What was the effect of WWI on European society after the war?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In defining Modernism, Virginia Woolf spoke of a fundamental shift in human consciousness that defined the Modernist movement.  This shift was transformative in how human beings saw one another, their world, and themselves: “On or about December 1910 human nature changed. All human relations shifted,” Woolf continued, “and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature"  Woolf writes this in 1924 and it speaks to the impact that World War I had on European society after the war. This "shift" defined much of the war's impact on the lifeblood of post- war Europe.

The shift that most Europeans saw in their world after the war was one of striking disillusionment.  There was a massive sense of abandonment which defined much of the post- war European landscape. What greeted Europe after the war reflected much in way of bitterness, resentment, and broken hope.  No European nation was spared in terms of excessive death count.  Nations like Russia, Germany, and England experienced military deaths at or over one million soldiers.  Injured soldiers exceeded these numbers, while some believe that civilian casualties equaled military deaths.  People who survived the war saw their nations cratered out and gutted of all life through a grueling period of war.  Children lost parents, while parents were forced to sift through rubble to find their little ones.  The survivors who were deformed through new modes of technology in war fighting saw a world that, itself, was distorted.  Even the peace treaty that sought to end the war, The Treaty of Versailles, was more of an armistice than an actual treaty.  Governments lacked the ability to care for their people, while citizens lost faith in their government.  Unemployment was high, inflation even higher.  Economic instability European society saw their own past power and prestige move across the Atlantic to upstart America, exuding its own sense of optimism and revelry in the 1920s.

This becomes the landscape in which there is a definite shift in consciousness as a result of the war.  The destructive end of the war crippled all parts of European life.  This becomes its most profound effect on European society, as it shifted much of the faith and optimism Europe held before the war to a sense of emptiness and despair after it. This effect affected Europe profoundly, as it found itself in a physical, mental, and emotional state in having shifted from the garden to the desert.

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