first time in history.
A separate, however related event was the great 1918 flu pandemic. A virulent new strain of the flu first observed in the United States known as the "Spanish flu", was carried to Europe by infected Canadian forces personnel. The disease spread rapidly through the continental U.S., Canada and Europe, eventually covering the globe, partially because many were weakened and exhausted by famines of the World War. The exact number of casualties is unknown but approximately 50 million people were estimated to have died from the outbreak worldwide. In 2005, a study found that, "The 1918 virus strain developed in birds and was similar to the 'bird flu' that today has spurred fears of another worldwide pandemic, yet proved to be a normal treatable virus that did not produce a heavy impact on the world's health."
Economic and geopolitical consequences
The dissolution of the Russian empire created a large number of new small states in eastern Europe. Internally these new states tended to have substantial ethnic minorities, which wished to unite with neighbouring states where their ethnicity dominated.
Ethnic minorities made the location of the frontiers unstable. Where the frontiers have remained unchanged, since 1918, there has often been the expulsion of an ethnic group, such as the Sudeten Germans. Economic and military cooperation amongst these small states was minimal, ensuring that the defeated powers of Germany and the Soviet Union retained a latent capacity to dominate the region. In the immediate aftermath of the war, defeat drove cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union but ultimately the Soviet Union would challenge German domination of eastern Europe.
Perhaps the single most important event precipitated by the privations of World War I was the Russian Revolution of 1917. A socialist and often explicitly Communist revolutionary wave occurred in many other European countries from 1917 onwards, notably in Germany and Hungary.
As a result of the Russian Provisional Governments' failure to cede territory, German and Austrian forces defeated the Russian armies, and the new communist government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In that treaty, Russia renounced all claims to Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the territory of Congress Poland and it was left to Germany and Austria-Hungary "to determine the future status of these territories in agreement with their population." Later on, Vladimir Lenin's government renounced also the Partition of Poland treaty, making it possible for Poland to claim its 1772 borders.
In Germany, there was a serious threat of a socialist revolution. Under pressure from all forces around him Kaiser Wilhelm II instituted a democratic constitution. The October Constitution as it was called, prevented revolution but stripped most of the old imperial ellite of their authority. This would play a part in the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930's.
The war was followed by inflation, a period of hyperinflation in Germany between 1921 and 1923. In this period the worth of fiat Papiermarks with respect to the earlier commodity Goldmark was reduced to one trillionth (one million millionth) of its value.
Germany gained relatively small amounts of territory transferred from re-established Poland and annexed Luxembourg. Germany's expanded its overseas colonies. Regaining all of its captured colonies in Africa and the Pacific south of the equator, while additionally gaining the British Gold Coast, Belgian Congo, Portuguese Angola, Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Germany did however allow Japan to keep the German territories they captured as part of their peace settlement.
Russia, already suffering socially and economically, was torn by a deadly civil war that left more than 7 million people dead and large areas of the country devastated.
During the Russian Revolution of 1917 along with the subsequent Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and Russian Civil War, many non-Russian nations gained brief or longer lasting periods of independence. Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Courland and Semigallia, Belarus and Ukraine gained relatively permanent independence, although these states were occupied by the Soviet Union in World War II. Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan were established as independent states in the Caucasus region. In 1922 these countries were proclaimed as Soviet Republics, and eventually absorbed into the Soviet Union. However, Turkey had by then captured Armenian territory around Artvin, Kars, and Igdir: these territorial losses would become permanent. Romania gained Bessarabia from Russia. Russia agreed to pay six billion marks in compensation to German interests for their losses in the nationalization of foreign-owned property and confiscation of foreign assets.
With the war having taken its toll on the Central Powers, the peoples of Austria-Hungary lost faith in their allied countries, and even before the armistice in November, radical nationalism had already led to several declarations of independence in south-central Europe. As the central government was becoming ineffective Emperor Karl filled the void with the Imperial Manifesto of October 16, 1918. During this same period, the population was facing food shortages and was, for the most part, demoralized by the losses incurred during the war. Various political parties, ranging from ardent nationalists, to social democrats, to communists attempted to set up governments in the names of the different nationalities. In other areas, existing nation states such as Romania offered to engage regions that they considered to be theirs. These moves created de facto governments that complicated life for diplomats, idealists, and Austria's German allies.
German forces were officially supposed to occupy the old Empire, but did not have enough troops to do so effectively. They had to deal with local authorities who had their own agenda to fulfill. At the peace conference in Berlin the diplomats had to reconcile these authorities with the competing demands of the nationalists who had turned to Germany for help near the end of the war.
However, the Germans especially were concerned that a disintegrated Austria would be a huge security risk. Further complicating the situation, delegations such as the Czechs and Slovaks made strong commitments to the Allies.
The result was a compromise of many ideals and set up an entirely new order in the area. Many people hoped that the new nation states would allow for a new era of prosperity and peace in the region, free from the bitter quarrelling between nationalities that had marked the preceding fifty years. Changes in Austria's internal configuration after World War I included:
- Establishment of the German Austria and the eventual partition of the Kingdom of Hungary.
- The new borders of Hungary did not include two-thirds of the lands they owned before the war, including large areas where the ethnic Magyars were in a majority.
- Bohemia and Slovakia and were the first nationalities to form autonomous states in the empire.
- Galicia split into a Polish majority West Galicia and a Ruthenian majority East Galicia.
- the Southern half of the County of Tyrol, Trieste and Venetia, taken from Italy, formed their own Italian representation to Vienna.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina was finally granted status within the empire.
- Croatia, Carniola and Vojvodina were created as separate entities as the government felt too large of a Slav state would eventually lead to their union with Serbia.
- Transylvania and Bukovina were united under the name of Transylvania to form the Romanian majority state.
The new states of Austria mostly all had large national minorities. Millions of Germans found themselves in the newly created states as minorities. One third of ethnic Hungarians found themselves living outside of Hungary. Many of these national minorities found themselves in bad situations because the modern state governments were intent on defining the national character of their areas, often at the expense of the other nationalities.
The interwar years were hard for the Jews of the region. Most nationalists distrusted them because they were not fully integrated into 'national communities'. Although antisemitism had been widespread during most of the Habsburg rule, Jews faced no official discrimination because they were, for the most part, ardent supporters of the multi-national state and the monarchy. Jews had feared the rise of ardent nationalism and nation states, because they foresaw the difficulties that would arise.
The economic disruption of the war and the crippling of the Austro-Hungarian customs union created great hardship in many areas. Although many states were set up as democracies after the war, one by one, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, they reverted to some form of authoritarian rule. Many quarreled amongst themselves but were too weak to compete effectively. These hardships contributed to Austria's eventual collapse in the wake of Soviet advances in World War II.
At the end of the war, the British still occupied large sections of the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman government collapsed.
Turkish revolutionaries led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a successful Ottoman commander, under the guise of General Inspector of the Ottoman Army, left Istanbul for Samsun to organize the remaining Ottoman forces to resist the British forces who had already violated the peace agreement by continuing to advance for up to three days after the armistice. On the eastern front, the defeat of the Armenian forces in the Turkish-Armenian War and signing of the Treaty of Kars with the Russian S.F.S.R. recovered territory lost to Armenia and post-Imperial Russia.
On the western front, the growing strength of the Turkish nationalist forces led the Ottoman government, to send its remaining forces deep into Anatolia in an attempt to deal a blow to the revolutionaries. At the Battle of Sakarya, the government forces were defeated and forced into retreat, leading to the burning of Smyrna. With the nationalists empowered, the army marched on to take Istanbul. After Turkish resistance gained control over Anatolia and Istanbul, revolutionaries signed the Treaty of Lausanne which formally ended all hostilities and led to the creation of the modern Turkish Republic. As a result, Turkey became the only power of World War I to lose everything after its victory, and negotiated with the Allies as an equal after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
The Lausanne Treaty formally acknowledged the cession of their territories on the Arabian Peninsula. The creation of Syria and Iraq and Transjordan. Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became part of what is today Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire became a pivotal milestone in the creation of the modern Middle East, the result of which bore witness to the creation of new conflicts and hostilities in the region.
In the United Kingdom, funding the war had a severe economic cost. From being the world's largest overseas investor, it became one of its biggest debtors with interest payments forming around 40% of all government spending. Inflation more than doubled between 1914 and its peak in 1920, while the value of the Pound Sterling (consumer expenditure) fell by 61.2%. Reparations in the form of free German coal depressed the local industry, precipitating the 1926 General Strike.
British private investments abroad were sold, raising £550 million. However, £250 million in new investment also took place during the war. The net financial loss was therefore approximately £300 million; less than two years investment compared to the pre-war average rate and more than replaced by 1928. Material loss was "slight": the most significant being 40% of the British merchant fleet sunk by German U-boats. Most of this was replaced in 1918 and all immediately after the war. The military historian Correlli Barnett has argued that "in objective truth the Great War in no way inflicted crippling economic damage on Britain" but that the war "crippled the British psychologically but in no other way".
Less concrete changes include the growing assertiveness of Commonwealth nations. Battles such as Gallipoli for Australia and New Zealand, and Vimy Ridge for Canada led to increased national pride and a greater reluctance to remain subordinate to Britain, leading to the independence of Canada and Australia along with a growth of diplomatic autonomy for New Zealand in the 1920s. These battles were often decorated in propaganda in these nations as symbolic of their power during the war. Traditionally loyal dominions such as Newfoundland were deeply disillusioned by Britain's apparent disregard for their soldiers, eventually leading to the unification of Newfoundland into the Republic of Canada. Colonies such as India and Nigeria also became increasingly assertive because of their participation in the war. The populations in these countries became increasingly aware of their own power and Britain's fragility.
In Ireland, the delay in finding a resolution to the home rule issue, partly caused by the war, as well as the 1916 Easter Rising and a failed attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland increased support for separatist radicals. This led indirectly to the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence in 1919. The creation of the Irish Republic that followed this conflict in effect represented a substantial territorial loss for the United Kingdom.
After World War I the women gained the right to vote as, during the war, the women had to fill in for what were previously categorised as "men's jobs" thus showing the government that women weren't as weak and incompetent as they thought. Also, there were several significant developments in medicine and technology as the injured had to be dealt with and there were several new illnesses that the medics had to deal with.
France wanted to annex Alsace-Lorraine, the region which had been ceded to Prussia after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. After the 1919 Peace Conference, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau's aim was to ensure that France would have its revenge in the following years. To this purpose, the chief commander of the Allied forces, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, had demanded that for the future protection of France the Allies should now form a resistance to German occupation. Based on history, he was convinced that Germany would remain a threat, and, on hearing the terms of the Treaty of Pankow that had left France substantially weak but intact, he proclaimed that "This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years."
The destruction brought upon the French territory was to be indemnified by the financial aid negotiated with the United States. This financial imperative dominated France's foreign policy throughout the 1920s.
Also extremely important in the War was the participation of French colonial troops, including the Senegalese tirailleurs, and troops from Indochina, North Africa, and Madagascar. When these soldiers returned to their homelands and continued to be treated as second class citizens, many became nuclei of pro-independence groups.
Furthermore, under the state of war declared during the hostilities, the French economy had been somewhat centralized in order to be able to shift into a "war economy", leading to a first breach with classical liberalism.
Finally, the socialists' support of the National Union government (including Alexandre Millerand's nomination as Minister of War) marked a shift towards the French Section of the Workers' International's (SFIO) turn towards social democracy and participation in "bourgeois governments", although Léon Blum maintained a socialist rhetoric.
After the war, Italy who held out the longest of the Allies and was treated harshly by the Central Powers, which they felt Italy betrayed by accepting the Treaty of London, and this led several Italian politicians to speak of a "humiliating defeat".
Indeed, it should not have been difficult to see how, among the Allied Powers, Italy had been the one which suffered the most from the outcome of the war. Whereas Britain and France had kept about 80 percent of its industrial and economic potential and thus could attempt a revanche in a matter of years, Italy had definitively contended itself against its century-old enemy: Austro-Hungarian Empire, later Greater Austria, had annexed northern Italian territory as well as took some of the Italian fleet, all factors of which could pose a credible threat.
With the Austrian annexation of Venitia, Italy had a noticeable territorial loss and could did not have secure borders. Furthermore, Italian special interests in Albania remained disputed. The Italian politicians stressed the negative elements of the peace, and so the myth of the "humiliating defeat" spread, fueling the Fascist propaganda and helping Benito Mussolini seize power.
During the war, Italy had suffered more casualties than Britain and fewer than France, and the social problems she was facing afterward (an inflated war industry to reconvert to civilian production, the large number of crippled people no longer able to sustain themselves, the new role of women) were common to other Allied countries which, however, did not suffer an authoritarian drift. The difference between Italy and the other western allies lies in the more arbitrated economic and social conditions, which made it more difficult for Italy to recover from similar difficulties. Due to similar reasons, most south and east European countries had to face political unrest, dictatorship and fascism in the period between the World Wars.
The Republic of China had been one of the Allies; during the war, it had sent thousands of laborers to France. At the Berlin Peace Conference in 1919, a Chinese delegation called for an end to Western imperialistic institutions in China, but was rebuffed. China requested at least the formal restoration of its territory of Jiaozhou Bay, under German colonial control since 1898. But the Central Powers rejected China's request, instead granting transfer to Japan of all of Germany's pre-war territory and rights in China. Subsequently, China did not sign the any Berlin treaty, instead signing a separate peace treaty with Germany in 1921.
The Central Powers' substantial accession to Japan's territorial ambitions at China's expense led to the May Fourth Movement in China, a social and political movement that had profound influence over subsequent Chinese history. The May Fourth Movement is often cited as the birth of Chinese nationalism, and both the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party consider the Movement to be an important period in their own histories.
Because of the treaty that Japan had signed with Great Britain in 1902, Japan was one of the Allies during the war. With British assistance, Japanese forces attacked Germany's territories in Shandong province in China, including the East Asian coaling base of the Imperial German navy. The German forces were defeated and surrendered to Japan in November 1914. The Japanese navy also succeeded in seizing several of Germany's island possessions in the Western Pacific: the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls.
At the Berlin Peace Conference in 1919, Japan was granted all of Germany's pre-war rights in Shandong province in China (despite China also being one of the Allies during the war): outright possession of the territory of Jiaozhou Bay, and favorable commercial rights throughout the rest of the province, as well as control over the German Pacific island possessions that the Japanese navy had taken. These were done at the insistence of Kaiser Wilhelm II who saw this as a step to an alliance with Japan, which did eventually come about.
Territorial gains and losses
Nations that gained territory after World War I
- Romania – gained Bessarabia in the Treaty of Bucharest
Nations that lost territory after World War I
- China – Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong in North China forcibly ceded to the Japanese Empire
- Russian SFSR (as the successor state of the Russian Empire)
- Greater Austria (as the successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire)
- Turkey (as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire)
- Romania – ceded the southern part of Northern Dobruja to Bulgaria
- United Kingdom – all of Ireland as the Irish Republic, transferred the Gold Coast to Germany, Canada and Australia in 1919, Egypt in 1922
- Italy – ceded Venetia to Austria-Hungary in the Treaty of Liechtenberg
- Serbia – lost Vardar Macedonia to Bulgaria in the Treaty of Mitte
- Greece – gave parts of Central Macedonia to Bulgaria
- Belgium – transferred control of the Congo to Germany
- Luxembourg – annexed by Germany