What aspect of the war has society changed?
The First World War
Apl. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kruse, born in 1957, is an academic senior counselor and adjunct professor in the field of Modern German and European History at the Historical Institute of the Distance University in Hagen. His main research interests include the history of the First World War, the history of the French Revolution, the history of the German and international labor movement and the history of the political cult of the dead. Among others, von Kruse has published: Wolfgang Kruse: The First World War, Darmstadt 2009 (history compact of the WBG).
In France and England, the First World War is still remembered today as the "Great War". This points to its exceptional importance for modern European, but also global history. In fact, the First World War was not only a major European event, as one might assume from the context in which it came about, but it also developed into a global, global event in a very short time. And beyond that, its dynamic was by no means limited to external expansion. Rather, this war brought about such an extraordinary intensification in its manifold manifestations that it has become common today to recognize the first "total war" in modern history in the First World War. Ultimately, from the historian's perspective, this war appears to be the great "primal catastrophe" of the 20th century, which ushered in a phase of world history generally characterized by war and civil war and without which hardly any development in the 20th century can be adequately explained.
Wolfgang Kruse: The First World War
Nevertheless, the First World War is put into a somewhat differently contoured context: It is to be interpreted as a civilization crisis of European modernity. Before that, the 'long' 19th century of European history had been characterized by a secular modernization process that - driven by the industrial revolution, political democratization and social emancipation - produced a new kind of bourgeois society and was associated with a comprehensive optimism for progress. Prosperity, freedom, education and civilization were the target points towards which an eventful modern history seemed to lead. But in the end there was a war that mobilized all productive social forces for the purposes of destruction and annihilation. Far more than 10 million deaths, an even greater number of destroyed existences, shattered societies, collapsing political systems, and even after the formal end of the war, never-ending violent conflicts between and within the peoples of Europe: these were the results and consequences of the so-called great War that did not simply break out over modern Europe, but that despite all the optimism for progress were deeply and causally rooted in it. As clairvoyant and sensitive spirits had long prophesied, this modernity clearly contained contradictions, abysses and destructive potentials, which not only destroy all advances and development perspectives based on them, but could also make them usable for their work of destruction.
The recourse to the concept of crisis still includes something else. Because crises have a Janus face, which also marked the First World War. They not only destroy the old order from which they grew up, but at the same time set free new forces pointing into the future, which arise from the attempt to control or overcome their destructive power. Revolution, democratization and the right to self-determination of peoples, new people, mass culture, avant-garde or League of Nations were the keywords that indicate the creative potential of dealing with the civilization breach of the great war, but also total mobilization, national community, cult of violence and leadership. The introduction to the history of the First World War presented here therefore attempts to consider the various levels of war events from the double perspective of extensive destruction and creative awakening; Phenomena of total war, however, which - and this is where the actual historical drama lies - were often connected with one another in a way that could hardly be resolved. [...]
From: Wolfang Kruse, The First World War, Darmstadt 2009, p. 1f.
The European and Global Character of the WarAt its core, the First World War was a European war. It originated in the Balkans, based on the imperialist aspirations of the great European powers, and it was essentially carried out between two European power blocs and on the European continent: The Entente with England, France and Russia, expanded in 1915/16 by Italy and Romania, faced the Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary, which Bulgaria joined in 1915. And in a more general, socio-historical way, this war was founded in a comprehensive crisis of European modernity, the development of which in the course of the 'long' 19th century had produced a variety of contradictions, contradictions and conflicts: the idea of a national spring of peoples had become aggressive and sharp Nationalisms profiled against each other were formed against enemy images. Economic progress had brought about not only material prosperity, but also national crises of meaning, class social conflicts of interests and highly armed military apparatus. Finally, at the political level, the democratization tendencies in society on the one hand, and the claims to rule of traditional elites on the other hand, had become extremely virulent and unstable. So it was hardly surprising that the war not only overturned the European map, but also the social and political conditions in Europe.
Daniel Marc Segesser: The First World War from a global perspective
A closer look at history, however, shows that global military conflicts were by no means exclusively a phenomenon of the 20th century. The globalization process that had been going on since the 15th century and was characterized by European expansion overseas was shaped by military conflicts that repeatedly affected larger parts of the globe, both in the form of clashes between European and indigenous powers as well as in the shape of global colonial wars between European states. Examples of the latter are the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740-48, the Seven Years War from 1756-63 or the American War of Independence from 1775-83. Most of the disputes were therefore European conflicts that were fought worldwide, but in which non-European powers hardly took part. If the latter were involved, it was mostly a regional conflict. For the period up to the end of the 18th century it is therefore probably appropriate to discuss wars with global backgrounds, but not real world wars [...]
Following Stig Förster, it is probably better not to speak of a world war until it is a major conflict with significant involvement of both European and autochthonous non-European powers. (...) To what extent the Napoleonic or French wars from 1792 to 1815 can be described as world wars, as Förster does, is controversial. It is true that at this time war was not only waged in Europe and that only European powers were involved in the war. Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Indian rulers, the Wahabites of Arabia, the Shawnee Indians in North America and the United States, which was founded in 1787, took an active part in this dispute. However, some parts of the world were not really involved in this conflict. This applies to Australia and the Pacific on the one hand, but also to Japan and China, which were important from a global perspective around 1800, on the other. The clashes between Japan and Russia over the Kuril Islands at that time were not part of a global conflict, but rather a regional conflict within the framework of the expansion of a single European power into non-European regions.
There are therefore good reasons to really regard the First World War as the First World War, not least against the background of the intensification of the process of globalization that has yet to be described, which is opening up new opportunities for the powers that be at war through the revolution in transport and communications which first came to fruition on a global level during the First World War. Hans Ulrich Wehler, The End of the “Long 19th Century” and the Beginning of the “Short 20th Century”.
From: Daniel Marc Segesser, The First World War in Global Perspective, Wiesbaden 2012, pp. 8-10.
The totalization of the war
The novel quality of war was not only evident in the global dimensions and in a war policy aimed at victory or surrender.The warfare on the front itself and the orientation of society towards the war on the so-called home front gained an increasingly intense character during the First World War, which was already characterized at the time as a "total war" and was later elevated to a program primarily by the National Socialists. This term has been developed into a concept in modern historiography that tries above all to grasp the industrialization of war, militarily in the growing importance of war machines, civil in the orientation of economy, society and culture to the needs of warfare, thus was also expressed in the political dissolution of the division between the military and civil society. Cannons and grenades, machine guns and cartridge belts, airplanes and bombs, submarines and torpedoes, poison gas grenades and soon also armored cars put a new stamp on the war. And all these weapons had to be produced by the industries of the warring countries, in ever larger quantities, in order to replace the devices that were used up and destroyed in rapid succession and to continue to expand industrial destruction capacities. For this it was not only necessary to build up and expand production capacities; The working and living structures of civilians also had to be adjusted to the new requirements of war production, motivated or obliged to work, stopped or compelled to forego leisure and pleasure. The actually civil society at home thus became a second front on which the war could actually be decided. In the end, the war was won by the powers that be better than their opponents in producing weapons and ammunition, while at the same time ensuring basic supplies for the population and motivating them to "persevere".
The "great catastrophe" of the 20th century
Fallen and wounded of the First World War
|According to Dupuy / Salewski|
|France|| 1,357,800 dead|
|British Empire|| 908,371 dead|
|Russia|| 1,700,000 dead|
|Italy|| 462,391 dead|
|German Empire|| 1,808,546 dead|
Around 760,000 civilians died, almost all of them victims of the Allied blockade
|Austria-Hungary|| 922,500 dead|
300,000 blockade victims
|War dead according to Ferguson / Stevenson|
|British Empire (excluding UK)||198.000|
|Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire||892.000|
|Four Alliance Powers together||4.029.000|
|Total losses after Der Große Ploetz, 35th edition.|
(1.1 million recognized war invalids)
Hans-Ulrich Wehler: From the beginning of the First World War to the establishment of the two German states in 1914-1949
In Europe, the revolution and the collapse of the empire, including the collapse of a thousand years of princely rule, stood at the end of the first total war. Historically unprecedented losses of people and resources subjected German society to a tremendous endurance test. She was overwhelmed by the utterly novel experience of the first industrialized war. This also included being forced to get used to a brutalization which, through years of fashions, changed the individual in such a way that it continued in the internal civil war of the competing political camps.
The revolution in autumn 1918 was not just a reaction to the merciless wear and tear of the first total war and inevitable defeat. Rather, it was also the result of a dam break after a long-lasting problem jam under the harsh, restrictive conditions of recent German social history. For the majority who saw the revolution as a sign of Cain, it was associated with the stigma of defeat, with the ardent renunciation of all glorious war aims, with the “shameful peace” of Versailles, with the “slavery” of reparation payments. The radical nationalism heightened during the war was deeply injured. Immediately, his believers saw in a comprehensive revision of the results of the war the only remedy to give the nation new hegemonic strength, so that it was assured of victory in the expected future great war.
In economic life, the war ended the “golden years” between 1895 and 1913 - the long-lived economic boom that had brought Germany into the top trio of industrialized countries. In addition, the war also destroyed the established balance of power in the Eurocentric world economy. The United States, as the real economic winner of the war, pushed itself to the fore from which it was to rule the “short” 20th century. Behind them rose newcomers to world trade such as the Empire of Japan, the condominium states and resource-rich colonial countries. A new world market order had to be laboriously fought for.
During the agony of the empire, a massive state intervention under the sign of war corporatism had advanced. Its mixed public-private constitution also reflected the inability to perform and the profound discrediting of the purely private economic system, and after the war the fundamental dispute over which economic order was appropriate for the new era continued.
For the time being, however, all interest aggregates fled to inflation, as it made it easier to cope with acute problems: demobilization and the transition to a peacetime economy, wage increases and the mediation of growth impulses, export promotion and reparation payments. A little later, the price consisted of hyperinflation, which destroyed the currency, lowered the standard of living, and turned upside down the distribution of wealth. For many Germans, this economic turbulence dominated the beginning of the “short” 20th century, in stark contrast to the transfigured security of the prewar years.
The social fissures had no less profound effect. [...]
With the epochal break that separates the “long” 19th century from the “short” 20th century, the question is inevitably connected, whether discontinuity reigned in Germany because of the fundamental changes in the historical process or whether continuity bridges still turned out to be stronger than expected . […] With regard to the German “Sonderweg”, the problems of which run like a red thread through this analysis, the lines of continuity cannot be overlooked here. After the outcome of the World War had denied the positively transfigured idea of a German “Sonderweg”, which would prove to be a superior modernization path in comparison with the Western countries, with military rigor, structurally deeply anchored elements of continuity were retained. In addition to these special conditions in German history since the epoch of its “double revolution”, the enormous stamping effect of the total war was added. Only from this merger can it be explained why Germany, as the comparative perspective clearly shows, was the only highly civilized industrial country to commit the "civilization breach" of its murderous radical fascism.
From: Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte, Vol. 4: From the beginning of the First World War to the founding of the two German states 1914-1949, Munich 2003, pp.222-25.
At the center of these developments was - and this remains to be seen in all European and global perspectives - the German Reich. Not only because it was largely responsible for triggering the First World War and deliberately brought about the Second World War, but because these conflicts were also largely shaped by the German attempt to use warlike means to achieve supremacy on the European continent. "Total state" (Ernst Forsthoff), "total mobilization" (Ernst Jünger) and "total war" (Erich Ludendorff) were the conceptual terms that increasingly moved into the center of political discourse here in the 1920s and once again had a powerful history with National Socialism were. It was only after the total collapse of the National Socialist Greater German Reich in 1945, first of all through the division of Germany and Europe, that the "German question" could be pacified and a relatively stable order of peace established in Europe.
Selected literature:Boris Barth, genocide. Genocide in the 20th Century, Munich 2006.
Roger Chickering and Stig. Förster (ed.), Great War, Total War. Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914-1918, Cambridge / Mass. 2000.
Ludwig Dehio, Germany and World Politics in the 20th Century, Munich 1956.
Marc Ferro, The Great War 1914-1918, Frankf./M. 1988 (orig. Paris 1968).
Gerd Hardach, The First World War, Munich 1973.
Eric J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. World politics of the 20th century, Munich 1998 (orig. 1994).
Wolfgang Kruse, The First World War, Darmstadt 2009.
Daniel Marc Segesser, The First World War in Global Perspective, Wiesbaden 2012.
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