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European history term paper

"The First World War bore the traces of the old dynastic wars fought by the ruling classes to fine tune the balance of power and verify their mutual positions. After a long pregnancy, the nation-states had finally generated a conflict that befits their nature. It began with the ritualistic ultimatums and declarations of war, but from the very first it revealed that the peace treaty, if it ever existed (in the case of Germany it was never finalized), could simply have ratified the order that in the meantime the winner had imposed on the defeated populations. And so it happened. Almost every German military success created a new political situation. The military machine of the Reich was also a constitutional and administrative machine that, as it proceeded, continually transformed the political shape of Europe. The Soviet Union, Italy, the minor powers of the German coalition and later, when the war turned in their favour, the Atlantic democracies acted in the same way. The extraordinary result was that the two phases of the conflict - the time of the German victories and the time of Allied victories - produced two inverse orders that either overlapped each other or succeeded each other in a very short span of time. The period between 1939 and the immediate post-war period appears like a synoptic table in which two Europes lived side by side like Siamese twins, as if a historical Providence had wished to verify their viability on the live political and social body of the continent. The war was not only a long sequence of military events; it was also a political laboratory. Even though the western democracies chose to argue their war objectives with a different rhetorical discourse, the umbilical cord that united the "Siamese Europes" was the reaction to Versailles and the need to correct its errors. From the beginning, therefore, victory had meaning only if it could uproot one principle: the principle of nationality, which had made Europe ungovernable. But preventing the principle of nationality from continuing to be the "code" of European order did not mean ceasing to proclaim it when the national identity of the imperial power was at stake or not taking it into account, with the necessary adaptations to realpolitik, in order to regulate the relations between the smaller states. Paradoxically, national claims were all the more easily satisfied and national disputes all the more easily resolved if the contenders were subject to the rule of an "emperor" who maintained order, expeditiously unravelled the most controversial issues, and occasionally protected the weak from the tyranny of the strong. In the 1920s and 1930s Stalin had repeatedly changed the borders between the republics and the territories of the Soviet Union to please one or another of the various nationalities, and in doing so he sometimes had taken advantage of those changes to better impose his role as an arbiter. Now Hitler and Mussolini followed his example."

"By the close of the nineteenth century mechanized industry had become the most powerful force shaping western civilization. The machines outstripped the intention of their builders, economic materialism overshadowed the age, and Emerson's prophetic warning that 'Things are in the saddle and ride mankind' turned to sober truth. For machine production was dynamic and expansive; its energies outgrew control, transformed the structure of European society, and invaded remoter regions. The primary function of the machines was to pour out a flood of cheap, standardized commodities, but their influence did not end when this primary function was fulfilled: the multiplication of factories brought a rise in the urban proletariat until the armies of socialism threatened the bourgeois state. The quenchless hunger of the iron slaves for more raw materials and wider markets launched the industrial powers on a new campaign of colonial imperialism. The progress of industrialism in the final decades of the nineteenth century bore a direct relation to the growth of the proletariat and the pressure of imperialism and for all three developments power-driven machinery provided the principal moving force. In peace or war industrial machinery had become the indispensable instrument, the essential gauge of power. Area and population were no longer the most significant indices of a nation's economic productivity or war potential. Warfare itself was becoming industrialized, and a new ratio of strength had emerged that made manpower insufficient in battle unless it was backed by the tireless energy and prodigious output of a mechanized industry. In this new world of competing imperialisms no nation that lacked a well developed factory system could long sustain the role of a great power. This new dispensation by the god of the machine, this revision in the prerequisites of power, had not been fully grasped by political or military observers when the nineteenth century closed. In retrospect it becomes clear that three leading nations had far outrun their rivals in the race to exploit the advantages of an industrial economy. Great Britain had been the 'workshop of the world' for a hundred years, but by 1900 Germany and the United States had cut down the British lead."

"The assassin and his co-conspirators were members of a Serbian nationalist group called "the Black Hand". In less than five weeks the alliance systems of the great powers had turned this local incident into a European war. The origins of the First World War are a source of major historical controversy that has refused to disappear over the years. The historiographical debate must, therefore, inform any discussion about the events that "triggered" a European and then a world war in 1914. The origins of the war can be analysed in many different ways, but any attempt to explain its origins must take into account the immediate causes of the war and the long-standing reasons for instability and international tension in Europe. The list of general causes would include the colonial conflicts and the scramble for overseas possessions; the building up of new alliances and the formation of two power blocs; the escalation of the arms race; and the increasing conflicts in the Balkans. The illusions with which the First World War began all stemmed from the belief that it would be a short, clinical and controllable war ("it"ll all be over by Christmas"). These hopes were soon to be disappointed."

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