World War I Lecture Notes
Representative of several nations met at The Hague, in the Netherlands
in 1899 and 1907 in an effort to limit armaments. Even as nations met
to discuss peace, however, they prepared for war. The war that began
in the summer of 1914 resembled no previous war. For the first time in
history, industrial technology played a major role.
Causes of the War:
Long Range Causes:
- Many referred to the decades before 1914 as a period of
“international anarchy” as nations in Europe pursued policies
without regard for the wishes or interests of its neighbors.
- Rivalries developed within Europe and abroad as a result of
- These rivalries grew more intense due to 4 major
- Spurred on by nationalist movements that occurred after
- Nations sought to unite all the people of a nationality
under a single government. This was difficult however
because in many cases one government ruled many
- Ex: Pan Slavic movement in the Balkans
- Nations competed for lands in Africa and other places.
- Ex: Spheres of influence in China.
- Ex: Fashoda Incident
- European leaders believed that only the use of force could
solve problems among nations.
- Militarism = glorification of armed strength
- Stronger nations got what they wanted…as did Prussia.
Weaker nations were left out…such as Italy in Africa.
- If one nation mobilized…then others would
respond…increasing tensions in Europe.
4) Entangled Alliances:
- Triple Alliance:
- created in 1882 with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and
Italy…with the purpose of alienating France.
- France, however, got scared and began to seek its
- Triple Entente:
- Entente = friendly understanding or agreement
- France, Great Britain, and Russia created the
- the result: Europe was divided into two armed camps.
- a small quarrel could develop into a full scale war.
- If any 2 countries fight…then 6 would end up
Immediate Cause of the war:
- The alliances knew that the smallest problem could lead to
major conflict. Most figured that it could happen in the
Balkans, the “powder keg of Europe”
- In 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-
Hungarian throne was killed in Sarajevo. (the capital of
Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian member of the terrorist
group, the Black Hand shot and killed Ferdinand and his
- Although Princip had acted without the authority
of the Serbian government, certain Serbian leaders
were aware of his plans and had furnished arms and
- The Austrian-Hungarian government assumed that
Serbia knew about the murderous plans, and they were
correct. So, they declared war on Serbia
- Serbs were given a “blank check” from their big
brother Russia to do what they wanted and they(the
Russians) would follow
- In this ultimatum, Serbia was given 48 hours
to accept all terms or Austria-Hungary would
- The declaration of war set off a chain reaction that
could not be stopped.
- Russia and France declared support for Serbia.
Germany and Belgium:
- Belgium was granted its independence and guaranteed
neutrality in 1839.
- Belgium agreed to stay out of any European war
and not to help any belligerents (warring
nation)….in turn other powers agreed not to attack
- After German government declared war on France, it
sent an ultimatum to Belgium demanding that troops be
allowed to cross through Belgium.
- British protested, insisting that Germany observe
- Germany struck first by carrying out the Schlieffen
- The Schlieffen Plan attempted to knock out
France with a quick and decisive blow and then
head east to Russia.
- Attempting to make the first offensive move,
Germany struck at France through the neutral country of
- Great Britain, who was allied with Belgium, and
who felt threatened by this attack, soon joined the
fight as well.
- Germany thought surely that Britain would
not fight the war for such a “scrap of paper” as
- German soldiers marched into Belgium
on August 4, 1914 secure in the kaiser’s
message: “you will be home before the
leaves have fallen from the trees”
- Great Britain declared war on
Germany later that day.
- Nearly overnight, most of Europe was involved in a
- It would be the Central Powers vs. the Allied
- Italy eventually signed treaties with the allies that
guaranteed them the spoils of war in a victory over A-H
- May 1915 they joined the war against their
- November 1914 – the Ottoman Empire
joined the Central Powers.
Course of the War:
- Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and others were
known as the Central powers.
- notice on a map where they are located.
- Eventually 32 countries made up the allies.
Innovations of Warfare:
- Industry produced weapons with the same efficient mass
production methods that it had applied to other items
- Both sides used weapons that had never been used before.
1) machine gun – rapid fire of bullets – any advance was
2) airplane – invented by the Wright Brothers
- not fast or easy to fly
- sometimes engaged in air combat known as
- first used for observing later used to drop bombs
3) U-boats – underwater boats
- German word for unterwasser
- used to damage allied shipping
4) poison gas - Germans first to use it
- heavy gas would sink in the trenches
- mustard gas
- blind and burn the skin
5) tanks – British introduced it in 1916
- enabled troops to cross barbed wire and break
through enemy lines
6) zeppelin – blimps used for observation and dropping
- To stir the patriotism of the people, countries used propaganda
- Propaganda = ideas, facts, or rumors spread deliberately to
further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause
War from 1914 to 1916:
- By September of 1914 German troops had reached the
Marne River in France, near Paris
- But the French managed to hold their ground
- (Remember – Germany needs a quick victory in
France – Schlieffen Plan)
- The Battle of the Marne changed the entire nature of the
- Germany’s hope of a quick victory ended.
- Both armies dug trenches on the western front,
which stretched from the Swiss border to the shores
of the North Sea
- Nearly 400 miles long
- The two sides fought in the trenches that were
separated by a thin strip of land called no-man’s land.
- These trenches were dug and then reinforced with
- Troops who attempted to enter no-man’s
land faced barbed-wire, shelling from
grenades, and the wrath of the new machine
- For months each side tried to reach
each other’s lines to destroy the enemy,
but neither side was able to gain more
than a few miles.
- Within the trenches were rats, lice, insects, gas, and
- By 1916 the war had reached a stalemate.
- Each side realized that it could not break through
the other sides trenches.
- The conflict had become a war of attrition.
War of Attrition = a slow wearing down
process in which each side tries to outlast the
- Two battles that exemplified this were the Battle of
Verdun and Battle of Somme
- At Verdun after 6 months of fighting, Germany
gave up and lost 330,000 soldiers and the French
- At Somme the British suffered over 60,000
casualties in one day.
- Although the Germans were free to trade with the U.S.
they were prevented from doing so by geography and
the British navy.
- Trade between the two would have to move
across the Atlantic, but the British controlled the
sea-lanes and threw a tight blockade of mines and
ships across the North Sea, the gateway to German
- The Germans retaliated by announcing a
submarine war area around the British Isles
Any boat that entered this region was subject
to a U-boat attack.
- Wilson threatened the Germans,
declaring that they would be held to
“strict accountability” for any attacks on
American vessels or citizens.
- The threat was put to the test on May 7, 1915
when a submarine sank the British passenger ship,
- The attack killed 1,198 people including 128
- The Germans justified the attack with
the evidence that the Lusitania was
carrying small arms ammunition for the
Lusitania, The Facts:
Carried 1300 passengers
Hit by a torpedo
Killed 128 Americans
Killed 1200 passengers
Sank in 18 minutes
Carried 420 cases of small arms
- Woodrow Wilson’s “Doctrine of Strict
Accountability” said that if anything happened to U.S.
citizens on account of the Germans, they would be dealt
- The U.S. demanded an apology, money damages,
and a commitment not to use subs again.
- Germany agreed to all but the last.
The Role of the United States:
- When WWI began in 1914, the U.S. declared its neutrality.
- Most Americans viewed it as a European affair, and the
U.S. should not get involved.
- As the strongest industrialized neutral nation, the U.S. soon
became a supplier of food, raw materials, and ammunition.
- The United States insisted on the right of its citizens to
travel in safety on ships of any nation, neutral or belligerent.
- In March 1916, Germany torpedoed a French merchant
ship, the Sussex, and killed more Americans.
- Wilson again threatened Germany with severe
- Germany then issued the Sussex Pledge which
they agreed not to sink passenger ships or merchant
ships without warning and without saving lives.
- At the beginning of the war, U.S. investors and businessmen
dealt with both sides.
- However, as the British blockade of Germany tightened,
the U.S. traded only with the Allies
- Election of 1916:
- Wilson was heavily criticized by many for not doing
- Former President TR called him “an infernal skunk”
and was a “coward and a weakling”
- In the election of 1916, Wilson declared that one should not
murder a man who is committing suicide.
- Wilson built his campaign on the issue of “he kept us out of
America Enters the War:
- Both sides tired to get the U.S. to join their side.
- the British enjoyed close cultural, linguistic, and economic
ties with America.
- In order to get the Americans to join their sides, the
British gave America graphic stories of German
atrocities which angered many Americans.
- Most Americans were anti-German from the outset.
- With his villainous upside down mustache, the Kaiser
seemed the model of arrogant autocracy.
- This impression was strengthened by Germany’s
ruthless strike at neutral Belgium.
Reasons for U.S. in the War: (chronologically not of
2) Zimmerman Telegram (Note)
- January 1917, German Foreign Secretary Arthur
Zimmerman sent a secret telegram to the German ambassador
- Germany needed for the U.S. to be detained and knew
that Wilson was having a difficult time with Mexico.
- Wilson had sent General John Blackjack
Pershing into Mexico to seek out the Bandit Pancho
- Terms of the Letter:
- Proposed a German-Mexican alliance
- it encouraged Mexico to go to war with the U.S.
- it urged Mexico, who had good relations with
Japan to encourage Japan to switch to the German
side and attack the U.S.
- it was understood that if German won the war,
their Mexican ally would acquire the lost territory
of Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.
3) The Russian Revolution:
- Wilson had been bothered by the fact that Russia was one
of the allies due to the autocracy of Russia.
- In March 1917 revolutionaries overthrew the autocratic
government and the new leaders promised to establish a new
- Now Americans would more readily accept a war in
which the lines were drawn between democratic and
- November 1917, Russia signs the Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk with Germany and then drops out of
4) Resumption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare:
- February 1, 1917 – violates the Sussex Pledge
- February 3, 1917 – U.S. severs relations with
- During the first weeks of March 1917, German subs sank 5
unarmed merchant ships
***Primary reason for America entering the war.
April 2, 1917 – Wilson asks Congress for a declaration of war against
- Wilson proclaimed two goals:
1) “to make the world safe for democracy”
2) “this would be the war to end all wars”
April 6, 1917 – Congress declares war on Germany
The biggest mistake made by Germany was that they did not believe
that the American entry into the war so late could turn the tide of the
America Mobilizes for War:
Mobilizing the Mind:
- First of all the government had to mobilize the people’s
mind for war.
- Therefore they created the Committee on Public
- The leader, George Creel, had the duty of selling
America on the war and selling the world on
Wilsonian war aims.
- His propaganda took several forms from posters to booklets
to hang-the-Kaiser movies and songs.
- Although most German Americans were ardent
patriots, rumors quickly spread of spying and sabotage.
- Because of such fears, the teaching of the
German language was discontinued in many
schools and colleges.
- Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage”,
hamburgers became “liberty steak”, and
dachshunds became “liberty pups”
- The government also passed the Sedition and
Espionage Acts which outlawed acts of treason and
outlawed any language or written documents that
criticized the government, flag, or the military.
- Espionage Act (1917) – provided a prison
sentence of up to 20 years for person who either
tried to incite rebellion in the armed forces or
obstruct the operation of the draft.
- Sedition Act (1918) – went further by prohibiting
anyone from making “disloyal” or “abusive”
remarks about the U.S. government
- About 2,000 were prosecuted – ½ went to
- Schenck vs. U.S. – upheld the Espionage Act –
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes concluded that the
right to free speech could be limited when it
presented a “clear and present danger” to the
Mobilizing for War:
- Although the U.S. had a strong navy, its army was not
much to brag about.
- It was obvious that a large army would have to be
raised, trained, and transported or the whole war effort
would be lost.
- Therefore, in May 1917, Congress passed the
Selective Service Act which required all men
between 21 and 30 to register with local draft
- By the end of the war over 24 million had
registered and 2.8 million drafted.
- Within a few months the army had
increased from about 200,000 to about 4
- Later draft went from ages 17 to
- Finally, in June 1917, the American Expeditionary Force
under the leadership of General John “blackjack” Pershing
“ Over There, Over There
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming
The Yanks are coming
The drums rum-tumming everywhere”
- These “doughboys” were usually deployed in with the
British and French forces.
- In the spring of 1918 the German advance was at
full tide with nearly half a million troops.
- Newly arrived Americans were thrown in
the middle of the fight at Chateau-Thierry.
This battle marked the first significant
engagement of American troops in a European
- As the German advance slowly began
to be halted, American leader Pershing
demanded a separate army. Near the end
of the war American forces were
assigned several important battles and
proved to be the new giant on the
- The Last German offensive was the Second Battle of the
- The Allied Drive to victory was the Meuse-Argonne
Offensive which drove the Germans back to their
- American Hero: Sgt. Alvin York – a
conscientious objector from TN who saved his
entire platoon by picking off machine gunners with
his rifle and then captured 133 German prisoner
with only his pistol.
Financing the War:
- 1) The government borrowed money through fundraising.
- Liberty Loans
- Victory Loans
- Liberty Bonds
- urged to buy at church services, motion picture
houses, mass meetings, parades, etc.
- 4 minute men
- 33 billion dollars raised in two years
- 2) Raised personal income taxes and corporate taxes
- In order to conserve resources the government created War
- 1) Food Administration:
- Led by Herbert Hoover
- Purpose was to oversee to production and
allocation of food stuffs to assure adequate supplies
for the army and the European allies.
- Through Volunteerism:
- Wheatless Wednesday
- Meatless Tuesdays
- Victory Gardens
- When you eat apples, be patriotic to the core
- “Food will win the war”
- 2) Fuel Administration:
- Allocated coal and oil
- Introduced daylight savings time
- Heatless Mondays
- Lightless Nights
- Gasless Sundays
- 3) Railroad Administration:
- place railroad under Federal Control but
maintained private ownership
- 4) War Industries Board:
- Controlled what goods would be produced
- Raw materials
- Price fixing
- Production and flow of consumption
- Ex: it controlled the number of times an elevator
could stop in a building
Minorities Help Out:
- American women during this time were encouraged to
enter industry and also agriculture.
- Many of the women took traditionally male jobs.
- About 1.5 million women worked in industries
during the war.
- Many considered it their patriotic duty.
- As a result of their efforts, Congress
passed the 19th Amendment after the war,
granting women the right to vote.
- Also, a population shift occurred during this time.
- The Great Migration of African Americans occurred
between 1915 and 1930.
- They moved from the South to the North seeking
job opportunities and higher wages.
- After several defeats by the Americans and allied forces, victory
was in sight.
- Mutinies broke out in the Germany army and navy and
German civilians took to the streets demanding food.
- As a result, Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to flee to the
Netherlands in early November.
- The next day the new German government agred
on an armistice
- On November 11, 1918 at 11:00 an armistice was signed.
- Armistice = cease-fire
- At this point an eerie silence came over the western
front which to one American was “nearly unbearable”.
- “All quiet on the western front”
- Back in America it was not so quiet as
citizens broke out in around the clock
- The war to end all wars had ended.
- Germany did not surrender.
- They did sign an armistice…with the understanding that
the treaty would be based on Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points.
- 14 Points = His ambition to shape the peace
- The people of Germany were impressed with the
Costs of the War:
- More than 10 million soldiers dead and over 20 million more
- Russia lost more than 2 million.
- Germany almost that many.
- France and its colonies lost 1.5 million.
- America lost 115,000
- Total cost was over $400 billion.
Paris Peace Conference:
- The Fourteen Points were addressed to Congress on January 8
1918 by Woodrow Wilson.
- The strongest of the points included:
1) self determination of nationality groups within the
- Poland for Poles, Romania for Romanians
2) open diplomacy / no secret treaties
3) freedom of the seas
4) A League of Nations International Peace
5) reduction in national armaments
- A peace conference was called in Paris in 1919 and Wilson
decided to attend to promote his Fourteen Points.
- This was significant because he became the first president
to travel to Europe during his term.
- Although many believed he should have carried
leading Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on the trip, he did
not, and in fact did not include a single Republican in
- Immediately the conference fell into the hands of four great
- They are known as the Big Four.
- The leaders and their goals:
1) Woodrow Wilson – America – develop world
peace and establish the League of Nations
2) Vittorio Orlando – Italy – Make sure that his
country got the territories it was promised when it
entered the war
3) David Lloyd George – Britain – Make sure
Germany was crushed and make sure Britain did
not lose its naval rights
4) Georges Clemenceau – France – Crush
Germany in all ways
- The leaders of the allied nations disliked Woodrow Wilson
because he was too bossy and he wanted to be too easy on
- Due to a lack of support at home, Wilson was often bullied
at the Conference and was forced to compromise on some of
his 14 points.
- Results of the Treaty:
1) Victors received conquered territories only as
trustees under the League of Nations. Known as the
2) Germany had to pay billions of dollars in reparations
to the allies. – Reparations totaled 33 billion dollars
3) Germany and the Ottoman Empire divided among
the allies according to the secret spoils of war treaties.
The secret treaties were “a peace of vengeance”
compared to the Fourteen Points which was a “peace of
4) Germany disarmed
5) Germany forced to admit full guilt for the war.
6) New European countries created. (Czechoslovakia,
7) Germany agreed not to fortify the Rhineland.
8) The Saar Valley would fall under the administration
of the League of Nations for 15 years. This was an area
rich in coal. All of the coal mined during that time
would go to France.
9) The restored nation of Poland received a large area of
- This region included the Polish Corridor, which
cut off East Prussia from the rest of Germany and
gave Poland an outlet to the Baltic Sea.
- Danzig became a free city administered by
the League of Nations.
- Germany was outraged. They were told they
would receive a treaty according to the 14 points.
The Treaty of Versailles included only about 4 of
- Treaty of Versailles and its harsh conditions is
why Germany’s economy was ruined and Hitler
comes to power.
- League of Nations and U.S.:
- Many Americans were against the League of Nations
because they wanted to be isolationist again.
- Congress especially disliked Article X of the
League Covenant which required all members to
protect each other. (basically this took away
Congressional war making powers)
- After the treaty became bogged down in the Senate,
Wilson took his League to the people.
- In Pueblo, Colorado, less than a month into his
tour, Wilson exhaustedly spoke on the importance
of the treaty.
- That night he complained of a headache and
- After quickly being rushed to
Washington, he soon had a stroke, which
paralyzed half of his body and left him
secluded from nearly everyone for the
rest of his term.
- He stayed ill and partially
paralyzed for the rest of his
- His wife Edith controlled all
access to Wilson and even
guided his hand in signing
- 42 Nations were part of the first group – eventually 62
nations would make up the body. The U.S. never joins the
League of Nations.