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Gains of Global Democracy After 1919: History & Summary

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  • 0:07 Europe After WWI
  • 0:40 Ending the War
  • 1:55 Germany, Austria and…
  • 4:22 Russia
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we briefly discuss the end of WWI and explore the proliferation of new states that occurred with the collapse of several central and eastern European empires.

Europe After WWI

World War I was one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen. Fought with 20th-century weaponry but by generals who still used 19th-century tactics, the war quickly devolved into a bloody stalemate. Though the massive loss of life appeared pointless, the defeat of Germany and her allies had far-reaching effects on the map of Europe and spurred the growth of democracy in areas that had previously been under foreign, imperial rule. This lesson will detail how the treaties and events immediately after WWI spurred the birth or rebirth of nations like Poland and Finland.

Ending the War

Many of the problems which caused later strife in Europe - including many of the economic problems in Germany which allowed for the rise in popularity of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party - were a result of the position taken by the victorious allies. The allied powers of France, Great Britain, the United States, and to a lesser extent Italy, blamed the Central Powers for the war, and resolved that those nations should bear the entire burden of the war. The German delegation was forced to acknowledge their 'war guilt' as part of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war.

Germany was hit especially hard by post-war sanctions. The central European nation was forced to abandon all frontier forts and other military structures, and its army was largely disbanded, only being allowed to keep a small force for domestic use. The German Empire that had been cobbled together over the previous half-century was partially disassembled. We'll cover that in more detail in a moment.

In addition, the most debilitating measure placed upon Germany was payment for the war. Indeed, Germany was forced to pay the wartime expenditures of other states and for rebuilding their countries - so colossal a fee it was originally scheduled to be paid in installments until the 1980s.

Germany, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire

Though Germany was hit hard by the measures of peace dictated by the Allies, arguably the most important measure for the political map of Europe was the subsequent dismantling of the central European empires. The Treaty of Versailles alone took away large amounts of territory from Germany and these territorial losses isolated Eastern Prussia - the very state which began assembling the German Empire in the 19th century. Additionally, Germany was forced to cede Alsace and Lorraine to France and France also occupied German territory in the Rhineland. Large parts of what had been eastern Germany were incorporated into the new Polish nation - a state that had been dead for over a century but was now revived by the terms of the treaties.

Separate treaties with Austria-Hungary dismantled that sprawling eastern European state. The Treaty of Saint-Germain en Laye and Treaty of Trianon recognized the independence of several states who had already declared independence as the war was ending, and further severed the dynastic union between Austria and Hungary, acknowledging Hungary as a democratic republic without a monarch. The northern parts of the Empire primarily inhabited by Czechs and Slavs were made into the new nation of Czechoslovakia or were given to Poland. In the Balkans, much of Austria-Hungary's territory became part of the state of Yugoslavia.

The creation of many of these new states was done in large part due to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who pushed at the various peace talks for ethnic and national self-determination, meaning the boundaries of Europe should be redrawn to accommodate ethnic groups and allow them to choose their own forms of government. Naturally, this led to many of these postwar entities to adopt forms of democracy, including even in Germany where the Weimar Republic was founded in 1919.

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