It is estimated that 20 million people lost their lives in the First World War, while in the Second World War the number was around 80 million. To put it in perspective, these figures are equivalent to the population of Chile and Germany, respectively.

But beyond the terrible human losses, let's analyze what would have happened if these wars had never happened.

In terms of geography, society and politics, science and technology, and medicine.

Let's start with countries and their borders.

The world looks very different today than it did in 1914.
Taken at a D-Day reenactment in Blyth, northumberland, UK

World War I caused the dissolution of four empires:

  • Russian Empire
  • German Empire
  • Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman empires (the latter being one of the longest-lived in history, lasting 623 years).

The Second World War, for its part, caused the dissolution of the Italian Empire, the Third Reich, and the Empire of Japan.

But not only that, it began a process of decolonization around the world, and by that, countries such as: Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Portugal came to lose their last possessions.

The result?

Today 195 countries can be listed, and before World War I the figure was around 60. It is very likely that these empires (or parts of them, or perhaps new ones) would still exist today IF the World Wars had never happened.

For example, the Portuguese Empire ended in 1999, and the British Empire ended in 1997.

So if the wars had never happened, the rest of the empires could have easily extended their duration. Not to mention that, today, countries such as the United Kingdom, France, the United States or the Netherlands still maintain overseas possessions.

Let's move on to: Societies and Politics

From the mid-19th century until 1914, some 60 million Europeans left their low-wage countries for resource-rich lands such as the USA, Canada, Argentina, Australia and others.

However, with the First World War, and later with the Great Depression, globalization collapsed.

Damaged City of Lille, During German Occupation, World War I, 1916

Nationalist movements and economic isolationism took over in its place.

For example, the U.S. enacted a law in 1921 to restrict large waves of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, which reduced immigrants.

In 1924, a new law further restricted immigration, and also initiated a visa system (which is still in place today).

On the other hand, World War I had a significant change in the role of women. Until then, the majority of women performed domestic tasks, while only a small percentage worked (either in the textile industry or in other sectors).

But, during the war, there was a great need for labor, so a large part of the female population entered the labor market in all kinds of sectors.

When the war ended, many of the soldiers returned to their jobs, thus displacing the women who had temporarily taken over these positions.  

However, due to the high number of deaths and injuries, some of these women continued to hold on to their jobs. But apart from making their way into the labor market, there was a second consequence:

Women's Suffrage

In 1914, only New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Denmark, Portugal and Norway allowed women to vote (although in Australia only non-indigenous women, in Denmark only in local elections and in Portugal with certain limitations).

But after the war, all these countries gave women the right to vote and, although some countries imposed restrictions, this marked the beginning of the recognition of women that most countries followed over the next decades.

Now let's talk about: Scientific and Technological Progress

Before World War I, airplanes communicated by Morse code.  However, the war accelerated research and in 1915 the first voice message was transmitted by radio in an airplane.

Two years later, the first ground-to-air radio transmitter was invented, allowing pilots to communicate with the control tower (as they do today).

Another aviation breakthrough had to do with drones. While they had been experimented with before, it was not until World War I that the first pilotless aircraft was built.

In 1918, the first pilotless flight was successfully conducted. However, the war would end the following month, so it did not have time to be tested in battle.

USAF Thunderbirds Fly-by

Today, technology has advanced so much that drones are available to everyone.

The ENIAC was the first general-purpose, electronic, programmable digital computer. This computer was originally designed for military purposes during World War II, but was not completed until 1945, when, after the war was over, the U.S. government made the ENIAC available to the public.

In early 1946 it occupied 140 square meters, with 40 cabinets 2 meters high, and was priced at $400,000.

In the 1970s, the patent for ENIAC's computer technology entered the public domain, which lifted restrictions on modifying these technological designs.

Continued development over the following decades made computers smaller and smaller, more powerful and more affordable.

Prior to World War II, aerosols were cumbersome to carry and use. However, the Americans funded research so that soldiers in the Pacific Ocean could carry a pesticide spray against malaria-carrying insects.

Lost in the wilderness

The results came in 1943, an invention considered to be the first modern aerosol (which are used in thousands of products today).

Inventions Underwater

During the First World War, the submarine was one of the greatest threats. Submarine microphones were used to detect them, but they required the ships to make noise in order to identify them.

Finally, the British developed a device that emitted ultrasound, which solved the problem of silence.

This was the first technological application of ultrasound, a technology that is now widely used in medicine.

Synthetic rubber (as used today for vehicle tires) was first synthesized in 1935, but it was not as good as natural rubber. And although it was improved in 1940, this material was not sufficiently developed. Almost all the world's natural rubber production was in the hands of the Allies.

However, when Japan invaded part of Asia, they took control of these rubber plantations, so the U.S. launched a plan to improve synthetic rubber and by 1944 they had 50 factories producing it (with a production volume that was double the production volume of natural rubber).

No Transported Man

During the Second World War, Germany had difficulties in obtaining various foodstuffs, among which were the ingredients necessary for the production of Coca-Cola.

The Germans decided to create a new beverage with what was available at the time. The result: a new drink they called Fanta.

Pads (or sanitary napkins) were invented in 1888, but this invention was not very popular and fell into oblivion.

However, during World War I, nurses noticed that cellulose was much more effective at absorbing soldiers' blood than cloth bandages.

This inspired the first Kotex cellulose pad (made from surplus war bandages) and it began to be sold in 1918. Three years later they began advertising it and it became a popular feminine hygiene product.

Another area where mankind has benefited from world wars is in medical advances

The Spanish flu was a pandemic that began in the middle of the war, in the spring of 1918, and ended two years later. Originating in the U.S., the movement of American troops spread the flu throughout Europe.

It is estimated that this virus killed between 20 and 50 million people (about 3% of the world's population). But it was not all bad news.

Beginning in the 1920s, many countries created or reorganized their ministries of health, established better disease surveillance systems and adopted the concept of socialized medicine.

1914, World War 1. The Dome Hospital, showing some of the 689 beds in the whole hospital. These beautiful seaside palaces have been converted into hospitals for Indian troops, and are fitted with every modern convenience. Photographer: H. D. Girdwood.

Moreover, in 1914 the first non-direct blood transfusion was performed, as until then, it had been done directly from person to person.

But once the war broke out, it served as an impetus for the rapid development of new transfusion techniques.

Most importantly, blood banks were developed for the first time

(something we still use today).