In 1914, a war in Europe erupted that would be the most disastrous war ever fought up until that point in human history. What began in 1914 with applauding crowds and raves of nationalism turned into horrified masses by 1918, appalled by the magnitude of lives that were taken in merely four years of fighting. Over nine million men perished between 1914 and 1918, and the world changed forever. Civilians also suffered in masses that they hadn’t before, and the Great War, as it was called, did little to spare anyone within the range of its fighting. World War I created a new world, and the conditions under which the First World War ended would set up what in retrospect seems like an inevitable Second World War thirty years later.
The First World War was a completely unique war, as it was unlike any war ever fought before. The magnitude of the reach that the war had stretched across not only Europe, but its effects also reached the Middle East and across the ocean to the United States. World War I introduced the idea if “total war” on a scale that had never been seen before. During the Civil War the idea of total war was put into effect toward the end of the war and (relative to the Great War) was only limited in scale. Total war brings the idea that warfare is now brought to all aspects to society and culture, including the destruction of populations both civilian and military. Around seventy million soldiers total fought in the Great War, which was the first time soldiers fighting for their country were amassed and mobilized in such great numbers. Entire economies were adjusted to fit the scale of the war, including mass production from the United States.
Through total war there was little room for tactical maneuvering. Battles came at devastating costs to the loser, and the victor often was entirely un-phased because of their superiority to their enemy or they were nearly as devastated as the enemy they vanquished. Total war introduces the idea that countries would continue to battle not until tactical position was lost, but until they had no more men to march at their enemy. Citizens had been used in the form of mobilizing for the military before. France’s “Levee en masse” during the French Revolution introduced the idea that the nationalism of the citizens could be used for the military mobilization. As a result of the horrors of total war, entire ideologies were changed, such as Russia’s communist revolution and the rise of fascism, or “fascismo”, in Italy.
The reality of war during the Great War was especially brutal. New weapons made killing more efficient for those who were able (and in some cased, willing against morale grounds) to utilize them. Poison gas used in the trenches was the most horrific of the new more “efficient” ways to kill, though these increases in efficiency were not limited to poisonous gas. Tanks and airplanes gave the advantage to the more equipped military, though in such cases as the Armenian genocide, the population especially suffered. The Great War, both contemporarily as well as in retrospect, has made a huge impact on world history, altering both Western and non-Western civilizations, which showed the far-reaching grip of the war. The outcome of the war would change warfare and the face of Europe forever, including the new countries and borders and increasing tensions that would eventually lead to the Nazi Party taking control of Germany and threatening the free world.
John Keegan – The First World War: An Illustrated History