7.5 Unresolved Tensions After World War I

5 min readjanuary 22, 2023

Jed Quiaoit

Jed Quiaoit



AP World History: Modern 🌍

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Like the Great Depression, World War I only solved the immediate problem of conflict over European imperialism and power. For the most part, unresolved tensions remained, and secondary problems even emerged from how the postwar negotiations went down in France.
In the Paris Peace Conference, President Woodrow Wilson presented his Fourteen Points, which included the end of colonies, reduction of arms, free trade between countries, and self-determination in former territories by major powers. However, this proposal was shot down, and as a result, the dejected US established an isolationist policy after the cold treatment of their Atlantic neighbors moving forward. While this presentation didn’t have anything to do with the Interwar Period, key conflicts within this era concerned some of Wilson’s statements.

Japanese Imperialism

What made Japan a rising star during WWI? The Meiji Restoration, which occurred in Japan in 1868, brought about a number of significant changes that helped to spur the country's industrialization. It experienced economic modernization as the Meiji government implemented a number of policies that helped to modernize Japan's economy, laying the road for Japan's subsequent rapid economic growth. The Meiji government also centralized political power, which promoted stability. Furthermore, there was a significant military modernization with a number of military reforms. They created a modern conscription system and established a professional army and navy. This helped to ensure Japan's security and allowed the country to become a major player in international affairs. Being close to the Allied powers, Japan could help secure sea lanes for them. Even before that, it had proven itself to be a formidable force to reckon with after defeating China and Russia in previous conflicts (Sino-Japanese Wars, Russo-Japanese Wars).
What happened to Japan after WWI? Well, turns out that we’ll see more of its military glory during this period. During the Great Depression, military leaders were convinced that the only way to get out is to revert to being an empire and invade neighboring territories. Already having Korea and parts of China under its belt, Japan invaded Manchuria and renamed it Manchukuo. The League of Nations wasn't able to do something with its limited power and failure to navigate the complex international political environment. It just watched its former member expand its reach and destroy everything in its path. The notorious Rape of Nanjing (1937) showed the worst side of humanity as the Japanese slaughtered hundreds of thousands and pillaged cities and villages.

Japan's expansion. Photo courtesy of Global Security

Imperial expansion from that point continued, and by World War II, Japan had consolidated East and parts of Southeast Asia under its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Inhabitants of these territories grew resentful, but they only kept to themselves due to their inability to kick them out on their own.

Right to Self-Determination

Remember the postwar conference in Paris where they divided the losers’ territories among the winners? After the war, the Ottoman Empire dissolved, and Germany had to relinquish control over its colonies. Under British, French, and other Allies’ control, these former colonies are known as mandates
Unlike colonies from earlier centuries, the winning countries ruled these areas under the justification that they are doing so until they are ready to “self-determine” (self-rule) for themselves. Cue intense anger from locals alongside nationalism. It just doesn’t make sense to them: “Why does some government from who-knows-where know more than us when we’re ready to govern ourselves? It’s just their excuse to exploit us!” We’ll see more of this mindset and how mandates and colonies alike will eventually resist in the decolonization period.

Anti-Imperial Resistance

To counter imperialism, transnational movements emerged. Two movements, in particular, have gained traction in their respective regions. Pan-Africanism called for the union of every African group regardless of their current location (within Africa or abroad). The movement is based on the idea that people of African descent share a common history, culture, and struggle against oppression, and that they can work together to achieve greater political, economic, and social rights and opportunities.

Pan-Africanism. Image courtesy of Retrospect Journal.

Pan-Arabism likewise echoed the desire of Arabs to be under a single, unified nation. Both movements had several key elements: they were founded on unity and solidarity (they sought to build bridges between communities and countries across the diasporas), self-determination and self-reliance (the right of people to determine their own destinies and to be self-reliant in terms of economic and political development), as well as cultural pride and identity (there was an emphasis on the importance of preserving and promoting the cultural heritage and identity of people of African descent).
Increased literacy rates led to the formation of nationalist organizations that called for independence within European colonies.
The Indian National Congress, formed by Mohandas Gandhi, called for Britain’s peaceful departure from India through negotiated independence. These campaigns, which became known as the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922) and the Salt Satyagraha (1930), were aimed at exerting pressure on the British government to grant India greater political rights and autonomy. The latter called for Indians to march to the sea and make their own salt in defiance of the British government's laws, which imposed taxes on its production and sale. The movement was a major success and brought international attention to the Indian independence movement.
West Africa conducted continuous strikes and established congresses to symbolize African resistance to French rule. A new generation of West African intellectuals and leaders, who had often been educated in Europe and exposed to Western ideas of nationalism, democracy and anti-colonialism, began to organize and advocate for the rights of their people. They formed political parties and trade unions and began to demand greater autonomy and self-rule for their countries.
Due to the failure of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the status quo remained unchanged in terms of imperialism. There, however, exists a slight chance that’ll continue to reverberate and intensify during and after World War II: nationalism within mandates and colonies.
Activity 4: TRUE or FALSE. Write T if the statement is true and F if it is false.
  1. Overproduction during WWI is a cause of the Great Depression.
  2. The US economy is entirely dependent on German reparations after the war.
  3. Only Germany was punished during the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles.
  4. Governments already play a huge role in business even before the Great Depression.
  5. FDR’s New Deal is based on the model of Keynesian economics.
  6. Italy incorporated communism into its economic model. 
  7. Japan stopped invading its neighbors as a sign of deference to the Allies.
  8. The Ottoman Empire and German colonies were divided into territories called mandates.
  9. Self-determination refers to a nation’s right to self-rule.
  10. India passionately resisted French rule.

Additional Resources:

🎥Watch: WHAP - World Wars in World History

ANSWERS - Activity 4: TRUE or FALSE

TRUE: (1), (5), (8), (9)
FALSE: (2), (3), (4), (6), (7), (10)
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