(Gavrilo Princip being arrested)
Big Ideas for this Lesson
- All the nations of Europe share the blame for the outbreak of the war. There is no "good guy" or "bad guy" in this war.
- There had not been a large war in Europe since Napoleon (100 years ago) so Europeans were completely naive about the horrors of a long war fought with weapons which were mass produced by modern technology.
- Most Europeans eagerly rushed off to war in the summer of 1914 and were convinced that the war would be over by Christmas.
- This optimism for war would be very short-lived.
- The war quickly descends into stalemate and war of attrition, all the while becoming a slaughter for both sides
Underlying Causes of WWI (which make all nations liable for its outbreak)
- The glorification of the military and armed strength
- War is considered an acceptable means of conducting foreign policy
- Leads to an increase in the size of a country's military forces (arms race)
- There had not been a long general European war since Napoleon's defeat in 1815. All the wars since were smaller, shorter, and localized. Europeans were completely naive about the damage that would be inflicted by a long war fought with modern weapons
- By 1914, Europe was divided into two military alliances: The Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, and Russia) and The Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy)
- As one national was drawn into war, all of their allies were bound to follow
- European powers were constantly contesting each other for colonies around the world, especially in Africa and Asia
- This competition increased military tension in Europe for years
- Simply defined as pride in one's country
- During the late 19th century, a series of events had taken place which had increased nationalism in all of the major nation-states of Europe (people had come more to identify with their nation state "country" than with anything else, i.e. social class, religion, locality)
- This increased nationalism was a great unifying force for the major powers, and they convinced many of their citizens to fight for their country
- Nationalism was also a force for independence or autonomy from a multi-ethnic empire. For example, the war began when Serbian nationalists insisted that Bosnia become independent of the Austrian empire
Balance of Power
- The idea that no one country should be able to exert too great of an influence in a given area
- There was the fear among the Allies that Germany was becoming too powerful and upsetting the balance of power in Europe
Timeline for the Outbreak of World War I in Europe
- June 28, 1914: Heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip
- July 5, 1914: Kaiser Wilhelm II promises German support for Austria if they take military action against Serbia
- July 28, 1914: Emperor Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and Russia (Russia was a military ally of Serbia, as they were both Slavic nations)
- July 29, 1914: Russia begins to mobilize its army, and Austria invades Serbia
- August 1, 1914: Germany declares war on Russia
- August 2, 1914: Germany invades Luxembourg
- August 3, 1914: Germany declares war on France
- August 4, 1914: Germany declares war on neutral Belgium and invades in a right flanking move designed to defeat France quickly. (So they do not have to fight a two front war) This violates a treated signed by Prussia (the old name of Germany) promising to respect Belgian neutrality. As a result of this invasion, Britain declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Canada follows suit and joins the war. U.S. President Wilson declares a policy of American neutrality
Watch this short video from The Century which reviews the outbreak of World War I
(map of Europe 1914)
(Germany's Schlieffen Plan)
Initial Attitude Towards the War
Watch the following video from The Century about how European soldiers perceived the war upon its outbreak (stop at 1:37)
Notes from the Video
- When the war began in the summer of 1914, many young Europeans believed that, "the road to glory was the road to war"
- War was seen by the millions of young volunteers as "an exhilarating adventure"
- Veteran Donald Hodge reminisced upon how he and his fellow volunteers thought it "would be a tremendous lot to go and knock the Kaiser off his throne"
- Canadian Roy Henley described how he lied about his age and enlisted at 14 years old
- British veteran Ted Francis tells the important point that "everyone, everyone thought that the war would be over by Christmas"
As the young men of Britain marched off to war, the most popular song to sign was "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"
"It's a Long Way to Tipperary"
-John McCormack (1914)
Up to might London
Came an Irishman one day.
As the streets were paved with gold
Sure, everyone was gay,
Singing songs of Picadilly,
Strand and Leicester Square,
Till Paddy go excited
Then he shouted to them there:
It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Farewell, Leicester Square!
It's a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's still there
Contrast the initial attitude of soldiers to the fatalism of American volunteer Alan Seeger's poem "I have a Rendevous with Death" which was written two years into the war
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air--
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
it may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
The War Becomes a Bloody Stalemate
The Goal of Attrition
- The strategic goal is not to defeat the enemy in battle and capture a specific territorial objective, but rather to wear the other side down until they lose the will (or capacity) to fight
The Western Front
- By the end of 1914, the Western Front ceased to move, as there was a 500 mile line of continuous trenches from the North Sea to the Alps
- Each side dug themselves into defensive fortifications, coming out only to try and attack the other side by going "over the top" through "no man's land
(profile of a Western Front trench)
(overhead view of a Western Front Trench)
(soldiers living in a Western Front trench)
(mud and water in the trenches)
(British soldiers at the Battle of the Somme)
(Canadian soldiers going over the top)
Watch this clip from All Quiet on the Western Front which shows a typical attack/counter attack
New Weapons that made the Western Front so Deadly
- Poison Gas
- Machine Guns
- Large fast-firing artillery
(an American soldier dying in a gas attack)
(British soldiers blinded by a gas attack)
Watch this scene from All Quiet on the Western Front which shows a gas attack
(German soldiers using a Maxim machine gun)
(artillery shell for a German railroad gun)
(Germany's Paris Gun)
The Battle of the Somme
Watch the video from The Century about the Battle of the Somme
Notes from the Video
- The Battle of the Somme was fought in Northern France in early summer 1916
- The Allies (led by the British) were going to attack the German lines along a 25 mile front
- Before the soldiers would attack the German lines, there would be an artillery barrage that would last an entire week
- British veteran Ed Francis describes how the "foolish" British officers told he and his fellow attacking soldiers that there would be no Germans, nor any German trenches, left because the artillery would have blown them to pieces
- The Germans were not killed by the artillery barrage, as they went into their dugout shelters during the British bombardment, and then were there waiting for the British soldiers as they charged their position
- Canadian veteran Roy Henley recalls how the Germans used their machine guns to cut down the British soldiers like they were cutting down grain. He recalls the story of how one German machine gunner had to stop firing because he became sickened by how many men he had killed
- The first day of the Battle of the Somme was the bloodiest day in British History: 20,000 men were killed with another 40,000 wounded
- The Battle of the Somme came to symbolize the futility of war along the Western Front, as battle lasted 6 months at a cost of million men, and in the end the Allies were only able to push the Germans back 5 miles
- The guns of the Somme were so loud and so incessant that they could be heard in London, 150 miles away from the battle