The war of 1914-18 was the greatest blood-letting man had perpetrated on his own species to this point in recorded history. Novelists in the years preceding the opening of hostilities had attempted to portray the horror and carnage that a modern industrial war would unleash, they didn’t come close.
The arms race, which was at its height between 1908 and 1914, meant that military spending in Europe increased by 50 per cent. This increase in spending on armaments prompted the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George to write of it in January 1914:
“I cannot think of any advantage which has been reaped by any country in the world from this increase in military and naval expenditure. But I can think of a good deal of harm which has been done to all countries . . . The common sense of the industrial classes, be they capitalist or labour, has risen against this organized insanity. This is a propitious moment for reconsidering the question of armaments.” None of the European adversaries took any notice.
What can be argued with justification is that the monarchies of all four of the great powers, Britain, Russia, Austro-Hungary and Germany were either unprepared for leadership, too old, or irrational and easily manipulated by a small coterie of military advisers. All four failed to provide the resolution, direction or coordination of their respective foreign policies. They were little more than spectators as Europe and the world in the words of David Lloyd George, “slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war.”
By the end of the War, four major imperial powers—the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and the other colonial powers of Italy, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and even Belgium — that controlled vast territories, were either destroyed or much reduced in influence. British and European society had undergone irrevocable change. It was in effect an historical full stop. It marked the definitive end of the Victorian era and the advent of a new age of uncertainty.
Australia, pre-War, was regarded as one of the most progressive and innovative countries on earth. Post-War, with the death of 62,000 of its finest and the wounding of 140,000 more, Australia became timid, tentative and inward looking – a broken nation.
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