World War I
Finally, World War I was a deathblow to the European alliance system that had prevented great power conflicts, and it initiated a new phase in the march toward modernity with its benefits and vices. Warfare had graduated to a brutal affair in the miserable Western European trenches and the burnt villages of Eastern Europe. Great power politics were freed from the bonds of gentlemanly rules – a process that had already started by the 1790s and the French Revolution – and the practice of twentieth century warfare now resembled an industrialized mission. Restraints had been removed, and even genocide was now tried to advance nationalistic goals.3 The war also upended the world economic system, with the European economic superpowers like Great Britain, France, and Germany deep in debt, and the United States now the new economic hegemon. However, the U.S. was not willing to play the role of the world’s banker as Britain had, to coordinate the gold standard and facilitate the international trading system. Nor did it want to act as the arbiter of the post-war political settlements, at least after Woodrow Wilson’s vision and membership in the League of Nations were rebuked soundly in the post-war presidential elections. The world after World War I was very different from the one that preceded it: alliances, international trade, European hegemony and colonialism, belief in short offensive wars, civilians as forbidden targets, and the gold standard were all casualties of the war, along with millions of human beings. This chapter will first examine the main causes of the war, especially the arms race that preceded the war. Then it will provide a macro-view of the costs, impacts, and outcomes of the war. It concludes with a discussion of the short-and long-term effects of the 19141918 world conflict.