Lecture #12 THE GREAT WAR
• Focus on impact of the war and the significance – military history not critical
• Why was it fought? / Significance / Consequence
This was the worst war in Europe since the 30 years war and some argue that it led to WWII.
• 40 million are wounded or killed
• A generation of men is wiped out
• End of 4 empires (Ottoman, Russia, German, Austrian)
• Ended economic prosperity
• World power goes to the US.
July Crisis: The archduke of Austria and his wife are shot while in Bosnia by Serbian terrorists
(The Black Hand)
• It began as a local war and an issue of political assassination.
• Austria questions whether the Black Hand is operation under the orders of the Serbian
government (turns it into an international problem). (mad that Bosnia annexed by Austria
in the Bosnian Crisis of 1908).
• Under the impression that the Serbian government was behind it, Austria asks for
Germany’s help and are given a blank cheque.
• Germans want to keep localized war by striking fast (defeating Russia who is growing
power) while other powers are still angry with Serbia.
• Austria slow, but issues Ultimatum, (808-810) which is rejected.
An Austrian War?
• Austria knows that multi-ethnic empires are dying (Ottoman), and to exert power they
have to beat Serbians so they decide to act
• However, they never meant for it to explode into a world war.
• Germany aggravates it by miscalculating Russia’s willingness to mobilize as well as
Britain and France.
Shleiffan Plan: German plan to avoid a two front war as produced by their blank cheque.
Depended on take France before Russia could mobilize.  Why was the Great War so different than any other war that preceded it?
• War is increasingly being seen as an effective way to solve diplomatic problems because
it resets Balance of power.
• The problem in this case is that the scale of the war was not anticipated. Everyone
believed it would be over by Christmas.
3 Stages of War:
The Western Front (STALEMATE)
• The western front was fought by trench warfare
• The Shleiffan Plan fails because they march through Belgium (bringing in England) and
meet with more French resistance than expected.
• Both sides dig into shelter while constantly trying to outflank each other – this creates a
huge long series of trenches from Belgium to Switzerland.
• Becomes a war of movement to gain any advancement.
• At this point it is clear that the war will not end soon and more men have to be brought in
to re-establish movement.
The Trench Life
• Made of barbed wire and sand bags
• The two sides are separated by no man’s land
• There are front lines, support lines and reserve lines with communication lines in between.
• Typical rotation: 3 months in front, 30 days support, 120 days reserve.
• Very dull
• Spent in patrol/repairs/chores/drinking/smoking/little sleep
• Rats, lice, Trench fever, skin fungus
• Overall a very unhygienic life.
By 1916 (2 years in), there is still a stalemate so Allies decide to break it they will begin All out
Offensives. These result in HUGE casualtites for very little ground and are ultimately a failure.
• Verdun: 400,000 soldiers die • The Somme: 400,000 more men die
• All to gain 120 square miles
New weapons worsen the attrition
• Tank introduced
• Chlorine gas
• Flame throwers
• The Eastern Front is the site of main expansion because it was so vast that it never had a
• Mainly Russian casualties (2 million killed/wounded in 1 year)
• Eastern front is an indecisive mess. Austria needs to be bailed out by Germany.
• Italy becomes a front and switches to the Allies in 1915.
• Ottomans/Bulgarians join and become “Central Powers.” – not that much help.
• Romania joins allies.
• The war spreads to North Africa and the Middle East and Asia.
• It also expands into the sea (War at Sea).
− Unrestricted sub warfare, which causes US to join war.
• Expansion could be considered decisive because it caused the US to join the war, which
ultimately won it.
 Why did the Great War become a “total war”?
Total War = Home Front
• As the war expanded globally, it also expanded at home, creating a Total War.
• This aspect was more important for consequences of the war than the battle field was.
• The Home Front kept the war going.
− It became national struggle of continued shared sacrifice
− This total war was unprecedented
• The home front also causes politics, economics and society to change exponentially. Why this change?
• The stalemate of 1914 showed inadequate pre-war planning – no one expected the
stalemate or extended war.
• As a response, states begin to improvise for resources and reorganize the planning.
− Need to mobilize the nations – trial and error to do this
− Needed women, peasants and industrial workers who had never been included
− The governments had to persuade civilians to be motivated despite hardships and
continue the popularity of the war.
How did they do this?
• Needed to win popular moral and turn the war into a crusade against their enemies
− Demonize Germany as “Huns”
• The war was put into terms of “Save the Nation.”
• Appealed to duty, purpose, and shared values.
− To raise an army at home
− Bring nation to arms
• Persuasion allowed stalemate to regulate economy and lives with the consent of the
Three stages of how this played out.