MFGSC Unit 1 History

World Order in the early 1900s

The world population at the end of the nineteenth century was approximatley 1,650,000,000 - Oceania: 6 million; Africa: 135 million; The Americas: 152 million; Europe 400 million and Asia: 950 million.  The majority of these people were ruled by a handful of monarchs.  The British Empire was the largest empire the world had ever known with over 450 million subjects in 56 colonies around the globe.  It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, as somewhere in the world at any time the sun shone upon Queen Victoria's empire -   In 1900, the British Empire covered a fifth of land-area of the earth.

The ruling leaders of Europe during the latter years of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century were experiencing the industrial revolution and were building themselves armies and navies with amazing modern technologies and capabilities for the era.  These kings and queens, tsars and tsarinas and emperors and emporesses wanted their empires to grow, and this meant occupying territories that they did not currently possess.  This was usually achieved with an element of military force rather than pure democratic negotiations.  To achieve this the human and natural resources of the territories under their imperial control were utilised - used and abused.  In 1900 Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany began to build up the German navy, announcing that he wanted Germans to sail all over the world and take for Germany 'a place in the sun'.

Perhaps the two most powerful empires were the British and German.  Each nation were well advanced in industrial technologies and each were building great navies, armies and weapons of advanced destruction - this was an arm's race.  The empires of Germany and Austro Hungary were particularly militiaristic.

Lead up to war

There was an increasing desire for independence in the various territories in Africa, Asia and within Europe and there were movements to reject the ruling nations/dominating empires and autocratic and dictatorial rulers.  These factors (and many others) led to war in 1914.  War was initially contained to the European continent, but soon spread globally.  

There were four main reasons for war (M.A.I.N.); Militarism; Alliances; Imperialism; Nationalism.

  • M - Militarism
  • A - Alliances
  • I - Imperialism
  • N - Nationalism

MILITARISM - This was not just an arms race, but also a government's attitude of mind, seeing war as a valid means of foreign policy.  (This often includes the influence of government by the generals.)

All the countries of Europe built up their armies and navies.  In 1914, their armed forces stood like this:

•  Germany: 2,200,000 soldiers, 97 warships

•  Austria-Hungary: 810,000 soldiers, 28 warships.

•  Italy: 750,000 soldiers, 36 warships

•  France: 1,125,000 soldiers, 62 warships

•  Russia: 1,200,000 soldiers, 30 warships

•  Great Britain: 711,000 soldiers, 185 warships

As one country increased its armies, so all the others felt obliged to increase their armed forces to keep the ‘balance of power’.

ALLIANCES - As well as seeking protection in the size of their armies, the countries of Europe sought protection by forming alliances.  At first, Germany had kept friendly with Russia.  Kaiser Wilhelm overturned this, and concentrated instead on the Dual Alliance of 1879 between Germany and Austria-Hungary - which became the Triple Alliance when Italy joined in 1882.

Alarmed by this strong central bloc:

a.  France in 1894 made an alliance with Russia, and

b.  In 1904 France made an agreement with Britain called the Entente Cordiale (‘Friendly Relationship’ – not a formal alliance, but a promise to work together). 

c.  In 1907, Britain made an entente with Russia, thus forming the Triple Entente (France, Russia, Great Britain).  In 1902 Britain made a naval treaty with Japan (and in 1915, the Japanese navy escorted Australian and New Zealand soldiers to Gallipoli)

The Triple Entente alarmed Germany, which felt itself surrounded by the France-Russia alliance.

The countries of Europe thought that the alliance system would act as a deterrent to war; in fact it tied the countries together so that, when one country went to war, the others felt themselves obliged to follow.

IMPERIALISM - Countries who believed that they were superior thought it was alright to conquer and rule others – particularly if those were inhabited by races thought to be inferior.  This is why countries like Britain, France, Belgium and Italy thought it was acceptable to colonise vast areas of Africa in the 1800s.

This led to clashes between imperialist powers.  Britain was trying to conquer Africa from Cairo (in the north) to Cape Town (in South Africa).  France was trying to conquer Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.  In 1898 their two armies met, at Fashoda in the Sudan, almost causing a war.  Most of all, it led to HUGE tension when Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany decided that he wanted some colonies too.

NATIONALISM - Most people were nationalist during this era, and this helped cause war in two ways:

  • It made the people of countries like Britain, Germany and France more bellicose (aggressive and warlike) – the British sang: ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, and the Germans sang: ‘Deutschland uber alles’.  French politicians like Clemenceau and Poincare (who had been around in 1870) hated the Germans.  People were enraged when someone insulted their country.
  • It made the races ruled by Turkey (such as the Romanians and the Bulgarians) and by Austria-Hungary (such as the Serbs) want to be free to rule themselves.  In the Balkans this was called ‘Panslavism’ because the people who wanted to be free were all Slav races.  The most nationalistic of all were the Serbs – Serbia had become an independent country by the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, but in 1900 many Serbs were still ruled by Turkey and Austria-Hungary, and Serbia was determined to rule over them all.  This led to rebellions and terrorism which destablised the Balkans.

World War I

Europe was a stage on which a theatre of war would soon break out.  It seemed clear it would occur in the Balkans which was called a gun-powder keg, just needing a spark to ignite the entire continent.  The spark occured on the 28th June 1914 when a member of a Serbian nationalist movement, the Black Hand, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the crown prince of the Austro Hungarian Empire.

WWI - a crash course

11th November, 1918



28th June, 1919

Treaty of Versailles


The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th 1919, fives years to the day after the assassination of heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  After the ceasefire that occurred at eleven in the morning on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the First World War officially ended with the signing of the treaty during the Paris Peace Conference.  The Treaty of Versailles was supposed to ensure a lasting peace by punishing Germany and setting up a League of Nations to solve diplomatic problems. Instead it left a legacy of political and geographical difficulties that have often been blamed, sometimes solely, for starting the Second World War.


The First World War had been fought for four years when, on November 11th 1918, Germany and the Allies signed an armistice. The Allies soon gathered to discuss the peace treaty they would sign, but Germany and Austria-Hungary were not invited; instead they were only allowed to present a response to the treaty, a response that was largely ignored. Instead, mainly the ‘Big Three’ drew up terms: British Prime Minister Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Frances Clemenceau and US President Woodrow Wilson.

From left to right the main delegates at the Paris Peace Conference were:

Lloyd George - Prime Minister of Great Britain, Vittorio Orlando - President of Italy,
Georges Clemenceau
- President of France, Woodrow Wilson - President of United States of America

Each of The Big Three had different desires:

Woodrow Wilson: Wanted a 'fair and lasting peace' and had written a plan – the Fourteen Points – to achieve this. He wanted the armed forces of all nations reduced, not just the losers, and a League of Nations created to ensure peace.
Frances Clemenceau: Wanted Germany to pay dearly for the war, including being stripped of land, industry and their armed forces. He also wanted Germany to pay heavy reparations.
Lloyd George: While he personally agreed with Wilson, he was affected by public opinion in Britain, which agreed with Clemenceau.

Selected Terms of the Treaty of Versailles:


Alsace Lorraine, captured by Germany in 1870, was returned to France. The Saar, an important German coalfield, was to be given to France for 15 years, after which a plebiscite would decide ownership. Poland became an independent country with a 'route to the sea', a corridor of land cutting Germany in two. Danzig, a major port in East Prussia (Germany) was to be under international rule. All German and Turkish Colonies were taken away and put under Allied control. Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Czechoslovakia were made independent. Austria-Hungary was split up and Yugoslavia was created.


  • The left bank of the Rhine was to be occupied by Allied forces and the right bank demilitarised.
  • The German army was cut to 100,000 men.
  • Wartime weapons were to be scrapped.
  • The German Navy was cut to 36 ships and no submarines.
  • Germany was banned from having an Air Force An anschluss (union) between Germany and Austria was banned.

Reparations and Guilt:

  • In the 'war guilt' clause Germany had to accept total blame for the war.
  • Germany had to pay £6,600 million in compensation.

  A public rally at the Reichstag in Berlin in opposition to the terms of the treaty.

The League of Nations:

A League of Nations was to be created to prevent further world conflict.

Reactions & Results

Germany lost:
  • 13% of its land
  • 12% of its people
  • 48% of its iron resources
  • 15% of its agricultural production
  • 10% of its coal

Reactions :

Perhaps understandably, German public opinion soon swung against this 'Diktat', while the Germans who signed it were called the 'November Criminals'.  Britain and France felt the treaty was fair – they actually wanted harsher terms imposed on the Germans – but the United States refused to ratify it because they didn't want to be part of the League of Nations.


  • The map of Europe was redrawn with consequences, which, especially in the Balkans, remain to the modern day.
  • Numerous countries were left with large minority groups: there were three and a half million Germans in Czechoslovakia alone.
  • The League of Nations was fatally weakened without the United States and its army to enforce decisions.
  • Many Germans felt unfairly treated, after all they had just signed an armistice, not a unilateral surrender, and the allies hadn't occupied deep into Germany.

The new German and European borders/nations in 1919

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