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Science and Technology
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution
In his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin wrote that
creatures experience genetic mutations prior to birth. Some of these random mutations are
beneficial, and some are not. He wrote that in the world, the creatures who are the “most fit” are
most likely to survive and thus pass on their genes. This process, known as natural selection
results in the strongest creatures thriving and the weak dying off.
One of the most massive results of Darwin’s theory of evolution was that it was another major
challenge to the Catholic Church. This, coupled with the Reformation, Renaissance, the
Enlightenment and its subsequent rise of deism, and other related movements, caused the Church
to lose even more influence in society.
Also, Darwin’s theory led to the rise of the concept of social darwinism, or “survival of the
fittest.” The theory was fathered by Herbert Spencer. Social darwinism was used to justify a
group’s control over another in multiple cases. In the Industrial Revolution, the bourgeois’
domination of the proletariat was justified by the bourgeois because they argued that they were
placed into positions of power because they were most fit. Social darwinism also had a
tremendous impact in the Age of Imperialism in Europe.
New Mental Sciences
As a result of Darwin’s theory, a new group of mental sciences arose. People now began to
believe that life is a struggle, and they began to try to explain these struggles. These new mental
sciences supported the concepts of real politik and capitalism, and rejected the notion that life is
orderly, harmonious, predictable, or reasonable.
During this time, Sigmund Freud founded what is known as the psychoanalytical school of
psychology. He argued that people are not creatures of reason, as the Enlightenment suggested,
but rather that people act because of subconscious motivations. He broke these motivations into
The id produces unconscious desires and is the most primitive of the three. The id desires
instant gratification. Freud argued that people will use defense mechanisms and
rationalization to justify acting upon the id.
The ego is the reality principle or the conscious self. It attempts to suppress the id and its
The superego is a person’s conscience.
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Lombroso argued that you can tell criminals by their appearance. Pavlov argued that people’s
actions are a response to being conditioned by stimuli in an environment. Finally, Binet devised
IQ tests, arguing that intelligence is a measurable quotient. As a result, eugenicists used this to
try to prove that some people were more fit to live than others.
Society and Culture
The Victorian Age was a period in which appearances were critical to social status. The
dominating social class was the middle class, or bourgeosie. High moral standards and strict
social codes, especially of etiquette and class status, were followed. This era also saw a middle-
class interest in social reform for the lower classes.
Modern life was often unsettling to Europeans, as their old ways were being replaced by
urbanization, industrialization, socialism, imperialism, and countless other new “ways.”
The population was rising, with the Agricultural Revolution as well as advances in medicine
allowing the citizens to live longer. This resulted in a portion of the rising population migrating
to other locations, including emigrating to other nations. Europeans migrated from the country to
the city in search of industrial jobs. In addition, many Europeans fled to the United States, South
America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for a number of reasons – to escape anti-semitic
persecution, to flee the Irish potato famine of 1840, and as a result of a general overcrowding in
However, at the same time, there were falling birth rates as a result of massive social changes in
Europe. Child labor laws were being enacted across the continent, and compulsory education
was enacted. Thus, the value of children to families fell since they could not generate income,
and the overall cost of having children was now bore much more upon the parents.
White collar workers now arose in society, and Europe saw the entrance of educated females into
clerical jobs in business and government. Disposable income became more common, and thus
department stores and other similar stores began to open. People spent their extra income on
fashion, home furnishings, cameras, and various other items. New leisure activities became
popular, including hunting, travelling, and bicycling, as well as team sports, including polo,
cricket, and soccer.
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Monet’s Water Lily Pond (Le bassin aux Nympheas) (1889)
Impressionist art, which took place primarily in the 1870s and 1880s, frequently captured
sensations and landscapes, using light, vivid, and pure colors, visible brush strokes, thick paint,
and real-life subject matters. Impressionism was very objective and appears “cold.”
Claude Monet was a famous French impressionist painter, and one of the most prominent artists
of the time.
Post Impressionist Art
Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, June 1889 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Post Impressionist Art, which occurred mainly in the 1890s and early 1900s, emphasizes more
emotion and tends to have more geometric shapes than Impressionism. Post Impressionist Art
frequently used pointillism, or the use of small dots of pure color.
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, classified as a Post-impressionist, and is generally
considered one of the greatest painters in the history of European art.
Christianity under attack
New scientific theories such as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Sigmund Freud’s
psychoanalysis threatened traditional values. Historical scholarship, especially archaeology, led
to questioning the veracity of the Bible, and philosophers like Nietzsche cast doubt on the
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morality of Christianity. Due to government‘s expanding role in education, organized religion
also came under attack from the secular state.
These pressures led Pope Pius IX to put forth the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Pope Leo XIII
addressed the great social issues of the day, condemning Socialism but urging improvements in
Chapter 12 – World War I
As a result of German unity and increasing German nationalism, as well as various other causes,
Germany began on what Kaiser Wilhelm II called a “new course” to earn its “place in the sun.”
After 1871, Germany’s trade and industry increased vigorously, challenging and, in some areas,
even exceeding that of Great Britain, until then the premier industrial nation of Europe. A many-
sided rivalry developed between Germany and Britain, intensifying when the sometimes-
bellicose Wilhelm II assumed power and began building a strong, ocean-going navy.
Seeking to balance the rise of German power, Britain and France began to draw closer together
diplomatically as the 20th century began. Germany, meanwhile, had allowed an implicit alliance
with Tsarist Russia to lapse, and faced ongoing French resentment over the provinces of Alsace
and Lorraine which Germany had annexed in 1871. The perceived danger of “encirclement” by
hostile nations began to loom in the minds of German leaders. These factors together formed
some of the tinder which would ignite the outbreak of war in 1914.
L’Accordéoniste, a 1911 cubist painting by Picasso.
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The 1900s led to the creation of the new, modern art movement. Fauvism is a type of modern art
that emphasized wild, extreme colors, abstraction, simplified lines, freshness, and spontaneity.
Cubism is another form of modern art, which utilizes a geometrical depiction of subjects with
planes and angles. The modern art movement arose because, with the advent of photography, art
subjects no longer needed to be a realistic portrayal.
Perhaps the most famous modern artist is Pablo Picasso, a Spanish painter and sculptor.
Precipitating Factors of World War I
World War One is one of the most hotly contested issues in history; the complexity and number
of theorized causes can be a major cause for confusion. One of the main reasons for this
complexity is the long period over which this war’s tension built, beginning with the unification
of Germany by Bismarck, and escalating from there on. There is no doubt that Germany’s
aggressive foreign policy contributed to the outbreak of war, however the extent to which it
contributed is the contended issue.
Some historians suggest that Germany willed the war and engineered its outbreak, and others
even suggest that Germany felt compelled to go to war at that time. However, some suggest that
the war was brought about by poor leadership at the time, others argue that the war was brought
about by accident – that Europe stumbled into war due to tension between alliance systems.
Finally, some historians argue that World War I was the culmination of historical developments
in Europe. This argument states that war was inevitable between Austria and Serbia, that
imperial expansion by Russia eastward was also likely to provoke war, and that the French were
still furious over their loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian war.
There was certainly a general rise in nationalism in Europe, which played a major role in the start
of the conflict. The war became inevitable when the so-called “blank check” was created when
Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph sent a letter to German Kaiser Wilhelm II, asking for
German support against Serbia. Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Imperial
Chancellor, telegrammed back that Austria-Hungary could rely on Germany to support whatever
action was necessary to deal with Serbia.
By 1914, France, Russia, and Britain had joined together to form the Triple Entente, and Austria-
Hungary, Germany, and Italy had joined to form the Triple Alliance. Other European nations, as
well as the United States, were officially neutral. Great Britain and France could greatly expand
their “allies” by counting on troops and support from their overseas posessions.
New Military Techniques and Technologies
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Clockwise from top: Trenches on the Western Front; a British Mark I Tank crossing a trench;
Royal Navy battleship HMS Irresistible sinking after striking a mine at the Battle of the
Dardanelles; a Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks and a Sopwith Camel
World War I introduced the first time that total war was employed – that is, the full mobilization
of society occurred in participant nations. In addition, it marked the end of war as a “glamorous
occupation,” showing how brutal and horrifying war could be when fought by industrial nations
with mass production of weapons, and mass armies drawn from whole populations.
World War I introduced a number of new technologies and techniques. The outbreak of war took
the world from the age of coal to an age where energy was largely derived from petroleum, a
much higher-grade fuel source used in many new fighting machines and transport systems on
land and sea. The deadliest product of this new industry was chemical warfare, with countless
fighting men suffering and dying in gas attacks. Submarines also were used with effect, leading
to the advent of depth charges and sonar. Rudimentary tanks and mechanized warfare also
entered the battlefield near the end of the war. Finally, the machine gun took its toll for the first
time in World War I. All this was aimed at breakthrough in trench warfare, in which both sides
would dig deep trenches, and attempt to attack the other side, most often with little or no success.
The Schlieffen Plan
Map of the Schlieffen Plan and planned French counter-offensives
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The Schlieffen Plan was designed by Field Marshall Count Alfred von Schlieffen, who became
Chief of the Great General Staff in 1891 and submitted his plan in 1905. Out of fear of a two
front war, which Germany was nearly certain it could not win, it devised the plan to eliminate
one of the fronts of the war before the other side could prepare. The plan called for a rapid
German mobilization, sweeping through Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium into France.
Schlieffen called for overwhelming numbers on the far right flank, the northernmost spearhead
of the force with only minimum troops making up the arm and axis of the formation as well as a
minimum force stationed on the Russian eastern front. Swift elimination of the French threat
would in theory allow Germany to better defend against a Russian, or a British force. However,
the British involvement was not looked for under the Schlieffen plan, not at the commencement
of action at least.
In 1905 Count Schlieffen expected his overpowering right wing to move basically along the
coast through Holland. He expected the Dutch to acquiesce and grant the army the right to cross
their borders. Sclieffen knew that navigating around the Belgian fortress at Liege in this way
would speed the advance while still defeating the fortress simply by encirclement. Schlieffen
retired from his post in 1906 and was replaced by Helmuth von Moltke. In 1907-08 Moltke
adjusted the plan, reducing the proportional distribution of the forces, lessening the crucial right
wing in favor of a slightly more defensive strategy. Also, judging Holland as unlikely to grant
permission to cross its borders the plan now called for a direct move through Belgium but
expected the French force to officially invade neutral Belium first in an attempt to take the
advantageous position at Meuse. Moltke’s variation called for an artillery assault on Liege, but
with the rail lines and the unprecedented firepower the German army brought he did not expect
any significant defense of the fortress.
New Alliances for the War
The Triple Entente formed the Allied Powers in the War, and Italy moved from the Triple
Alliance to become an Allied Power. Thus, the Allied Powers of World War I was made up
primarily of Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States. The Central Powers consisted
of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.
August 1914: War Erupts
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungary throne, was
assassinated in Sarajevo. As a result, Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany declared war on
both Russia and France. On August 4, Germany invaded neutral Belgium before the French. This
precipitated in Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.
Enacting the Moltke variation of the Schlieffen Plan, German forces entered Belgium, attacking
the fortress of Liege. Although they could not stop the large invading force, Belgian troops
fought bravely, and the siege lasted 10 days, arguably upsetting the German timetable and
allowing for mobilization of the French and the British Expeditionary forces. During the seocnd
half of August, however, a hasty French counteroffensive in Lorraine collapsed, with heavy
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casualties in the face of German machine-gun fire. French armies fell back in disarray as the
Germans crossed from Belgium into France on a wide front.
Keeping its alliance with France, Russia’s armies invaded Germany’s easternmost province, East
Prussia, in August. The German high command dispatched General Paul von Hindenburg to
defend the province. Hindenburg took command and defeated the Russians at the Battle of
Tannenberg, ending the hope of a Russian advance to Berlin.
The end of August was marked by near-panic in nothern France as the German offensive rolled
south toward Paris, seemingly unstoppable. On the German side, however, a gap developed
between the westernmost army corps, and the rapid advance was exhausting the troops. The
French rushed reinforcements from Paris — some in taxicabs — to the front, and by the first week
of September, amid heavy fighting, the Germans had been halted along the River Marne. This
marked the beginning of the static trench lines which would define the front in Western Europe
for four years.
On February 4, 1915, Germany declared a submarine blockade of Great Britain, stating that any
ship approaching England was a legitimate target. On May 7, 1915, Germany sank the passenger
ship Lusitania, resulting in a massive uproar in the United States, as over 100 U.S. citizens
perished. On August 30, Germany responded by ceasing to sink ships without warning.
The front in France became the focus of mass attacks that cost huge numbers of lives, but gained
very little. Britain became fully engaged in France, raising a large conscript army for the first
time in its history. 1915 saw the first attacks with chlorine gas by the Germans, and soon the
Allies responded in kind. During much of the year 1916, the longest battle of the war, the Battle
of Verdun, a German offensive against France and Britain, was fought to a draw and resulted in
an estimated one million casualties. On July 1 through November 18, the Battle of Somme, a
British and French offensive against the Germans, again resulted in approximately one million
casualties but no breakthrough for either side.
1917-1918: Final Phases
On February 1, 1917, Germany again declares unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans
believed that it was possible to defeat the British in six months through this, and assumed it
would take at least one year for America to mobilize as a result of the actions. Thus, they banked
on the hope that they could defeat Britain before America would enter the war.
A mood of cultural despair had settled over much of Europe by this time, as an entire generation
of young men was fed into the maw of combat. French armies came close to mutiny in 1917
when ordered into an attack they knew would be hopeless. Germany, blockaded from overseas
trade, saw hunger and deprivation among the population, with labor strikes and political
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discontent growing. Russia underwent collapse, its armies defeated and the Tsar ousted in favor
of a liberal-socialist regime.
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered the war by declaring war on Germany. From July 31
through November 10, 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele, resulted in
minor gains for the British, but there was still no breakthrough of the well-developed German
defenses. During this time, on November 7, Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, overthrew the post-Tsar
As a result, in March 1918, the new Russian government, represented by Leon Trotsky, signed
an armistice treaty with Germany, removing the eastern front of the war for Germany. On March
21, Germany thus launched what is known as the Ludendorff offensive in the hope of winning
the war before American troops arrived. The final German effort, however, fared no better in the
end than the previous ones; the Germans pushed closer to Paris than ever before, but by the end
of summer they had exhausted themselves against the Allied defenses, now including fresh
On September 29, 1918, allied troops broke through the German fortifications at the Hindenberg
line, and the end of the war came into view. On November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated,
and on November 10 the German Weimar Republic was founded. On November 11, 1918, at
eleven o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the war ended as Germany and
the Allies signed an armistice agreement.
The Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolution marked the first outbreak of communism in Europe. Contrary to popular
belief, however, there were in fact two specific and unique revolutions that took place during
1917 – a true Marxist revolution as well as a revolution led by Lenin that was not a true Marxist
There were a number of key precipitating factors that contributed to the Russian Revolution.
Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905
In 1860, the Russians founded the city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, and began work on
the Trans-Siberian Railroad to connect the East to the West. The Russo-Japanese war was caused
by the imperialist ambitions of Russia and Japan in Manchuria and Korea. In a number of key
battles, the war resulted in a surprise victory for Japan in a peace agreement brokered by U.S.
President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.
The war resulted in the establishment of Japan as a major world power. Japan modeled European
industrialization and militarism, and increased its focus on China, gaining dominion over Korea
and establishing a claim to Manchuria. This expansion helped to cause World War II. The war
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marked the first major victory of a non-western power over a western power. As a result of the
failure of the war in Russia, there was considerable discontent at home, and this discontent led to
the Revolution of 1905. Finally, as a result of the defeat, Russia turned its interests back to the
West and the Balkans.
The Revolution of 1905
Under Czar Nicholas II, who ruled from 1896-1917, the people believed that “papa czar” could
hear their grievances and he would fix them. However, the people soon learned that the czar
could not be trusted.
On what has become known as “Bloody Sunday,” June 22, 1905, a peaceful march of thousands
of St. Petersburg workers to the Winter Palace by Father Gapon took place. The marchers
desired an eight hour work day, the establishment of a minimum wage, and a constitutional
assembly. However, the Czar was not in the city, and Russian troops panicked and killed several
hundred of the marchers.
As a result of Bloody Sunday, riots erupted throughout the country during 1905. Soviets formed
the councils of workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Demands for representation increased,
and the moral bond between the people and the czar was broken. As a result, the October
Manifesto was granted to stop the disturbances. The October Manifesto provided a constitution,
a parliament called the Duma, and some civil liberties. The Duma actually possessed little
power, however, and was primarily intended to divide and subdue the revolutionaries.
Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin was appointed minister by the Czar to address the problems of 1905.
At Stolypin’s recommendation, the czar ended redemption payments by the serfs, increased the
power of the zemstvos, and allowed the peasants to own their land outright for the first time.
Peasants were now allowed to buy more land to increase their holdings, and were even given
loans. In some sense this was a sincere attempt at reform, and it created a new class of
prosperous, entrepreneurial peasants called Kulaks. However, for the most part this was again an
attempt to subdue revolutionaries, as the ulterior motive of the plan was to create a new class of
peasant farmers who would be conservative and loyal to the czar. Under Stolypin’s lead,
revolutionaries and dissenters were brutally punished in what became known as “Stolypin
Neckties.” Stolypin was assassinated in 1911.
Grigori Rasputin played an important role in the lives of Czar Nicholas II, his wife the Czarina
Alexandra, and their only son the Czarevich Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia coming from
Queen Victoria. Both the Czar and Czarina, but particularly Alexandra, believed that Rasputin
possessed a unique, magical power to heal Alexei. As a result, Alexandra allowed Rasputin
increasing influence and political power in Russia.
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March Revolution of 1917
The peasants were unhappy with the czar as a result of losses from World War I, the lack of real
representaton and the czar’s dismissal of the Duma, the influence of Rasputin upon Alexandra,
hunger, food shortages, and industrial working conditions.
As a result, on March 8, 1917, food riots broke out in St. Petersburg; however, the soldiers
refused to fire upon the rioters. At this time, two forces were in competition for control of the
revolution. Members of the Duma executive committee called for a moderate constitutional
government, while Soviets, members of worker councils, pushed for revolution and industrial
On March 15, 1917, the Czar attempted to return to Russia by train, but was stopped by the
troops and was forced to abdicate.
From March through November, a provisional government was led by Alexander Kerensky, a
socialist, and Prince Lvov. However, this government was destined to fail because it took no
action in land distribution, continued to fight in World War I, and failed to fix food shortages.
General Kornilov attempted a coup, but Kerensky used the Soviets and Bolsheviks to put down
the coup. However, this action showed the weakness of Kerensky.
The March Revolution marked the first time that the class struggle predicted by Karl Marx took
place. Thus, the March Revolution was a true Marxist revolution based upon the theories of
Marx in The Communist Manifesto.
November Revolution of 1917
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Vladimir Lenin realized that the time had come to seize the revolution. He authored the “April
Theses,” in which he promised peace with the Central Powers, redistribution of the land, transfer
of the factories to the owners, and the recognition of the Soviets as the supreme power in Russia.
In this sense, the November Revolution was led by Lenin rather than being an overall coup by
the workers, and thus the November revolution cannot be dubbed a true Marxist revolution.
The Revolution may never have happened had not the Prime Minister of the Time, Aleksandr
Kerensky, destroyed the power of authority within the Army and Navy by allowing the
Bolshevik and Menshevik committees greater powers. Kerensky effectively disarmed the Man
who could have prevented the Revolution ever happening. The man in question, was the
Commander-in-Chief, General Lavr Kornilov who attempted to bring to heel the populist
Government of Kerensky and instill some authority back in to the state and the Army. Kerensky
seized the opportunity to relieve Kornilov of his office and effectively gave the Bolsheviks,
namely the Red Guard within the ranks of the Petrograd sailors, a Carte Blanc to take up arms in
the so called defense of the Provisional Government. The Army lost its Commander and the
streets were handed over to the Bolsheviks.
In March 1918 Lenin established the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” adopted the name
“Communist Party,” and signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, withdrawing Russia from World War
Civil war raged in Russia from 1918 until 1922, pitting the Reds (Bolsheviks led by Trotsky)
against the Whites, which consisted of czarists, liberals, the bourgeois, Mensheviks, the U.S.,
Britain, and France.
The victorious Bolsheviks acted to eliminate their opposition using secret police groups such as
the Cheka, the NKVD, and the KGB. Lenin attempted to maintain Marxism, hoping to reach
Marx’s state of a propertyless, classless utopia. However, the pursuit of communism generally
failed and the economy declined. Accordingly, Lenin enacted the New Economic Policy in
March 1921, which compromised many aspects of communism for capitalism’s profits.
Chapter 13 – Europe: 1918 to 1945
The end of World War I saw the European combatant nations exhausted, an entire generation of
young men dead on the battlefield, and political conditions vastly changed from those before the
war. The German, Austrian and Russian monarchies had been driven from power and replaced
with democratic or revolutionary governments, and many European ethnic groups which had
been subject to these three states seized the chance to obtain independence. It was against this
background that the victorious powers attempted to bring permanent peace to Europe. The
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victors of the war were quick to blame Germany for starting the war and resolved to punish her,
and this is exactly what took place at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
The Treaty of Versailles of 1919
Woodrow Wilson and the American peace commissioners during the negotiations on the Treaty
At the Peace of Paris or Treaty of Versailles, the “Big Four” convened to discuss what the result
of the end of the war should be. The big four consisted of the United States, represented by
President Woodrow Wilson; Britain, represented by Prime Minister Lloyd-George; France,
represented by Clemenceau, who wanted most of all to get revenge against Germany; and
Orlando of Italy. Germany and Russia were not invited, as Germany was defeated, and Russia
had made a separate peace with Germany in 1917, and was feared because of the rise of the
revolutionary Bolsheviks there.
At the discussions, many taking part looked to President Wilson for leadership, as the United
States was the least damaged and seemingly the most neutral victor, and because the members
saw Wilson’s 14 Points plan provide an idealistic road map to a new future.
Wilson’s Fourteen Points
Wilson’s Fourteen Points were democratic, liberal, enlightened, and progressive – a new type of
treaty designed to make peace forever secure. The key aspects of his propositions were to
disallow secret treaties in the future, allow freedom of the seas, provide for arms reduction, allow
the self-determination of nations, and to establish the League of Nations, which Wilson saw as a
key instrument to prevent future war.
The Treaty’s Treatment of Germany
In contrast to Wilson’s idealism, the Treaty of Versailles was harsh, brutal, punitive, and
retributive, especially because France still had lingering anger over the Franco-Prussian war. The
aspects of the Treaty were designed to attempt to prevent Germany’s ability to wage war in the
future. It ordered that France would control the Saar valley, rich in coal and iron, for 15 years,
and that France would have Alsace-Lorraine returned. The Rhineland between France and
Germany would be demilitarized as a buffer zone between the two nations. Germany’s colonies
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were divided between France and Britain, and Germany itself lost all together 13.5% of land and
12.5% of her population. The German navy was confiscated and the German army was limited to
100,000 members, and no submarines, planes, or artillery were permitted. Germany was forced
to pay brutal war reparations in the amount of 132 billion gold marks. Finally, Article 231, or the
War Guilt Clause, was a strictly retributive measure, ordering Germany to bear full responsibility
for the war.
Problems of Germany After World War I
Germany’s new democratic government, the so-called Weimar Republic, faced serious problems
following the Treaty of Versailles. Though Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated and the wartime
military leadership had lost its authority, Germans widely refused to admit that their army had
lost the war. A significant number believed that Germany could have continued to fight and
eventually gotten the upper hand, and that surrender was a “stab in the back” of an army capable
of winning the war.
While this severely undermined the credibility of the new republic, the notion that the German
army could have continued the war and eventually won is rejected by most historians, due to the
introduction of fresh U.S. forces and Germany’s weakness after four years of battle. In fact, in
late 1918 the German High Command, facing a powerful Allied offensive toward German soil
and exhaustion of their own troops, turned in desperation to Germany’s democratic politicians
and asked them to form a government which the Allies would find acceptable for negotiations.
Immediately after the war, the Weimar Republic encountered severe economic problems.
Milions of demobilized soldiers arrvied home to find little or no work. Hunger was widespread.
In addition, France and Britain owed war debts to the United States, and in order to pay them
demanded reparation from Germany. Germany was unable to pay, so France seized the industrial
towns of the Ruhr valley. The German response was to print money to pay the unemployed
workers of the Ruhr, which resulted in massive hyperinflation in Germany.
Politically, there was near-chaos for several years, as fringe political groups on both the left and
the right openly and violently battled each other and the central government. The Spartacists, or
communists, staged uprisings in Berlin and other cities and briefly seized power in Bavaria. The
Freikorps, various bands of demobilized soldiers who did not want to lay down their arms,
crushed the Bavarian coup d’etat. However, the Freikorps also sought to overthrow the Weimar
Republic’s government with a coup of their own in 1920, which failed when German workers
responded with a general strike.
This was the atmosphere in 1919 when a small right-wing party in Munich took in a new
member, an army corporal named Adolf Hitler. A skilled orator and politician, Hitler rapidly
rose to head the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, known as the Nazis.
German Prosperity Returns
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In the late 1920s, prosperity returned to Germany, primarily as a result of U.S. efforts through
the Dawes Plan of 1924 and the Young Plan of 1929. These plans provided loans to the Weimar
Republic and gave the Republic a realistic plan for reparation payments, helping to restore
This prosperity had a diminishing effect on the radical groups of the right and left. The appeal of
these groups was reduced as a result of a prosperous Germany.
The Rise of Pacifism and Isolation in the 1920s
During the 1920s, the prevailing attitudes of most citizens and nations was that of pacifism and
isolation. After seeing the horrors and atrocities of war during World War I, nations desired to
avoid such a situation again in the future. Thus, Europe took a number of steps to ensure peace
during the 1920s.
At the Washington Naval Conference in 1921, the United States, Great Britain, France, Japan,
and Italy agreed to build no new battleships for ten years and to reduce the current size of their
During the Locarno Treaties of 1925, Germany unconditionally guaranteed the borders of France
and Belgium and pleged to never violate the borders of Czechoslovakia and Poland.
In 1926, Germany joined the League of Nations. The League was one of the major means that
Europeans ensured peace during the time.
In 1928, 65 nations signed the Kellogg Briand Pact, rejecting war as a means of policy. In 1934,
Russia joined the League of Nations.
Democracies in Europe from 1919 through 1939
While fascism rose in Europe, the liberal democracies in the Britain and France were
encountering isolationism and pacifism, as explained above, as well as problems with
unemployment and colonial struggles. As a result of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the
concept that government is responsible for meeting the social needs of its citizens became
After World War I, Britain faced a number of problems. One of the most serious was
unemployment, with approximately 2 million people on the “dole,” or Britain’s welfare system.
This resulted in the rise of the Labour party. The Labour party created a modern welfare state in
Britain, creating an old age pension, medical care, public housing, and unemployment relief.
The British industries, now antiquated and falling behind, were selling less as the United States
stepped up to the industrial plate.
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Members of British colonies, such as Ireland, Egypt, India, and Palestine, were finding the ideals
of the Enlightenment appealing and were beginning to resist British rule.
Finally, the Great Depression caused massive problems in Britain.
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, a member of the Labour Party, enacted a policy of
“retrenchment,” which cut social spending, disallowed employment for women, and installed
100% tariffs on foreign goods. He enacted the ideas of Keynesian Economics, authored by J.M.
Keynes, which advocated increased government spending during a depression in order to put
money into the economy.
The Third Republic of France was the governing body from 1870 until 1940. Although it was
widely disliked for its political instability and corruption, it did manage to deliver a golden age,
what became known as the belle epoque, for Paris. The city acquired many distinctive new
monuments and public buildings, foremost among them the Eiffel Tower, constructed for the
World Exhibition of 1889. It was renowned as a centre for the arts, with the Impressionists
taking their inspiration from its new vistas. At the same time, Paris acquired a less savoury
reputation as the “sin capital of Europe”, with hundreds of brothels, revues and risqué cabarets
such as the famous Moulin Rouge. The city also acquired its metro system, opened in 1900.
In 1877, President MacMahon tried to dissolve parliament out of disgust with the premier and to
seize more power. However, the French people elected the same deputies to Parliament. The
French people clearly wanted to prevent another dictator from taking power.
In 1886-1889, General Boulanger came close to overthrowing the government. He gained large
support among monarchists, aristocrats, and workers, pleading to fight Germany. However, he
lost his courage at the moment of the coup, and he fled to Belgium and committed suicide.
In 1894, a French Jewish army officer named Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason in
what became known as the “Dreyfus Affair,” showing that anti-Semitism was still strong in
France, especially in the army and the Catholic Church. Emile Zola wrote the famous letter
“J’Accuse!” which helped raised support for Dreyfus, who was eventually pardoned and restored
to rank. Thus, in 1905 France enacted the separation of church and state.
After World War I, France encountered a number of problems. They had difficulty with the cost
and burden of rebuilding the nation, and they lost all of their investments in Russia as a result of
the Russian Revolution. The reparations were not paid by Germany as expected. Additionally,
tax evasion was common in France at the time.
By the late 1920s, prosperity had been restored. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s
triggered political unrest and social turmoil. In 1934, the socialists and communists fought the
fascists in the Chamber of Deputies, one of the houses of parliament, and threw ink at each other.
As a result of the unrest, the people elected a “Popular Front,” a coalition of socialists, liberals,
and communists, to govern. The leader of the Popular Front was Leon Blum, who during his
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tenure enacted family subsidies, welfare benefits, two weeks of vacation, a forty hour work
week, and collective bargaining. Leon Blum was replaced in 1938 by Eduard Daladier.
Challenges to Democracy in the 1930s
As a result of the Great Depression, fringe groups such as fascists and communists became more
appealing to the general populace of Europe.
Causes of the Great Depression
The Great Depression occurred because of a number of reasons. Low wages at the time resulted
in less purchasing power. An agricultural depression and falling prices resulted in increased
agricultural output but decreased demand. Overproduction in the factories, and overexpansion of
credit, as well as the U.S. stock market crash of 1929 also contributed greatly. Actions pursued
when the Great Depression was still in its infancy involved the FEDs untimely raise in interest
rates (in hopes to lure foreign investment), and later on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff created
immediate tariff backlash across the world and collapsed a great majority of world trade.
Effects on the Colonies
These changes in Europe resulted in more calls for autonomy in the colonies, and the influence
of Woodrow Wilson’s proposed “self-determination” of nations grew.
In 1931, the Statute of Westminister created the “Commonwealth of Nations” consisting of
Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the Irish Free State, and South Africa. These nations were
given autonomy but were linked to Britain through trade.
In the 1930s, India began yearning for autonomy. The Muslim League and the Indian National
Congress called for a greater role of Indians in their government. Gandhi’s “civil disobedience”
led to an end to British rule, and in 1935 the Government of India Act provided India with an
internal self-government. In 1947 India gained its independence and split with Pakistan.
In 1908, “Young Turks” overthrew Abdul Hamid II of Turkey and ruled the nation until 1918.
After World War I, Kemal Ataturk took the leadership of Turkey. In 1923 he moved the capital
from Constantinople to Ankara, beginning the Republic of Turkey. Finally, in 1930, he changed
the name of Constantinople to Istanbul. Ataturk established western dress, the Latin alphabet,
and banned polygamy from Turkey. In 1936, women were given suffrage and were allowed to
serve in parliament.
Fascism in Germany and Italy
Italy experienced a turn to fascism after World War I, and Benito Mussolini took control as
dictator of the nation. Soon afterward, Germany under Hitler took the same turn. Fascism was a
new form of government, initiated by Mussolini, that promoted extreme nationalism and national
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unity; an emphasis on masculinity, youth, aggression, and violence; racial superiority; one
supreme leader with superhuman abilities; the rejection of individual rights; the use of secret
police, censorship, and propaganda; a militaristic and aggressive foreign policy; strict central
control of the economy; and the holding of the individual as subordinate to the needs of society
as a whole.
The Italian Fascist Regime
The liberal establishment of Italy, fearing a socialist revolution inspired by the ideas of the
Russian Revolution, endorsed the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. After
several years of struggle, in October 1922 the fascists attempted a coup (the “Marcia su Roma”,
i.e. March on Rome); the fascist forces were largely inferior, but the king ordered the army not to
intervene, formed an alliance with Mussolini, and convinced the liberal party to endorse a
fascist-led government. Over the next few years, Mussolini (who became known as “Il Duce”,
the leader) eliminated all political parties (including the liberals) and curtailed personal liberties
under the pretext of preventing revolution.
The Rise of Fascism and Hitler in Germany
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At the beginning of the 1930s, Germany was not far from a civil war. Paramilitary troops, which
were set up by several parties, intimidated voters and seeded violence and anger among the
public, who suffered from high unemployment and poverty. Meanwhile, elitists in influential
positions, alarmed by the rise of anti-governmental parties, fought amongst themselves and
exploited the emergency authority provided in the Weimar Constitution to rule undemocratically
by presidential decree.
After a succession of unsuccessful cabinets, on January 29, 1933, President von Hindenburg,
seeing little alternative and pushed by advisors, appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.