World War I
World War I set the violent 20th century in motion. Chemical weapons were used for the first time, the first mass bombardment of civilians from the sky was executed, and the century's first genocide took place during the war. No previous conflict had mobilised so many soldiers, or involved so many in the field of battle. Never before had casualties been so high. The First World War was the first total war. World War I was also a war of change, a last blow to the old order in Europe to pave way for the new. Dynasties such as the Habsburgs, Romanovs, and Hohenzollerns, who had dominated the European political landscape and had roots of power back to the days of the Crusades, all fell after the 4 year war. So many of the events and phenomena that would dominate the world of the 20th century can trace their origins to this war - including Communism, World War II and even the Cold War.
World War I proved to be the decisive break with the old world order, marking the final demise of absolutist monarchy in Europe. It would prove the catalyst for the Russian Revolution, which would inspire later revolutions in countries as diverse as China and Cuba, and would lay the basis for the Cold War confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. The defeat of Germany in the war and failure to resolve the unsettled issues that had caused the Great War would lay the basis for the rise of Nazism, and thus the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Most significantly, it laid the basis for a more modern form of warfare that relied heavily on technology, and would involve non-combatants in the horrors of war as never before. From this point on, all people of all classes would have to see the true color of war. War was no longer a "polite" battle where men lined up and showed their strength on some distant battlefield. World War I showed the new direction war was going towards where each side would begin to use desperate and sometimes horrific strategies to gain any advantage, most of the time, at the expense of the innocent.
It was commonly called The Great War or sometimes "the war to end all wars" until World War II started, although the name "First World War" was coined as early as 1920 by Lt-Col à Court Repington in The First World War 1914-18. Some scholars write of the First World War as merely the first phase of a 30-year-long war spanning the period 1914 - 1945.
Over 9 million men would die on the battlefield, and nearly that many more would die on the homefront from food shortages, starvation, genocide, and simply being the unfortunate family living right on the battlefront. Of all the questions regarding the war, these come first; How did it happen? And why?
Casualties and Cost
- France mobilized 168 out of 1000 citizens and lost 34 out of 1000 as casualties. By contrast more populous Germany mobilized 154 out of 1000 and lost 30 out of 1000 as casualties, while Britain mobilized 125 out of 1000 and lost 16 out 1000 as casualties.
- Robert A. Doughty. 2005. Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Pres. ISBN 067401880X. Pp. 320-321, 331-332.
- Ian Ousby. 2002. The Road to Verdun: World War I’s Most Momentous Battle and the Folly of Nationalism. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 0385503938.