Peace after World War One: an unaccomplished challenge?

The “war which will end all wars“, the “last war ever“, as it was called, ended on November 11, 1918. Europe was wounded and all hopes were directed towards a sustainable peace. However, this peace didn’t last more than twenty years. Ferdinand Foch, the leader of the French army, said that this “is not a peace, but a truce for twenty years“. History has proven that he was right. How can this predilection be explained ?

How was the peace built ?

On November 11, 1918, the armistice between Germany and the Allied Powers was signed. The Great War was over, regarding its military side. The powers which won the war, mainly formed by France, the UK, the USA and Italy, celebrated the victory, but were also about to start negotiating about the future peace treaties. After the armistice, it took several months until the final peace treaty with Germany was signed. In this period, A long process of negotiations took place between the victorious Allies, because every country had its own interests and demands. The British and American governments were in favour of a peace that would be acceptable for Germany. On the other hand, the French delegation wanted strong security guarantees and Germany to pay the price for the war and it’s human and economical costs.

The general aftermath

The victorious powers finally agreed on a text which became known as a the Treaty of Versailles. This document listed 440 articles and many of those were difficult for the German government an society to accept. However, the German Reichstag voted in favour of accepting the treaty since it had no other choice. Through the Versailles treaty, as well as the other peace treaties – with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey -, Europe got a new shape. Four Empires had collapsed because of the war: The German, Austria-Hungarian, Russian (in 1917) and Ottoman Empire. New regimes and new states emerged and borders changed. In Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe, several new countries were created: Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (the future Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Borders in Northern and Western Europe were changed in favour of Denmark, Belgium and France to whom Germany had to cede parts of its territory. Eastern German borders were also changed in favour of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Italy gained parts of Austria, while soon after the war Ireland gained independence from the UK.

Europe before and after the Great War / credits: Amir Krpić

Except all the border changes in Europe, the Great War had also a lot of social and economical consequences. The four and a half years of war had created deep wounds and had exhausted states, societies, economies and individuals as well. Millions of people had lost relatives during the war. Economies were down too. The winners had to pay a huge economical price for their victory – for example to pay back the loans they had taken during the war, while the losers, especially Germany, were in even worse situation because the country had to pay reparations. Another major consequence of the war was that the United States, who had entered the war in 1917 on the side of the Allies, became more influential, politically and economically. Together with the Russian Revolution in 1917, which led to the creation of the Soviet Union, we can say that World War One started the process of moving the center of world power away from the “old” European countries. With the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union then became the dominating powers in world politics.

The aftermath in France

Considering France, in the perspective of the French Republic, it can be said that the war had its positive and negative consequences. North-eastern France was devastated as a consequence of the hard battles, industrial potential was lowered and huge shock for demography was caused by more than 1,5 millions of deaths. On the other hand, after half of a century, France succeeded to take Alsace-Lorraine back from Germany, what had been an important topic of the French political and public discourse since the defeat in 1871. That France had won the war provided more prestige fro the French Republic, internally and internationally,  and on the European continent, France again became the dominant power for several years. The fear of a new war was also one of the many consequences of World War One, which strongly influenced the society and the politics in France during the 1920s and the 1930s.

The aftermath in Germany

Except at the very beginning of the war, the territory of the German Reich had not been a space of military battles, but Germany had nevertheless also to suffer from an immense number of causalities. The defeat in 1918 came as an shock for many Germans, as well as the direct consequences of this defeat. Through the Versailles Peace Treaty, Germany lost parts of its territory in favour of five neighbours and as a consequence of it, the country remained separated in two parts. Also, Germany was no longer a colonial power, since it lost all colonies. War reparations set by the Versailles treaty were high and the German government quickly failed to fulfil its obligations, which led to a new episode of a conflict with France. A very important consequence of the war was also the collapse of the monarchy, and the proclamation, on 9 November 1918, of a Republic, which became known, from 1919 on, as the Weimar Republic. It was extremely difficult for the young Republic to handle all the pressures of the war’s aftermath. The Republic was attacked by strong left-wing and right-wing forces, and the latter accused the Republic to be responsible for the defeat and the Versailles Peace treaty. After many crises, the Republic began to stabilize in the second half of the 1920s. But the worldwide economical crisis from 1929, together with unresolved burdens of the past, especially the sense of defeat, favoured again the rise of extremist parties. The National-socialist party promised to take revenge of the 19 Versailles together with international problems, made German society went far-right and elect the party that established the fascist dictatorship in early thirties. This takeover itself is one of the most terrible consequences of the Great War in Germany and Europe.

The aftermath in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ethnic picture of landowners and peasants in Bosnia and Herzegovina before the Great war / Credits: Amir Krpić

In the Balkans, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, very important changes happened in the aftermath of the Great War. We can focus here on three levels of these changes. The first change concerns the state and political system – Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of a new state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, after the South Slavic parts of the former Austria-Hungary united with the Kingdom of Serbia. As the new Kingdom was organized as centralized state, and not on federal principle, Bosnia and Herzegovina, unlike in Austria-Hungary, had no provincial government any more, and actually ceased to exist as an  administrative-political unit by it’s own.

The second important change was of a socio-economical character regarding land ownership. Before the war, the majority of the land was held by Muslim landowners, while the majority of dependent peasants were Orthodox who cultivated the land, but were not the owners. After the war, an agrarian reform changed the rules according to the principle that land belongs to those who cultivate it. So, the ethnic picture of the land ownership changed radically and a majority of land holdings in Bosnia and Herzegovina started to be owned by the Orthodox.

Thirdly, inner-political changes should also be mentioned – all pre-war parties were dissolved, while new ones appeared. Some of them were based in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while others were based in other parts of the Kingdom. This gave a new impulse in political life of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the ethnic and political relations in the entire Kingdom remained tough and had long consequences that resulted in a disastrous conflict during the Second World War in Yugoslavia.

How to live with the war and its consequences?

The first World War left many scars in Europe, and everybody had to find its own way how to cope with the wounds created by the war.  The war also heavily influenced arts and culture. In this picture gallery we show some examples how writers and poets reflected about the war.


« Oh God ! How war is beautiful »
Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), known as being the precursor of surrealism, fought in WW1. He was wounded because of a shrapnel in the temple. To fight against traumatism and fear of the war, he wrote poems with an ironic tone. Sadly for him, he never saw the end of the war ; he died of a Spanish flu pandemic.
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Bibliography :

  • Adnan Jahić, Islamska zajednica u Bosni i Hercegovini za vrijeme monarhističke Jugoslavije (1918-1941), Zagreb: Medžlis Islamske zajednice za grad Zagreb, 2010.
  • C.L. Mowat (ed.), The New Cambridge modern history, vol. XII, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1968.
  • Erich Ludendorff, Urkunden der obersten Heeresleitung über ihre Tätigkeit, 1916-1918, Berlin : E. S. Mittler und sohn, 1920.
  • Hew Strachan, World War One : A History, New-York : Oxford University Press, 1998.


Mark Tinkovitch, Nataša Nović, Amir Krpić, Robin Marx

Next part: From war to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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