WORLD WAR ONE “The War to End All Wars”
Before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the general outlook for the future by most Europeans were highly optimistic with material progress expected to create an “earthly paradise.”
The First World War would not only kill millions of human beings, it would also destroy one of the basic intellectual precepts upon which Western Civilization had been founded -- the belief in progress.
Nationalism • The rise of nationalism did not give rise to the liberal-envisioned international fraternity of the 19th century.
Deutschland Uber Alles • It led instead to competition and rivalry over colonial claims and commercial interests.
The Alliance System • The division of Europe’s great powers into two loose alliances (Germany, Austria and Italy vs. France, Russia and Great Britain) added to the tensions.
Brinkmanship • The crises at the turn of the century taught the lesson that those powers exercising restraint in order to avoid war were humiliated and those that went to the brink of war won international prestige.
Ethnic Minorities • Ethnic Slavs in the Balkans, Poles in Russia and the Irish in Great Britain all dreamed of having their own national states.
Socialist Unrest • Socialist labor movements increasingly relied on violent strikes to gain worker’s benefits.
Some historians have argued that conservatives, fearing socialist revolution, sought to use war to “smother internal troubles.”
Militarism • Massive military build up increased tension and guaranteed that if war came it would be incredibly destructive.
Universal conscription had become the norm in Europe by 1914. • Great Britain was the exception.
Comparative figures on army increase, 1870-1914: 1870 1914 Russia 700,000 1,300,000 France 380,000 846,000 Germany 403,000 812,000 Austria-Hungary 247,000 424,000 Britain 302,000 381,000 Italy 334,000 305,000 Japan 70,000 250,000 U.S.A. 37,000 98,000
Most European armies were made up of rural peasants, since most urban working-class males could not pass the physical. • Many German generals did not trust the loyalty of the urban youth.
Mobilization and Planning • Modern European armies followed the Prussian model of complex mobilization and strategic planning involving timetables and railroad deployment of troops and supplies.
To move one German army corps - (or just 2.5% of the German Army) it took this many railway cars :Officers 170 carsInfantry 965 carsCavalry 2960 carsArtillery 1915 cars... in 140 trainsAverage train length 42 cars.And it took the same number of cars - about 6000 -to transport all of their supplies. • These plans lacked flexibility and forced diplomats and political leaders to make decisions based on the fixed programs of the military.
“War is too important a matter to be left to the military.” • Georges Clemenceau.
The Summer of 1914 • The Balkan Crises between 1908 and 1913 had increased tensions in the region. • The desire of the Serbs to create a “Greater Serbia” was opposed by Austria but encouraged by Russia.
The Assassination • On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, were assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian nationalist group the Black Hand.
The Austrian government was not certain that the Serbian government was directly involved but it wanted revenge and a war to destroy the Serbian kingdom.
“The Blank Check” • Fear of Russian intervention led the Austrians to seek the support of the German Kaiser.
William II responded with the infamous “blank check” – Germany would fight Russia to aid Austria in its war.
The Ultimatum • Austria then gave demands to Serbia that were so extreme that Serbia had to reject them. • Austria then declared war on Serbia on July 23. Serbian Army during its retreat towards Albania
Russian Reaction • On July 28, Russia ordered partial mobilization of its troops against Austria.
The Russian General Staff informed the Tsar that a partial mobilization was not possible it was either Germany and Austria or nothing.
More Ultimatums • Germany then gave an ultimatum to Russia to halt their mobilization or face war. • Russia ignored the demands and Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st.
The Schlieffen Plan • Following the establishment of the Franco-Russian entente, the German chief of staff Alfred von Schlieffen had created a plan of attack based on a two front war.
The Schlieffen Plan called for a limited mobilization against Russia to fight a defensive holding action while the bulk of German troops would be sent against France.
In order to by-pass the French defensives along the Alsatian border, the plan called for a flanking maneuver through neutral Belgium and then southward to envelop Paris and the French Army.
After the planned quick defeat of the French, the German Army would re-deploy to defeat the Russians.
Germany could not mobilize against Russia only and therefore had to declare war on France as well.
Belgian Neutrality • Belgium had been guaranteed neutrality by the major European powers, including Great Britain.
Another Ultimatum • Germany issued an ultimatum to the Belgians to allow its troops to cross through the country – Belgium refused.
Declarations of War • Germany declared war on France on August 3rd and crossed into Belgium. • Britain declared war on Germany August 4th.
Illusions of the Times • Economists had written before the war that economic conditions made a great war unlikely and if it occurred it would be brief.
Many political pundits believed that “rational” diplomats would prevail and control the situation making war unlikely or at least short-lived.
Government propaganda had stirred up national feelings and now played on those feelings to stir up a war fever.
Even many socialists and labor leaders rose to join the cause in the country’s campaign for justice and revenge.
“Over by Christmas” • Most believed the war would only last a few weeks. • Hadn’t all the other wars since the age of Napoleon been over quickly?
Wars of Nationalism • The Europeans failed to recognize that the real prototype for the modern war of nationalism was the American Civil War – four years, 364,000 dead.
Many also believed that the sheer cost of the modern mechanized war would not allow for a sustained effort.
The Glorious Adventure • Many young people saw the war as a great adventure – a chance to escape their boring bourgeois lives.