It has been a century since the “Guns of Autumn” commenced firing, and the world’s first global conflict began. Few events have had such an impact on world history. Not only do we remember World War I; we are still affected by its legacies. In terms of warfare, the conflict that lasted from 1914 to 1918 introduced many firsts: the first use of chemical weapons, the first aerial bombardment of civilians, the first use of tanks, the first use of genocide as an act of war. Most fatefully, the war’s outcome contributed to the rise of fascism in Germany and of communism in the Soviet Union, setting the stage for the Second World War. And the peace settlement that broke up empires and brokered the creation of new nations sowed seeds of conflicts that would erupt later in the 20th century.
The Central Powers—Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire—went to war against the Allied Powers—France, Russia, Great Britain, Italy, and later, the United States. The use of modern weaponry on the one hand—machine guns, huge artillery, tanks, hand grenades—was mismatched by outmoded ideas of national honor and military miscalculations on the other.
The underlying causes of the war include a massive arms race, especially between Germany and Britain, a push for expansion by European empires, and the mutual-defense agreements that drew nation after nation into the conflict. What made the war so deadly, though, was largely the manner by which it was fought, especially the reliance on trench warfare. From the Swiss Alps in the south to the English Channel in the north, both sides constructed series of trenches and poured soldiers into them, and then into pitched battles—at Verdun, the Somme, the Marne, Ypres (Passchendaele), among others. The trench warfare approach proved to be a death sentence to a generation of young European men, as battlefield deaths topped 9 million.
Image credit: © Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
- 100 Years, 100 Legacies: The Lasting Impact of World War I
A stunning multimedia collection, from Aerial Reconnaissance to Zeppelins.
(Source: Wall Street Journal, accessed August 5, 2014)
- The Great War
Watch the video series here, with explanatory text—a virtual course in World War I; includes timeline, glossary, interviews with historians, educational resources, and much more.
(Source: PBS; accessed August 4, 2014)
- World War I
Explore History’s video collection and interactive features.
(Source: History.com; accessed August 24, 2014)
- Look Back at World War I on This Centennial Occasion
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt presents a literary legacy of the Great War.
(Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; accessed August 5, 2014)
- World War I in Photos: A Century Later
The continuing legacy of the “Great War” told through photographs of the present and recent past.
(Source: The Atlantic, June 29, 2014)