Causes and consequences of the First World War: Analysis of the greatest war of attrition in the history of humanity

The question of the causes and consequences of the First World War is still much debated today but it is undeniable that it was the result of the geopolitical developments that matured in Europe in the second half of the 19th century and which subverted the balance of power that existed at the time. In particular, the rise of Prussia, in the period just considered, as a great power laid the foundations for German unification (GERMAN UNIFICATION: ORIGINS, CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES ( and therefore for the birth of such a geopolitical reality powerful, the German one, to threaten the interests of England not only on the European continent but soon also on the seas of the world (thanks to the creation of a powerful maritime and commercial fleet as well as a vast colonial empire). The German threat therefore did not present itself as a simple continental threat (i.e. a threat to the geopolitical structures on the European continent) but also as a direct threat to the English thalassocracy which, in fact, guaranteed London immense profits (thanks to trade with colonies and the main markets of the world) and was the true origin of his enormous wealth. Wilhelmine Germany also represented a direct economic threat since the powerful German industrial production came to compete directly with the English industrial output, making Berlin a formidable competitor on markets around the world. This situation worsened at the beginning of the 20th century since the exponential growth of German industry made the economic and commercial confrontation between Great Britain and Germany increasingly harsh and imposed a military confrontation to decide which of the two realities geopolitics should prevail over the other. The rivalry between Berlin and London was, without a doubt, by far the main reason that led to the outbreak of the conflict. Which had some background events that say a lot about the extent of the military and naval clash between Germany on one side and England (and France) on the other. The two Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911, although resolved in favor of London and Paris, revealed how bitter the clash between London and Berlin had become and, above all, how threatening Germany had become on the seas of the world. With the aim of countering English thalassocracy and everything that derived from it (control of the straits, of the main commercial sea routes and, ultimately, of world trade). Which posed serious challenges for British hegemony since the latter had its raison d’etre precisely in the immense wealth that commercial activities guaranteed it.
World War I was a total war. That is, the nations involved in the conflict (and in particular England and Germany who fought for dominion over the seas and for world power) committed every available resource to the war machine. Alongside England there were France, the United States of America, Italy (from 1915, based on what was established by the famous London Pact) and the Russian Empire until the October Revolution (1917). The interests of all these countries converged with those of Great Britain, based on their specific regional economic and territorial interests. Paris wanted to redeem itself from the humiliation suffered in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, reconquer the territories that it had been forced to cede to the nascent German empire (Alsace-Lorraine) and reduce the power of Wilhelmine Germany on the old continent. Washington entered the war (1917) to the aid of London for economic and commercial interests with Great Britain that a German victory would have seriously compromised and did so at a time when the developments of the communist revolution in Russia led to the end of hostilities on the Eastern Front . Rome took part in the hostilities to give full fulfillment to the territorial and geopolitical aspirations (liberation of Trentino and the territories of the Italian peninsula still under Austrian occupation) of which the Italian Risorgimento had become the spokesperson (there are those who consider the First World War such as the fourth war of independence) in contrast with the Habsburg power (whose interference in the affairs of the Italian peninsula increased exponentially after the Congress of Vienna). Moscow went to war against Austria not only out of solidarity with Serbia (of which it was a close ally) but also to counter Vienna’s expansion plans in the Balkans and to extend its influence over the Bosphorus area to the detriment of perishable Ottoman empire (aligned alongside the central empires). The interests of the Habsburg power, a close ally of Wilhelmine Germany, were relegated to the geographical context of central-eastern Europe and were aimed at strengthening the position of the Austro-Hungarian empire in this area to the detriment of the Russian empire and the Ottoman.
The First World War was essentially a war of position and attrition. In fact, except for the first phases of the war which saw the attempt by German troops to break through the Anglo-French defensive lines and penetrate French territory towards Paris, the conflict crystallized into trench warfare with very few territorial changes. Only on the eastern front, where the Austro-German troops faced each other on one side and the Russians on the other, could we witness phases of maneuver warfare with more or less extensive advances along the entire front line. But the various successes that the German army managed to achieve in the field did not lead to a decisive victory over the Russian army. At least until the insurrectionary movements of the Soviet revolution broke out. The “great war” was therefore won by those who were able to resist the longest and had greater economic, financial and material resources at their disposal than their adversary. A decisive role was played by the so-called “internal front” (i.e. the role played by the civil society of the various countries at war, not directly involved in the conflict but which in some way suffered its consequences) in all the belligerent states. In fact, when food resources (and materials in general) began to run out as a result of the war effort, the population’s discontent broke out in riots which undermined, from within, the resilience of the war effort. This happened above all in the central empires starting from the first months of 1918. In Germany due to the progressive exhaustion of the country’s economic resources and in the Austro-Hungarian empire also due to the nationalist claims of the various ethnic groups in the country. The war was therefore won by the richest nations with more resources available. This was the decisive competitive advantage of the so-called Western democracies.
The victory of England and her allies in the First World War had as its first consequence the maintenance of English hegemony on the seas of the world. But the decisive war effort of the USA meant that the weight of the latter increased immeasurably on the global geopolitical scene. The American industrial and material industrial effort was indeed decisive for London’s victory (especially after the collapse of the tsarist army as a result of the October Revolution). Which meant that the USA began to join England, de facto, at the helm of the world. The reflection of these developments was the expansion of US financial capital in the world, the affirmation of the dollar as a global currency of exchange (along with the pound), and an ever greater geopolitical weight in the world. This was also evident in the post-war peace treaties where the geopolitical vision of the US political leadership was preponderant compared to that of their allies. Wilson in fact imposed the birth of the Society of Nations (which would later transform into the UN) as a supranational instrument with the formal aim of resolving geopolitical disputes peacefully (in truth, we still see it today, a mere instrument for the US hegemony in the world). He also imposed the so-called principle of self-determination of peoples according to which every people should be free to decide on their own future. For the rest, France reoccupied Alsace-Lorraine and obtained at Versailles the possibility of occupying the German industrial districts as a guarantee of the enormous war reparations that the treaty imposed on Germany. The power of which appeared completely reduced after the end of hostilities. Not so much for the territorial losses (relating more to the separation of East Prussia from the rest of the German Reich due to the so-called Danzig corridor) but also for the downsizing of the army and fleet that the peace treaties imposed on it. The country’s productive potential was also greatly reduced and placed under the partial control of the Anglo-French occupation forces in the industrial basins of the Ruhr and the Saar. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist and in its place were born the different geopolitical realities of Central Europe that we still know today (the Austrian nation, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland). The Ottoman Empire also collapsed under the weight of the war and was dismembered into various geopolitical entities that are still alive and well today (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt). Italy obtained Trentino and Alto Adige but was unable to have everything it had been promised with the signing of the London Pact (hence the birth of the myth of the so-called “mutilated victory”). Russia, which had become the first communist country in the world following the October Revolution at the end of the war, had to face an attempted Western invasion of its territory as a result of the progressive annihilation of the Tsarist armies by the newly formed Red Army. An attempt that failed but which says a lot about how the affirmation of communism in the Eurasian country was one of the consequences most opposed by the Anglo-Saxon establishment during the entire First World War.

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