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The Legacy of World War I

Laura Mauck

HIS 354

December 3, 2014

The Great War of the Allies versus the Central powers is often remembered for two

things: trench warfare and a leading cause for World War II. The Treaty of Versailles is seen by

many historians as punishing Germany so much that it would eventually push back but it had a

much further impact on the world than just Europe. Weakening Germany included taking away

its colonies. The numerous lives within Germanys colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East

had little to nothing in common with Germany. The Europeans never fully considered the non-

Europeans when deciding the fate of former German colonies. The new borders created

resentment towards the Western world in Asia, Africa, and especially the Middle East that is still

being felt to this day.

The world in a sense belonged to Europeans up till the start of World War I. Up until

1914, the population of the world was made up of 40% of European decent. This dropped

significantly after the war as most who died were of European decent. (Soundhaus, 2011) Each

of the powerful countries and some weaker countries in Europe had their own colonies

throughout the globe. It was common for Europeans to see themselves as superior to the natives

of their colonies. Americans could understand this viewpoint because many were either

descended from Europeans or recently immigrated. European colonialism had a long history and

was more looked upon the value and power that owning the land gave to the country. There was

little thought given to the natives unless it was of using them to farm the land or in the case of

Africa be sold as slaves. When the time came in 1919 to decide what to do with defeated

Germanys colonies, Europeans only thought of themselves. Handing the colonies back over to

Germany was out of the question. Allowing them to be self-governing was just as ridiculous. The

answer was to divide them up between the victorious Allies. (Reid, 2009) Germany was being

punished with the Treaty of Versailles and removing its colonies was an aid to keep Germany

from growing too powerful. Natives of colonies still were not seen as equal to other Europeans

and would therefore be unable to govern themselves. Japan had been a great aid to Britain in the

war and proposed a statement of racial equality to be included in the Covenant of the League of

Nations. This clause was vetoed by American President Wilson. (Schuker, 2008)

During World War I, Japans navy had proven to be a great asset to Britain in the

Mediterranean. This led them to feel entitled to be rewarded in a sense. Japans request for racial

equality was quickly turned down so they requested the province of Shandong that Japan have

overtaken during the war. The problem came when China wished to own some of the province as

well. President Wilson worked hard to find a compromise but the Chinese delegation would not

take the deal. The Chinese leaders worked fast to place the blame onto Wilson. Three thousand

Chinese students met at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing and protested. (Schuker, 2008) This protest

came to be known as the May Fourth Movement and is often linked to the beginning of the

Communist party taking power in China. The May Fourth Movement and China is comparable to

the Boston Tea Party and the United States when viewing Chinese history books. (Wasserstrom,

2014) Seventy years later, Chinese students rose again to protest against the Chinese

Government in Tiananmen Square. The students harkened back to the May Forth Movement

claiming the government that ran China now was the same type of government the original

protestors campaigned against. (Wasserstrom, 2014) The protest in 1989 had been peaceful but

ended tragically when Chinese troops entered Tiananmen Square and fired upon the protestors

until the demonstration was over. There has yet to be a confirmed number of total deaths that

occurred that night. The ruling over Shandong was obviously the source of much protest which

was similar in nature to the decision of control over South West Africa.

Africa was a continent filled with European colonies. Mandates for all former German

colonies were created that would allow European controlled over the government until the

natives could do well independently. When determining who would control German South West

Africa it was obvious that it would be British South Africa as they had already been controlling

the colony under martial law once they had defeated the Germans there during the war. (Walshe

& Roberts, 1986) The economy was controlled in the same fashion as South Africa with a

concentration on mining and white farming. The Native South West Africans were seen only as a

source of labor. (Walshe & Roberts, 1986) This was a common viewpoint on all the Native

Africans throughout the colonies in Africa. Natives and the lands they occupied were solely seen

as a source of income as France and Britain divided the former German colonies between them.

Britain and France shared parts of Togo and Cameroon. Britain also gained Tanganyika while

Belgium was given the small colonies of Rwanda and Burundi. (Reid, 2009) South West Africa

became problematic by the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations. The

government of South Africa believed the mandate created by the League of Nations had expired

once the League had disbanded. (Gross, 1966) The court of the United Nations disagreed and

tried for many years to negotiate with South Africa. The policy of apartheid was seen as a

violation of the mandate as it was an extreme form of racial discrimination and the South African

government was to be held accountable. (Gross, 1966) The South West Africa People's

Organization, SWAPO, was founded to push for independence from South Africa. When the

South African troops would not leave after being ordered to by the United Nations SWAPO

turned to guerilla warfare. SWAPO would gain support from many other countries and fighting

lasted well into the 1980s. South Africa finally agreed to remove troops and allow diplomatic

elections in 1988. The following year a President was elected and the South African presence

was fully removed from the newly independent Namibia. (South African History Online, n.d.)

The British and the French were both members of the United Nations who pushed so hard for

South Africa to let go of South West Africa but they were both hypocritical because of their

exploits in the Middle East.

The Ottoman Empire had fallen by the end of World War I due to its alliance with

Germany. When the war ended Britain was in control of land that would later become Iraq,

Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Lawrence of Arabia had fostered an Arab uprising

by promising Arab independence and though they were rewarded with a large amount of territory

many Arabs believed the British had not fully stayed true to their promise. The British were seen

as arrogant for the way borders were drawn with no regard to the inhabitants. (Woodward, 2011)

Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq were to be governed by Britain and Syria was given to France. Syria

disliked this from the start and asked for independence or to be governed by Britain or the United

States. France removed the king the Arabs had chosen which led to an all-out uprising. (Roberts

& Westwad, 2013) The first major revolt occurred in 1925 and lasted until 1927 when Druze

rebels teamed with Damascus nationalists. In an effort to calm the situation, the French set up

elections in 1928 for a Constituent Assembly. Nationalists won in the election and drafted a new

constitution which would be applied to a geographical unified Syria which would not safeguard

French control. In 1930, the French high commissioner dissolved the Constituent Assembly and

redrafted a new constitution. Numerous negotiations were unsuccessful for a Franco-Syrian

treaty but in 1936 one was signed that gave Syria its independence with French advising on

foreign policy, aid and assistance, and French control of two military bases. Syria ratified the

treaty but France never did which caused the Parliament and President to resign and the

constitution to be suspended in 1939. (Salibi, 2014) During World War II the British and Free

French invaded and occupied Syria. The Free French declared Syria to be independent once they

had completed the invasion. Elections occurred in 1943 with nationalists winning again but there

was still two more years of dispute over the transferal of authority from the French government

to the Syrian government. The United Nations helped to finally reach an agreement for France to

withdraw from Syria in 1946. (Scullard, 2014) Nationalism would soon showcase that it did not

have the power to fully control the area when the Kurdish people north of Syria revolted against

the possibility of consolidation into an Arab state. (Roberts & Westward, 2013) Yet as difficult a

time that France had with Syria there was even more trouble with Britain in Palestine. Arabs in

Palestine were highly aggravated with Britains presence as the British Foreign Policy Secretary

supported the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine. (Woodward, 2011) Since 1921 there have

been anti-Jewish riots by Arabs who were distressed over Jewish immigration and new Jewish

control over Arab land. Palestine has since never been long at peace and this was cause by more

than religious or national feeling. Along with Jewish immigration came modernization with

changes in economics and forcing new demands on a traditional culture. (Roberts & Westad,

2013) In 1947 the United Nations voted to divide the area into two states, one Arab and one

Jewish; Jerusalem was granted a distinct status because of its importance to both religions. The

Jewish state became Israel in 1948 while the Arab countries against the division instantly

declared war. There was open warfare in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Peace talks began in the 1980s

but broke down several times and culminated with Palestinian Arabs rebelling in 1987 and

announcing an independent Palestinian state. This fighting continued into 1993 with many

aggressive fights between inhabitants of occupied territories and Israeli military forces. A

Palestinian-Israeli peace conference began in 1991 and an agreement was made in 1993 that gave

Palestinians self-rule over certain occupied areas. Peace was short lived due to an expansion of

Jewish settlement into East Jerusalem which was claimed by Palestinians. (West Bank and Gaza,

2014) Border disputes continue to this day with many lives being taken from the continued

fighting in the area. Little more than cease-fire between the two cultures has been achieved.

Looking over all of the lives impacted by the Treaty of Versailles, we can see how little

consideration was put forth by Europeans. The impact in China can still be felt with the

communist ruling that may have been stopped had the border disputes been handled differently.

Africa is still filled with numerous problems that could barely be touched upon in this paper. The

Middle East is almost brought up in the news every day and the effects of the Treaty of Versailles

can be easily seen. So when looking into the news today one does not need to go far into the past

to understand the tension between the Western world and the non-western world.


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