The First World War was one of the most significant conflicts in history. The major powers of the time fought, mainly in Europe, for four years. The cause of the confrontation was imperialistic disputes.
But the trigger of the war was the assassination of the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This incident caused a diplomatic conflict that resulted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire's official declaration of war on Serbia, thus triggering a reaction that activated the policy of existing alliances in Europe. The United States joined the forces of the Triple Entente after the Germans bombed U-boats and ships with American crew that was trying to bring supplies to the United Kingdom.
It was a long war of attrition in trenches with no relevant offensive movements, which came to an end in a climate of instability.
Antecedents of the First War
Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Europe and the world were feeling proud of their inventions and scientific discoveries. And humanity was heading toward a time of elevated technological and cultural development.
Scientific progress was accelerating. Santos Dumont, with his 14-Bis, showed that it was possible to fly. Cinema began to attract crowds to see moving images. Telegraph wires integrated continents separated by thousands of kilometers.
In this period, the Belle Époque was at its peak, further fueling the belief in the indestructible superiority of human beings and their future based on reason and infinite progress.
However, in 1914, the dreams and beliefs of the Belle Époque came to an end. The technological and military development of the period gave rise to a world conflict, which involved the planet's major powers.
The First World War lasted four years and marked the end of the period's dream of unlimited progress.
Development of the conflict
The First War can be classified into three different phases: war of movement, from 1914 to 1915; trench war, from 1915 to 1917; and again war of movement, from 1917 to 1918.
During the first war of movement, countries believed that the conflict would be short and sent their troops to the battlefields. However, the technological development of the period created more lethal and destructive weapons.
The immediate consequence was the stationing of troops in their positions, thus securing the territories conquered up to that point. In this phase, Japan also entered the conflict, because it was interested in dominating the German colonies in Asia.
With the end of the wars of movement, soldiers were forced to build trenches in which soldiers remained, day and night, soaked in mud and water.
Trench warfare was the main characteristic of the First World War. This conflict was a slow and challenging type of combat because, with the soldiers entrenched, the advance of the troops happened to be small. The big challenge then became to create tactics and technology to get the enemy soldier out of the trench.
Because the war was at a standstill, entrenched, the conflict was transferred to the water and air. Airplanes started dropping bombs, and submarines were sinking ships.
Another important event in the year 1917 was the Russian Revolution, which led to Russia's withdrawal from the war. Thus, in March 1918, the country signed a peace agreement, known as Brest-Litovsk, with the Germans and withdrew from the war.
During trench warfare, several technological innovations were created, and the development of chemical weapons was significant. The gases were used to force the troops out of their positions in the trenches and then be shot down by the enemy. The French army was the first to try this strategy by throwing tear gas grenades. Germany also made use of tear gas but developed other types of gases that were much more lethal.
However, the best known and most effective gas used during World War I was mustard gas: a chemical weapon designed to incapacitate the enemy and contaminate the battlefield.
Many other inventions were created during the First World War I. Many of them ended up being useful in everyday life, outside the context of war, such as the X-ray, the zipper, pads, the wristwatch, canned food, and even daylight saving time.
With Russia's removal from the conflict, Germany could ignore the western front and concentrate its forces on attacking French territory.
However, the attack failed, and German forces were beaten in the Second Battle of the Marne River. By November 1918, Germans and Austro-Hungarians were exhausted and accepted the terms of surrender imposed by the leaders of the Entente.
The end of WWI
With the end of the war, the countries of the Triple Entente began peace deal negotiations. U.S. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson suggested a new division of Europe. The guiding of the new system was that of self-determination for peoples with the same language and origin. Woodrow Wilson also advocated the creation of peace treaties that did not establish winners or losers. For him, the principle of justice for all peoples and the right of all to live in conditions of freedom and peace should be respected. But his ideas weren't accepted by England and France.
As a result, the agreements imposed on the defeated established very harsh penalties that would make it difficult to rebuild their countries. The main post-war treaties were
- Treaty of Versailles (1919): imposed heavy punishments on the Germans, such as disarming the country, losing territories, and paying heavy fines.
- The Treaties of Saint-Germain (1919) and Trianon (1920): The Austro-Hungarian Empire was divided, giving rise to independent countries, such as Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Poland.
- The Treaty of Neuilly (1919): Although Bulgaria did not participate directly in the conflict, it also lost territories, having to cede part of its Aegean coastline to the Greeks.
Consequences of the conflict
The First War created significant transformations in the world order. Europe started to decline economically, and the United States emerged as a huge economic power. Also, Germany and Russia were temporarily removed from diplomatic negotiations.
Another change happened in the field of ideas. The belief in economic and political freedom that had marked the Belle Époque began to lose ground, making way for authoritarian intentions and nationalistic feelings of revenge. Democracy and liberalism were no longer seen by many as the ideal model. The destruction caused by the crisis guide various to misery, and many soldiers were unable to find work after returning returned from the front.