A number of key features and concepts affected France at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of them strengthened France as a nation, while others significantly weakened her. As it would be almost impossible to discuss all of them I will just briefly talk about those features and concepts that made the biggest mark in France. These include imperialism, militarism, nationalism, technological change and aggression and war. Most of these concepts and features were integrated, meaning that the rise of one issue led to the rise of another. For example the rise of nationalism resulted in the rise of militarism, as the French felt that they should unite in their bid to get revenge on Germany. Nationalism also resulted in imperialism as the French put their interests first and disregarded the needs of other nations.
Imperialism affected France at the beginning of the century in positive and negative ways. It opened up opportunities that otherwise would never have existed, such as the building of the Suez Canal, which was to give France an advantage over Britain by providing them with a shipping route from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Imperialism also provided France with a new source for markets and resources. On the negative side imperialism created tensions between France and the other powers, that by the beginning of the century, were threatening peace in Europe. It created a number of disputes over land, in particular with Germany, which had joined the ‘scramble for Africa’ after France and the other powers.
Militarism was also an important concept in France at the beginning of the 20th century. This was largely due to the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71, which was the war that unified Germany and created a change in the balance of power in Europe. The war was relatively easily won by the Prussians and France was forced to pay an indemnity of $1 billion to the Prussians. This at the time was a huge sum of money. What was even more humiliating for France was that Alsace, except for Belfort, and much of Lorraine were conceded to Germany. What this did to France was create a desire for revenge. Many of their policies after the defeat were based around that desire. They became major participants in the arms race and tried to form alliances with other European powers. What this militarism did by the turn of the century was create a feeling amongst the French that they were ready to enter a war.
A concept that went hand in had with militarism was nationalism. Nationalism resulted in the belief that the French nation was superior to others and that French interests should be placed above the interests of all other nations. What helped the spread of nationalism were the concepts of urbanisation and industrialisation. As a result of them the government was able to spread its propaganda more easily. Thus for the first time in history the whole of France could be united. People from all over France could hear the message of nationalism.
A key feature in France at the beginning of the 20th century was the technological change and the impact it had on France’s economic, political, social and cultural circles. At this time France was experiencing healthy growth. Even after the defeat at the hands of the Germans post 1870s, France’s industrial sector was rapid improving every day with the latest technology available. France was desperate to make up for her humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and in 1889 France was host to the Universal Exhibition which was to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. This famous exhibition gave France a chance to show of to the rest of Europe her latest technology. The exhibition displayed France’s latest cars, aeroplanes, the invention of the escalator amongst other things, and also displayed the construction of the Eiffel Tour.
Another key feature in France at this time was aggression and war. I’ve already mentioned the impact the Franco-Prussian war had in terms of militarism. France under took large scale militarism and spent large amounts of money on its defence force. She was becoming heavily industrialised and preparing for the almost inevitable war. With the recent loss of some of its colonies such as Vietnam, Frances foreign policy was becoming more aggressive, determined to keep control of the colonies it still had such as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in Africa and to a lesser extent Tahiti. The reason for Frances increased militarism and aggressiveness was its insecurity on its own soil. The inevitability of World War One was clear to everyone in Europe, and France saw this as the perfect chance for not only revenge but to regain respect, dignity and most of all Power.
In conclusion France at the beginning of the 20th century had many more strengths than weaknesses. It was still one of the most powerful nations in the world, with an empire that stretched around the entire globe. Nationalism was high, creating a sense of unity amongst the French people and the increase in military power made France an even more formidable nation. France was also a forerunner in terms of technological advances. While nationalism was a strength, it was also a weakness in terms that it made the French feel invincible. The people were actually excited when the war started as they felt that France would win easily. So it can therefore be said that one of the few weaknesses of France at the beginning of the 20th century was her eagerness to go to war.
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