World War I
WW1 TitlePicture For Wikipedia Article.jpg
Clockwise from top: Trenches on the Western Front; a British Mark IV Tank crossing a trench; Royal Navy battleship HMS Irresistible sinking after striking a mine at the Battle of the Dardanelles; a Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks, and German Albatros D.III biplanes
Date 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918 (Armistice)

Treaty of Versailles signed 28 June 1919

Location Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, China and off the coast of South and North America
Result Allied victory
  • End of the German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires
  • Formation of new countries in Europe and the Middle East
  • Transfer of German colonies and regions of the former Ottoman Empire to other powers
  • Establishment of the League of Nations. (more...)
Allied (Entente) Powers

 Russia (1914–17)
 British Empire
France France
 Italy (1915–18)
 United States (1917–18)
 Romania (1916–18)
 Greece (1917–18)
Portugal Portugal (1916–18)
 Montenegro (1914–16)
and others

Central Powers

 Ottoman Empire
 Bulgaria (1915–18)

Commanders and leaders
Leaders and commanders

Russian Empire Nicholas II
Russian Empire Nicholas Nikolaevich
British Empire H. H. Asquith
British Empire David Lloyd George
British Empire Douglas Haig
France Raymond Poincaré
France Georges Clemenceau
France Ferdinand Foch
Kingdom of Italy Antonio Salandra
Kingdom of Italy Vittorio Orlando
Kingdom of Italy Luigi Cadorna
United States Woodrow Wilson
United States John J. Pershing
and others

Leaders and commanders

German Empire Wilhelm II
German Empire Paul von Hindenburg
German Empire Erich Ludendorff
Austria–Hungary Franz Joseph I
Austria–Hungary Karl I
Austria–Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf
Ottoman Empire Mehmed V
Ottoman Empire Enver Pasha
Kingdom of Bulgaria Ferdinand I
Kingdom of Bulgaria Nikola Zhekov
and others


Russian Empire 12,000,000

British Empire 8,841,541[2]

France 8,660,000[3]

Kingdom of Italy 5,093,140

United States 4,743,826

Kingdom of Romania 1,234,000

Empire of Japan 800,000

Kingdom of Serbia 707,343

Belgium 380,000

Kingdom of Greece 250,000

Portugal 200,000

Kingdom of Montenegro 50,000

Total: 42,959,850

Central Powers[1]

German Empire 13,250,000

Austria–Hungary 7,800,000

Ottoman Empire 2,998,321

Kingdom of Bulgaria 1,200,000

Total: 25,248,321

Casualties and losses
Military dead:
Military wounded:
Military missing:
22,477,500 KIA, WIA or MIA ...further details.
Military dead:
Military wounded:
Military missing:
16,403,000 KIA, WIA or MIA ...further details.

Soldiers' experiences[]

File:BVRC-Great-War-Contingent 1914.jpg

The First Contingent of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps to the 1 Lincolns, training in Bermuda for the Western Front, winter 1914–1915. One in four survived the war.

The soldiers of the war were initially volunteers, except for Italy, but increasingly were conscripted into service. Britain's Imperial War Museum has collected more than 2,500 recordings of soldiers' personal accounts and selected transcripts, edited by military author Max Arthur, have been published. The museum believes that historians have not taken full account of this material and accordingly has made the full archive of recordings available to authors and researchers.[4] Surviving veterans, returning home, often found that they could only discuss their experiences amongst themselves. Grouping together, they formed "veterans' associations" or "Legions".

Prisoners of war[]

This photograph shows an emaciated Indian Army soldier who survived the Siege of Kut.

About 8 million men surrendered and were held in POW camps during the war. All nations pledged to follow the Hague Conventions on fair treatment of prisoners of war. A POW's rate of survival was generally much higher than their peers at the front.[5] Individual surrenders were uncommon. Large units usually surrendered en masse. At the Battle of Tannenberg 92,000 Russians surrendered. When the besieged garrison of Kaunas surrendered in 1915, some 20,000 Russians became prisoners. Over half of Russian losses were prisoners (as a proportion of those captured, wounded or killed); for Austria-Hungary 32%, for Italy 26%, for France 12%, for Germany 9%; for Britain 7%. Prisoners from the Allied armies totalled about 1.4 million (not including Russia, which lost 2.-3.5 million men as prisoners.) From the Central Powers about 3.3 million men became prisoners.[6]

Germany held 2.5 million prisoners; Russia held 2.9 million; while Britain and France held about 720,000. Most were captured just prior to the Armistice. The U.S. held 48,000. The most dangerous moment was the act of surrender, when helpless soldiers were sometimes gunned down.[7][8] Once prisoners reached a camp, in general, conditions were satisfactory (and much better than in World War II), thanks in part to the efforts of the International Red Cross and inspections by neutral nations. Conditions were terrible in Russia, starvation was common for prisoners and civilians alike; about 15–20% of the prisoners in Russia died. In Germany food was scarce, but only 5% died.[9][10][11]

The Ottoman Empire often treated POWs poorly.[12] Some 11,800 British Empire soldiers, most of them Indians, became prisoners after the Siege of Kut, in Mesopotamia, in April 1916, 4,250 died in captivity.[13] Although many were in very bad condition when captured, Ottoman officers forced them to march 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) to Anatolia. A survivor said: "we were driven along like beasts, to drop out was to die."[14] The survivors were then forced to build a railway through the Taurus Mountains.

In Russia, where the prisoners from the Czech Legion of the Austro-Hungarian army were released in 1917 they re-armed themselves and briefly became a military and diplomatic force during the Russian Civil War.

While the Allied prisoners of the Central Powers were quickly sent home at the end of active hostilities, the same treatment was not granted to Central Power prisoners of the Allies and Russia, many of which had to serve as forced labor, e.g. in France until 1920. They were only released after many approaches by the Red Cross to the Allied Supreme Council.[15] There were still German prisoners being held in Russia as late as 1924.[16]

Military attachés and war correspondents[]

Military and civilian observers from every major power closely followed the course of the war. Many were able to report on events from a perspective somewhat akin to modern "embedded" positions within the opposing land and naval forces. These military attachés and other observers prepared voluminous first-hand accounts of the war and analytical papers.

For example, former U.S. Army Captain Granville Fortescue followed the developments of the Gallipoli Campaign from an embedded perspective within the ranks of the Turkish defenders; and his report was passed through Turkish censors before being printed in London and New York.[17] However, this observer's role was abandoned when the U.S. entered the war, as Fortescue immediately re-enlisted, sustaining wounds at Forest of Argonne in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September 1918.[18]

In-depth observer narratives of the war and more narrowly focused professional journal articles were written soon after the war; and these post-war reports conclusively illustrated the battlefield destructiveness of this conflict. This was not the first time the tactics of entrenched positions for infantry defended with machine guns and artillery became vitally important. The Russo-Japanese War had been closely observed by Military attachés, war correspondents and other observers; but, from a 21st century perspective, it is now apparent that a range of tactical lessons were disregarded or not used in the preparations for war in Europe and throughout the Great War.[19]

Support and opposition to the war[]


The war was primarily supported by nationalists, industrial producers, and imperialists.

Old England first, 1916

In the Balkans, Yugoslav nationalists such as Yugoslav nationalist leader Ante Trumbić in the Balkans strongly supported the war, desiring the freedom of Yugoslavs from Austria-Hungary and other foreign powers and the creation of an independent Yugoslavia.[20] The Yugoslav Committee was formed in Paris on 30 April 1915 but shortly moved its office to London, Trumbić led the Committee.[20]

In the Middle East, Arab nationalism soared in Ottoman territories in response to the rise of Turkish nationalism during the war, with Arab nationalist leaders advocating the creation of a pan-Arab state.[21] In 1916, the Arab Revolt began in Ottoman-controlled territories of the Middle East in an effort to achieve independence.[21]

Italian nationalism was stirred by the outbreak of the war and was initially strongly supported by a variety of political factions. One of the most prominent and popular Italian nationalist supporters of the war was Gabriele d'Annunzio who promoted Italian irredentism and helped sway the Italian public to support intervention in the war.[22] The Italian Liberal Party under the leadership of Paolo Boselli promoted intervention in the war on the side of the Allies and utilised the Dante Aligheri Society to promote Italian nationalism.[23]

A number of socialist parties initially supported the war when it began in August 1914.[24] Initially European socialists became split on national lines with the conception of class conflict held by radical socialists such as Marxists and syndicalists being overstepped by their support for war.[25] Once the war began, Austrian, British, French, German and Russian socialists followed the rising nationalist current by supporting their country's intervention in the war.[26]

Italian socialists were divided on whether to support the war or oppose it, some were militant supporters of the war including Benito Mussolini and Leonida Bissolati.[27] However the Italian Socialist Party decided to oppose the war after anti-militarist protestors had been killed, resulting in a general strike called Red Week.[28] The Italian Socialist Party purged itself of pro-war nationalist members, including Mussolini.[28] Mussolini, a syndicalist who supported the war on grounds of irredentist claims on Italian-populated regions of Austria-Hungary, formed the pro-interventionist Il Popolo d'Italia and the Fasci Riviluzionario d'Azione Internazionalista ("Revolutionary Fasci for International Action") in October 1914 that later developed into the Fasci di Combattimento in 1919 and the origin of fascism.[29] Mussolini's nationalism enabled him to raise funds from Ansaldo (an armaments firm) and other companies to create Il Popolo d'Italia to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war.[30]

In April 1918 the Rome Congress of Oppressed Nationalities was held that included Czechoslovak, Italian, Polish, Transylvanian, and Yugoslav representatives that urged the Allies to support national self-determination for the peoples residing within Austria-Hungary.[24]


Shortly before the war, British General Horace Smith-Dorrien predicted a catastrophic war which should be avoided at almost any cost.

Rubble covered Sackville Street in Dublin after violence between Irish rebels and UK armed forces during the Easter Rising of 1916.

1917 – Execution at Verdun at the time of the mutinies.

The trade union and socialist movements had long voiced their opposition to a war, which they argued, meant only that workers would kill other workers in the interest of capitalism. Once war was declared, however, many socialists and trade unions backed their governments. Among the exceptions were the Bolsheviks, the Socialist Party of America, and the Italian Socialist Party, and individuals such as Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and their followers in Germany. There were also small anti-war groups in Britain and France.

In Britain, in 1914, the Public Schools Officers' Training Corps annual camp was held at Tidworth Pennings, near Salisbury Plain. Head of the British Army Lord Kitchener was to review the cadets, but the imminence of the war prevented him. General Horace Smith-Dorrien was sent instead. He surprised the two-or-three thousand cadets by declaring (in the words of Donald Christopher Smith, a Bermudian cadet who was present) that war should be avoided at almost any cost, that war would solve nothing, that the whole of Europe and more besides would be reduced to ruin, and that the loss of life would be so large that whole populations would be decimated. In our ignorance I, and many of us, felt almost ashamed of a British General who uttered such depressing and unpatriotic sentiments, but during the next four years, those of us who survived the holocaust-probably not more than one-quarter of us - learned how right the General's prognosis was and how courageous he had been to utter it. [31] Having voiced these sentiments did not hinder Smith-Dorien's career, or preventing him from doing his duty in World War I to the best of his abilities.

E.D.Morel had been extremely suspicious of the secret diplomacy pursued by the British Foreign Office and in 1911, he showed how a secret understanding between Britain and France over the control of Morocco, followed by a campaign in the British press based on misleading Foreign Office briefings, had stitched up Germany and very nearly caused a European war. In February 1912, he warned that "no greater disaster could befall both peoples [Britain and Germany], and all that is most worthy of preservation in modern civilization, than a war between them". Convinced that Britain had struck a second secret agreement with France that would drag the nation into any war which involved Russia, he campaigned for such treaties to be made public; for recognition that Germany had been hoodwinked over Morocco; and for the British government to seek to broker a reconciliation between France and Germany. In response, British ministers lied. The prime minister and the foreign secretary repeatedly denied that there was any secret agreement with France. Only on the day war was declared did the foreign secretary admit that a treaty had been in place since 1906. It ensured that Britain would have to fight from the moment Russia mobilised. Morel continued to oppose the war, was reviled in the press and physically attacked seven times for it, eventually being imprisoned in 1917.[32][33]

At the end of July, 1914, when it became clear to the British government that the country was on the verge of war with Germany, four senior members of the government, David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Sir Charles Trevelyan (Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education), John Burns (President of the Local Government Board) and John Morley (Secretary of State for India), were opposed to the country becoming involved in a European war. They informed the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, that they intended to resign over the issue. When war was declared on 4 August, three of the men, Trevelyan, Burns and Morley, resigned, but Asquith managed to persuade Lloyd George, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, to change his mind. The day after war was declared, Trevelyan began contacting friends about a new political organisation he intended to form to oppose the war. This included two pacifist members of the Liberal Party, Norman Angell and E. D. Morel, and Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party. A meeting was held and after considering names such as the Peoples' Emancipation Committee and the Peoples' Freedom League, they selected the Union of Democratic Control. The four men agreed that one of the main reasons for the conflict was the secret diplomacy of people like Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. The founders of the Union of Democratic Control produced a manifesto and invited people to support it. Over the next few weeks several leading figures joined the organisation. This included J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Ottoline Morrell, Philip Morrell, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Arnold Rowntree, Morgan Philips Price, George Cadbury, Helena Swanwick, Fred Jowett, Tom Johnston, Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Ethel Snowden, David Kirkwood, William Anderson, Mary Sheepshanks, Isabella Ford, H. H. Brailsford, Israel Zangwill, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Konni Zilliacus, Margaret Sackville and Olive Schreiner. [34]

Ramsay MacDonald came under attack from newspapers because of his opposition to the First World War. On 1 October 1914, The Times published a leading article entitled Helping the Enemy, in which it wrote that "no paid agent of Germany had served her better" than MacDonald had done. The newspaper also included an article by Ignatius Valentine Chirol, who argued: "We may be rightly proud of the tolerance we display towards even the most extreme licence of speech in ordinary times... Mr. MacDonald' s case is a very different one. In time of actual war... Mr. MacDonald has sought to besmirch the reputation of his country by openly charging with disgraceful duplicity the Ministers who are its chosen representatives, and he has helped the enemy State ... Such action oversteps the bounds of even the most excessive toleration, and cannot be properly or safely disregarded by the British Government or the British people."

Many countries jailed those who spoke out against the conflict. These included Eugene Debs in the United States and Bertrand Russell in Britain. In the U.S., the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 made it a federal crime to oppose military recruitment or make any statements deemed "disloyal". Publications at all critical of the government were removed from circulation by postal censors,[35] and many served long prison sentences for statements of fact deemed unpatriotic.

A number of nationalists opposed intervention, particularly within states that the nationalists held hostility to. Irish nationalists staunchly opposed taking part in intervention with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[36] The war had begun amid the Home Rule crisis in Ireland that had begun in 1912 and by 1914 there was a serious possibility of an outbreak of civil war in Ireland between Irish unionists and republicans.[36] Irish nationalists and Marxists attempted to pursue Irish independence, culminating in the Easter Rising of 1916, with Germany sending 20,000 rifles to Ireland in order to stir unrest in the United Kingdom.[36] The UK government placed Ireland under martial law in response to the Easter Rising.[37]

Other opposition came from conscientious objectors – some socialist, some religious – who refused to fight. In Britain 16,000 people asked for conscientious objector status.[38] Many suffered years of prison, including solitary confinement and bread and water diets. Even after the war, in Britain many job advertisements were marked "No conscientious objectors need apply".

The Central Asian Revolt started in the summer of 1916, when the Russian Empire government ended its exemption of Muslims from military service.[39]

In 1917, a series of mutinies in the French army led to dozens of soldiers being executed and many more imprisoned.

In Milan in May 1917, Bolshevik revolutionaries organised and engaged in rioting calling for an end to the war, and managed to close down factories and stop public transportation.[40] The Italian army was forced to enter Milan with tanks and machine guns to face Bolsheviks and anarchists who fought violently until May 23 when the army gained control of the city with almost fifty people killed (three of which were Italian soldiers) and over 800 people arrested.[40]

The Conscription Crisis of 1917 in Canada erupted when conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden brought in compulsory military service over the objection of French-speaking Quebecers.[41] Out of approximately 625,000 Canadians who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 173,000 were wounded.[42]

In 1917, Emperor Charles I of Austria secretly entered into peace negotiations with the Allied powers, with his brother-in-law Sixtus as intermediary, without the knowledge of his ally Germany. He failed, however, because of the resistance of Italy.[43]

In September 1917, the Russian soldiers in France began questioning why they were fighting for the French at all and mutinied.[44] In Russia, opposition to the war led to soldiers also establishing their own revolutionary committees and helped foment the October Revolution of 1917, with the call going up for "bread, land, and peace". The Bolsheviks reached a peace treaty with Germany, the peace of Brest-Litovsk, despite its harsh conditions.

The end of October 1918, in northern Germany, saw the beginning of the German Revolution of 1918–1919. Units of the German Navy refused to set sail for a last, large-scale operation in a war which they saw as good as lost, initiating the uprising. The sailors' revolt which then ensued in the naval ports of Wilhelmshaven and Kiel spread across the whole country within days and led to the proclamation of a republic on 9 November 1918 and shortly thereafter to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.


As the war slowly turned into a war of attrition, conscription was implemented in some countries. This issue was particularly explosive in Canada and Australia. In the former it opened a political gap between French-Canadians, who claimed their true loyalty was to Canada and not the British Empire, and the Anglophone majority who saw the war as a duty to both Britain and Canada. Prime Minister Robert Borden pushed through a Military Service Act, provoking the Conscription Crisis of 1917. In Australia, a sustained pro-conscription campaign by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, caused a split in the Australian Labor Party and Hughes formed the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917 to pursue the matter. Nevertheless, the labour movement, the Catholic Church, and Irish nationalist expatriates successfully opposed Hughes' push, which was rejected in two plebiscites.

Conscription put into uniform nearly every physically fit man in Britain, six of ten million eligible. Of these, about 750,000 lost their lives and 1,700,000 were wounded. Most deaths were to young unmarried men; however, 160,000 wives lost husbands and 300,000 children lost fathers.[45]


Health and economic effects[]

..."Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."

"None," said the other, "Save the undone years"...

Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting, 1918[46]

No other war had changed the map of Europe so dramatically — four empires disappeared: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and the Russian. Four dynasties: the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburg, Romanovs and the Ottomans, together with their ancillary aristocracies, all fell after the war. Belgium and Serbia were badly damaged, as was France with 1.4 million soldiers dead,[47] not counting other casualties. Germany and Russia were similarly affected.[48]

The war had profound economic consequences. Of the 60 million European soldiers who were mobilised from 1914–1918, 8 million were killed, 7 million were permanently disabled, and 15 million were seriously injured. Germany lost 15.1% of its active male population, Austria–Hungary lost 17.1%, and France lost 10.5%.[49] About 750,000 German civilians died from starvation caused by the British blockade during the war.[50] By the end of the war, famine had killed approximately 100,000 people in Lebanon.[51] The best estimates of the death toll from the Russian famine of 1921 run from 5 million to 10 million people.[52] By 1922, there were between 4.5 million and 7 million homeless children in Russia as a result of nearly a decade of devastation from World War I, the Russian Civil War, and the subsequent famine of 1920–1922.[53] Numerous anti-Soviet Russians fled the country after the Revolution; by the 1930s the northern Chinese city of Harbin had 100,000 Russians.[54] Thousands more emigrated to France, England and the United States.

Greek refugees from Smyrna, 1922

American Red Cross nurses tend to 1918 flu pandemic patients in temporary wards set up inside Oakland Municipal Auditorium, 1918.

Diseases flourished in the chaotic wartime conditions. In 1914 alone, louse-borne epidemic typhus killed 200,000 in Serbia.[55] From 1918 to 1922, Russia had about 25 million infections and 3 million deaths from epidemic typhus.[56] Whereas before World War I, Russia had about 3.5 million cases of malaria, its people suffered more than 13 million cases in 1923.[57] In addition, a major influenza epidemic spread around the world. Overall, the 1918 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people.[58][59]

Lobbying by Chaim Weizmann and fear that American Jews would encourage the USA to support Germany culminated in the British government's Balfour Declaration of 1917, endorsing creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.[60] A total of more than 1,172,000 Jewish soldiers served in the Allied and Central Power forces in World War I, including 450,000 in Czarist Russia and 275,000 in Austria-Hungary.[61]

The social disruption and widespread violence of the Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War sparked more than 2,000 pogroms in the former Russian Empire, mostly in the Ukraine.[62] An estimated 60,000–200,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities.[63]

In the aftermath of World War I, Greece fought against Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal, a war which resulted in a massive population exchange between the two countries under the Treaty of Lausanne.[64] According to various sources,[65] several hundred thousand Pontic Greeks died during this period.[66]

Peace treaties and national boundaries[]

After the war, the Paris Peace Conference imposed a series of peace treaties on the Central Powers. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war. Building on Wilson's 14th point, the Treaty of Versailles also brought into being the League of Nations on 28 June 1919.[67][68]

In signing the treaty, Germany acknowledged responsibility for the war, agreeing to pay enormous war reparations and award territory to the victors. The "Guilt Thesis" became a controversial explanation of later events among analysts in Britain and the United States. The Treaty of Versailles caused enormous bitterness in Germany, which nationalist movements, especially the Nazis, exploited with a conspiracy theory they called the Dolchstosslegende (Stab-in-the-back legend). The Weimar Republic lost the former colonial possessions and was saddled with accepting blame for the war, as well as paying punitive reparations for it. Unable to pay them with exports (a result of territorial losses and postwar recession),[69] Germany did so by borrowing from the United States. Runaway inflation in the 1920s contributed to the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic and the reparations were suspended in 1931 following the Stock Market Crash in 1929 and the beginnings of the Great Depression worldwide.

Austria–Hungary was partitioned into several successor states, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, largely but not entirely along ethnic lines. Transylvania was shifted from Hungary to Greater Romania. The details were contained in the Treaty of Saint-Germain and the Treaty of Trianon. As a result of the Treaty of Trianon, 3.3 million Hungarians came under foreign rule. Although the Hungarians made up 54% of the population of the pre-war Kingdom of Hungary, only 32% of its territory was left to Hungary. Between 1920 and 1924, 354,000 Hungarians fled former Hungarian territories attached to Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The Russian Empire, which had withdrawn from the war in 1917 after the October Revolution, lost much of its western frontier as the newly independent nations of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland were carved from it. Bessarabia was re-attached to the Greater Romania, as it had been a Romanian territory for more than a thousand years.[70]

The Ottoman Empire disintegrated, and much of its non-Anatolian territory was awarded as protectorates of various Allied powers. The Turkish core was reorganised as the Republic of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was to be partitioned by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. This treaty was never ratified by the Sultan and was rejected by the Turkish republican movement, leading to the Turkish Independence War and, ultimately, to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.


The first tentative efforts to comprehend the meaning and consequences of modern warfare began during the initial phases of the war, and this process continued throughout and after the end of hostilities.


File:Beaumont hamel newfoundland memorial.jpg

The Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in the Somme.

Memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns. Close to battlefields, the improvised burial grounds were gradually moved to formal graveyards under the care of organisations such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the American Battle Monuments Commission, the German War Graves Commission and Le Souvenir français. Many of these graveyards also have central monuments to the missing or unidentified dead, such as the Menin Gate memorial and the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

Surgeon Lt. Col. John McCrae of Canada, author of In Flanders Fields, died in 1918 of pneumonia.

On 3 May 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed. At his graveside, his friend John McCrae, M.D., of Guelph, Ontario, Canada wrote the memorable poem In Flanders Fields as a salute to those who perished in the Great War. Published in Punch on 8 December 1915, it is still recited today, especially on Remembrance Day and Memorial Day.[71][72]

Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri is a United States memorial dedicated to all Americans who served in World War I. The site for the Liberty Memorial was dedicated on November 1, 1921. On this day, the supreme Allied commanders spoke to a crowd of more than 100,000 people. It was the only time in history these leaders were together in one place. In attendance were Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium; General Armando Diaz of Italy; Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France; General Pershing of the United States; and Admiral D. R. Beatty of Great Britain. After three years of construction, the Liberty Memorial was completed and President Calvin Coolidge delivered the dedication speech to a crowd of 150,000 people in 1926.

Liberty Memorial is also home to The National World War I Museum, the only museum dedicated solely to World War I in the United States.

Cultural memory[]

The First World War had a lasting impact on social memory. It was seen by many in Britain as signalling the end of Victorian England, and across Europe many regarded it as a watershed moment.[73] Historian Samuel Hynes explained:

A generation of innocent young men, their heads full of high abstractions like Honour, Glory and England, went off to war to make the world safe for democracy. They were slaughtered in stupid battles planned by stupid generals. Those who survived were shocked, disillusioned and embittered by their war experiences, and saw that their real enemies were not the Germans, but the old men at home who had lied to them. They rejected the values of the society that had sent them to war, and in doing so separated their own generation from the past and from their cultural inheritance.[74]

This has become the most common perception of the First World War, perpetuated by the art, cinema, poems and stories published subsequently. Films such as All Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory and For King and Country have perpetuated the idea; while war-time films including Camrades, Flanders Poppies and Shoulder Arms indicate that the most contemporary views of the war were overall far more positive.[75] Likewise, the art of Paul Nash, John Nash, Christopher Nevison and Henry Tonks in Britain painted a negative view of the conflict in keeping with the growing perception, while popular war-time artists such as Muirhead Bone painted more serene and pleasant interpretations subsequently rejected as inaccurate.[74] Several historians have since countered these interpretations:

Siegfried Sassoon (May 1915)

These beliefs did not become widely shared because they offered the only accurate interpretation of wartime events. In every respect, the war was much more complicated than they suggest. In recent years, historians have argued persuasively against almost every popular cliché of the First World War. It has been pointed out that, although the losses were devastating, their greatest impact was socially and geographically limited. The many emotions other than horror experienced by soldiers in and out of the front line, including comradeship, boredom and even enjoyment, have been recognised. The war is not now seen as a 'fight about nothing', but as a war of ideals, a struggle between aggressive militarism and more or less liberal democracy. It has been acknowledged that British generals were often capable men facing difficult challenges, and that it was under their command that the British army played a major part in the defeat of the Germans in 1918: a great forgotten victory.[75]

Though these historians have discounted as "myths"[74][76] these perceptions of the war, they are nevertheless prevalent across much of society.0}} They have dynamically changed according to contemporary influences, reflecting in the 1950s perceptions of the war as 'aimless' following the contrasting Second World War, and emphasising conflict within the ranks during times of class conflict in the 1960s.[75] The majority of additions to the contrary are often rejected.[75]

Social trauma[]

The social trauma caused by unprecedented rates of casualties manifested itself in different ways, which have been the subject of subsequent historical debate.[77] Some people were revolted by nationalism and its results, and so they began to work towards a more internationalist world, supporting organisations such as the League of Nations. Pacifism became increasingly popular. Others had the opposite reaction, feeling that only strength and military could be relied upon in a chaotic and inhumane world. Anti-modernist views were an outgrowth of the many changes taking place in society.

Book distributed by the U.S. War Department to veterans in 1919

The experiences of the war led to a collective trauma shared by many from all participating countries. The optimism of la belle époque was destroyed and those who fought in the war were referred to as the Lost Generation.[78] For years afterwards, people mourned the dead, the missing, and the many disabled.[79] Many soldiers returned with severe trauma, suffering from shell shock (also called neurasthenia, now called posttraumatic stress disorder).[80] Many more returned home with few after-effects; however, their silence about the war contributed to the conflict's growing mythological status.[77] In the United Kingdom, mass-mobilisation, large casualty rates and the collapse of the Edwardian era made a strong impression on society. Though many participants did not share in the experiences of combat or spend any significant time at the front, or had positive memories of their service, the images of suffering and trauma became the widely shared perception.[77] Such historians as Dan Todman, Paul Fussell and Samuel Heyns have all published works since the 1990s arguing that these common perceptions of the war are factually incorrect.[77]

Discontent in Germany[]

The rise of Nazism and fascism included a revival of the nationalist spirit and a rejection of many post-war changes. Similarly, the popularity of the Stab-in-the-back legend (German: Dolchstoßlegende) was a testament to the psychological state of defeated Germany and was a rejection of responsibility for the conflict. This conspiracy theory of betrayal became common, and the German populace came to see themselves as victims. The Dolchstoßlegende's popular acceptance in Germany played a significant role in the rise of Nazism. A sense of disillusionment and cynicism became pronounced, with nihilism growing. Many believed the war heralded the end of the world as they had known it because of the high fatalities among a generation of men, the dissolution of governments and empires, and the collapse of capitalism and imperialism.

Communist and socialist movements around the world drew strength from this theory and enjoyed a new level of popularity. These feelings were most pronounced in areas directly or harshly affected by the war. Out of German discontent with the still controversial Treaty of Versailles, Adolf Hitler was able to gain popularity and power.[81][82] World War II was in part a continuation of the power struggle never fully resolved by the First World War; in fact, it was common for Germans in the 1930s and 1940s to justify acts of international aggression because of perceived injustices imposed by the victors of the First World War.[83][84][85]

The establishment of the modern state of Israel and the roots of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict are partially found in the unstable power dynamics of the Middle East which resulted from World War I.[86] Prior to the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire had maintained a modest level of peace and stability throughout the Middle East.[87] With the fall of Ottoman government, power vacuums developed and conflicting claims to land and nationhood began to emerge.[88] The political boundaries drawn by the victors of the First World War were quickly imposed, sometimes after only cursory consultation with the local population. In many cases, these continue to be problematic in the 21st-century struggles for national identity.[89][90] While the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I was pivotal in contributing to the modern political situation of the Middle East, including the Arab-Israeli conflict,[91][92][93] the end of Ottoman rule also spawned lesser known disputes over water and other natural resources.[94]

Views in the United States[]

U.S. intervention in the war, as well as the Wilson administration, became deeply unpopular. This was reflected in the U.S. Senate's rejection of the Versailles treaty and membership in the League of Nations. In the interwar era a consensus arose that U.S. intervention was a mistake, and the Congress passed laws in an attempt to preserve U.S. neutrality in any future conflict. Polls taken in 1937 and the opening months of World War II established that nearly 60% regarded the intervention as a mistake, with only 28% opposing that view. But, in the period between the fall of France and the attack on Pearl Harbor, public opinion changed dramatically and, for the first time, a narrow plurality rejected the idea that the war was a mistake.[95]

New national identities[]

Poland reemerged as an independent country, after more than a century. As a "minor Entente nation" and the country with the largest casualties per head[96][97][98] the Kingdom of Serbia and its dynasty became the backbone of the new multinational state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia). Czechoslovakia, combining the Kingdom of Bohemia with parts of the Kingdom of Hungary, became a new nation. Russia became the Soviet Union and lost Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which became independent countries. The Ottoman Empire was soon replaced by Turkey and several other countries in the Middle East.

In the British Empire, the war unleashed new forms of nationalism. In Australia and New Zealand the Battle of Gallipoli became known as those nations' "Baptism of Fire". It was the first major war in which the newly established countries fought and it was one of the first times that Australian troops fought as Australians, not just subjects of the British Crown. Anzac Day, commemorating the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, celebrates this defining moment.[99][100]

After the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian divisions fought together for the first time as a single corps, Canadians began to refer to theirs as a nation "forged from fire".[101] Having succeeded on the same battleground where the "mother countries" had previously faltered, they were for the first time respected internationally for their own accomplishments. Canada entered the war as a Dominion of the British Empire and remained so afterwards, although she emerged with a greater measure of independence.[102][103] While the other Dominions were represented by Britain, Canada was an independent negotiator and signatory of the Versailles Treaty.

Economic effects[]

One of the most dramatic effects of the war was the expansion of governmental powers and responsibilities in Britain, France, the United States, and the Dominions of the British Empire. In order to harness all the power of their societies, new government ministries and powers were created. New taxes were levied and laws enacted, all designed to bolster the war effort; many of which have lasted to this day. Similarly, the war strained the abilities of the formerly large and bureaucratised governments such as in Austria–Hungary and Germany; however, any analysis of the long-term effects were clouded by the defeat of these governments.

Germany, 1923: banknotes had lost so much value that they were used as wallpaper. Millions of middle-class Germans were ruined by the hyperinflation. When the war began in 1914, a dollar was worth 4.2 marks. By November 1923, the dollar was at 4.2 trillion[104] marks.[105]

Gross domestic product (GDP) increased for three Allies (Britain, Italy, and U.S.), but decreased in France and Russia, in neutral Netherlands, and in the main three Central Powers. The shrinkage in GDP in Austria, Russia, France, and the Ottoman Empire reached 30 to 40%. In Austria, for example, most of the pigs were slaughtered and, at war's end, there was no meat.

"The Girl Behind the Gun" - women workers, 1915

All nations had increases in the government's share of GDP, surpassing fifty percent in both Germany and France and nearly reaching fifty percent in Britain. To pay for purchases in the United States, Britain cashed in its extensive investments in American railroads and then began borrowing heavily on Wall Street. President Wilson was on the verge of cutting off the loans in late 1916, but allowed a great increase in U.S. government lending to the Allies. After 1919, the U.S. demanded repayment of these loans, which, in part, were funded by German reparations, which, in turn, were supported by American loans to Germany. This circular system collapsed in 1931 and the loans were never repaid. In 1934, Britain owed the US $4.4 billion[106] of World War I debt.[107]

Macro- and micro-economic consequences devolved from the war. Families were altered by the departure of many men. With the death or absence of the primary wage earner, women were forced into the workforce in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, industry needed to replace the lost labourers sent to war. This aided the struggle for voting rights for women.

In Britain, rationing was finally imposed in early 1918, limited to meat, sugar, and fats (butter and oleo), but not bread. The new system worked smoothly. From 1914 to 1918 trade union membership doubled, from a little over four million to a little over eight million. Work stoppages and strikes became frequent in 1917–1918 as the unions expressed grievances regarding prices, alcohol control, pay disputes, fatigue from overtime and working on Sundays and inadequate housing.

Britain turned to her colonies for help in obtaining essential war materials whose supply had become difficult from traditional sources. Geologists such as Albert Ernest Kitson were called upon to find new resources of precious minerals in the African colonies. Kitson discovered important new deposits of manganese, used in munitions production, in the Gold Coast.[108]

Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles (the so-called "war guilt" clause) declared Germany and its allies responsible for all "loss and damage" suffered by the Allies during the war and provided the basis for reparations. The total reparations demanded was 132 billion gold marks which was far more than the total German gold or foreign exchange. The economic problems that the payments brought, and German resentment at their imposition, are usually cited as one of the more significant factors that led to the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. After Germany’s defeat in World War II, payment of the reparations was not resumed. There was, however, outstanding German debt that the Weimar Republic had used to pay the reparations. Germany finished paying off the reparations in October 2010.[109]

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