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World War 1 Essay, Research Paper
“World War I: Total War”
Europe since pre-Roman times has been marked by conflict. Warring tribes often did battle in small skirmishes and hand-to-hand combat. But as the civilizations grew and technology improved the battles became larger and much more intense. With the Industrial revolution, warfare would change forever. This can be best seen in World War One. The “war to end all wars” gradually escalated to a global conflict, dragging the super powers into a four year struggle. World War One brought many new and horrible inventions to the participants both at the front, as well as at home.
There are many reasons why World War I was so much different than all the past conflicts. For one thing, it was the first time in almost one hundred years that all the major super powers were fighting. Not since Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, had England, France, Germany (Prussia at the time of Napoleon), and Russia been fighting at the same time. This in turn made it a global conflict. With all the over sea possessions of these countries, fighting was inevitable in their colonies. This was another first for World War I. Another huge aspect that made this war the first truly “modern” war, has to do with the Industrial Revolution. This revolution did change the nature of battle. No longer was war considered to be one-on-one. With the improvement of the gun and invention of the machine gun, almost anybody could become capable of killing many enemy soldiers. Industrialization of the warring countries meant a better railroad system. In turn, this meant that moving the supplies of war to the front line could be done relatively easily. For the first time also, countries were able use the entire industrial resources to help insure victory with industrial might. A final difference from this war from any other was the use of science and war. It was during this time when science was looked upon to help break the stalemate of the war. This can be seen in the use of poisonous gas. The Germans looked for ways to gain the advantage, and their scientists developed a way to spread Chlorine gas over the unprepared allies.
When war did break out in July, 1914, the belligerents had a high enthusiasm toward the war. The past couple of wars had only lasted a few months at the most. With war between Prussia and France only lasting about eighteen weeks, it was hard for anyone seeing this conflict go any longer. Some of the poetry written during the beginning of the war possesses a romantic flavor. They try to compare the duty of serving in the army as the right thing to do. And dying for your country is the best possible way to die. Another undertone present in the poetry is a deep hatred toward the other side. In Ernest Lissauer’s poem “Hymn of Hate” there is an obvious dislike toward the English (Wiesner, Ruff, and Wheeler, 300). Lissauer repeatedly points out the English are the only one they hate and Germans all hate them together. These attitudes of enthusiasm and hate added the total disillusionment of all the people fighting and encouraging the war.
In examining sources about the soldiers fighting along the front, a common theme appears. Often the situation describes death and destruction. This is evident in the writings on the front-line by Henri Barbusse. Barbusse gives an excellent look about the true tales of World War I. He describes the land around the fighting as hell; with twisted humans and earth scattered all about. He goes on further explaining the futility of charging towards the enemy’s position. The confusion and loss of life running toward a storm of bullets is best captured in these real life, trench stories. In Erich Maria Remarque’s book All Quiet on the Western Front, the German side of the trench life. All in all the same type of death and destruction is evident. Remarque describes the awful conditions facing the collapsing German Army. He tells of the doctors making wounded men go back and fight along the front lines. He further goes on to tell of the starvation and sickness of the soldiers still able to fight. Remarque still believes that his side is still strong but they are simply being overwhelmed by more allies than Germany can counter against (WRW, 306-310).
As the war dragged on and body count rose the soldiers on both sides started to wonder about true goals of their country. No longer was there a strong patriotic feel their side actions for a couple of reasons. One thing was the true horror of the war. Constant enemy fire and pointless trench assaults can kill the moral of the best soldier. After three years of these tactics, food and manpower started to run low. Soldiers began to lose the need to die for their country. Another aspect that led to the downfall of patriotism was the lost expectations from the beginning of the war. Most people believed that the war would come to an end quickly. Yet by the end of 1916, a trench stretched from the English Channel to the border of Switzerland. This four hundred-mile front had moved less than thirty miles in either direction for almost a year. The soldiers began to wonder if there would be a winner or even and end. These factors together eventually brought moral down which in turn brought patriotism down with them.
A unique thing about World War I was the impact on the civilian population. For the first time, all of the citizens of the country were needed to do their part. Every country involved had to ration food, darken their cities at night for air raids, and called upon for selective service. These all had a direct effect on the home front. No longer could the people read that the fighting was going on away from home, they were feeling it themselves. People had to give up certain privileges to help better the war effort. They could no longer eat as much or what the wanted to, women had to go to work in the mills to make up for the shortage of male fighting, and civilians were dying away from front lines. For the first time countries deliberately attacked civilian population. Germany would often send huge airships to bomb English and French cities. These brought a direct threat and feel of war toward the once untouched towns.
In examining the cold facts of the war, it provides evidence of the huge impact the war had on the warring countries. The first striking example is the figure on the loss of on the loss of life. Over nine million men died on the battlefield. Out of the seventy million mobilized for war almost one tenth would not make it to see the war end (WRW, 320). The sources describing the front line atrocities, based on this table, almost have to be correct. A second example that the tables support, is the impact the war had on the warring country’s economy. According to table thirteen in WRW, over seven hundred thousand females replaced male jobs in England alone (319). This increased women workforce shows the need for civilians to take up the slack needed for a successful war effort. Although some industries needed more help than others, all the industries had increase of female workers.
As a result from World War One, many changes would take place in European society. One major effect was the urge for revenge by the losing powers. The Treaty of Versailles 1919, left the Germans as the single responsible party for the war. The allies were especially harsh to insure that Germany remained so weak that conflicts on the mainland would not resort to this intensity again. The allies made Germany pay whole the cost of the war immediately. This in turn left Germany’s economy in utter ruin. This would later play into the hands of the radical Nazi Party, and the acquisition of power by Adolph Hitler. The European map also changed dramatically. The powers in Europe, realizing that Nationalism was one of the main causes the war, changed political boundaries to try to create separate states for separate nationalisms. For the most part countries accepted their new independence, but it is impossible to form a boundary around a specific type of nationalism. A third and final change in European thought was that of the League of Nations. Countries in Europe, as well as around the world, tried stop an aggressive nation not by an armed conflict but by resolution. The League of Nations consisting representatives from participating nations will meet to try and discuss a non-violent solution to the conflict. In all of these steps set-up at the peace accords in Versailles, the powers in Europe did not want to see another war like this happen again.
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