World War I

by Edward Paice

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How did World War I affect the world?

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I would suggest that one way World War I affected the entire world was that it proved Modernism right.  When Virginia Woolf suggests that the key element of Modernism is that "all human relations shifted," she might as well be talking about the world that emerged after the conflict.  From the most elemental point of view, nations were shattered.  The entire landscape of Europe was devastated.  The "victors" were difficult to identify from those who lost.  Each nation faced its own fundamental economic, political, and social challenge, making rebuilding extremely difficult.  America, weary of war and probably sufficiently freaked out by what it saw in Europe, retreated inward to an isolationist position and enjoying a decades- long party in the 1920s.  The countries that were part of European empires through colonization began to understand that the dawn of their own freedom was at hand.  In short, the ending of the First World War impacted nations all over the world by reflecting Woolf's idea of how "all human relations shifted."  Underscoring all of this was the foundational element that anyone alive at this time understood that what was previously taught as absolutist and essential were dissipating.  The bonds of the old regime and its hold over people were loosening, with new social and political orders emerging in its place.  To this end, the ending of the First World War changed how individuals saw themselves, their world, and their place in it.

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How much did World War I change/ affect the world?

World War I affected the world in some tremendous and long-lasting ways.  Here are a few:

  • It led to WWII.  World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles that was reached after the war, set the stage for WWII to occur.  These things left countries like Germany and Japan unhappy with their place in the international system and (in the case of Germany) thirsty for revenge.
  • It helped lead to nationalist rebellions among colonized peoples.  This happened both because colonized people came to see that the Europeans' civilization was not so wonderful as advertised and because of President Wilson's advocacy of self-determination for all ethnic groups (at least in Europe).  These things helped to lead colonized peoples in places like Vietnam to eventually rebel against the colonizers.
  • It helped to reduce people's faith in the inevitability of progress.  Up until the war, most Westerners had believed that society was moving inexorably towards perfection.  They believed that society would always progress, getting better and better.  When this horrific war happened, that faith was shattered.
  • It helped bring about the idea of international institutions like the UN.  In the wake of WWI, the League of Nations was set up.  It failed, but it laid the basis for the creation of the United Nations after WWII.

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