USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Conclusion to The World Around 1914, Part II

By January 1, 1914, Europe and the world were in an incredible state of transition. In Europe, industrialization was transforming all aspects of society from mass movements to family relationships. A new elite class of industrialists and capitalists was growing increasingly wealthy. At the same time, masses of industrial laborers struggled with stagnant wages and horrible work conditions. A middle class was emerging of educated citizens wanting to grasp hold of the new economic dynamism made possible by changes in technology, finance, politics, and culture. Throughout Europe, more people were reading newspapers and books, attending public lectures, joining societies and clubs, and participating in the political process by means of the vote. Women were pushing for new rights in the economic and political domains. The era of mass participation helped fuel the rising nationalism, which was present nearly everywhere one looked: in international sports competitions, in the Scramble for Africa, the naval race, and soon, the battlefield. Nowhere is this European nationalism stronger than in the Balkans, which sat for centuries on the fault lines of the three great old regime empires, the Ottoman, Austrian, and Russian. From this hornet’s nest, the spark for war will come.

Beyond Europe, the years around 1914 was so less a time of transition. In Japan, the Meiji emperor had died two years before, beginning a new generation of Japanese history under the Taisho Emperor (1912 – 1926), a period of dramatic industrial growth and a flourishing of culture and democracy. By 1914, central authority had broken down in China. The Qing government collapsed in 1911/1912. Power in China fell into the hands of warlords and liberal revolutionaries. Throughout the Middle East, European economic and political penetration had fractured society in multiple ways. Reform movements in progressive and conservative directions were poised to burst forth. The Ottoman Empire was weak but not yet on the verge of collapse. And in Africa, colonial power had hit its high water mark. The territory had been divided between the European powers. Social, economic, and cultural transition and dislocation proceeded at a rapid rate for African people. The last military stands by Africans against the European powers had been waged and defeated. Tens of thousands of Africans died in these wars. Hundreds of thousands of others perished from disease or starvation. Only now, once the continent has been conquered, do the Europeans begin to consider how to rule it.

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