WWI came to be known as the ‘Great War’. It pitted opponents allied to Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary against Great Britain France and Russia. It is estimated that the war resulted in the deaths of 19 million combatants, with a further 23 million injured. It saw the young men of entire continent decimated with adverse effects on family structures and it also saw the economies of the countries that took part in the conflict shattered. the ripple effects of the war would be felt for years to come – and sow the seeds of an even greater conflict – WW2.
There were other consequences to the war. It is no exaggeration to say that WWI changed the face of the world. Strange to say that while most of the effects of the war (in both the short and medium-term) were negative it did result in innovation in a number of fields.
Aside from the enormous loss of life caused by the fighting, there were other deaths that were due to troop movement. Troops traveling to far-flung battlefields carried with them the virus that is responsible for influenza. The unprecedented numbers of troop and the rapidity of their movements, as well as the number of countries involved, meant that influenza could spread like wildfire – and it did. It is estimated that the war was responsible for around 25 million influenza-related deaths.
The deaths on the battlefield and through illnesses that spread through civilian populations led to nothing short of a revolution as far as societal roles were concerned.
Women had assumed many commercial and industrial roles during the war as a direct result of the numbers of able-bodied men that were sent to the battlefields of Europe. After the war, a raft of new labor laws was promulgated in regions like the United Kingdom. Society had grown weary of war – everyone was now looking forward to a new life of prosperity. Hand in hand with this came a dissatisfaction with the status quo as regards labor conditions and traditional gender roles.
There can be no doubt that science and technological innovation advanced in leaps and bounds during the war. Medicine saw innovations such as blood transfusion and mobile x-ray machines as well as innovation in facial reconstruction, neurosurgery and the use of prosthetics. Communication technology advanced as did the design and production of both ground-based and aerial vehicles. Air traffic control became more advanced. innovations in health also occurred – the sanitary napkin was invented.
However, other innovations in the art of causing death and destruction were also to have long term effects. Grenades became common. Aerial combat and aerial bombing also became the norm. Tanks rolled out onto battlefields and machine guns became deadlier.
The legacy of World War I was bitterness. It was this dissatisfaction with the terms of the armistice that were to sow the seeds of an even greater conflict – World war II. The war had resulted in the formation of the League of nations – a body aimed at resolving conflict – however, this was to prove inadequate and the war would again engulf the world.