A Quick World War 1 Summary
World War 1 is known for its extensive system of trenches from which both sides fought, and for the lethal new technologies that were unleashed. It was also the culmination of centuries of carving up the world in a series of Empires and rampant militarism.
The war began when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in July 1914. The United States entered the war in April 1917, and Allied successes on the Western Front pushed Germany back to its own territory.
1. The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked the outbreak of World War I. He was the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian empire and had been visiting Sarajevo. His visit was controversial because the empire had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Young Bosnian nationalists wanted their own state so they began planning a terrorist attack against the Archduke.
The first attempt happened on 28 June. A car carrying the Archduke and his wife Sophie was traveling along Appel Quay toward Sarajevo Town Hall. A bomb was thrown at the car, but it bounced off of the collapsible top and exploded underneath the following cars. Only a few people were injured in the incident.
The assassins then disbanded believing their chance had passed. However, as the chauffeur turned the car to take a different route, he ran into Gavrilo Princip. Princip seized the opportunity and shot the Archduke and his wife at point-blank range. The couple died immediately.
2. Germany’s Invasion of Belgium
Germany invades Belgium, violating the small country’s neutrality and launching the first battle of World War 1. This would set the stage for four years of brutal violence against civilians.
On August 2, 1914, German Foreign Minister von Below Saleske sent a letter to the Belgian government asking for free passage through their territory. This would allow the German army to line up along the French border and facilitate their attack on France. The Belgian government refused.
In response, the Germans launched a full scale invasion of Belgium on August 4. They left death and destruction in their wake, killing and looting as they went. The city of Louvain (Leuven) became a symbol for international public opinion of the brutality of the German war machine, as it was pillaged and destroyed, with its treasured university library burned to the ground. In the aftermath, many of the 9,000 Belgian civilians killed by Germany during this first week of the invasion were executed for their resistance.
3. The Treaty of Versailles
The Allied powers met in the French city of Versailles for the Paris Peace Conference to negotiate a treaty that would end the war. The primary negotiators were the national leaders known as the Big Four: David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, Vittorio Orlando of Italy and Woodrow Wilson of the United States.
The treaty was harsh, and Germany viewed it as a diktat, or dictated peace. The Allies were determined to make Germany pay vast sums of money for damages and reparations, accept full responsibility for the war, reduce its military and forfeit colonial territories.
These terms would take decades to pay off. The treaty also redrew Europe, creating new nations out of old empires. This sowed the seeds for future conflict, such as World War II, which broke out just two decades after the end of WWI. Many Germans believed the treaty was excessive and unfair, and they grew bitter over what they saw as being made to suffer for the crimes of others.
4. The Armistice
The Armistice ended the four-year bloodbath that had cost millions of lives. It was signed by a delegation representing the Allied governments, led by Supreme Allied Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Its terms were purposefully severe in order to prevent Germany from resuming fighting.
The Allies had to knock out the German military and home front before long-term peace negotiations could begin. The infusion of American troops and resources on the western front finally tipped the scales. The resulting demoralization of the German Army and the Kaiser’s abdication made it impossible for them to resume the war.
Among other things, the terms of the Armistice stipulated that Germany must evacuate all of occupied France, Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine and surrender all of its war materiel. It also established a demilitarized zone between military forces and set up commissions to monitor compliance with the agreement. The signing of the Armistice ended World War 1. There were mixed reactions worldwide: relief, celebration and a profound sense of loss.