First World War · United States

November 11, 1918–WW1 Ends

97 years ago, one of the most life-changing, world-changing events came shuddering to a rough halt–World War 1. On November 11, 1918, leaders signed the papers that ended this horrendous conflict once and for all.

WW1 soldiers on their way to the front lines
https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8322/7982549761_23b3116dc2_b.jpg

As I was deciding which topic to write about today, I tried to hide from this one. It is too big–too daunting. I don’t know enough about it to do this topic justice. I don’t typically research wars nor do I have any interest in war stories, movies, books, etc. It’s never been something that had my interest.

But, try as I might, I could not hide from this topic. It is too big. It is too daunting. And it changed the world in so many ways. Many of us will never know all of the changes this war affected in every aspect of life, society, and the world at large.

Instead of listing a timeline and play-by-play of WW1 events, I’d like to comment on something else. I want to write about the effects this conflict had on society and the world. There is no way I’ll be able to cover them all. We probably don’t have the ability to know all of the changes WW1 affected. So, instead, I will list the societal and cultural changes that spoke to my heart.

Fighting Technology

WW1 began as many earlier wars had–with soldiers on horseback. However, during this war, fighting technology increased dramatically and the war ended with weapons like machine guns, bombs, submarines, etc. While battles were much more successful than they had ever been–depending on which side you ask–this increase in brutal war technology also led to a MUCH higher death toll than any previous war.

WW1 trenches
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/Royal_Irish_Rifles_ration_party_Somme_July_1916.jpg

Other Technology

WW1 was essentially the first war of which we have photographs. Cameras had been too big and cumbersome before that. Soldiers took much smaller, hand-held cameras with them on their daily exploits–and much of what we know about this war is from the photographs captured. Everything from the violence to the daily life of a soldier was documented–moments frozen in time.

WW1 soldiers
http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-DI949_0621WW_G_20140620141644.jpg

Drugs & Alcohol 

According to one article–and I can’t find much to back it up–“Church attendance plummeted, but night clubs were jammed by those who could afford them. Cocaine stopped being a medicine and became a recreational drug along with alcohol.” click here for more info on this

New Countries–Essentially a New Globe

The countries of Yugoslavia and Iran were among the many that emerged new on globes and maps following WW1. Post-WW1 Russia was much smaller than it had been going into the conflict.

Pre- and Post-WW1 map
http://mrknighths.weebly.com/uploads/1/7/5/1/17517537/1362054795.png

America’s Involvement in Major Conflicts

As an American, there are times I am unable to keep all of the conflicts our brave soldiers stand behind and even fight on the front lines for every day. I have a lot of homework to do to ensure I’m not ignorant or ungrateful for these amazing soldiers. However, prior to America joining WW1, it was unheard of for anyone to call America into a conflict. America was young, not very well-established. One article called America a “political teenager.” http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/inside-story/articles/2014/8/5/world-war-i-fouryearsthatchangedtheglobeforever.html

American Superiority

As I write this section, I cringe, because I am proud to be an American. I am pretty guilty of what other nations deem superiority and condescension–even if I don’t mean to project this. For the record, I have a great love for and pride in my country–and do NOT think I am better than those of any other nation. However, because I have so much love and pride for my country, I have always wondered if it was always this way. I assumed it was this way since the colonialists split off and wanted their own place–their own country.

According to an article I researched, this wasn’t the case. Europe was the world’s superpower pre-WW1. They had better militaries and fleets, better value to their money, and really–just more power. America was not considered a major contender, but kind of a newbie.

After WW1, America was one of the few countries to come out relatively unscathed. The war had boosted America’s economy in a BIG way, and the world superpower shifted away from broken and shattered Europe to America. For once, America had a navy that could rival that of Britain. Its monetary value had dramatically increased. America became the “largest manufacturer” and also became “the world’s largest creditor.” http://www.wsj.com/articles/world-war-i-the-war-that-changed-everything-1403300393

The article that cites most of this also goes on to say: “American exceptionalism—that sense of being both different and better than the rest of the world—had also been reinforced.”

Women in the Workforce

For the first time in history, women were needed to work outside the home. It wasn’t unheard of for a woman to work outside her home prior to WW1, but it was extremely rare. However, with the majority of America’s men on the battlefield, they realized that they’d have to call upon a very capable and willing populace–the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters of the soldiers.

One article I read claims that “during the war, women joined the work force in greater numbers than ever before, helping create a momentum which led to the legalization of female suffrage under the 19thAmendment in 1920.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/daily_videos/how-wwi-changed-the-world-forever/

Women working in WW1
http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/graphics/nw_polish_ref_01.jpg

Sickness

In WW1, many soldiers came into contact with a virulent strain of influenza. When troops returned home to America, they brought this unfortunate malaise with them. An article I read stated that an “estimated 50 million died” of this influenza. http://www.wsj.com/articles/world-war-i-the-war-that-changed-everything-1403300393

1918 Influenza Pandemic
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/CampFunstonKS-InfluenzaHospital.jpg

WW1–in a lot of ways–changed the way people thought, changed the way wars were fought, changed society’s views of women and their traditional roles, and changed the way countries resolved issues going forward. Not all of these were good changes–as many speculate that the second World War was brought about largely due to resentments of the countries punished in the aftershocks of WW1. I’d be curious to know if any other war had this big of an impact on my own country. Maybe that is too hard to compare/measure and should be left purely to speculation. In the meantime, I think I will enjoy trying to learn what other big and small changes stemmed from this horrible conflict.

Sources:

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