World War I was a cataclysmic event that devastated many countries but it can be argued that no nation was hit harder than France. Although it can be stated that France was a European superpower now and then, it can be said for certain that it sustained significant damage during and after World War I. The Great War introduced many problems like economic distress, military losses and social unrest. France’s steps taken towards recovering from its losses are controversial and will be explored further in this essay.
However, one must first understand how France got involved in World War I originally before addressing its issues and reviewing its recovery process. The catalyst for World War I was Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination conducted by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist. The Serbian people in Sarajevo had a grudge against their rulers, The Habsburg Monarchy. They despised this royal family as they felt that they were being treated unfairly. Several Serbian nationalists then formed The Black Hand Secret Society, a rebellious organization with radical ideologies. The assassination soon started a ripple effect that resulted in Austrian leaders stocking up arms before declaring war against Serbians, ultimately causing World War I. France got involved because there was an alliance system, meaning allied countries were bound by a code that made assisting one another, especially during war, compulsory. As Russia had a pact with Sarajevo for protection, France was bound by this alliance system, eventually being dragged into this gruesome confrontation as well. One notable conflict that took place was when Germany and France declared war against one another on August 3 1914. This battle had a disastrous effect on France.
World War I proved fatal for France, especially regarding its social welfare. France suffered many civilian and military casualties and sustained significant structural damage. Source A shows that France’s total casualties was really high at 6,160,800, nearly twice as much as Britain. Many young soldiers either returned home traumatized or maimed and that was if they were not killed in action. Mortar and artillery bombings also destroyed many homes, displacing many civilians and leaving them without shelter. Soldiers also staged mutinies and went into battles drunk after losing a battle known as The Nivelle Offensive. To make matters worse, agricultural areas were badly damaged and crops were destroyed, causing nationwide starvation and sickness. The social problems France sustained from World War I were severe and they caused a ripple effect, bringing up even more problems revolving around France’s political and economic situation.
Another aspect that took a heavy blow was France’s economy and industrial production. France’s economy was in ruins during and after World War I. With agricultural areas destroyed, farmers lost their income sources. Furthermore, with buildings like industrial factories damaged as well, many workers could not continue their occupations. Poverty became an immediate problem that needed fixing. Source B shows how steeply France’s GDP dropped during and after World War I, an extremely large decrease that was bigger than any other country on that graph. The French government also channeled most monetary funds into medical care for wounded individuals, basically leaving itself penniless and incapable in fixing its economic problems.
One final aspect that sustained a negative impact was France’s political situation with its leaders under pressure from their people as they struggled in fixing France’s many problems. The social and economic issues faced by France’s citizens left them in anger and distress as they felt that their leaders, especially Georges Clemenceau, were not capable in leading France’s recovery from World War I. Georges Clemenceau himself was under pressure. As France’s Prime Minister, he tried solving their issues but he could not do so without help from other nations. Source C shows how many people hoped that Georges Clemenceau could restore France’s former glory, evident in how he is seen disinfecting a German officer, representing how he should be solving France’s issues. The political issues France faced culminated from all its previous problems as people started losing their trust in their leaders.
With so many problems at hand, France took many steps in recovering from its predicament. Some steps were questionable and controversial like how it tried recovering from some issues through executions and unfair terms imposed via treaties.
In hopes of solving France’s political issues, Georges Clemenceau worked together with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and US President Woodrow Wilson, forming The Big Three that was responsible for producing The Treaty of Versailles with intent on keeping Europe safe by weakening Germany significantly. As Georges Clemenceau represented his people, he was extremely aggressive when imposing demands on Germany because he too was furious at Germany’s overboard hostility towards France. As such, he imposed harsh terms like restricting Germany’s military by keeping its army at 100,000 men who could only patrol and maintain internal order, acquiring colonies from Germany like Alsace-Lorraine, Germany taking blame for World War I and demilitarizing The Rhineland for 15 years. This pleased French people greatly as many held a grudge towards Germany, hoping that they would suffer for their brutal actions. Georges Clemenceau ultimately won back trust, support and admiration from his people but he was viewed as cruel for many other people, as seen in source D where The Big Three are criticized for their demanding terms imposed on Germany. However, no matter how immoral it was considered, it had a positive impact on France’s recovery, not just in political terms but in its social and economic aspects as well. France used its new land obtained from Germany for agricultural, industrial and commercial purposes, slowly building back up its economy. The 6 million pounds fee that Germany progressively paid were channeled into fixing France’s other issues like health, shelter and food.
However, more social issues were present that The Treaty of Versailles could not solve alone, other methods were used with varying results. The rebellious soldiers who staged mutinies was still a challenge France faced. The French government grew impatient with their soldiers and threatened that they would be executed. Soon, soldiers were trialed, lined up and executed in mass executions. This recovery method was not only immoral but it was ineffective as well. The French government was too impatient and thought killing their own soldiers would have results but it only reduced their already dwindling numbers.
There were also economic issues present that could not be fixed through The Treaty of Versailles and other solutions were proposed. One method was mobilizing women for work and its immediate effects. As most men were in battle and away from their homes, many jobs were vacant and industries slowly started dying out. As such, women were mobilized for factory work and manual labour. Many female movements were then found, one was known as Women’s Charitable Fervour where around 120,000 women served as nurses, salaried workers and labourers. This was looked at differently by many people. Many people, especially men, felt that there was an upheaval in traditional gender roles – men worked while women supposedly stayed at home doing chores. French women who were hoping for legal recognition along with a cultural transformation in society did not procure their wishes and they were used more as pity subjects. As seen in Source E, French women doing manual labour were not really appreciated for their hard work but rather used as images that preached how people should save food so that women would not suffer. However, even if women were more appreciated as propaganda in saving food and reducing costs, food and production industries were maintained well because they helped. Another method resulted in a conflict or rather a crisis in The Ruhr from 1923 – 1925. Germany could not pay its agreed reparation fees on time even though it was reduced and so French troops took their resources without their permission. German workers who were upset from this conflict went on strike but were slaughtered by these French soldiers. Although this brutal treatment was horrid and unfair, France still got their resources and payment.
It is no surprise that France could eventually recover from World War I. Its stunning landscapes, gorgeous landmarks and beautiful cities today resulted from good recovery decisions and excellent stewardship under Georges Clemenceau. However, it is worth noting that some decisions were poorly made, like how France killed its own soldiers for no good reason. Even though other decisions were immoral like The Ruhr crisis and harsh terms imposed from The Treaty of Versailles, one cannot argue with France’s results. France’s main goal was becoming a superpower once more and it ultimately did. Georges Clemenceau made a good choice in placing his people’s welfare first, even going against his own ethics just so that he can solve France’s issues. To conclude, recovery for France was only possible under a leader who can make tough decisions that fix his country and Georges Clemenceau was such a leader.
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