World War I: A Global Conflict with Devastating Consequences

Who Was World War I Between 1914 and 1918?

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian empire, inflamed European nationalism and led to a war that lasted nearly four years. It ended in victory for the Triple Entente and defeat for the Central Powers.

The United States entered the conflict in 1917 after Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality and threatened America’s ships in the Atlantic. The war would be a global struggle with new weapons and unprecedented casualties.

History

When World War I began, Germany was a major power with large colonies in Africa and Asia. It was also an ally of Japan. The conflict soon became a truly global war as the allied forces included nations from every continent.

The outbreak of World War I ushered in a new age of lethal military technology including landmines, flamethrowers, long-range artillery, aircraft and tanks. It also introduced the grueling and deadly tactics of trench warfare where men lived in dug-in bunkers for years with constant bombardment from enemy guns and often died from unsanitary living conditions or from disease such as cholera, typhus and dysentery.

Although it is difficult to assign blame to one nation for the war, it is generally agreed that Germany bears the greatest responsibility. This is because, in July 1914, it gave Austria-Hungary a “blank cheque” guarantee of support for an invasion of Serbia. This precipitated the war, and it ultimately sowed the seeds of a second—and even deadlier—world war just two decades later.

Causes

The bloodshed unleashed by World War I brought the modern world into a new era of deadly trench warfare and sowed the seeds for another, even deadlier global conflict two decades later. More than 16 million people died in the course of this conflict, which lasted from 1914 to 1918.

Nationalism was one of the major political forces that triggered the war. Its rise was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which triggered a panicked response from Russia and Austria-Hungary. In addition, nationalist movements were growing throughout the continent, with a variety of governments, the new mass print media and schools reinforcing messages of their countries’ superiority.

Economic factors also played a role. Great Britain’s industrial establishment was slightly more advanced than Germany’s, but the German chemist Fritz Haber had developed a process for fixing nitrogen from air, which made the country self-sufficient in explosives and allowed it to avoid food shortages from a British blockade.

Significance

World War I was the first truly global conflict, with more than twenty countries waging war on six continents. The Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia opposed the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.

The war sowed the seeds of a second and even deadlier world war just two decades later. It also heralded a new age of lethal military technology: landmines, flamethrowers, long-range artillery, and fighter planes. Its horrors spawned debilitating psychological trauma known as shell shock for tens of thousands of men.

It was also the war that shifted the center of global power away from Europe to the United States, which would become the dominant economic force of the twentieth century. With its powerful navy and economy, the United States was uniquely positioned to shape the future of the international order after World War I. However, the American public lacked interest in international leadership at that time and retreated into a period of isolationism.

Final Words

In the aftermath of World War I, nations adapted new tactics, weapons and leadership. Despite its grim toll, this conflict was a milestone in military technology. It introduced lethal new weapons, including poison gas and tanks*. And it made war on six continents.

Nationalism was a major factor in the war. Two events triggered the war, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and a dispute over Serbian nationalist aspirations. The subsequent outbreak of the war brought the great powers into a conflict that lasted four years and killed millions.

Countries were grouped into two sides of the war: the Triple Entente and the Central Powers. The Allied forces were Britain, France and Russia; Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary were the Central powers. As the war progressed, other countries would join the Allied forces, including the United States and Japan.

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