The Economic Effects of World War I: Debt Leads to Chaos
By Owen Rust
via The Collector web site
During the era of imperialism in the late 1800s and early 1900s, European powers forged military alliances among themselves, wagering that such strong alliances would discourage any attacks. However, when a conflict did erupt, it dragged the entire continent into an unexpectedly bloody and brutal war. Trench warfare and deadly new weapons like the machine gun and poison gas created a stalemate that lasted for most of World War I. Afterward, the huge costs of war led to economic devastation for Russia and Germany. Post-war recessions occurred in the early 1920s in Britain and the United States as military spending fell sharply.
Before World War I: Era of Imperialism and Alliances
After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, a relative peace enveloped Europe for roughly fifty years. In the late 1800s, however, a unified Germany emerged as a new power. After decades of internal conflicts, Germany and Italy had become unified nation-states as opposed to blocs of small, independent states. These two new nations looked to compete with the established European powers, Britain and France, for power, prestige, and colonies in Africa.
In 1884, thirteen European nations met in Berlin, capital of the new Germany, to establish rules for the division of Africa. With Britain, Spain, and France having (mostly) been driven out of their former empires in North and South America, the relatively unexplored continent of Africa was a prime target for territorial and economic conquest. Between November 1884 and February 1885, the members of the Berlin Conference divided Africa – without any input from Africans, of course – into many of the separate territories we know today.
As the new European powers rivaled each other for power, they entered military alliances to discourage attacks from enemies. The Triple Entente was an informal alliance of France, Britain, and Russia, established in 1907. Germany, believing that it was being “encircled” by the three historic powers of Europe, became more aggressive toward them. Since 1882, it had been part of a Triple Alliance of the three central European powers: Germany, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Each nation believed that the presence of allies would prevent any rival from attacking because the allies would join the fight as if they themselves had been attacked.
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