Global Effects of World War I


 "Everywhere in the world was heard the sound of things 
breaking." Advanced European societies could not support long wars or 
so many thought prior to World War I. They were right in a way. The 
societies could not support a long war unchanged. The First World War 
left no aspect of European civilization untouched as pre-war 
governments were transformed to fight total war. The war metamorphed 
Europe socially, politicaly, economically, and intellectualy. 
 European countries channeled all of their resources into total 
war which resulted in enormous social change. The result of working 
together for a common goal seemed to be unifying European societies. 
Death knocked down all barriers between people. All belligerents had 
enacted some form of a selective service which levelled classes in 
many ways. Wartime scarcities made luxury an impossibility and 
unfavorable. Reflecting this, clothing became uniform and 
utilitarian. Europeans would never again dress in fancy, elaborate 
costumes. Uniforms led the way in clothing change. The bright 
blue-and-red prewar French infantry uniforms had been changed after 
the first few months of the war, since they made whoever wore them 
into excellent targets for machine guns. Women's skirts rose above 
the ankle permanently and women became more of a part of society
than ever. They undertook a variety of jobs previously held by men. 
They were now a part of clerical, secretarial work, and teaching. 
They were also more widely employed in industrial jobs. By 1918, 37.6 
percent of the work force in the Krupp armaments firm in Germany was
female. In England the proportion of women works rose strikingly in
public transport (for example, from 18,000 to 117,000 bus conductors),
banking (9,500 to 63,700), and commerce (505,000 to 934,000). Many
restrictions on women disappeared during the war. It became 
acceptable for young, employed, single middle-class women to have 
their own apartments, to go out without chaperones, and to smoke in 
public. It was only a matter of time before women received the right 
to vote in many belligerent countries. Strong forces were shaping the 
power and legal status of labor unions, too. The right of workers to 
organize was relatively new, about half a century. Employers fought 
to keep union organizers out of their plants and armed force was often 
used against striking workers. The universal rallying of workers 
towards their flag at the beginning of the war led to wider acceptance 
of unions. It was more of a bureaucratic route than a parliamentary 
route that integrated organized labor into government, however. A 
long war was not possible without complete cooperation of the workers 
with respect to putting in longers hours and increasing productivity. 
 Strike activity had reached its highest levels in history just before 
the war. There had been over 1,500 diffent work stoppages in France 
and 3,000 in Germany during 1910. More than a million British workers 
stopped at one time or another in 1912. In Britain, France, and 
Germany, deals were struck between unions and government to eliminate 
strikes and less favorable work conditions in exchange for immediate 
integration into the government process. This integration was at the 
cost of having to act more as managers of labor than as the voice of 
the labor. Suddenly, the strikes stopped during the first year of the 
war. Soon the enthusiasm died down, though. The revival of strike 
activity in 1916 shows that the social peace was already wearing thin. 
 Work stoppages and the number of people on strike in France 
quadrupled in 1916 compared to 1915. In Germany, in May 1916, 50,000 
Berlin works held a three-day walkout to protest the arrest of the 
pacifist Karl Liebknecht. By the end of the war most had rejected
the government offer of being integrated in the beaurocracy, but not
without playing an important public role and gaining some advantages 
such as collective bargaining. The war may have had a leveling effect 
in many ways, but it also sharpened some social differences and 
conflicts. Soldiers were revolting just like workers:

 They [soldiers] were no longer willing to sacrifice their
 lives when shirkers at home were earning all the money, tkaing, 
 the women around in cars, cornering all the best jobs, and 
 while so many profiteers were waxing rich. 

The draft was not completely fair since ot all men were sent to the
trenches. Skilled workers were more important to industry and some 
could secure safe assignments at home. Unskilled young males and 
junior officers paid with their lives the most. The generation 
conflict was also widened by the war as Veterens' disillusionment fed 
off of anger towards the older generation for sending them to the 
 Governments took on many new powers in order to fight the 
total war. War governments fought opposition by increasing police 
power. Authoritatian regimes like tsarist Russia had always depended 
on the threat of force, but now even parliamentary governments felt 
the necessity to expand police powers and control public opinion. 
Britain gave police powers wide scope in August 1914 by the Defence of 
the Realm Act which authorized the public authorities to arrest and 
punish dissidents under martial law if necessary. Through later acts 
polices powers grew to include suspending newspapers and the ability 
to intervene in a citizen's private life in the use of lights at home, 
food consumption, and bar hours. Police powers tended to grow as the 
war went on and public opposition increased as well. In France a 
sharp rise of strikes, mutinies, and talk of a negotiated peace raised 
doubts about whether France could really carry on the war in 1917. A 
group of French political leaders decided to carry out the war at the 
cost of less internal liberty. The government cracked down on anyone 
suspected of supporting a compromise peace. Many of the crackdowns 
and treason charges were just a result of war hysteria or calculated 
politcal opportunism. Expanded police powers also included control of 
public information and opinion. The censorship of newspapers and 
personal mail was already an established practice. Governments 
regularly used their power to prevent disclosure of military secrets 
and the airing of dangerous opinions considering war efforts. The
other side of using police power on public opinion was the "organizing 
of enthusiasm," which could be thought of as:

 Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people;
 the organization embraces within its scope only those who do 
 not threaten on psychological grounds to become a brake on the 
 further dissemination of the idea. 

World War I provided a place for the birth of propaganda which 
countries used with even more frightening results during World War II. 
Governments used the media to influence people to enlist and to 
brainwash them war into supporting the war. The French prime minister 
used his power to draft journalists or defer them in exchange for 
favorable coverage. The German right created a new mass party, the 
Fatherland Party. It was backed by secret funds from the army and was 
devoted to propaganda for war discipline. By 1918, the Fatherland 
Party was larger than the Social Democratic Party. Germany had become 
quite effective at influencing the masses.
 The economic impact of the war was very disaproportioned. At 
one end there were those who profited from the war and at the other 
end were those who suffered under the effects of inflation. The 
opportunities to make enormous amounts of money in war manufacture 
were plentiful. War profiteers were a public scandal. Fictional new 
rich, like the manufacturer of shoddy boots in Jules Romains's Verdun 
had numerous real-life counterparts. However, government rarely 
intervened in major firms, as happened when the German military took 
over the Daimler motor car works for padding costs on war-production 
contracts. Governments tended to favor large, centralized industries 
over smaller ones. The war was a stimulus towards grouping companies 
into larger firms. When resources became scarce, nonessential firms, 
which tended to be small, were simply closed down. Inflation was the 
greatest single economic factor as war budges rose to astronomical 
figures and massive demand forced shortages of many consumer goods. 
Virtually ever able-bodied person was employed to keep up with the 
demand. This combination of high demand, scarcity, and full 
employment sent prices soaring, even in the best managed countries. 
In Britain, a pound sterling brought in 1919 about one-third of what 
it had bought in 1914. French prices approximately doubled during the 
war and it only got worse during the 1920's. Inflation rates were 
even higher in other belligerents The German currency ceased to have 
value in 1923. All of this had been forseen by John M. Keynes as
a result of the Versailles Treaty: 

 The danger confonting us, therefore, is the rapid
 depression of the standard of life of the European populations 
 to a point which will mean actual starvation for some (a point 
 already reached in Russian and approximately reach in Austria). 
Inflation affected different people quite differently. Skilled 
workers in strategic industries found that their wages kept pace with 
prices or even rose a little faster. Unskilled workers and workers in 
less important industries fell behind. Clerks, lesser civil servants, 
teachers, clergymen, and small shopkeepers earned less than many 
skilled labors. Those who suffered the most were those dependent on 
fixed incoming. The incomes of old people on pensions or middle class 
living on small dividends remained about the same while prices double 
or tripled. These dropped down into poverty. These "new poor" kept 
their pride by repairing old clothes, supplementing food budget with 
gardens, and giving up everything to appear as they had before the 
war. Inflation radically change the relative position of many in 
society. Conflicts arose over the differences in purchasing power. 
All wage earners had less real purchasing power at the end of the war 
than they had had at the beginning. To make matters worse some great 
fortunes were built during the wartime and postwar inflation. Those 
who were able to borrow large amounts of money could repay their debts 
in devalued currency from their war profit. 
 Four years of chaos and utter destruction had smashed the old
world Europe. The most "advanced" quarter of the world had turned to
violence and barbarism of its own accord. Progress and reason had 
been suppressed for destruction. Moreover, it has brought to light an 
almost incredible phenomenon: the civilized nations know and 
understand one another so little that one can turn against the other 
with hate and loathing. Indeed, one of the great civilized nations is 
so universally unpopular that the attempt can actually be made to 
exclude it from the civilized community as "barbaric," although it has 
long proved its fitness by the magnificent contributions to that 
community which it has made.
 The early part of the war satisfied the fascination with 
speed, violence, and the machine as manifested in the pre-war 
Futurists. Many movements shared a resolute "modernist" contempt for 
all academic styles in the arts, a hatred for bourgeois culture, and a 
commitment to the free expression of individuals. All these feelings 
were given an additional jolt of violence and anger by the horrors of 
the wartime experience. During the war there was a loss of illusions 
as described in All Quiet on the Western Front. Poets, like others, 
had gone to war in 1914 believing in heroism and nobility. Trench 
warfare hardened and embittered many. Freud said of disillusionment:

 When I speak of disillusionment, everyone will know at
 once what i mean. One need not be a sentimentalist; one may 
 perceive the biological and psychological necessity for 
 surrering in the economy of human life, and yet condemn war both 
 in its means and ends and long for the cessation of all wars. 

British poet, Wilfred Own, who was killed in 1918 was transformed from 
a young romantic into a powerful denouncer of those who had sent young 
men off to war. In "Dulce et Decorum Est" he mocked "the old lie" 
that it was good to die for one's country, after giving a searing 
description of a gassed soldier coughing out his lungs. The anger of 
the soldier-poets was directed against those who had sent them to the 
war, not their enemy. The war experience did not produce new art 
forms or styles. It acted largely to make the harshest themes and the 
grimmest or most mocking forms of expression of prewar intellectual 
life seem more appropriate, and to fost experiments in opposition to 
the dominant values of contemporary europe. The Dada movement, which 
mocked old values and ridiculed stuffy bourgeois culture, was one of 
these movements. A mood of desolation and emptiness prevailed at the 
end of a war where great sacrifice had brought little gain. It was 
not clear where post-war anger would be focused, but it would 
definately be in antibourgeois politics.
 The echoes of a world shattering were heard throughout the 
world as Europe collapsed into total war. These echoes were the sound 
of change as Europe was transformed socially, politicaly, 
economically, and intellectualy into a machine of complete 
destruction. Europe would never be the same again.


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