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World War One WWI 1914 - 1918 - The Aftermath

The few years after the war saw more boundary changes world wide than in any similar timescale before or since. It also saw the creation of more new countries than ever before. This was an unprecedented world wide political upheaval.

The British Empire

Britain started the war ruling the biggest empire the world had ever seen and ended up with it even bigger. The only major loss was England's oldest colony Ireland, next door, who had been ruled by England since the 1200s when King Henry 2nd was asked by an Irish war lord to come and make peace between the warring local chiefs. England had ruled them for the next 700 years.

After 1918 Britain gained territory from Germany in Africa making British rule continuous from Cape Town to the Suez Canal and they promptly built a railway northwards to the Mediterranean to prove it.

The Middle East

Britain was also given a mandate (from the League of Nations- Original United Nations) to rule parts of the Middle East which they had so thoroughly conquered. This included Mesopotamia, now Iraq and Palestine allowing Britain to implement a home land in the "Biblical Promised Land" for the persecuted Jews. The land for the Jews is now called Israel. The League also gave Britain the land then called Trans Jordon which straddled the ancient and historic River Jordon. Hence Britain had the task and the lands for sorting out the desert territories for the nomadic Arabs as well as the Jews, a task which they have found impossible to resolve amicably. (France was allocated Syria and Lebanon).
This sounds all very profitable for England but the contrary was the case. The unrest in Ireland creating the separation from the Mother Country England was noticed in many places throughout the huge British Empire. The loving colonies had seen how Britain needed them when the chips were down as much or more than they needed England. The under-current of a desire for home rule grew stronger and stronger. The strongest feelings were in Britain's largest and economically most important colony, India were Britain, as in Ireland had been bullying the local inhabitants from the commencement of occupation. Things had to change.

The League of Nations

The two most important centres of authority after the war were the British in London and the League of Nations in Switzerland, which was a precursor for the United Nations. France took the lead in Europe as Britain's strengths and interests were always outside Europe.
A League of Nations had been discussed for some 10 years but was finally formed on the 10th of January 1920, headquartered in Geneva Switzerland. President Woodrow Wilson was a strong supporter and facilitator but the US never joined as he could not get Congress to agree.

The Treaty of Versailles (France), 28th June 1919

Main participants, France, Britain, US
This was held in Paris as France had suffered much more than any of the other Allies as Germany had occupied much of the extreme north of France north of Paris for the 4 years of the war and had destroyed many of the French towns and vital industries including the French coal fields. France wanted:-

  • Germany who was already bankrupt to pay for all the damage and compensate France for the long term loss of its coal fields by giving all the coal from the German Ruhr area to France.
  • France also wanted to forbid the Germans the right to re-build any war equipment like ships, guns, aeroplanes or tanks or to have an army of more than 100,000 troops who of course could not be properly armed.

The French got most of what they asked for even though the figures were so huge that Germany could never have paid. The internationally respected British economist John Maynard Keynes spelt out to France the reaction Germany would have to this in the years ahead but they would not listen. The result 20 years later was World War 2 when France found themselves totally under German occupation for 4 years until liberated by the US and the British Empire once again.

The Middle East
The treaty of Lausanne July 1923, the Sykes-Picot agreement, 1915/16 and the Balfour Declaration November 1917.
Britain and their Commonwealth supporters had convincingly conquered the Islamic Ottoman Middle East including retaking the Jerusalem from the Muslims , the first time since the Crusades 700 years before.

Iraq
Britain was authorised through a League of Nations Mandate re-create a stable state in this historic country the cradle of civilisation with a population of 30 million people in 500 BC. Iraq had been under Turkish Ottoman rule for the previous 400 years who being a Sunni empire had suppressed the Shia of Iraq to form a Sunni ruled state as a buffer against the warring Shia Iranians. Englands main preoccupation was to insure Iraqi (and Iranian) oil was available at a good price to fuel the British economy. Little time was spent on trying to understand the Sunni Shia problem and what would happen when the Arabs were left to themselves.

Palestine and Jordan
The British and French (messers Mark Sykes and Francois Picot) had been discussing the problems in the area on the basis that the war in the Middle East conflict against the Ottomans would be won as for back as 1915. They had agreed the French would take Syria and Lebanon and the British would take the rest, mainly Iraq above and Palestine and Jordan. The British had also been discussing creating a "Home for the Jews" with Jewish leaders including Lord Rothschild probably the wealthiest banker in the world and who had lived in England for most of his life. Britain and the US plus Holland were probably the only countries in the Christian world who did not murder and perpetually harass Jews. The original Biblical "Promised Land" in Palestine was the chosen centre. Lord Balfour had persuaded the British government to do all in their power to implement this decision for the sake of the Jews. Now Britain had the opportunity.

The Jews got their Biblical territory (except strangely the West Bank) but Israel is not recognised even today by many Muslim countries as is now obvious (Iran and Hamas in Gaza Palestine). The Arabs were rather sold down the line as the recognised ruler of Mecca Sharif Husain bin Ali who had been promised all lands between Persia and the Mediterranean would have found himself under British or French rule if he had not died in 1917. It is important to note that Husain wanted the capital of the Arab states to be Damascus in Syria not Jerusalem. His sons went on to rule Jordon and Iraq within the mandate.

Two astonishing English people should be mentioned who helped draw up plans for the State of Iraq both highly respected even today in Baghdad. Firstly Lawrence of Arabia who knew the country and the people better than any other non Arabic man. Lawrence died back in England possibly suicide when he realised the Arabs were not getting the country as they had been promised and a woman less known but equally if not better informed than Lawrence a Gertrude Bell. Bell had met with and worked with Lawrence but was respected even more by both the British and Arab leaders.

Bell born in Washington county Durham England, was the daughter of an English MP and with his influence went to Oxford and obtained a History degree. She was quickly on the move and travelled to Tehran in 1888 to visit her Uncle who was a minister there. She grew to be fascinated by the Desert and the people and became fluent in Persian and Arabic. In 1889 she visited Syria and Palestine and became a serious archaeologist writing many books and taking many photos very successfully with such a new medium in such harsh conditions. During the war she worked for the British government along with Lawrence in Cairo and helped him to persuade the desert Arabs to rise up against the Ottomans. She had a unique position and knowledge as being a woman she was invited to the homes of Arabs, met their wives and heard news that nobody else could obtain. It was Winston Churchill who asked her to draw up the boundary lines for the new Iraq and she only disagreed with Lawrence over whether to include the Kurds or not.

The British Isles
At home in the British Isles then, England, Scotland, Wales and all Ireland the latter had being fighting England for Home Rule for 50 years and on and off for the previous 300 years. After the war they achieved it in part as the Catholic South was ideologically never comfortable being ruled by Protestants. The northern 25% who had been planted there from Protestant Scotland in Elizabethan/Jacobean times wanted to stay in the Union and Northern Ireland was born. There followed almost 100 years of bloody sectarian infighting with uncomfortable likeness to the religious conflicts in the Middle East.

Britain
In what is now called Great |Britain and Northern Ireland women who had done men's work during the war were finally given the right to vote alongside men and the slow battle for equality with men in the work place and in the home commenced. That battle is now largely won.

The British Labour party which had grown out of the trade union movement in Victorian times over took the Liberal party and became the largest party behind the Conservatives in the early 1920s and the mass exploitation of the Working Classes was finally brought under control.

Finally Europe

Following the Versailles Agreement, these were the main boundary changes.

  • Germany lost all the territory they had gained in the war and modern Germany was born. As well as loosing all their war gains like a quarter of Russia and the whole of Belgium they lost Alsace and Lorraine which the Germans had taken from France in 1870. Most significantly they lost East Prussia the birth place of the German movement with is huge port of Danzig now Gdansk. East Prussia more than 500 years ago had been part of Poland.

  • Poland: A country called Poland was first created by Slavic migrants in the 10th century. It rose to be a significant local power in the 1300s when it joined forces with Lithuania and they expanded significantly west into Germany and east into Russia. Disaster struck in 1772 when the country was split into 3 by Russia, Germany (Prussia) and the Austro Hungarian Empire. They also lost their extensive coastline and ports in the Baltic sea and became landlocked. In 1914 a country called Poland did not appear on the majority of maps. After the war during the discussions in Versailles, Poland was once more recreated but was again a major theatre of war in the 39-44 war. Poland probably now feels safer than it has been for 200 years under the umbrella of the European Community especially when they look over the boarder to their neighbour Ukraine.

  • Balkans. The word Balkans again does not appear on many current maps of Europe but its individual countries now take pride of place including Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria etc. The Balkans had been part of the Islamic Ottoman Empire headquartered in Istanbul since the 1300s but with the steady weakening of the Ottomans as their Islamic faith caused them to fall behind the economies of the rest of Europe including even Russia countries like Greece and Serbia who had retained their Christian Orthodox faith from Byzantine times and Croatia who retained their Roman Christian faith flexed their muscles and the Balkan Wars were the result when they finally drove the Ottomans back into modern day Turkey.

    This immediately encouraged the Catholic Austro Hungarian Empire to occupy Croatia and the Orthodox Christian Russians to embrace Serbia. This was one of the triggers to world war. After the war internal conflicts continued until a local Croatian/Slovenian strongman to be called Tito who created Yugoslavia (Southern Slavs) and stopped the internal bickering and even managed to keep clear of Stalin's "Iron Curtain" after World War 2. Yugoslavia lasted until 1992 when an internal war broke out again with religious wars between Christian Serbs and Islamic Bosnians. Britain was heavily involved with brokering a cease fire.