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Social, Political and Economic Effects of Wwi

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Social, Political and Economic Effects of WWI

"Everywhere in the world was heard the sound of things breaking." Advanced European societies could not support long wars or so many thought prior to World War I. They were right in a way. The societies could not support a long war unchanged. The First World War left no aspect of European civilization untouched as pre-war governments were transformed to fight total war. The war metamorphed Europe socially, politicaly, economically, and intellectualy.

European countries channeled all of their resources into total war which resulted in enormous social change. The result of working together for a common goal seemed to be unifying European societies. Death knocked down all barriers between people. All belligerents had enacted some form of a selective service which levelled classes in many ways. Wartime scarcities made luxury an impossibility and unfavorable. Reflecting this, clothing became uniform and utilitarian. Europeans would never again dress in fancy, elaborate costumes. Uniforms led the way in clothing change. The bright blue-and-red prewar French infantry uniforms had been changed after the first few months of the war, since they made whoever wore them into excellent targets for machine guns. Women's skirts rose above the ankle permanently and women became more of a part of society than ever. They undertook a variety of jobs previously held by men. They were now a part of clerical, secretarial work, and te! aching. They were also more widely employed in industrial jobs. By 1918, 37.6 percent of the work force in the Krupp armaments firm in Germany was female. In England the proportion of women works rose strikingly in public transport (for example, from 18,000 to 117,000 bus conductors), banking (9,500 to 63,700), and commerce (505,000 to 934,000). Many restrictions on women disappeared during the war. It became acceptable for young, employed, single middle-class women to have their own apartments, to go out without chaperones, and to smoke in public. It was only a matter of time before women received the right to vote in many belligerent countries. Strong forces were shaping the power and legal status of labor unions, too. The right of workers to organize was relatively new, about half a century. Employers fought to keep union organizers out of their plants and armed force was often used against striking workers. The universal rallying of workers towards their flag at the beginning of the war led to wider acceptance of unions. It was more of a bureaucratic route than a parliamentary route that integrated organized labor into government, however. A long war was not possible without complete cooperation of the workers with respect to putting in longers hours and increasing productivity. Strike activity had reached its highest levels in history just before the war. There had been over 1,500 diffent work stoppages in France and 3,000 in Germany during 1910. More than a million British workers stopped at one time or another in 1912. In Britain, France, and Germany, deals were struck between unions and government to eliminate strikes and less favorable work conditions in exchange for immediate integration into the government process. This integration was at the cost of having to act more as managers of labor than as the voice of the labor. Suddenly, the strikes stopped during the first year of the war. Soon the enthusiasm died down, though. The revival of strike activity in 1916 shows that the social peace was already wearing thin. Work stoppages and the number of people on strike in France quadrupled in 1916 compared to 1915. In Germany, in May 1916, 50,000 Berlin works held a three-day walkout to protest the arrest of the pacifist Karl Liebknecht. By the end of the war most had rejected the government offer of being integrated in the beaurocracy, but not without playing an important public role and gaining some advantages such as collective bargaining. The war may have had a leveling effect in many ways, but it also sharpened some social differences and conflicts.

Soldiers were revolting just like workers:

The soldiers were no longer willing to sacrifice their lives when shirkers at home were earning all the money, taking, the women around in cars, cornering all the best jobs, and while so many profiteers were waxing rich.

The draft was not completely fair since to all men were sent to the trenches. Skilled workers were more important to industry and some could secure safe assignments at home. Unskilled young males and junior officers paid with their lives the most. The generation conflict was also widened by the war as Veterans' disillusionment fed off of anger towards the older generation for sending them to the trenches.

Governments took on many new powers in order to fight the total war. War governments fought opposition by increasing police power. Authoritarian regimes like tsarist Russia had always depended on the threat of force, but now even parliamentary governments felt the necessity to expand police powers and control public opinion. Britain gave police powers wide scope in August 1914 by the Defense of the Realm Act which authorized the public authorities to arrest and punish dissidents under martial law if necessary. Through later acts polices powers grew to include suspending newspapers and the ability to intervene in a citizen's private life in the use of lights at home, food consumption, and bar hours. Police powers tended to grow as the war went on and public opposition increased as well. In France a sharp rise of strikes, mutinies, and talk of a negotiated peace raised doubts about whether France could really carry on the war in 1917. A group of French political leaders ! decided to carry out the war at the cost of less internal liberty. The government cracked down on anyone suspected of supporting a compromise peace. Many of the crackdowns and treason charges were just a result of war hysteria or calculated politcal opportunism. Expanded police powers also included control of public information and opinion. The censorship of newspapers and personal mail was already an established practice. Governments regularly used their power to prevent disclosure of military secrets and the airing of dangerous opinions considering war efforts. The other side of using police power on public opinion was the "organizing of enthusiasm," which could be thought of as:

Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people; the organization embraces within its scope only those who do not threaten on psychological grounds to become a brake on the further dissemination of the idea.

World War I provided a place for the birth of propaganda, which countries used with even more frightening results

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