The Costs of World War I
The Costs of the War
Casualties of the Great War totaled more than 37 million people—an entire generation of Europeans of all nations (including several thousand Americans), either dead or severely wounded. Millions more died of a severe flu epidemic that struck not only Europe, but the rest of the world as well. Many soldiers would never recover from the horrors of combat; they were left in a condition of mental illness called shellshock. Chronic nightmares, hallucinations, severe depression, lethargy, and outbreaks of violent behavior were common symptoms of shellshock. Today, doctors refer to this result of combat experience as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Moreover, “an age was dead and gone,” as Woodrow Wilson commented in a 1918 speech. The tank had replaced the cavalry regiment. The machine gun had replaced the bayonet. Elected ministers of state had replaced almost all the hereditary monarchs. Mechanized warfare was a horror that no one had anticipated.
The United States, geographically far removed from the combat, emerged from the war far stronger than the European powers. The war effort had bolstered the American economy; in addition, fighting side by side with the British and French had cemented good relations between the nations and given the United States a level of power and influence over Europe that would persist for a century. This influence showed at Versailles, where the United States was an equal participant in the peace process despite not having participated equally in the fighting. The balance of international power had shifted from the Old World to the New. The United States was on its way to becoming a superpower.
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