World War I was a monumental war that shifted the geopolitical landscape of Europe, and ultimately the world, forever. It was the world’s first completely global conflict that saw the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire square off against the Allied Powers of the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan. The outcome of World War I, specifically the measures taken by the victorious nations in their treatment of Germany, laid the foundation for the outbreak of a second world war a few decades later. In this essay, we will examine how the conditions created by the outcome of World War I led to the resurgence of a militant Germany and eventually a Second World War. Then, we will discuss how and why the allied forces eventually emerged victorious from World War II. Finally, we will lay out the key lessons learned from these two conflicts.
In June of 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was the heir to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, set off a series of events that eventually led to the outbreak of all-out war. The Archduke was killed by a Serbian Assassin who detested the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Immediately, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. This, as Historian Terrence Finn writes in his book titled, America at War, “Upset Russia, which, because of race and religion, considered itself the protector of Serbia” (Finn 125). Russia mobilized its military, which in turn caused Germany to become alarmed and mobilize its forces. Germany viewed the size and scope of Russia’s military as a direct threat to their national security. When Germany mobilized its military, the French became extremely nervous and prepared its fighting forces for war. Forty years earlier the French had been invaded by the Germans and did not want to be caught off guard should another invasion occur. The mobilizing of militaries that essentially started World War I is a perfect illustration of the “Security Dilemma” that occurs in the geo-political international landscape. The “Security Dilemma” is a term used most frequently by neo-realist international theorists that states that as countries make moves to enhance their personal security, such as mobilizing their militaries due to the fear of an impending war, other countries feel threated and take similar measures. Thus, as countries take measures to become more secure, the international system as a whole becomes less secure due to a sense of nervousness and distrust. Additionally, the dominant military theory during this time was that the army that attacked first in war would win. Theorists believed that any army that found themselves in a defensive position would eventually lose to the army that had been the war’s aggressor. Once countries began to mobilize their militaries for war, other countries followed suit in an effort to not be caught off guard should they be attacked. As Finn writes, “Once mobilization had been ordered, most generals, and certainly those of the Kaiser, believed the war had in effect begun” (Finn 125). As stated earlier, the Outcome of World War I changed the landscape of the world forever. The introduction of new weapons technology that included machine guns, tanks, flamethrowers, poison gas, and tracer bullets led to the war being one of the deadliest in human history. There were over nine million soldiers killed and roughly seven million civilians killed when the war ended in 1918.1 When the war ended, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire would cease to exist, the German Imperial State would collapse, the Ottoman Empire would disappear, the Romanov rule in Russia would come to an end, and America would escape with relatively low casualties and a stronger place in the world than its allied partners (Finn 124). The United States would play a key role in securing victory for the allied forces. However, U.S. involvement in the war was never inevitable. In fact, most Americans including