Q. The First World War left a deep impact on European society and polity. Examine. (250 words)09 May, 2022 GS Paper 1 History
- Briefly talk about the scale and nature of World War I
- Mention the various social and political implications of WWI in Europe
- Conclude with a holistic reassessment of the event
The impact of World War I was extraordinarily wide-ranging, which was not surprising given that it was the first ‘total war’ in history. This means that it involved not just armies and navies but entire populations, and it was the first big conflict between modern, industrialized nations. In its wake, the war left a deep impact on European society and polity, along with concomitant destruction and pestilence.
Effects of World War I on European society and polity -
- The most striking effect of the war was the appalling death toll among the armed forces. A sizeable proportion of an entire generation of young men had perished - the ‘lost generation’; France, for example, lost around 20 percent of men of military age.
- In Germany, hardship and defeat caused a revolution: the Kaiser Wilhelm II was compelled to abdicate and a republic was declared. Over the next few years the Weimar Republic (as it became known) experienced severe economic, political and social problems.
- The Habsburg Empire collapsed completely and the various nationalities declared themselves independent; Austria and Hungary split into two separate states.
- In Russia, the pressures of war caused two revolutions in 1917. The first (February-March) overthrew Tsar Nicholas II, and the second (October-November) brought Lenin and the Bolsheviks (Communists) to power.
- Although Italy was on the winning side, the war had been a drain on its resources and it was heavily in debt. Mussolinitook advantage of the government's unpopularity to take over control.
- After the war, there were immediate challenges of demobilisation. Millions of men who were enlisted into mass armies had to be demobilised and reintegrated into civilian life.
- The post war population of countries that had suffered substantial military losses were composed disproportionately of women, adolescents and the elderly.
- In the course of the war, hundreds of thousands of former urban dwellers in effect became refugees in their own country.
- After WW1, the need for an international body of nations to promote security and peace worldwide became evident. This caused the founding of the League of Nations.
- Up until the war, women were perceived in a certain way in society. But the war necessitated the participation of women in factories and other fields which were exclusively reserved for men. This led to a change of perception in society and later legislations were passed to give rights to women, including voting rights in countries like Britain.
Post War Europe necessarily reveals a social landscape scarred by war – a landscape characterised by economic, political and social dislocation, disease and disability, loss and mourning. In such a changed socio-political scenario, the rest of the world could not afford to remain untouched by these transformations and was deeply impacted by it.
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