"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are", David McCullough one said. This has been proven through the history of Europe from 1789 until today, the period of dramatic changes, extraordinary characters and highly influential events. In this paper, I am going to discuss about 5 historical elements that in my opinion are critical to "who we are and why we are the way we are": the Congress of Vienna, Napoleon Bonaparte, World War One, the Treaty of Versailles and Feminism along with the "New Women" movement.
The first critical event that I want to mention is the Congress of Vienna which was signed in September 1814. In my opinion, the Congress of Vienna is important because it efforts of solving two main problems of Europe at that time. One is the settling with France as preventing an outbreak similar to that of Napoleonic France was the leading objective of the Congress. Two is to face with the more delicate matter of negotiating the redistribution of territories among themselves in such a way as to create a new, maintainable stability. Ultimately, the Vienna Congress sought to restore legitimacy to many of the monarchs that had been removed from their thrones during Napoleons conquests. This short term action resulted in previous leaders returning to power in Holland, Sardinia, Tuscany and Modena. But nevertheless, in the remarkably successful effort to find and maintain a political equilibrium, the work of the Congress was carried out with such wise consideration that no single nation was so generously satisfied and no single nation so badly humiliated that resentment or desire for retaliation led to a large-scale or open conflict. The Congress of Vienna, convened to decide the fate France, was a major building block in the future of Europe and the conservative views of the leaders at the time led to a successful peace settlement to end the Napoleonic era. At least in the short term, the Congress was an ideological victory for conservatism.
But this doesn't mean that the Congress of Vienna didn't have flaw. A criticism of the Vienna Congress was that is blatantly ignored nationalistic and liberal tendencies that were emerging at the time. National boundaries were redrawn without out any consideration given to local and national ethnic groups. Liberalism and nationalism had great appeal as the first meant the drive to achieve equality of opportunity, while the second strove to achieve national unity which would replace old regimes based exclusively on aristocratic rule to one of citizen subjects. Government would be supported by all classes of society. Underlying socioeconomic and political changes began to emerge disrupting the status quo. Examples of French influence spread with respect to such matters as the centralization of government, the introduction of the Napoleonic Code,... Base on this, we can say that the achievement and effort of the Congress of Vienna is undeniable but there are things that could have been done to acquire long-term stability in Europe.
The next character is in closely relation with the Congress of Vienna or in another word, he is one of the main reasons of the formation of the Congress is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon has played in important role all over Europe in political along with societal aspects. But I think he is more than that to France. What makes Napoleon special is that Napoleon was different than previous French rulers and more successful in large part due to his tremendous diplomatic skill at appealing to all groups of people. In order to solidify his domestic strength, Napoleon worked out numerous agreements with powerful groups in France. Napoleon's famous Civil Code of 1804 appeased and gained the support of the middle class when he maintained the two principles of equality of all male citizens and absolute security of wealth and private property of himself. Napoleon's establishment of the Bank of France was also vital in that it created a body which served the interests of state as well as his government, thus solving the financial problems that France had been facing during the reign of the Directory. Thus, by continuing to vouch for this new economic order, Napoleon also gained support from the peasantry, who saw themselves more empowered in terms of land and status compared to before. As if this wasn't enough, Napoleon also strengthened the bureaucracy, continually empowering each level of the bureaucracy and rewarding them well for their services; he also signed the Concordat of 1801 with Pope Pius VII in order to ensure the political influence of his own government over church affairs. In fact, except for the critical status of women, who saw their power decline dramatically from the actual French Revolution to after the Napoleonic Era, all other classes in France gained became more prominent and more empowered. This renewed sense of importance contributed greatly to a patriotic, nationalistic fervor as each citizen felt increasingly important individually and a part of something great. Under Robespierre and Napoleon, citizens of France began to feel that they could effect change, that France was not just a king's nation, but a nation of the people as well.
In addition to the empowerment of the French people, Napoleon also leave France dramatic changes in the legal system, government administration, economic affairs, and the education system. Napoleon instituted many significant changes to the French government. In the area of law and justice, he created the Napoleonic Code. This did many things for the citizens of France, such as declaring all men equal before the law, without regard for rank or wealth. Also, the Code gave France a single and coherent system of law, something that the Age of Enlightenment and the Revolution had tried but failed to do. Within that law, the people had the right to choose their own religion and occupation. Moreover, Napoleon also improved the economic system. The economy of France had been in decline in the years before Napoleon. France was in a lot of debt and laid very heavy taxation on its people. Napoleon changed all this for the better. He was able to balance the budget with the money he gained from the battles France had won. Ultimately, Napoleon was the first leader after the Revolution to stabilize the government and economy of France. Even though this may not be as memorable as his military conquests, it was of more practical importance to the people of France.
War is an unfortunate product of human society but we cannot deny its importance of dramatically changing the world. And one of the most important wars is the World War One (WWI). As the first Total War also known as the bloodiest war of the century, WWI proved to have a great impact upon all of Europe, in another word, WW1 can be said to have carried drastic political impacts on Russia, significant upon Germany and minor upon the remaining powers. A direct impact upon politics of the time was the governments' abrupt reduction of political freedom. This advanced as a consequence of mobilization of countries in order to support war effort, examples of which could be found in Britain, where magazines were subject to government censorship under the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA), introduced in 1914. Essentially, the DORA granted the government extensive powers during the war period, such as the power to requisition buildings or land needed for the war effort. Some of the things the British public was not allowed to do include; flying a kite or lighting a bonfire. Secondly, the nature of political regimes had actually reformed. For several countries, like France and Britain, the change was very slight. (WWI)
In Britain, the regime remained a constitutional monarchy and changes took place within: the implementation of conscription, the introduction of the DORA, trade union bans, active propaganda and even the introduction of food rationing in 1918. Similarly France remained a republic. The minor amendments in France included the exercise of war power steadily shifting from the hands of the military leadership into the hands of a more confident political coalition of the center left: civilian control over the army. In Germany the evolution in regime was more significant, it allowed for a new 'silent dictatorship', where the Kaiser had effectively no control over the army and hence the military took all major decisions on warfare. This impact was more noteworthy because it changed German politics completely, allowing for the Kaiser's abdication and could even be described as one of the reasons for German defeat. In the case of Austria-Hungary the Empire was slowly falling apart in the process of the war. (WWI)
Nonetheless, in contrast, Russia underwent the most drastic change in regime: two revolutions as an impact of WW1. First, the dislocation of the Tsar's authority in March 1917 came as a result of his leaving to the front to command the army, hence leaving the government even weaker then before. The Provisional government and Soviet's duality of power was still shattered by war opposition in favors of Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, primarily because Bolsheviks promised peace and end to desperateness and exhaustion the war has imposed upon Russia. As we can see clearly now that WWI is not only the bloodiest war but also a tremendous impact toward Europe in general and the countries that attended the war in particular.
In the aftermaths of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles is highlighted as an effort of preventing such a war from repetition and also as an settlement of the parties. The positive impact of the Treaty is undeniable. First, national identity was recognized within countries like Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. They all became independent nations in their own rights instead of being controlled. Second, the treaty achieved a lesser likely hood of war by Great powers such as Austria- Hungary and Germany because they had been made weaker.
In another hand, I believe to a large extent that the Treaty of Versailles that followed WWI was one of the main causes of the World War II. The treaty of Versailles was an unfair and a harsh treaty. The Big Four forced the German government to sign this treaty and so the government did not have any other choice. This treaty was a great humiliation to the Germans, as they had to do what the Big Four wanted. The Germans were to take the full blame for starting the World War I and they were made to pay compensation in form of huge amounts of money and goods. The Germans had to agree to a clause in the treaty, which declared that Germany itself had been guilty of violence and held solitary responsibility for the war and its losses. Germany had to pay US $33 billion in reparations for the war and the treaty imposed Germany's military strict restrictions. It was limited to 100 000 men with no aircraft, tanks or heavy guns and the Rhine River between Germany, France and Belgium was occupied by Allied troops and was permanently demilitarized. The impact of the treaty and under the terms of the territorial settlement Germany lost 7 million German-speaking citizens and territory, some to Poland, some to Czechoslovakia. The Polish Corridor also divided Germany into two. Besides, Germany lost all of its colonies, 12.5 percent of its territory, all foreign investments and most of its merchant fleet, and these colonies would be run by one of victorious powers until they were ready to gain independence.
In addition, the Germany new leader, Adolf Hitler, was unhappy with this harsh treaty set by the Big Four. He promised that he would reverse the terms of the treaty of Versailles. He then abolished the treaty of Versailles and he tried to bring back all the Germans into a Greater Germany. He also tried to regain lands that were belonged to the Germany. At that time, France and Britain were having economic problems and so they did not really pay attention on what Hitler had done. When Hitler tried to invade Poland, France and Britain started the World War II in order to stop Hitler from invading Poland. This showed that the unfairness of the treaty caused the World War II. Consequently, the Treaty of Versailles did cause some positive impacts toward Europe after WWI but these impacts was shadowed by the biggest negative impact of being one of the main cause of the second largest war in the history of the world, WWII.
In the context of WWI and WWII, there was a movement during the war time that was called "the waves" of liberation of women, Feminism along with the "New Woman" movement(1871-1914). During this period, Feminism aimed at eliminating inequality between men and women. It has a set of principles for actions whose purpose was to build a better world. Feminism has constituted an international phenomenon. The rise in level of women's political consciousness occurred in the most advanced Western countries almost simultaneously and had a predominantly middle-class character. Working class women, most notably in Germany, united feminism and socialism in search of better life. These are some of the early achievements of Feminism in Europe in the end of 19th century.
Along with these achievements, in the end of 19th century, Feminism caused a really important movement that changed the perspective of societies about women forever, the "New Women" movement. This movement has made a big impact on the changes in European and the world's society, including women's suffrage; broad employment for women at more equitable wages or equal pay for equal work, the right to initiate divorce proceedings, and the right to medical decisions. First is the working situation and condition. During the first and second World Wars, a greater percentage of women were found to be in the labor force relative to the previous years. Due to the severity of the war, so many men were actually involved in fighting as such the male population of the work force was actually in short. Hence there was the need to employ more and more women into the productive sectors, primarily the food as well as the military equipment factories. This certainly created a new thinking within women of being able to work and to be independent. This thinking actually affects the new perspective toward women in later years and is the stepping stone for larger women liberation movements. Second is the open toward birth-control and sex life. Women by that time have rights to control their own bodies. Birth-control was introduced and this gave women more control of themselves. They also began to have the right to make decisions about abortion. They were able to experience sex with more freedom than what was previously socially accepted for them. This sexual revolution that women were then able to experience was seen as positive as it enabled women and men to experience sex in a free and equal manner. Overall, Feminism along with the "New Women" movement has been the main reason for women's liberation and changed the world perspective about women in general. Women have been giving power to work, to control their own body through birth-control and to discuss about sex more freely.
In conclusion, we have seen in this paper five elements of history, five critical element that helped shaping up a period of Europe full of changing, achievements, successes and of course failures. That is the Congress of Vienna which is an ideological victory of conservatism. That is Napoleon Bonaparte, the leader who stabilized the political and economic system of France and also turned it into a nation of the people. That is WWI, the bloodiest war which had shown Europe the counter effect of the desire for power. That is the Treaty of Versailles, one of the reason for the second largest war the world has ever seen. That also is Feminism along with the "New Women" movement, a new liberation for women. This paper is a confirmation of history and its power to change, to effect and to evolve the human society.
"World War I and its Aftermaths: 1914-1919", April 24th, 2009.