1914 - 1923?
What happened after World War One? What were the consequences of the First World War? When the First World War ended, Europe did not return to peace. In fact, by some estimates, the 5 years following 1918 were deadlier than the 4 years of war preceding it. In this week's episode of IWM Stories, Assistant Curator Geoffrey Spender takes a closer look at three of these conflicts: The Irish War of Independence, The Russian Revolution and The Greco-Turkish War.
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 the guns on the Western Front finally fell silent.
Archive Clip: "Finie la guerre, the war is over".
Soldiers on all sides threw down their arms and could finally breathe a sigh of relief, they had made it through the Great War, the war to end all wars and Europe was finally at peace. Or was it?
There were ongoing conflicts in amongst other places Finland and Ireland of course, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Hungary and Romania, Poland and Ukraine. So Europe after 1918 was not at peace.
So today we're going to look at three of these conflicts in-depth to find out what caused them, what they were like, and when the First World War actually ended?
Before we do that though, a reminder to subscribe to the Imperial War Museums Youtube channel, for more videos just like this every two weeks.
So the actual end of the war is a matter of debate. A lot of people focus on the 11th of November date 1918 because that's when Britain stopped participating in what was known as The Great War. But subsequently to that, there was a ripple effect that led to further violence, further strife in Europe and further afield.
The First World War as it's commonly thought of from 1914 to 1918 was marked by conflict between large empires Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, but after 1918 these large nations had either broken up or withdrawn from the fighting and thus the conflicts themselves were very different.
They were smaller scale, they were regional conflicts, they were inter-ethnic conflicts, they were religious conflicts, and also class conflicts. As a consequence perhaps of the different nature of this war civilians were much more severely affected.
Between 1914 and 1918 around 11 million were killed and these were mainly soldiers fighting large-scale battles. In the following five or so years however, approximately 12 million people were killed the vast majority of which were civilians.
So let's take a closer look at some of these conflicts starting with the Irish War of Independence. Now, like many of these conflicts, it has its roots in the First World War, in this case, the Easter Rising of 1916. With Britain focused on fighting on the Western Front, Irish Nationalists attempted to seize control of Dublin and declare a free Irish state.
The rising was put down with extreme force by the British forces that were present and that led to lingering resentment and bitterness and actually strengthened the cause for independence in Ireland which began really in earnest in 1919.
Irish soldiers returning from France and Belgium found themselves on opposing sides of the independence cause, but this war was nothing like the Western Front.
It was not a conventional war it was more a guerrilla conflict. The Irish Republicans often did not wear uniforms, they were civilian clothes. So there were not large pitch battles, there was not trench warfare, there was not significant air warfare or anything like that. It was much more like, perhaps more like a contemporary insurgency that you might see on the news today.
With no end in sight for this guerrilla war the British finally agreed to the creation of the Irish free state in 1921 leaving Northern Ireland in British hands, but the bloodshed didn't end there with the civil war then taking place within Ireland over whether or not to accept the partition. Though the Irish Civil War came to an end in 1923, the effects of that conflict are still with us today.
Next, let's look at something we touched on already the Russian Revolution. This was a successful communist uprising against the Imperial Russians and Tsar Nicholas II, this is the last footage we have of him alive. Once peace was made with Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917, a civil war ensued in Russia largely between the Red Russian Bolsheviks and the White Russian counter-revolutionaries, but the Allied powers were also heavily involved.
What we might expect after 1918 was for British soldiers to return home and most of them did. But a small but notable contingent something like 60 000 men I believe were dispatched, pretty much straight away, from the Western Front to Russia to continue fighting against a new enemy, the Red Army. The powers of the West that won the war would much have preferred a White Russian victory.
This war was very different to battle on the Western Front with a chaotic mix of different factions on each side, including groups of armed peasants known as Green Armies who defended their communities from plundering on both sides. Add to that the huge geographical Russian expanse and some treacherous weather conditions and this truly was a conflict like no other.
Arguably the Allied intervention in Russia did more harm than good. It seems like it may have prolonged the war and created a great deal of bitterness between the emerging Soviet Union and the West which lingered for many years afterwards. It also perhaps led to an even greater loss of life. The Russian Revolution is the single bloodiest conflict of this period after the armistice, a loss of possibly as many as 10 million lives.
Finally let's look at the Greco-Turkish war, another war with its roots in the 1914-19 war. The Ottoman Empire had been dissolved and in an agreement led by the British, part of Anatolia or modern-day Turkey was given to the Greeks. This area was inhabited by both Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims who had lived together for centuries, but when the Greek army landed in Smyrna in May 1919 and began to advance inland all, of that changed.
When they did so, they carried out quite serious grave reprisals against the civilian population. Once again we see that civilians are bearing the brunt of this violence. Turkish Muslims were persecuted and Turkish villages were attacked. They made some inroads inland, but British support and allied support was fairly limited. When the Turkish regrouped and counter-attacked, they ultimately drove the Greeks out of Anatolia and in turn carried out very serious reprisals against the Greek Christian civilians who've been living in the region also for centuries.
The violence culminated in the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922. The town was set alight as Greek soldiers and civilians tried to escape across the water, thousands died. But the heartache was not over yet the Treaty of Lausanne, which brought the war to an end in 1923, did so through a mass population transfer known as the Great Exchange.
Something like a hundred thousand, hundred and fifty thousand Greeks and Turks each were forced to swap countries essentially. Huge forced movements of people with the aim of preventing future ethnic violence, but really it's a colossal early case of what we now call ethnic cleansing.
This is roughly the point when some sort of peace and stability began to return to Europe. The ripples of the First World War were finally beginning to fade away. The Russian Revolution had been a success, but the attempts to export the revolution to other countries had mostly failed. The inter-ethnic conflicts were dying down and the Treaty of Lausanne, cruel as it was, did possibly help prevent further ethnic violence from ongoing in that region.
So how do we think about and label these conflicts that, if not a part of, are deeply entwined with the First World War as we would normally think about it?
I don't see any reason necessarily to change the history books and say that the war did not end in 1918 or 1919, but I do think it's important to understand that the consequences and the ramifications of the war did not end on those dates. In war nothing is simple, there's rarely a simple cause and there's really a simple conclusion. Conflicts like this they never really leave us they have effects that just ring on down the decades.
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