On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, leading to the first global conflict, in which the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire squared off against the Allied Powers of France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, Italy and the United States. This anniversary offers us the opportunity to revisit the causes and horrors of World War I:
Love had a hand in starting WWI.
Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand married Sophie Chotek on July 1, 1900. His uncle, the Austrian Emperor, consented to the marriage on various conditions, one being that Chotek not sit with Ferdinand in public except when he acted in a military capacity. And so the couple went to Bosnia in 1914 to inspect the army together, only to be shot to death in the streets of Sarajevo.
An improbable assassination helped too.
After six assassins failed to kill Ferdinand during his drive to Sarajevo’s town hall from the train station, one of them, Gavrilo Princip, hung around for a second chance. Later that day, Ferdinand’s motorcade took a wrong turn and wound up right next to Princip, who fired two shots, killing both Ferdinand and Sophie.
Nine million combatants were killed in the war.
That’s 6,000 a day. The unimaginably violent war included an offensive that cost the British 19,000 dead on the first day alone. Five million civilians also died of disease, starvation and exposure.
It was the first industrial war and the first scientific one.
WWI featured the first flamethrowers, first use of tanks and chemical weapons, the first aircraft carriers and fighting aircraft, as well as improved artillery, machine guns, submarines and grenades. It also saw the first pilot-less airplanes, predecessors of today’s drones. One of the less great inventions is the rumored use of semen as invisible ink by British spies. Flying tanks were another spectacular failure.
Submarines and a telegram to Mexico brought the U.S. to declare war.
President Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916, running in part on having kept the U.S. out of war. In 1917, however, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine attacks and sank seven U.S. merchant ships. The Germans also tried to induce Mexico to attack the U.S. in a telegram bizarrely sent via Western Union. The intercepted communication, known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in a military alliance.
The “War to End All Wars” led to WWII.
The war-ending Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay reparations to France and England, crippling its economy while making it accept all responsibility for Allied losses. German feelings of humiliation and resentment feed the rise of fascism, setting the stage for WWII.
War-related violence didn’t cause most deaths.
The number killed in battle pales in comparison to how many people died from disease, starvation and exposure in the years after the war. The 1918 flu pandemic killed 3 to 5 percent of the world’s population, between 50 and 100 million people; it’s believed close quarters and massive troop movements helped spread the flu during the war. The Russian famine of 1921 also killed over 5 million people and can be traced back in part to the economic impact of the conflict.
The war altered the U.S. social and political landscape.
The 1917 Selective Service Act led directly to all those postcards from 18-year-old boys to the government ever since. The war also birthed the 1917 Espionage Act, recently used to charge Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Congress granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917 and promptly sent 20,000 of them to war. Women moved into jobs men left behind to fight, modernizing perceptions of women in the workforce and resulting in the 19th amendment being ratified in 1920, establishing women’s suffrage.
The war made bras popular!
With metal in great demand, bras became popular replacements for corsets. The war also drove forward other innovations including Kleenex, tea bags and disposable razors, which were included in the standard kit of every enlisted man.
The war was a cartographer’s wet dream.
The war ended the German, Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires and lead to the formation of new countries. The German Empire became the Wiemar Republic. Austria-Hungary became Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia were cut from the western frontier of the Russian Empire after they withdrew from the war. The Ottoman Empire disintegrated, its core reconfigured as Turkey.
What on this list surprised you? What did you already know? What do you remember from high school history (or the History Channel) that could complement the details above? Tell us all about it in the comments below.