World War I


World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, the War of the Nations and the War to End All Wars, was a world conflict lasting from 1914 to 1919, with the fighting lasting until 1918. The war was fought by the Allies on one side, and the Central Powers on the other. No previous conflict had mobilized so many soldiers or involved so many in the field of battle. By its end, the war had become the second bloodiest conflict in recorded history.
World War 1 became infamous for trench warfare, where troops were confined to trenches because of tight defenses. This was especially true of the Western Front. More than 9 million died on the battlefield, and nearly that many more on the home fronts because of food shortages, genocide, and ground combat. Among other notable events, the first large-scale bombing from the air was undertaken and some of the century's first large-scale civilian massacres took place, as one of the aspects of modern efficient, non-chivalrous warfare.


European politics in the early twentieth century were a dichotomy: many politicians thought war had been banished by progress while others, influenced partly by a fierce arms race, felt war was inevitable. In Germany this belief went further: the war should happen sooner rather than later, while they still (as they believed) had an advantage over their perceived major enemy, Russia . As Russia and France were allied Germany feared being attacked from both sides and had developed the Schlieffen plan to deal with it: a swift looping attack on France designed to knock it out early, allowing concentration on Russia. After rising tensions, the catalyst occurred on June 28th 1914, when Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian activist, an ally of Russia. Austro-Hungary asked for German support and was promised a 'blank cheque'; they declared war on Serbia on July 28th. Russia mobilised to support Serbia , so Germany declared war on Russia ; France then declared war on Germany . As German troops swung through Belgium into France days later, Britain declared war on Germany too. Declarations continued until much of Europe was at war with each other. There was widespread public support.


World War 1 is actually much more complicated than a simple list of causes. While there was a chain of events that directly led to the fighting, the actual root causes are much deeper and part of continued debate and discussion. This list is an overview of the most popular reasons that are cited as the root causes of World War 1.

(1) Mutual Defense Alliances

Over time, countries throughout Europe made mutual defense agreements that would pull them into battle. Thus, if one country was attacked, allied countries were bound to defend them. Before World War 1, the following alliances existed:

Russia and Serbia

Germany and Austria-Hungary

France and Russia

Britain and France and Belgium

Japan and Britain

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia , Russia got involved to defend Serbia . Germany seeing Russia mobilizing, declared war on Russia . France was then drawn in against Germany and Austria-Hungary . Germany attacked France through Belgium pulling Britain into war. Then Japan entered the war. Later, Italy and the United States would enter on the side of the allies.

(2) Imperialism

Imperialism is when a country increases their power and wealth by bringing additional territories under their control. Before World War 1, Africa and parts of Asia were points of contention amongst the European countries. This was especially true because of the raw materials these areas could provide. The increasing competition and desire for greater empires led to an increase in confrontation that helped push the world into World War I.

(3) Militarism

As the world entered the 20th century, an arms race had begun. By 1914, Germany had the greatest increase in military buildup. Great Britain and Germany both greatly increased their navies in this time period. Further, in Germany and Russia particularly, the military establishment began to have a greater influence on public policy. This increase in militarism helped push the countries involved to war.

(4) Nationalism

Much of the origin of the war was based on the desire of the Slavic peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina to no longer be part of Austria Hungary but instead be part of Serbia . In this way, nationalism led directly to the War. But in a more general way, the nationalism of the various countries throughout Europe contributed not only to the beginning but the extension of the war in Europe . Each country tried to prove their dominance and power.

(5) Immediate Cause: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The immediate cause of World War I that made all the aforementioned items come into play (alliances, imperialism, militarism, nationalism) was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary . In June 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated him and his wife while they were in Sarajevo , Bosnia which was part of Austria-Hungary . This was in protest to Austria-Hungary having control of this region. Serbia wanted to take over Bosnia and Herzegovina . This assassination led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia . When Russia began to mobilize due to its alliance with Serbia , Germany declared war on Russia. Thus began the expansion of the war to include all those involved in the mutual defense alliances.


Even after the official end of World War I, its far-reaching effects resounded in the world for decades in the forms of changing politics, economics and public opinion. Many countries began to adopt more liberal forms of government, and a hostile Germany was forced to pay for a large deal of war reparations, which ultimately led to the start of World War II. As Europe fell in debt from war costs, inflation plagued the continent. Additionally, the optimism of previous decades was abandoned and a bleak, pessimistic outlook on life was adopted after people had experienced the brutality of warfare.

(1) Governmental Changes

As a result of World War I, socialistic ideas experienced a boom as they spread not only in Germany and the Austrian empire but also made advances in Britain (1923) and France (1924). However, the most popular type of government to gain influence after World War I was the republic. Before the war, Europe contained 19 monarchies and 3 republics, yet only a few years afterward, had 13 monarchies, 14 republics and 2 regencies. Evidently, revolution was in the air and people began to more ardently express their desires for a better way of life.

(2) Effects of a harsh Peace

A second political effect of World War I centers solely on the treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The Germans were forced to sign a humiliating treaty accepting responsibility for causing the war, as well as dole out large sums of money in order to compensate for war costs. In addition, the size of the German state was reduced, while that of Italy and France was enlarged. The Weimar government set up in Germany in 1918 was ill-liked by most of the citizens and maintained little power in controlling the German state. Rising hostilities toward the rest of Europe grew, and many German soldiers refused to give up fighting, even though Germany 's military was ordered to be drastically reduced. Given such orders, numerous German ex-soldiers joined the Freikorps, an establishment of mercenaries available for street-fighting. The open hostility and simmering feelings of revenge exhibited by Germany foreshadowed the start of World War II.

(3) Economic Change

Technology experienced a great boost after the war, as the production of automobiles, airplanes, radios and even certain chemicals, skyrocketed. The advantages of mass production and the use of machinery to perform former human labor tasks, along with the implementation of the eight hour work day, proved to stimulate the economy, the United States ' in particular. However, much of Europe suffered devastating losses of physical property and landscape as well as finances . By 1914, Europe had won the respect of the world as a reliable money-lender, yet just four years later was greatly in debt to her allies for their generous financial contributions toward the war effort, owing them as much as $10 billion. In an effort to pay back their allies, the governments of many European countries began to rapidly print more and more money, only to subject their countries to a period of inflation. Members of the middle class who had been living reasonably comfortably on investments began to experience a rocky financial period. Germany was hit the hardest in terms of struggling with war reparations, and inflation drastically lowered the value of the German mark. In a period of no more than three months in 1923, the German mark jumped from 4.6 million marks to the dollar to 4.2 trillion marks to the dollar. It appeared that inflation knew no bounds.

(4) Disillusionment

Psychologically, World War I had effects similar to those of a revolution. A growing sense of distrust of political leaders and government officials pervaded the minds of people who had witnessed the horror and destruction that the war brought about. Many citizens were angered that peacemakers had not expressed their ideals fervently enough, and people began to wonder why the war was fought at all. A feeling of disillusionment spread across the world as people bitterly decided that their governments in no way knew how to serve the best interests of the people. The loss of loved ones on the battlefield was especially disturbing, for in some parts of Western Europe , one of four young men had lost his life in battle. Altogether, the war killed 10 to 13 million people, with nearly a third of them civilians. The future certainly did not look bright for the families of those killed in the war, and a grim acceptance of reality replaced the optimistic dreams of those in decades past.

(5) Summary

World War I did not completely end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, for its political, economic and psychological effects influenced the lives of people long after the last shot was fired. Two main political changes rocked the world after the war: a greater number of countries began to adopt more liberal forms of government, and an angered Germany tried to cope with the punitions doled out to them by the victors, as its hostilities rose to the point where it provoked the Second World War two decades later. Despite the advantages brought forth by developing technologies, the war mainly had a damaging effect on the economies of European countries. People's hopes and spirits also floundered, as they grew distrustful of the government and tried to cope with the enormous death toll of the war. The turbulent period after World War I called for a major readjustment of politics, economic policies, and views on the world.


About 8 million men surrendered and were held in POW camps during the war. All nations pledged to follow the Hague Convention on fair treatment of prisoners of war . In general, a POW's rate of survival was much higher than their peers at the front. Individual surrenders were uncommon. Large units usually surrendered en masse. At the Battle of Tannenberg 92,000 Russians surrendered. When the besieged garrison of Kaunas surrendered in 1915, 20,000 Russians became prisoners. Over half of Russian losses were prisoners (as a proportion of those captured, wounded or killed); for Austria 32%, for Italy 26%, for France 12%, for Germany 9%; for Britain 7%. Prisoners from the Allied armies totalled about 1.4 million (not including Russia , which lost between 2.5 and 3.5 million men as prisoners.) From the Central Powers about 3.3 million men became prisoners.

Germany held 2.5 million prisoners; Russia held 2.9 million and Britain and France held about 720,000. Most were captured just prior to the Armistice. The U.S. held 48,000. The most dangerous moment was the act of surrender, when helpless soldiers were sometimes gunned down. Once prisoners reached a camp, in general, conditions were satisfactory (and much better than in World War II), thanks in part to the efforts of the International Red Cross and inspections by neutral nations. Conditions were terrible in Russia , starvation was common for prisoners and civilians alike; about 15–20% of the prisoners in Russia died. In Germany food was in short supply, but only 5% died.

The Ottoman Empire often treated POWs poorly. Some 11,800 British Empire soldiers, most of them Indians, became prisoners after the Siege of Kut , in Mesopotamia , in April 1916; 4,250 died in captivity. Although many were in very bad condition when captured, Ottoman officers forced them to march 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) to Anatolia . A survivor said: "we were driven along like beasts; to drop out was to die." The survivors were then forced to build a railway through the Taurus Mountains .

In Russia , where the prisoners from the Czech Legion of the Austro-Hungarian army were released in 1917 they re-armed themselves and briefly became a military and diplomatic force during the Russian Civil War.


The First World War was different from prior military conflicts: it was a meeting of 20th century technology with 19th century mentality and tactics. This time, millions of soldiers, both volunteers and conscripts fought on all sides. Kitchener 's Army for instance was a notable British volunteer force formed in 1914.

Much of the war's combat involved trench warfare , where hundreds often died for each metre of land gained. Many of the deadliest battles in history occurred during the First World War. Such battles include Ypres , Vimy Ridge, Marne , Cambrai, Somme , Verdun , and Gallipoli. The combination of machine guns and barbed wire was responsible for the largest number of casualties during the First World War.

(1) Machine guns

The machine gun is perhaps the signature weapon of trench warfare, with the image of ranks of advancing infantry being scythed down by the withering hail of bullets. The Germans embraced the machine gun from the outset - in 1904, every regiment was equipped with one machine gun - and the machine gun crews were the elite infantry units. After 1915, the MG 08/15 was the standard-issue German machine gun. Its number entered the German language as an idiomatic expression for "dead plain". At Gallipoli and in Palestine the Turks provided the infantry, but it was usually Germans who manned the machine guns.

The British High Command were less enthusiastic about machine gun technology, supposedly considering the weapon too "unsporting", and they lagged behind the Germans in adopting the weapon. In 1915 the Machine Gun Corps was formed to train and provide sufficient heavy machine gun teams. To match demand, production of the Vickers machine gun was contracted to firms in the USA . By 1917, every company in the British forces was also equipped with four light Lewis machine guns, which significantly enhanced their firepower.

The heavy machine gun was a specialist weapon, and in a static trench system was employed in a scientific manner, with carefully calculated fields of fire, so that at a moment's notice an accurate burst could be laid upon the enemy's parapet or at a break in the wire. Equally it could be used as light artillery in bombarding distant trenches. Heavy machine guns required teams of up to eight to move them, maintain them and keep them supplied with ammunition.

(2) Other trench weapons

The use of barbed wire was decisive in slowing infantry across the battlefield. Fast moving infantry (or even cavalry) could probably cross between the lines and reach enemy machine gun posts and artillery. Slowed down by the wire, they were much more likely to be cut down by the machine guns. Liddell Hart identified wire and machine gun as the elements that had to be broken to regain a mobile battlefield.

The grenade came to be the primary infantry weapon of trench warfare . Both sides were quick to raise specialist bombing squads. The grenade enabled a soldier to engage the enemy indirectly (without exposing himself to fire) and it did not require the precise accuracy of rifle fire in order to kill or maim. The Germans were well equipped with grenades from the start of the war, but the British did not anticipate a siege war entered the conflict with virtually none.

During the first year of the war, none of the combatant nations equipped their troops with steel helmets . Soldiers went into battle wearing simple cloth or leather caps that offered virtually no protection from the damage caused by modern weapons. The number of lethal head wounds that troops were receiving from shrapnel increased dramatically. The French were the first to see a need for greater protection and began to introduce the first steel helmets in the summer of 1915. At about the same time the British were developing their own helmets (Brodie helmet) When they entered the war, this was the helmet also chosen by the Americans. The traditional German pickelhaube was replaced by the stahlhelm or "coal-scuttle helmet" in 1916.

(3) Air and Sea weapon technology

The First World War also saw the use of chemical warfare and aerial bombardment, both of which had been outlawed under the 1907 Hague Convention. Chemical warfare was a major distinguishing factor of the war. Gases uses ranged from tear gas to disabling chemicals such as mustard gas and killing agents like phosgene. Only a small proportion of casualties were caused by gas, but it achieved harassment and psychological effects. Effective countermeasures to gas were found in gas masks and hence in the later stages of the war, as the use of gas increased, in many cases its effectiveness was diminished.

Fixed-wing aircraft were first used militarily during the First World War. Initial uses consisted principally of reconnaissance, though this developed into ground-attack and fighter duties as well. Strategic bombing aircraft were created principally by the German and British empires, though the former used Zeppelins to this end as well.

U-boats, or submarines , were first used in combat shortly after the war began. Alternating between restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare during the First Battle of the Atlantic , they were employed by the "Kaiserliche Marine" (German Imperial Navy) in a strategy of weakening the British Empire by attacking its merchant shipping. In 1915, the RMS Lusitania liner was sunk with United States citizens aboard, affecting the United States ' entry into the war.

At the beginning of 1914, the submarine remained something of a nautical curiosity of uncertain usefulness. By the end of 1918, the value of the submarine as a weapon had been proved beyond all reasonable doubt.


Industrial and economic resources played an important role in World War I. Military success was critically dependent on a country's ability to produce a continuous supply of goods for their armies. German industrial resources were so great that Germany was able to survive the British naval blockade and meet the demands of four years of war, while giving some help to Austria-Hungary . British industry, although capable and versatile, had begun to lag in output and in modernization. Britain came to depend heavily on U.S. production. Throughout the war, Germany occupied French territory that contained important industrial and mineral resources, so France also depended on U.S. supplies. Russian industry was incapable of dealing with the needs of the Russian armies. In addition, since the Ottoman Empire controlled the Dardanelles Strait, Russia was cut off from Allied supplies via the Mediterranean Sea and could not easily be supplied from its Arctic or Pacific ports.

During the war, Britain and France were able to harness the economic resources not only of their own vast colonial empires, such as India and Indochina , but also of the United States . This ability gave them a great advantage. The Central Powers were cut off from their prewar markets and sources of food and raw materials. Although Germany gained access to the vast economic resources of the western part of the former Russian Empire in the spring of 1918, it was too late in the war to affect the outcome.

The Allies also enjoyed a critical advantage in being able to obtain loans from American investment banks. The Allies used the loans to purchase oil, wheat, steel, and other critical products. When the United States entered the war, the U.S. Treasury Department took over the financing of loans to the Allied Powers to cover their supply purchases in the United States . The combined economic resources of the United States and the British Empire played a significant role in the Allied victory.


In the aftermath of World War I, the political order of Europe came crashing to the ground. The German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires ceased to exist, and the Ottoman Empire soon followed them into oblivion. New nations emerged, borders were radically shifted, and ethnic conflicts erupted. Victors and vanquished alike faced an enormous recovery challenge after four years of financial loss, economic deprivation, and material destruction. Amid this chaotic situation, the leaders of the victorious coalition assembled in Paris to forge a new international system that would replace the old order. The decisions they made would determine the future of Europe , and much of the rest of the world, for decades to come.

(A) Treaty of Versailles

Delegates from all of the Allied countries met in Paris , France , in January 1919 to draft the peace treaties. But it soon became evident that real decision-making authority rested in the hands of the leaders of the four states whose economic and military might had defeated the Central Powers: Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain , Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy , Premier Georges Clemenceau of France , and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States . The Japanese delegation was on the same level as the four European powers, but it participated in the conference debates only when matters pertaining to East Asia were discussed.

Britain 's principal goal at the peace conference was to remove the threat of German naval power and to end Germany 's overseas empire. Once Lloyd George had achieved these two objectives, he pursued a moderate territorial settlement out of concern that a harsh peace would prompt a defeated Germany to try to destroy the new international order. Orlando wanted the territory that the Allies had promised Italy when it entered the war as well as additional territory on the Adriatic Coast inhabited by Italians. Clemenceau had two principal goals: to establish a set of ironclad guarantees against a future German military threat to France and to require Germany to pay to repair the extensive damage that it had caused to northeastern France during the war. The United States had no financial or territorial claims against Germany , but Wilson fought for what he regarded as a peace of justice. He wanted a new international organization known as the League of Nations to be created to help prevent future armed conflicts.

The Treaty of Versailles that the representatives of the new German Republic were compelled to sign on June 28, 1919 , was a compromise. On the one hand, Germany was deprived of portions of its prewar territory, such as Alsace and Lorraine , the city of Danzig ( Gdansk ), and the Polish corridor . Also Germany was unilaterally disarmed and forced to accept an Allied military occupation of the Rhineland and to give up its colonial empire. Germany was forced to accept responsibility for the outbreak of the war and was required to pay the cost of repairing the wartime damage, known as reparations. On the other hand, Germany emerged from the peace conference as a potentially powerful country because its industrial areas were left intact and it did not lose any vital territory.

The U.S. Senate refused to approve the treaty in part because of internal U.S. politics, and the United States concluded a separate peace treaty with Germany in 1921. Without U.S. support, the economically weakened, war-weary countries of France and Britain were left with the difficult task of enforcing the provisions of the Versailles peace.

(B) Legacy of the war

When Marshal Foch of France learned of the Versailles Treaty's contents, he reportedly complained, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” As it turned out, he was uncannily accurate in his prediction of when humanity would be plunged into a second world war. World War II was a conflict that would surpass its predecessor in the number of deaths and injuries, the extent of physical destruction, and the geographical area affected. The terrible experiences of World War II have tended to overshadow the memory of the war that broke out in the summer of 1914. But World War I unquestionably represented a major turning point in history, and its consequences are still felt throughout the world.

The major fighting in World War I was confined to a relatively limited area: northeastern France , western Russia , the Balkan Peninsula , the Alpine frontier between Austria-Hungary and Italy , and the deserts of what would later be called the Middle East . But millions of people far from the battlefields felt the effects of the war, people who lived not only at the home front in Europe but also in towns and villages throughout the world. Men from as far away as Australia and India died on the fields of northern France and the beaches of Gallipoli. Africans from Senegal and Morocco fought in the trenches on the western front while Bedouin tribesmen from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula rode camels against the Ottomans.

The death of over 10 million men in combat left a gaping chasm in the social and economic life of the postwar world. Many of those who survived the war returned home with physical disabilities that prevented them from rejoining the work force. Others suffered the lasting effects of what in those days was called shell shock and what is today labeled post-traumatic stress disorder , a psychological affliction that prevents a successful adaptation to civilian life. Many of the dead left widows and orphans who had to cope with severe economic hardship and emotional loss.

The war had a profound effect on the relations between men and women in the major belligerent states. As the men rushed to the battlefield, women moved into many traditionally male occupations in industry. They then began to achieve a degree of independence and self-reliance that had been unavailable before the war. Many of the countries involved in the war (including Britain , the United States , and Germany ) granted women the right to vote for the first time shortly after the war ended.

The war also profoundly disrupted the revered cultural tradition of the Western world. Optimism about human nature and about the glorious future of civilization was discredited as soldiers from what had been hailed as the most highly civilized societies on earth slaughtered each other without mercy. Artists began to produce works that mocked the self-confident assertions of humanism and portrayed the sordid realities of modern life. Social scientists and psychologists probed the sources of human aggression in an effort to explain the orgy of violence that had ended. Philosophers bemoaned the decadence of civilization and the decline of the west.

The economic consequences of the war were felt throughout the world. All of the countries involved had to borrow heavily to pay for the costs of the war, either from their own citizens or from foreign lenders. Such deficit-financing generated inflation, which impoverished many citizens living on fixed incomes. Some governments, such as the Soviet regime in Russia , repudiated their foreign debts, wiping out the savings of frugal investors in many countries. The war also wrought political changes that had serious economic consequences. For example, the new states in Eastern Europe that were formed out of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire found it nearly impossible to achieve economic viability. When the empire was divided into separate countries, the new countries were cut off from their prewar markets and sources of food and raw materials.

When Nazi leader Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he was able to destroy much of the Versailles treaty by exploiting two pervasive sentiments of the 1930s. The first was the lingering suspicion, particularly widespread in Britain , that Germany had been treated unfairly at the peace conference and that its demands for territorial changes should be considered. The second was the universal belief that any political compromise with Nazi Germany was preferable to another European war. The diplomacy of appeasement, which enabled Hitler to remilitarize Germany and take over territory during the 1930s, was therefore a direct outgrowth of the memories that millions of survivors retained of the traumatic experience of the World War I. They were intent on not repeating the experience at all costs.


World War One involved almost every country in Europe and each country took part in its outbreak. However, the country I believe was most responsible for starting World War One was Germany . Germany ignited militarism and the alliances in Europe . Germany always felt they needed to be stronger and far superior to the other nations because of their location weakness.

In the start of the war Germany was the aggressor and immediately activated the Shlieffen Plan in which Germany attacked France which would be followed by a defense against Russia . Although I do believe Germany bears the most responsibility for the outbreak of the war, I sympathize with them in that they were backed into a corner when Russian troops mobilized to defend Austria and activated the Austrian-German alliance system. In addition, Germany had to be conscientious of the fact that they were hated by both France and Russia from previous conflicts and could be attacked by either of them at any time.

World War I shook and forever changed the world. World War I was a war that never should have taken place yet the reasons behind it like nationalism, imperialism, militarism, tensions on the Balkan Peninsula, the alliance system, the killing of Archduke Ferdinand transformed a small scale war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia into an all out global war.

Few countries remained untouched or unchanged by the war. World War I which started in 1914 and ended in 1918 had a devastating effect as millions of soldiers died and civilians were killed in the war. However as history is known to repeat itself, it is evident that World War One taught the world nothing because in 1940, an even greater war occurred that changed the world again forever.

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