What if Germany had won World War One?
World War One, known at the time as the Great War or the War to End All Wars, lasted from 1914 to 1918. It was history’s worst war at the time, at least European history’s. Tens of millions died, the vast majority of them in bloody and pointless trench warfare. And even though it is far less known than World War Two, it was actually a much more important war. In a very real sense World War Two was a replay and confirmation of World War One. So it’s a good question, what would happen if Germany and the other central Powers, Austria and the Ottoman Empire, had defeated France, Britain, and the other Allied powers? This post is a continuation of the previous post.
The first question is what kind of terms did Germany give? For starters we have the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, so we know how the eastern front gets settled. The Baltic States become independent, Ukraine becomes independent, Finland becomes independent … and Russia is an eviscerated shell of its former self. All of the new “independent” states are more or less German client states. Does Russia go communist or not? No idea, but whoever won the Russian Civil War would command a vastly weaker Russia than Stalin’s USSR.
In the west, I think it’s safe to say that Germany would give harsh terms to France, and relatively mild terms to the USA and Britain. Germany gets its African Colonies back. Britain has to limit its fleet. In the USA it gets a little interesting. Wilson and his party would likely be humiliated, getting the USA into a war just in time to lose. Sargent York would be a famous American POW. Isolationism and neutrality would likely become even more entrenched in the USA. In France, well, there it gets ugly, not interesting. I’m assuming the Germans impose harsh terms, and the French are seething with humiliation, and thoughts of revenge. Who knows what the smoking cauldron of France might breed. I think it’s safe to say that Hitler would find no purchase in Germany victorious world, but he might have a French speaking counterpart in Paris.
In the middle east, well. The Ottoman Empire keeps the whole shebang, and spends decades in bloody warfare trying to repress Arab nationalists. With German factories pouring out an endless array of modern weaponry for the Turks, no doubts they would prevail. In the short run. In the long run the Middle East might end up even more undeveloped and violent than in our world. And without the British mandate in Palestine, I think it’s safe to say that there would be no Israel. Likely there would be no holocaust either, and in and as much as the two are linked, a world with no holocaust is a good thing. There would still be a Zionist movement though, so who knows what would happen in Palestine.
And that’s the trouble with alternate histories, no matter how one tries, one is still going to imagine a world that adheres to one’s own prejudices and wishful thinking. This is why when someone brings up Hitler or appeasement in almost any relation to any modern scenario, one is dealing with a liar or an idiot. A well meaning one maybe, but one nonetheless who is looking at the world through tunnel vision. In my case my thinking is clouded by my believe that war is bad, war is evil, war is rich greedy people fighting over power and wealth with no care to the consequences to the little people. So be it.
So in conclusion, what would our world be like if Germany had won World War One? Well, likely no holocaust for one thing. No World War Two, or a vastly different one at least. No Cold War and US/Soviet super power status. The USA might even have remained isolationist. The colonial era might never have “ended,” not that it did. In this case though we might be in a world where the post World War Two independence movements that swept the world didn’t happen. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and the USA all rule parts of the third world as colonial masters. Yet Germany’s victory wouldn’t erase smokeless gunpowder, and likely there would be insurgencies everywhere.
There would probably be a great depression just like the 1929 one. Still, it wouldn’t be as bad in Germany, but it might be worse in France. Without World War Two, things like jet technology and nuclear power wouldn’t get the huge wartime boost of government R&D money. On the other hand, most of that money was spent on weapons research. Without World War Two and the Soviet/US arms race, military technology might lag far behind in our conjectural world. And conceivably without Hitler and the Nazis, Germany might have blossomed as a world leader in arts and liberalism. Come right down to it, when one plays alternate history, one can get any world one wants. One is playing with loaded dice pretty much by definition.
My favourite World War One alternate is that Wilson doesn’t get his stroke, doesn’t give away the farm when negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, and the result is a tough but fair treaty, a League of Nations with teeth, and a world where Hitler and his ilk can get no purchase.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s a Pan Am clipper in 1941. Who knows, in our alternate world it might have been the standard airliner for decades longer. Next, UFOs over China, what’s up with that?)