World War I: Political Consequences--Fall of Empire

Figure 1.--Here German boys are celebrating Kaiser Wilhelm's birthday (January 27, 1915). It was the Kaiser's decissions that set World war I in motion. Other European royalty which governed most of the continent also shared reponsibility to varying degrees. While the population at first rallied around their soverigns as the caualties mounted, the monarchies that launched the war declined in popularity. The result was that the four great empires imploded at the end of the war. The Tsar and his family was shot. The Kaiser had to flee to the Netherlands. Other German royalty were deposed. The Hapsburgs were expelled from Austria. The Ottoman Sultan was dethroned. Click on the image for a discusion of the group of boys here.

The political decisions that led to World War I were for the most pat made by the ruling monarchies of Europe. The 20th century was not kind to those great royal houses. The turn of the 20th century saw a Europe still largely dominated by monarchical government. The continent was largely controlled by four monarchical based empires: Austro-Hungary, Germany, the Ottomans, and Russia. Each were either absolute monarchies or monarchies in which the king or emperor while not absolute dominated the political system. And most of the rest of the continent was governed by various other monarchies. The only important republic was France. All other European states, with only minor exceptions, were ruled by hereditary monarchs. This vast monarchical system was virtually swept away in a few years by the maelstrom of the First World War. More than half of the monarchs were forced to abdicate. The Romanovs were shot. Most of the monarchs stepped down peacefully in the face of popular outrage over the war. New countries based on national ethnic groups emerged (Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey, and Yugoslavia). At the time it was seen as a progressive democratic step, but the nationalistic passions unleashed played a major role in the horrors of the Second World War. Monarchies in Austria, Italy, Germany, and Russia were replaced or eclipsed by totalitarian regimes of the left and right that were to challenge the very principle of democratic rule. And as seen still today in the Balkans, where the First World War erupted, the ultra-nationalist excesses that were once constrained by European monarchies have still not yet fully played out.


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Created: 6:57 AM 2/25/2012
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