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

Postwar and Treaty

The end of the war, in a different way of course than the war itself, was a calamity—an earthquake in the heart of Europe. The end of the war saw the end of four major European Empires: the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Russian Empire the year before. The end of the war saw the rise of peoples demanding statehood, leading to territorial grabs and localized conflicts throughout the heart of the old imperia (we will cover this in more detail in a following chapter). The end of the war saw vast territories in Asia in new hands, as the multinational Ottoman Empire gave way to British and French control. The end of the war saw northern and eastern France in ruins, malnutrition, starvation, and sickness sweeping through Europe at an unprecedented scale. The Spanish Flu epidemic at war's end raced through the destabilized and malnourished world, killing 50-100 million people. Beyond this, the end of the war brought anger, confusion and fear.

Ultimately, the parties met at Paris with four key questions that needed to be answered. 1) The first and most critical issue had to do with Germany. How would the allies deal with the defeated power? This meant, above all, how would Germany be limited and punished? 2) The second issue had to do with the collapse of empires. How would the major allied powers organize or recognize the new political geography of Europe? And the adjunct question: how would this political organization affect the demography of the continent? 3) Related to the question above, how would the victorious powers organize the territorial issues beyond Europe—in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia? Who would get their moment in the Parisian spotlight? 4) The fourth question had to do with prevention of conflict. The First World War was broadly and correctly recognized as a calamity that should never be repeated. All participants in the war (excluding the U.S.) were economically, materially, emotionally and spiritually spent. How could such a war be avoided in the future? Let’s take these issues one by one, starting with the biggest problem in Paris in 1919, Germany. 

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