Both the first as well as the second world wars are landmark events in modern world history. Both wars are marked by involvement of the prevailing world powers of the day. In the case of the First World War, the principal actors were the European powers of Britain, Germany, Austria, etc with nominal participation from the United States. The Second World War saw a more meaningful participation from the United States of America, which was then set to become the leading superpower in the post war years. The rest of the essay will see a comparative analysis between these two wars.
The two wars are distinguished in the development and application of military technology. While the state of military warfare was rudimentary and simple during the years of the First World War, the Second World War saw significant advancements in military technology. For example, the advent of Tanks by the Third Reich is perceived by experts to be a crucial factor in the dynamics of combat during the Second World War. This was in sharp contrast to such innovations as the Zeppelin that was employed by the German command during the First World War.
The reasons that led to these two brutal wars were very different in nature. In the case of the First World War, the assassination of the monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire acted as a trigger in destabilizing what was then a delicate state of European political balance. A combination of unfortunate timing of the assassination alongside the growing internal tension within the European powers gave vent in the form of a war on a massive scale. The Second World War though cannot be attributed to any event or act of an accidental nature. The blatant and brazen ambition of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich made the subsequent confrontation almost inevitable.
The First World War was characterized by the long periods spent by the armed forces in “trenches”, so much so that the war is often described as trench warfare. This not only indicates the lack of sophistication in the art of war at the time but also the “stagnant” nature of this type of warfare. While the recorded duration of the First war was close to five years, ranging from 1914 to 1919, most of this time was spent in combats that have reached a state of “stalemate”. But contrastingly, the Second war was predominantly an aerial one, in that, most of the strategic advantage was gained by the country that possessed a superior air force. The most brutal demonstrations of the mighty German air power happened during the “blitz” that nearly decimated many towns and cities in Britain out of recognition.
Another area that offers a contrasting perspective on the nature of societies during the two wars is the role played by women. During the First war women remained in the background, making very little contribution to the final outcome of the war. But the gaining momentum of the women suffrage movement during the 1930’s had widened the horizons of the erstwhile conservative societies. This led to greater participation by women during the Second World War. For example, a whole class of women workers was employed in ammunition factories as well as in rehabilitation centers as nurses.
But, in terms of the existing economic conditions of Europe and America, there is not much difference between the periods leading up to the two great wars. For instance, the most prosperous phase of the 1920’s in America was preceded by times of uncertainty and social unrest in the years following the turn of the century. The years of prosperity was followed by the Great Depression and the associated poverty and suffering of the American citizenry. While America was not a leading player in either of the two wars, its economic conditions acted as an indirect factor in the way things panned out. After recovering from the economic Depression, American policy makers saw a great strategic opportunity in consolidating their position as a global power during the late thirties and early forties. This motive was quite significant in the eventual outcome of the war and the establishment of a new world order.
As mentioned before, the First World War was essentially a European conflict. But with the renewed imperialist ambitions of Japan, the whole complexion of world affairs changed during the late 1930’s. Following a period of economic stability and industrial advancement, Japan set out to dominate the far eastern section of the globe. Although Japan’s official reasons for interfering with South East Asian politics was given as “liberation from western colonialists”, the real motive is well understood by the subjects as well as other contending powers. This imperialist goal of Japan was no insignificant factor in instigating the allied forces in general and the United States in particular to act in defense of their strategic and economic interests. This is a crucial difference between the dynamic of the First World War and the second.