Home     Mission    Building    Staff    Events    Get Involved    Store    Education     Resources     Media Room     Contact    

World War I

 

World War I (often abbreviated as WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

World War I was a significant turning point in the political, cultural, economic, and social climate of the world. It is considered to mark the end of the Second Industrial Revolution and the Pax Britannica. The war and its immediate aftermath sparked numerous revolutions and uprisings. The Big Four (Britain, France, the United States, and Italy) imposed their terms on the defeated powers in a series of treaties agreed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the most well known being the German peace treatythe Treaty of Versailles. Ultimately, as a result of the war the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian Empires ceased to exist, with numerous new states created from their remains. However, despite the conclusive Allied victory (and the creation of the League of Nations during the Peace Conference, intended to prevent future wars), a Second World War would follow just over twenty years later.

In 1912 and 1913, the First Balkan War was fought between the Balkan League and the fracturing Ottoman Empire. The resulting Treaty of London further shrank the Ottoman Empire, creating an independent Albanian state while enlarging the territorial holdings of Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece. When Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece on 16 June 1913, it sparked the 33-day Second Balkan War, by the end of which it lost most of Macedonia to Serbia and Greece, and Southern Dobruja to Romania, further destabilising the region. The Great Powers were able to keep these Balkan conflicts contained, but the next one would spread throughout Europe and beyond.

The Austro-Hungarian authorities encouraged the subsequent anti-Serb riots in Sarajevo, in which Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks killed two Bosnian Serbs and damaged numerous Serb-owned buildings. Violent actions against ethnic Serbs were also organised outside Sarajevo, in other cities in Austro-Hungarian-controlled Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. Austro-Hungarian authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina imprisoned and extradited approximately 5,500 prominent Serbs, 700 to 2,200 of whom died in prison. A further 460 Serbs were sentenced to death. A predominantly Bosniak special militia known as the Schutzkorps was established and carried out the persecution of Serbs.

On 2 August, Germany occupied Luxembourg, and on 3 August declared war on France; on the same day, they sent the Belgian government an ultimatum demanding unimpeded right of way through any part of Belgium, which was refused. Early on the morning of 4 August, the Germans invaded; King Albert ordered his military to resist and called for assistance under the 1839 Treaty of London. Britain demanded Germany comply with the Treaty and respect Belgian neutrality; it declared war on Germany at 19:00 UTC on 4 August 1914 (effective from 23:00), following an "unsatisfactory reply".

With the military faltering and with widespread loss of confidence in the Kaiser leading to his abdication and fleeing of the country, Germany moved towards surrender. Prince Maximilian of Baden took charge of a new government on 3 October as Chancellor of Germany to negotiate with the Allies. Negotiations with President Wilson began immediately, in the hope that he would offer better terms than the British and French. Wilson demanded a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary control over the German military. There was no resistance when the Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann on 9 November declared Germany to be a republic. The Kaiser, kings and other hereditary rulers all were removed from power and Wilhelm fled to exile in the Netherlands. Imperial Germany was dead; a new Germany had been born as the Weimar Republic.

Forms of resistance ranged from peaceful protest to violent demonstrations and from humble letter-writing campaigns asking for mercy to radical newspapers demanding reform. The most common tactics were dodging and desertion, and many communities sheltered and defended their draft dodgers as political heroes. Many socialists were jailed for "obstructing the recruitment or enlistment service". The most famous was Eugene Debs, head of the Socialist Party of America, who ran for president in 1920 from his prison cell. In 1917 a number of radicals and anarchists challenged the new draft law in federal court, arguing that it was a direct violation of the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the draft act in the Selective Draft Law Cases on 7 January 1918.

Missouri Civil War Museum


- -