November 11, 1918: The Compiègne armistice ends the First World War

The First World War was the first global and industrialized conflict with consequences hitherto unknown. Tension in Europe resulting from the arms race and imperialist rivalries in Africa and Asia erupted in 1914 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at the hands of a Bosnian Serb nationalist. The war spread rapidly due to the alliances that divided Europe into the Triple Entente, formed by France, the United Kingdom and Russia, and the Triple Alliance, led by Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, which would later switch sides.

The initial offensives failed and the war stagnated until 1917. The Russian Revolution in October brought the Bolsheviks to power with the aim of abandoning the war, so the Peace of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 liberated the Eastern Front, which which allowed the Central Empires to focus on the west. However, the Allies limited the offensive, as the United States had increased its participation after declaring war on Germany in April 1917 for sinking ships carrying American passengers.

The Central Empires, drowned, signed peace in 1918: Bulgaria, on September 28; the Ottoman Empire, on October 30, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on November 3. Once the German Empire was isolated, Kaiser William II abdicated and the Republic was proclaimed, signing the armistice on November 11 on a train in the forest of the French town of Compiègne before representatives of France and the United Kingdom.

Peace conditions for another world order

The meeting to agree on peace conditions was the Paris Conference in 1919. The negotiations, led by the winning states, were complicated by the different positions. While France wanted to punish Germany, its historical rival, and prevent future threats, American President Woodrow Wilson defended his Fourteen Points on anti-colonialism, free trade and cooperation through an international organization.

But, above all, Versailles addressed the conditions imposed on Germany, which it blamed for the war: the country was demilitarized and condemned to an abusive debt for compensation to the victors. In addition, France recovered Alsace and Lorraine, the League of Nations would administer its colonies until independence, and eastern Germany fell to Poland, which would act as a wall for Bolshevism along with the new republics that had become independent from the former Russian Empire.

The respective treaties were also signed with the rest of the defeated countries, which led to a new map of Eastern Europe: the great empires disappeared, giving way to nation-states. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was divided into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, while the Ottoman Empire was reduced to modern-day Turkey after losing the British and French mandates in the Middle East.

The road to World War II

The postwar crisis was in turn the perfect climate for social unrest. The triumph of the Russian Revolution, for example, stimulated socialist and communist revolutionary movements. On the other hand, the incorporation of women into work to make up for the lack of male labor during the war promoted the fight for their political rights. Likewise, nationalism grew among the ex-combatants, which spread as economic difficulties and non-payment of debts increased.

The United States, then, intervened in the economic crisis with the Dawes Plan of 1924 to guarantee international financial stability. Their credits allowed a feeling of well-being exaggerated by a blind trust in capitalism during the Roaring Twenties, but that feeling ended with the crash of ’29. Washington reacted by changing cooperation for protectionism and nationalism, and its allies imitated it. Along with resentments over the peace conditions and broken promises of war, this acted as a breeding ground for fascist movements in Italy, Germany and Spain.

The League of Nations, condemned from its beginning, since its supporter, the United States, did not participate after the rejection of the Senate, was incapable of fulfilling its basic points, such as disarmament or the resolution of tensions through dialogue. Its failure was evident when imperial Japan, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy abandoned it between 1933 and 1936. Its passivity, marked by the policy of appeasement, in the face of the actions of the Axis and the Spanish civil war would lead to a new war. world.