“I’ll Be Home by Christmas” – An Analysis of the First Year of the Great War
The World War of 1914-18 - The Great War, as contemporaries called it, was the first man-made catastrophe of the 20th century. It was a war without parallel and all previous wars were eclipsed by its scale of destruction. Even in retrospect the war which began as a struggle between Europe's great powers, which were grouped into two hostile alliances, is one of the bloodiest wars ever seen with an estimated 10 million men who gave their lives on the battle field and over 20 million more wounded. It was the first intervention of American forces in European affairs for which they lost more than 100,000 troops who were killed helping to guarantee an allied victory. The Great War involved at least 32 nations directly who declared war against one another over the course of four years of world turmoil.
Industrial expansion and wealth had a profound impact on economic life that lead to conflicts, jealousies and differences that were not easily reconcilable. Monarchies and democracies alike sought to cope with the changes and to protect their authority and major European nations sought to expand their wealth and territories looking for partners they could turn to in case of war. True to these military alliances, Europe's powers quickly drew up sides after the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The allies -- chiefly Russia, France and Britain -- were pitted against the Central Powers -- primarily Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. These immediate and strongly bound alliances that stemmed from years of treaties and alliances are one of the speculated reasons underlying the causes of the war. The number of men mobilized by both sides: the central powers (consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey), and the allied powers (which were Britain and Empire, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, USA), totaled over 65 million, a number unprecedented in the history of civilization and modern warfare.
From the very beginning, the war grew rapidly out of control. New styles of warfare, like the use of gas and heavy artillery, produced new kinds of horror and unprecedented levels of suffering and death. For the first time war involved the use of new technology such as airplanes, tanks and submarines. "World War I marked the first use of chemical weapons, the first mass bombardment of civilians from the sky, and the century's first genocide,” (Winter, 1996). The increased power of the more modern weapons gave much greater advantages to defense, making it more difficult to win quick victories. In addition was the introduction of trench warfare, a military strategy based on attrition warfare in which a belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. Trench warfare arose when there was a revolution in firepower without similar advances in mobility. To try to break through the opposing lines of trenches and barbed wire entanglements, both sides employed huge artillery bombardments followed by attacks by tens of thousands of soldiers. Battles could last for months and lead to casualties measured in hundreds of thousands for attacker and defender alike. After most of these attacks, only a short section of the front would have moved and only by a kilometer or two. This was the period of the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of the arms race in combination with the was resulted in a slow and grueling form of defense-oriented warfare in which both sides constructed elaborate and heavily armed trench and dugout systems opposing each other along a front, with soldiers in both trench lines largely defiladed from the other's small arms fire and enclosed by barbed wire. Trench warfare created an endless demand for men, munitions and supplies with often no apparent gains or victories. Men dies by the thousands daily with the French army losing 27,000 soldiers in a single day. On average, daily losses for the British soldiers were nearly 7,000 men killed, disabled or wounded. It became the first war in which combatants mobilized all their resources, military, industrial and human, on a scale never before thought possible, emerging in a war on the battle field that resulted in a war that went on for 1,500 days.
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