About World War I
World War 101
General Overview and Statistics
World War I, which lasted more than four years-from 28 July 1914 to 11
November 1918-changed the entire world order. Monarchies and empires crumbled in
Russia, Germany, Turkey and Austria-Hungary, and were replaced by democracies
and dictatorships. Alliances between nations formed in that war that remain in
place today. It laid the groundwork for the United Nations. It forged the
beginnings of a unified Europe. In the aftermath, amid uprisings and revolutions
across Europe, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany and his expansionism and
quest for power, among other factors, led to World War II 20 years later.
It impacted almost every continent and almost every member of Western
civilization. It was one of the deadliest wars in history, resulting in an
estimated 16 million soldier and civilian deaths. For context, more people were
killed in World War I than the entire current population of New York state, and
more than the entire current populations of Belgium and Sweden combined.
World War I was the first mechanized war. It began with horses and ended with
tanks. It introduced chemical warfare, airborne warfare and genocide. It also
led to the worst pandemic of the 20th century: the 1918 influenza pandemic,
which is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million people
Also known as The Great War and The War to End All Wars, it involved more
than 70 million military personnel-more than the entire human population of the
United Kingdom today-including 60 million Europeans. It was one of the largest
wars in history.
In brief, World War I began in July 1914 when a Bosnian Serb Yugoslavian
nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz
Ferdinand. Austria issued an ultimatum to Serbia. Serbia refused. They were
essentially on a war footing, but because of a web of alliances between those
two countries, the conflict quickly escalated to include all of Europe and
beyond. The two main sides in the war became the Triple Entente (France, Russia
and Britain), versus the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy).
The U.S. joined the war late, in April 1917, on the side of the Entente, after
German submarines sank American merchant ships and America learned that Germany
had been trying to persuade Mexico to start a war with the U.S.
World War I was a significant turning point in the political, cultural,
economic and social climate of the world. The war and its immediate aftermath
sparked numerous revolutions and uprisings. Britain, France, the United States
and Italy imposed their terms on the defeated powers in a series of treaties
agreed at to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The most famous of these was the
German peace treaty-the Treaty of Versailles. When the war was over, the
Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman and Russian Empires ceased to exist, with
numerous new states created from their remains.
But despite the conclusive Allied victory-and the creation of the League of
Nations during the Peace Conference, which was intended to prevent future
wars-the fallout would inevitably lead, just over 20 years later, to World War
II. Germany, economically crippled by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, was
now fertile ground for the rise of an ultra-nationalist party like the Third
Reich and a leader like Hitler. Meanwhile, the citizens of the Allied countries,
devastated by the loss of an entire generation of sons, were deeply against
entering another war. This reticence from the Allied nations-most notably the
U.K., the U.S. and France-allowed Hitler to accumulate power, invade other
countries and launch a genocide, virtually unchecked, until it was almost too
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