6.spirit of disillusionment in europe during 1914-1918Analyze the spirit of promise that gave way to disillusionment in Europe during the years 1914-1918.
Prior to the devastation of the first World War, a spirit of optimism and enthusiasm engulfed the minds of citizens across Europe. Relating the potential outcome of another war to the short, decisive, progressive wars in the nineteenth century, Europeans greeted the opportunity for war as a tool to cleanse the current ailments of Europe. The people, blinded by an overwhelming belief in progress and a developing sense of nationalism, failed to foresee that they were heading for disaster. World War I emanated from European leaders’ aggression toward other countries, which was supported by the rising nationalism. Economic and imperial competition and fear of war prompted military alliances and an arms race, which further escalated the tension contributing to the outbreak of a war greatly exceeding the lethality of European expectation.
A spirit of nationalism rang high in the atmosphere pre-world war Europe. Many were engrossed by potential benefits war could bring to their lives. Nationalism, however, was not a new idea; at the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the principle of nationalism was ignored in favor of preserving the peace. Despite the settlement, the principle was rejuvenated by the onset of the World War. The ardent nationalists fussed in masses to champion the need for war. Patriotic demonstrations had an intoxicating effect and excited the war-mongers to excess… (Phillip Schneidemanan). Under false aspirations and expectations the naive soldiers marched off to war, unexpectant of the tragedies they would encounter.
In only a few short months, the soldiers realized how false their assumptions were. Nationalism presented itself as a misleading concept rendering the soldiers to a rude awakening. Oh, God how those men looked, as they came nearer– those utterly immobile faces under their steel helmets… The illusion brought about by nationalist ideals encouraged war, and under false pretenses delivered the devastation of the war as a shock exceeding all expectations.
The power of alliances also played a key role in the creation and devastation of World War I. Dating back to the time of Bismarck, most alliances formed for the sake of reassurance or to postpone the outbreak of a war. But as time passed, alliances greatly increased international tension by dividing Europe into two armed camps. I felt strongly that England ought to remain neutral, and I collected the signatures of a large number of professors and fellows to a statement… The day war was declared, almost all of them changed their minds… (Bertrand Russell). The safety that alliances sought to establish not only disillusioned Europe but also instilled an unwise security in the minds of the people. Upon the outbreak of war, vastly separated by alliances, the people entered unwittingly into a war that would not end in celebration.
The menace of the hostile division led to an arms race, another cause of World War I. Acknowledging that Germany was the leader in military organization and efficiency, the great powers of Europe copied the universal conscription, large reserves and detailed planning of the Prussian system. Technological and organizational developments led to the formation of general staffs with precise plans for mobilization and attack. Europeans gained enthusiasm at the thought of such advanced weaponry.Suddenly a heroic wind lifted their heads. What? War, is it? Well, then, lets go! (Roland Doregehes). However, the faith in weapons proved to be an artificial safeguard.
Armies and navies were greatly expanded. The standing armies of France and Germany doubled in size between 1870 and 1914. By 1889, the British had established the principle that in order to maintain naval superiority in the event of war they would have to have a navy two and a half times as large as the second-largest navy. As Britain increased their output of battleships, Germany correspondingly stepped up their naval production. Although efforts for worldwide disarmament were made at the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, international rivalry caused the arms race to continue to feed on itself….We are almost destroyed by what has been destroyed; we do not know what will be born, and we fear the future, not without reason… (Paul Valery).The unveiling of technologically advanced weapons disillusioned Europeans with a temporary security for those who used the machines and an insecurity for those who were faced against them.
The outbreak of World War I greatly exceeded the lethality of all European expectation. With escalation of tension caused by military alliances and arms races, Europeans were blinded by a false nationalism and failed to foresee the devastation the war brought about. Since the wars destruction, never again has a war been seen as a tool to cleanse and renew nor as an excuse to celebrate.
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