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									                                   The Great War
        World War I wasn’t known as such until World War II proved the causes of The
Great War weren’t gone. The reasons it was called The Great War at the time it was
fought were simple enough. The conflict that erupted in 1914 became the largest the
world had ever known to that point. By the end, 49 million men from around thirty
countries lined up for the Allied Powers against roughly 25 million men of the four
Central Powers countries. The Great War lasted longer than anyone thought possible,
and its impact altered the map of Europe in ways also previously unimaginable. Empires
were destroyed, and nine new nations arose from their ashes. The war set in motion
events that led to a global depression and a worldwide flu epidemic. The entire strength
of combatant nations was hurled at enemy nations with horrifying results. Our purpose is
to trace the course of this war which ultimately proved to be only a grim foreshadowing.
In other words, World War I proved to be the primary cause of World War II.
        The Central Powers had an obvious advantage. Their being in the middle allowed
them to easily shift their forces when necessary. Furthermore, Germany had superior
soldiers and equipment over against the sheer numbers of, say, Russian forces which
were poorly trained and ill-equipped. For much of the war the Allied Powers strove to
catch up with the industrial capacity of the Central Powers to make implements of war.
The one glaring weakness of the Central Powers was their inability to produce enough
food for a long war. Had The Great War been Another Normal War, Germany would
likely have won it. As it turned out, the superior manpower, industrial potential, and sea
power of the Allies eventually proved too much for the Central Powers to bear. As the
British naval blockade of Central Europe tightened, Germany and Austria in particular
ran out of resources, especially food. One curious note as the two sides drew up in battle
array--our future enemies, Japan and Italy, joined the Allied Powers in order to pick up
the crumbs of collapsing empires. The US joined just to help.
        Napoleon would have been proud of the German strategic plan, only Napoleon
was long dead and so was the opportunity for quick encirclement. German soldiers could
not walk fast enough through Belgium to flank the French army which merely loaded
onto trains and met the invaders in a deadly frontal onslaught which became a stalemate.
Starting in September of 1914, the Germans did thrust into France within 25 miles of
Paris, but they were stopped at the Battle of the Marne along the river of that name. For
the next four years the opposing sides merely extended their trenches from Switzerland
(which was neutral) to the North Sea. With the exception of a few dashes of a few miles
back and forth, this line known as the Western Front stayed in place until the last year of
fighting. Since Germany had committed most of its forces to this front to secure a quick
victory over France, Russian forces were able to make encouraging progress on the
Eastern Front until Germany realized it was in a two-front war and adjusted. By the end
of 1914, movement in the war virtually ceased.
        The fighting, of course, did not. Try to imagine a moonscape of earth and blasted
forests, complete with craters, over which millions of men charged back and forth
accomplishing nothing but mutual slaughter. The area between the trenches was known
as No-Man’s-Land. Just as in the American Civil War, the tactics were behind the
technology. Not only did soldiers have repeating rifles and hand grenades,
entrenchments were fortified with barbed wire behind which water-cooled machine guns
belched forth death on a scale never before seen. Yet officers stilled ordered men to fix
bayonets and charge in waves! Snipers were also deadly over long distances because of
telescopic sights. Artillery in The Great War had advanced to the point where large guns
set up in Knoxville could easily reduce our city to rubble although we are about 28 miles
away. Not only did these weapons rain down high explosives that obliterated enemy
soldiers, they also were used to deliver shells containing poison gas. Chlorine and
mustard gas were used by both sides. These frightful chemical weapons were heavier
than air and waited for soldiers at the bottom of trenches and shell craters that were used
for cover. Only the development of gas masks checked this new scientific way to kill.
         Technology also changed warfare in other dramatic ways. The mobilization of
armies could now resort to motorized vehicles like trains but also the more versatile
trucks. While draft animals were stilled used in World War I, trucks were employed to
great effect in transporting and supplying troops. The British invented the tank as a
means of moving men and weapons forward across trenches in the face of machine gun
fire. The Germans invented the flame thrower as a means of stopping tanks. All of these
logistics were coordinated by telephone including the targeting of artillery fire. New
dimensions were added to warfare as airplanes went into the sky for reconnaissance,
dogfights, and rudimentary bombing while submarines went under the sea to attack
transport vessels filled with fresh troops and supplies. But American productivity by the
end of the war was able to build a transport ship from the keel up in just thirty days.
Depth charges were also developed to deal with the U-Boat menace. The combined
influence of these new technologies can be said to have annihilated or maimed nearly an
entire generation of the young men of Europe.
         Allied hopes were high, though, as 1915 opened. Italy joined the war on the
Allied side, and an attack by British troops at the key geographical location dividing
Turkey from the other Central Powers, the Hellespont, boded well for separating off the
Sick Man of Europe and dispatching him. The attack came on the extreme southernmost
peninsula of European Turkey (Thrace) at a place called Gallipoli. The British were
repulsed, however, and the Italian troops did not live up to expectations back in Europe
proper. On the Eastern Front, the Central Powers actually advanced. Having lost
200,000 men when the Germans first fortified this line, Russia now lost over 1 million
men as Germany advanced into the Russian Empire. By the end of the year Germany had
also occupied the Balkans including Serbia where the whole conflict had begun. By the
beginning of 1916 the prospects of the Allied Powers were dim indeed. The British
blockade of Central Europe was countered by a submarine blockade of England. The
first awakening of US outrage at German aggression, however, came when the British
ocean liner, the Lusitania, tried to run this blockade and failed. The deaths of 139
American passengers seriously damaged US-German relations. President Woodrow
Wilson extracted from Germany a promise to restrict its U-boat tactics. Learn this lesson,
though—one should never trust an aggressor with a terror weapon that can hide.
         The Germans knew time was not on their side. In order to force a change on the
Western Front in 1916, they mounted an all-out offensive against a French stronghold at
Verdun. The Battle of Verdun proved to be so destructive that human bone fragments are
still plowed up in French fields in the region even today. In four months there were
700,000 casualties, but even this battle proved indecisive. The Allied Powers tried to
counterattack along the Somme River, but they also failed to break the stalemate. Back
on the Eastern Front, Russia staged its own counterattack and within a few weeks had
made such encouraging progress that Rumania (later Romania) joined the Allied side.
When the Germans responded, though, they invaded and captured Rumania obtaining
valuable resources in the process. The one success for the Allied Powers in 1916 came at
sea when the British navy finally lured the German navy into battle off the coast of
Jutland in May. The British lost more ships of greater tonnage, but with a much larger
navy they could afford to do so. The German navy limped home and its surface ships
were never more an offensive threat, but the British did not gain a decisive enough
advantage to follow. This costly encounter was the only significant naval engagement of
World War I and was only one example of the staggering material cost of the war.
        Back in 1914 the Germans had seriously talked of entering Paris by the end of the
summer of 1915. That same year, the French had rallied to the cry of, “Christmas in
Berlin!” By 1916 neither side had gained any advantage over the other and all fronts
were stalled. There was no end to the war in sight. Both sides realized they were
fighting what historians call “total war.” Only France and England possessed civilian
leadership able to rally their people to fight such an all-out war, and this was largely the
case because of their access to resupply by the Americans. All other combatant nations
slowly spiraled down in a dwindling of resources known as attrition. The Germans began
rationing key supplies as early as 1915 and by the end of 1916 they were running out of
the ability to produce either food or clothing. They employed women in their factories,
and when that was not enough labor they enslaved Belgians. A shortage of coal set in by
1916 that left Germans not only hungry but cold. By now all of Germany’s colonies had
been stripped away. This territorial loss of their empire was only the beginning of what
the Allied Powers would exact in revenge if they could ever tip the balance toward an
Allied victory.
        Under these circumstances the military leaders of Germany (who had by now
assumed control of the country) made a fateful decision. On February 1, 1917, they
decided to adopt a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. They believed that only
aggressive action on the part of German U-boats could break the stalemate. If the United
States were therefore compelled to abandon its position of neutrality, the German military
leadership believed Britain could be conquered before the Americans could mobilize
significant forces. U-boats sank other Allied ships with Americans on board, then began
sinking unarmed American merchant vessels without even surfacing to warn the ships
they were about to be sunk. This last departure from any of the known rules of civilized
warfare was what ultimately aroused the American people enough for Congress to
declare war on April 6, 1917, at President Wilson’s urging. Matters between the US and
Germany had also been strained by the publication of an intercepted note from the
German foreign secretary to the government of Mexico. The Zimmermann Telegram, as
it came to be known, urged the Mexicans to attack the US in order to get their northern
provinces back. President Wilson’s war message to congress ended with the words:

       It is a distressing and oppressive duty, Gentlemen of the Congress, which I have
       performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery
       trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful
       people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself
       seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we
       shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for
       democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their
       own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal
       dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety
       to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can
       dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we
       have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is
       privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth
       and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can
       do no other.

Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric caught the ears of all of Europe, and the entry of the United
States into the war could not have come at a better time. As you will see, the Russian
Empire collapsed in the first of two Russian Revolutions. The first revolution deposed
Czar Nicholas II, and the second established the Soviet Union as the first communist
state. The Communists pulled Russia out of the war on the Eastern Front just as
Americans were entering the war on the Western Front. As a result of territorial
concessions, Germany was bolstered with a whole new resource-rich region and could
move all her forces into the trenches in France and Italy.
        Bloody, indecisive fighting continued through 1917 while American forces
gathered. The Germans even made a breakthrough in Italy which caused nearly 500,000
Italian casualties and was only stopped with British and French reinforcements. John J.
Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, had arrived in Europe in
June of 1917, but significant numbers of American troops were not available to help
launch a new offensive until the spring of 1918. The US contributed far more to the
Allied cause by providing food, oil, and money in the forms of loans to Allied
governments. Even with this support, France and Italy nearly collapsed as the morale of
their civilian populations deteriorated. Mutiny broke out in the French army and strikes
broke out in Italy. Germany managed to hold on and rebuff peace talks largely because it
had fallen under virtually a dictatorship of martial law, but Austria-Hungary was
splintering apart. Not only had Austria and Hungary been at odds, the various other
ethnic groups of the Balkans each sought independence based on nationalism. Woodrow
Wilson tried in a speech dubbed, “The Fourteen Point Address,” both to distance
America from the pursuit of territory by the Allied Powers and to rally the masses of
Europe to pursue peace. The speech made little impact when delivered but guided much
of the peace process in the end.
        Germany was not done, however. They had a chance after the Russians withdrew
and before Americans arrived in force to press on to victory early in 1918. In March they
drove forward back to the Marne, this time within 50 miles of Paris, but failed to break
through. Their last push came in July when they found themselves pushing against the
fresh troops of the United States who held. The British now unleashed large numbers of
tanks and by August drove the Germans back eight miles. With American resources and
the veteran experience of the British and the French, the Germans were then steadily
pushed back without a moment to rest. By the end of September, the Germans had lost a
million men in six months. With their allies crumbling behind them, the Germans
appealed to President Wilson for an armistice based on his Fourteen Points.
         The fighting ended on November 11, 1918 when a cease fire was arranged. The
official end to World War I came on June 23, 1919, with the signing of a peace treaty in
the Hall of Mirrors in Louis XIV’s old palace at Versailles, hence the name Treaty of
Versailles. Many historians, though, refer to the time period of 1919-1939 as the Long
Armistice (cease fire) in the struggle to the death over who would rule Europe. World
War II, therefore, is often considered just the continuation of World War I. In fact, even
the Germans who signed the treaty said, “We’ll see you again in twenty years!” Since
September 1, 1939, is considered the day World War II began, they were correct.
         The cost of The Great War in human lives varies depending on the source, but by
all accounts it was staggering. The war lasted 1,565 days, and 65 million military
personnel participated. Of these, at least 13 million died in action or later of wounds and
disease. The dead amounted to 20% of those in uniform—that means one in five of those
who fought died. In fact, twice as many were killed in World War I as were killed in all
major wars from 1790-1913 combined, including the Napoleonic Wars and the American
Civil War! Four empires were destroyed including the Russian, Austro-Hungarian,
Turkish (Ottoman), and German empires. Four hundred billion dollars in damage
resulted from the war partly causing the worldwide Great Depression. In addition in
1918, 20-25 million people died worldwide from a flu epidemic that soldiers took home
with them. The 20th century had opened with a nightmare. Europe looked in hope to
Woodrow Wilson’s peace plan. Wilson said he wanted to “make the world safe for
democracy” by solving the problems that led to the war and to make this war “the war to
end all wars.” Attacking the four main causes of World War I, Wilson’s Fourteen Points
included free trade, freedom of the seas, reduction of armaments, self-determination for
subject peoples, and an end to secret alliances. Wilson strove to avoid a punitive peace.
         The other three of the Big Four, especially England and France, wanted revenge
on Germany. The leaders of the other Big Four nations were David Lloyd George of
England, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. Orlando got so
angry one day he simply left the peace conference never to return. Clemenceau
expressed his sentiments by saying, “There are only two races, the human and the
German.” When Wilson tried to get him to lessen his harshness toward Germany, he
asked the leader of France, “But Mr. Clemenceau, have you ever been to Germany?”
Clemenceau responded, “I’ve never been to Germany, but they have been to France twice
in my lifetime.” As far as the leader of England was concerned, David Lloyd George was
elected as Prime Minister partly because he had promised to hang the Kaiser (Kaiser
Wilhelm, the leader of Germany). Wilson’s idealism did not prevail over such
indignation.
         So, the Treaty of Versailles wound up a punitive peace which blamed Germany
for the war. The provisions of the treaty cost Germany 1/8 of her land including 6.5
million of her people and all her colonies. France was permitted to occupy the Rhineland
for fifteen years in order to confiscate much of Germany’s coal supply. Germany could
not have an army of over 100,000 or a draft. Their navy was limited to 36 ships with no
submarines. No planes. No poison gas. The European winners wanted to try the Kaiser
as a war criminal, but he escaped to Holland. On top of all these other provisions, the
Treaty of Versailles ordered Germany to pay reparations, cash payments to the Allies for
having caused the war and the damage. At the peace conference, German leaders were
told, “Sign, or be partitioned.” They vowed to never forget the “injustice.”

								
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