Consequences of World War I Around the World

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will examine the consequences of World War I. We will highlight the key developments following the war, and we will see how they set the stage for the unfolding of other historical events (such as World War II).

The War to End All Wars

World War I has been called the 'War to End All Wars.' It was such a horrific and unfathomable war that many people during the early 20th century believed it would be the last large-scale war in human history. Never again would man wreak such bloodshed upon his fellow man... or so it was presumed.

Of course, looking back we now know this was a grave misjudgment. Some twenty years later an even deadlier world war broke out. In many ways the First World War set the stage for the Second World War. In fact, some historians have even interpreted the two conflicts as one single war separated by a prolonged truce. Let's dig deeper and see what kind of consequences World War I had, and how it set the stage for subsequent historical developments.

Post-World War I Europe

The most visible and profound consequence of World War I was the upheaval of the German Reich and the turmoil left in its place. See, under the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, Germany was basically forced to accept complete blame for the outbreak of the war. Under Article 231, commonly called the 'War Guilt Clause,' Germany agreed to make territorial concessions and pay large sums of money to the victors in the form of 'reparations.' The Treaty of Versailles was basically intended to punish and debilitate Germany, ensuring that it could not pose any threat to other European powers.

The Treaty of Versailles imposed harsh surrender conditions upon Germany.

The most significant territorial concession following the war, was the transfer of Alsace-Lorraine from Germany to France. This contested region had been fought over for decades, and was highly desired by both nations.

In the course of defeat, the German Empire fell apart and a democratic government, commonly called the Weimar Republic replaced it. This new government lasted from 1919-1933, and was hated by both those on the political right and the political left. On the right, a new political party emerged in opposition to the Weimar government, called the National Socialist Germany Workers Party. We know this party as the Nazi Party. And of course, we know Adolf Hitler emerged as the leader of the Nazis.

See, the Treaty of Versailles was pretty harsh on Germany, and it caused enormous economic problems. Hyper-inflation soared to a level where men and women had to wheelbarrow piles of currency just to buy a loaf of bread. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, depression had wreaked havoc on German society, and the German people began to demand an end to the Weimar Republic. And guess who they wanted as their new leader? Yep, you got it: Adolf Hitler. So... in a nutshell the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles and the problems it created for Germany, helped put Hitler and the Nazis in power.

Dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic helped Adolf Hitler become popular with the German people.

The First World War left other parts of Europe in ruins too. The war took an especially brutal toll on the French. France was laid to waste, and it is believed roughly 10% of the French population was killed or wounded in the war. The war also had profound effects on Russia, eventually leading to the Russian Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union. In Italy, social strife following the war allowed Benito Mussolini to rise to power. So time and time again, we see the many ways the First World War paved the way for the Second World War.

Post-World War I America

We're going to spend less time discussing the impact of World War I on America, because generally historians are more concerned with how the war affected Europe and led to the Second World War. Nevertheless, the war had profound consequences on the United States. Basically the United States came in and saved the day: America bailed out Great Britain and France, and that made the U.S. the hero. Following the war, the U.S. assumed a new status as the leading world power. American prestige soared.

Following the war, the American economy boomed. War production had led to an increase in industry. Now factories were free to produce cars and tractors instead of tanks and artillery. The decade following World War I has been called the 'Roaring Twenties' because it was a time of unprecedented prosperity, and was also characterized by leisure, modern innovations, and a general spirit of excitement and hope. Basically World War I helped the United States. It brought America power, prestige, and economic growth. We should note the Great Depression, which began in 1929, was largely unrelated to World War I, and was brought about by other internal factors.

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