Best World War I Overview
This video touches on the basics of World War I. It started in 1914 with Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria traveling with his wife through the city of Sarajevo, when the archduke was assassinated. The culprit was a young, Bosnian Serb who wanted Serbia to throw off Austrian-Hungarian control. Austria was upset at the murder of their crown prince, and, a month later, declared war on Serbia. After Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28th, Russia mobilized military forces on July 31, which angered Germany, friends of Austria. They declared war on Russia the next day, so the French, allies of Russia, mobilized their military. Germany, therefore, declared war on France on August 3, and the next day, invaded Belgium to flank France. Because Belgium was neutral, this move prompted the UK to declare war on Germany. America, hoping not to get involved in this mess of a European family conflict, declared neutrality, right before Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.
Now, WWI is a huge topic that we could explore for years, and many people have, but today, I’m just going to hit the basics.
First, before anyone dies, it’s important to note a few things about Europe at the time leading up to war: 1, that every country was involved in creating and signing treaties with other nations, in order to attempt to keep some balance of power… unfortunately this led to a domino effect when the first nation declared war, as everyone had their friends and enemies predetermined. 2. Industrialization had been a huge part of the early 20th Century (but I’ll get more details on that later). 3. Lastly, It’s hard to see the First World War without looking through the lens of the Second WW, but it’s important that we do, because the two were very different, and had very different causes. All that to say, war is complicated, and this one was no exception.
Alright, let’s give ourselves a general timeline. Great. Let’s set the scene in 1914 with Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria traveling with his wife through the city of Sarajevo, when suddenly, the archduke was assassinated! The culprit was a young, Bosnian Serb who wanted Serbia to throw off control of Austrian-Hungarian control. Needless to say, this rocked Central Europe. Austria was understandably upset at the murder of their crown prince, and, a month later, declared war on Serbia. Here’s where all the treaties and alliances that I mentioned earlier come into play. After Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28th, Russia mobilized military forces on July 31, which angered Germany, friends of Austria, so they declare war on Russia the next day, so the French, allies of Russia, mobilize their military. Germany, therefore, declared war on France on August 3, and the next day, invades Belgium to flank France. But since Belgium was neutral, this move prompted the UK to declare war on Germany, and America, hoping not to get involved in this mess of a European family conflict, declared neutrality. Right before Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. Whew!
Now that we have our timeline started, it’s time to get to the bigger picture again.
Much of WWI happened in trenches, deep trails dug into fields or forests for cover from enemy fire. You see, with industrialization and technological advances, weapons had become far more dangerous. Take for example the machine gun, which the germans had put into mass production prior to war breaking out in 1914. It was able to deliver hundreds of rounds a minute, compared to a couple dozen a soldier with a rifle could manage. This meant that the times of standing in open fields shooting at one another had passed, and trenches became a necessity to survive a night, let alone win a war. Construction on trenches began along the Western front in September of 1914 as countries continued to enter the fray as late as the following year.
Speaking of the following year, let’s fast forward a bit to what I know you’re wondering: “How did America end up in the war?” Great question, and the answer starts, somewhat surprisingly in Mexico, well kind of…
You see, the Germans had basically threatened to sink any ship that attempted to enter English waters from anywhere else. This was t known as the U-boat campaign. One of the ships sunk by the Germans in 1915 was the Lusitania, which had nearly 2,000 on board, almost 200 of whom were Americans. This greatly upset the American public, but wasn’t quite enough to get Congress to declare war. Fast forward a couple years, and Germany had sunk dozens of American sea vessels, but worst of all, sent a secret telegram to Mexico, proposing an alliance against the United States, which promised that the Germans would help Mexico take back Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. When the British intercepted this message and gave it to the American government, some thought it was a hoax. But the German and Mexican governments eventually acknowledged it, and America declared war on Germany.
In the end, WWI was brutal and bloody. Over 8 million soldiers died out of the 65 million who fought. They came from over 40 countries, and the war lasted five years. It was devastating financially for almost all the countries involved. War had become a machine due to the industrial progress of the world economy. Things in nature. This idea of a very impersonal war was furthered by inventions like the machine gun, tanks, and chemical weapons, all of which allowed for easy destruction of life on a mass scale.
On June 28th, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles officially created peace between Germany and the Allied Forces, though many at the time said it was either too harsh or not harsh enough. In the Treaty, blame for starting the war was placed on Germany who would be forced to pay back the expenses of fighting to the Allied Nations. Additionally, the Treaty also laid the foundation for an international “League of Nations” to maintain “international peace and security”.
So, that’s WWI in a nutshell. Obviously, there’s a lot more to touch on, so reference our other videos in the description below. Thanks for watching, and, until next time, happy studying.
June 28, 1914 – Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (killed by a Serbian revolutionary)
July 28, 1914 – Austria declares war on Serbia
July 31, 1914 – Russia officially mobilizes troops
August 1, 1914 – Germany declares war on Russia
August 3, 1914 – Germany Declares war on France
August 4, 1914 – Germany invades neutral Belgium to get to France / UK declares war on Germany / US declares neutrality
August 6, 1914 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
Sept. 1914 – Trenches are dug along the Western Front
April 6, 1917 – US declares war on Germany
June 25, 1917 – First US troops land
June 28, 1919 – Treaty of Versailles / League of Nations created (End of the War)
Industrialized Economies: The arms race across Europe escalated quickly, aided by the recent climax of the Industrial Revolution. Things like assembly lines, labor specialization, and mass production all came together to create something called, the “War Machine” as war itself had become industrialized and mechanical in nature. This idea of a very impersonal war was furthered by inventions like the machine gun, tanks, and chemical weapons, all of which allowed for easy destruction of life on a mass scale.
Treaty of Versailles: Most famous WW1 treaty; between Germany and the allied powers in which Germany accepted full responsibility for the war and agreed to pay reparations; the U.S did not ratify the treaty.
Zimmerman Telegram: A 1917 telegram sent from Germanys foreign secretary to the German minister in Mexico telling the minister to urge Mexico to attack the U.S if the U.S declared war on Germany.
Chemical Warfare: WWI marked the first widespread usage of modern chemical warfare. The trenches made it easy to dump massive amounts of deadly gases on an enemy front, rendering them vulnerable to a charge. One of the first uses of this in battle backfired badly for the British in Sept 1915, when a gust of wind blew their gas back on their own soldiers, badly injuring tens of thousands of men.