Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year journalism student
This is the next segment in our new series where we take you through concepts and events that will help you understand the Russian-Ukrainian war, and geopolitics in general.
William Faulkner, a famous American Writer, once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Read: The Russia-Ukraine Conflict Explained
The World Wars…
This quote becomes important when we understand that ‘events of history’ and things that shaped the world as we know it, didn’t happen too long ago. In fact, it hasn’t even been an entire century since the second World War. What I mean to say, is that what we consider our past and history, is actually quite recent. Hannah Arendt, a political theorist, talks about how to move forward in the future, we need to ‘master the past’ by talking about it again and again.
World War I, Militarism and initial alliances
To understand what caused the first World War, it is important that we understand the concept of militarism and imperialism.
The late 1800s and early 1900s were defined by intense competition among European powers. A nation’s power was determined by its wealth and resources, the quantity of area it controlled, and the size of its army and navy. Many leaders thought that a nation’s political and economic goals could only be achieved if it had a powerful military, a concept known as militarism.
When and if war broke out, no country wanted to be without allies, thus two main military alliances formed. Fearful of being trapped in by enemies on both sides, Germany and Austria-Hungary agreed to help each other in a European war. A similar deal was signed between Russia and France.
Why did it start?
On June 28, 1914, a young Serbian nationalist shot and assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the successor to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria), in the city of Sarajevo, igniting World War I. The assassin was a supporter of the Kingdom of Serbia, and Austrian troops invaded Serbia within a month. The entire continent was soon engaged in conflict as a result of the military alliances that had developed throughout Europe. Because European countries possessed so many colonies all over the world, the war quickly escalated into a worldwide war.The conflict divided nations into two main groups- The Central Powers and the Allies
Between 1914 and 1918, almost 30 countries declared war on each other. Serbia, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States were among those who sided with the Allies. The Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire, stood in their way. What started off as a little dispute in southeast Europe turned into a war between European empires. With the advent of Britain and its Empire into the war, it became a genuinely global conflict fought on a scale never seen before.
The result of the war and The Treaty of Versailles
The First World War claimed the lives of an estimated 16 million troops and civilians, as well as injuring countless others physically and mentally. The conflict also permanently transformed the social and political environment of the world. It drove changes in ideas about gender and class.
The conflict brought down four imperial dynasties: the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, the Ottoman Sultanate, and the Romanovs of Russia.
As lands were partitioned among the victorious Allied nations, the geography of Europe was changed forever.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles west of Paris, France. The Treaty of Versailles defined the terms of peace between Germany and the victorious Allies, which included the US, France, and the UK. The Treaty is one of history’s most disputed peace agreements. The so-called “war guilt” provision in the Treaty of Versailles forced Germany and the other Central Powers to bear full responsibility for World War I. This meant that regions were lost, military forces were reduced, and reparations were paid to Allied nations.
World War II
Even though a lot of factors caused the second world war, a lot of it was because of how things ended after the Treaty of Versailles, which aggravated and humiliated the Germans.
The second World War was between the Axis Powers- Germany, Italy and Japan and the Allied Powers- France, Britain, US, Soviet Union (now Russia) and China.
Germany’s political and economic instability, along with resentment over its defeat in World War I and the severe terms of the Treaty of Versailles, paved the way for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to emerge to power. Hitler started surreptitiously rearmaing Germany in the mid-1930s, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles. To counter the Soviet Union, he formed partnerships with Italy and Japan. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland. France and Britain declared war on Germany two days later.
A lot of events followed, the Pearl Harbour Attack, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nazism led to the Holocaust in Germany, a mass genocide of Jewish people.
During World War II, an estimated 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 people died, including about 6,000,000 Jewish men, women, and children who died in the Holocaust. Millions more civilians were injured or displaced across Europe and East Asia.