World War I Overview
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 the War.
1. 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. It’s hard to see the First World War without looking through the lens of the Second World War, 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.
World War I Timeline
Alright, let’s give ourselves a general timeline.
June 28, 1914
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.
July 28, 1914
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.
July 31-August 6, 1914
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…
America Enters the War
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.
World War I Aftermath
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 like assembly lines, labor specialization, and mass production all came together to make war mechanical and systematic 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
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. Thanks for watching, and, until next time, happy studying.