89 World War I


US History/World War I Europe In 1815, the powers of Europe united to defeat French Emperor Napoleon. For a century since that time, there had been no major war in Europe, but countries organized themselves in a complex system of alliances.

After Napoleon’s defeat, the European powers – the United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Russia, and Austria – met in Vienna. The nations decided that if power in Europe was balanced, then no nation would become so powerful as to pose a threat to the others. The most important of these was the German Confederation. In 1871, after defeating France and Prussia, several small German nations merged into the German Empire upsetting the traditional balance of power.

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck began to construct a complex web of alliances to protect German dominance. Germany and the United Kingdom were on good terms since Germany did not rival British sea power by building up a navy. In 1873, Russia, the w:Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany entered the Three Emperors’ League. [1] Nine years later, Austria-Hungary, w:Italy, and Germany formed the Triple Alliance. In 1887, the Reinsurance Treaty [2] ensured that Russia would not interfere in a war between France and Germany.

In 1890, Bismarck was fired by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who then began to undo almost all of Bismarck’s policies. He decided to build up a German navy, leading to animosity with the United Kingdom. He did not renew German agreements with Russia. This, in 1894, led Russia to form a new alliance with Germany’s rival France.

In 1904, France and the United Kingdom decided to bury the hatchet. They ended centuries of bitter enmity and signed the Entente Cordiale. Three years later, those two nations and Russia entered the Triple Entente. Imperial Russia began to build up its army, as did Germany and Austria-Hungary.

War Breaks Out

War was triggered by the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

Austria-Hungary was a patchwork of several nations ruled by the Habsburg family. Several ethnic groups resented rule by the Habsburgs. In June, 1914, the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, traveled to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, who had a profound distaste for rule by the Habsburgs, assassinated the Archduke and his wife.

The Axis Powers

The Austro-Hungarian government decided to use the opportunity to crush Serbian nationalism. They threatened the Serbian government with war. But Russia came to the aid of the Serbs, leading Austria-Hungary to call on Germany for aid. The same was agreed to by Emperor Wilhelm II; Germany handed Austria-Hungary a “blank check,” that is, it agreed to give Austria-Hungary whatever it needed to win the war. Many of these countries had secret treaties with one another that other countries did not know about. The outcome is having a lot of countries backing each other up, making for countries to join the war.

In July, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany began to mobilize their troops. Russia would eventually back out of the war due to a revolution that was taking place at the time. The conflict in Austria-Hungary quickly began to spread over Europe. In August, Germany declared war on France. The Germans demanded that Belgium allow German troops to pass through the neutral nation. When King Albert of US History/World War I 2 Belgium refused, Germany violated Belgian neutrality and invaded. Belgium appealed to the United Kingdom for aid; the British House of Commons threatened that the UK would wage war against Germany unless it withdrew from Belgium. The Germans refused, and the UK joined the battle. In 1915 the German navy sunk the Lusitania, a passenger ship that killed around 1200 people including 120 Americans. American citizens put pressure on the government to join the war. By 1917 Germany had warned any ships that approach the UK would be sunk instantly. Woodrow Wilson would then enter the war to resolve it with a peaceful ending[3] . The decision to join the war was a tough decision for president Wilson. He had planned at the beginning of the war to stay neutral, but that didn’t work out as well as he had planned. Many ethnic groups in the United States had began to takes sides. Economic links with the Allies also made neutrality very difficult. The British were flooding America with new orders. Many of the orders were for things such as arms. These sales were really helping America get out of its recession. Although this was good for the economic health of the United States, Germany saw this as America becoming the Allied arsenal and bank.[4] The Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, were pitted against the Allies, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France.

The Early Stages

German troops entered Belgium on August 4. By August 16, they had begun to enter France. The French Army met the Germans near the French border with Belgium. France lost tens of thousands of men in less than a week, causing the French Army to retreat to Paris. The Germans penetrated deep into France, attempting to win a quick victory. On August 5, the United States formally declared their neutrality in the war. They also offered to mediate the growing conflict. In the United States, the opinions were divided. Some felt we should aid England, France, and Belgium because they were depicted as victims of barbarous German aggression and atrocities. Others felt we should avoid taking sides.[5]

The Allies won a key battle at Marne, repelling the German offensive. The Germans lost especially due to a disorganized supply line and a weak communications network. The French Army, however, had not completely defeated the Germans. Both sides continually fought each other, to no avail. On the Western Front, Germany and France would continue to fight for more than three years without any decisive victories for either side.

Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, Germany faced Russia. In the third week of August, Russian troops entered the eastern part of Germany. Germany was at a severe disadvantage because it had to fight on two different fronts, splitting its troops. However, despite Germany’s disadvantage, no decisive action occurred for three years.

The United Kingdom used its powerful Royal Navy in the war against Germany. British ships set up naval blockades. The Germans, however, countered with submarines called U-boats. U-boats sank several ships, but could not, during the early stages of the war, seriously challenge the mighty Royal Navy.

The war spread to Asia when Japan declared war on Germany in August, 1914. The Japanese sought control of German colonies in the Pacific. Germany already faced a two-front war, and could not afford to defend its Pacific possessions.

In October, 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered, allying itself with the Central Powers. The entry of the Ottoman Empire was disastrous to the Allies. The Ottoman Empire controlled the Dardanelles strait, which provided a route between Russia and the Mediterranean. The Ottoman sultan declared holy war- jihad- against the Allies. Muslims in the British Empire and French Empire were thus encouraged to rebel against their Christian rulers. However, the Allies’ concerns were premature. Few Muslims accepted the sultan’s proclamation. In fact, some Muslims in the Ottoman Empire supported the Allies so that the Ottoman Empire could be broken up, and the nations they ruled could gain independence.

The Middle Stages

Between 1914 and 1917, the war was characterized by millions of deaths leading nowhere. Neither side could gain a decisive advantage on either front.

In 1915, the Germans began to realize the full potential of Submarines. German Submarines engaged in official unrestricted warfare, engaging and sinking any ship found within the war zone regardless of the flag flown. Germany’s justification for this use of force was that there was no certain method to ascertain the ultimate destination of the passengers and cargo carried by the ships in the war zone, and thus they were all taken as attempts at maintaining the anti-German blockade.

The final straw in this unrestricted warfare for the United States of America was the sinking of the Cunard Line passenger ship RMS Lusitania [6], which operated under the flag of Great Britain. The ship was sunk on May 7, 1915. Of the 1,959 passengers aboard the ship, nearly 1,200 of them died. The ship carried over one hundred Americans, and the incident strained relations between the US and Germany although the Americans on board had disregarded the the warnings published by Germany in the American newspapers.[7]

In May, 1915, Italy broke the Triple Alliance by becoming an Allied Power. In October, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. Each side had induced their new partners to join by offering territorial concessions. Italy prevented Austria-Hungary from concentrating its efforts on Russia, while Bulgaria prevented Russia from having connections with other Allied Powers.

In May, 1916, one of the most significant naval battles in World War I occurred. The Royal Navy faced a German fleet during the Battle of Jutland. The Battle proved that the Allied naval force was still superior to that possessed by the Central Powers. The Germans grew even more dependent on U-boats in naval battle.

In August, 1916, Romania joined the Allies. Romania invaded Transylvania, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But when the Central Powers struck back, they took control of important Romanian wheat fields.

The United States Declares War

Until 1917, the United States had stayed neutral. They adopted the policy of isolationism because they felt that the events in Europe had no impact on North America. American opinions began to change after the sinking of the Lusitania, An Irish ship carrying primarily civilians. However, the US was calmed by the Germans, who agreed to limit submarine warfare. In 1917, the Germans reinstated unrestricted submarine warfare in order to cripple the British economy by destroying merchant ships, and break the sea blockade of Britain. President Woodrow Wilson responded to the German threat by asking Congress to declare war. Congress complied on April 6, 1917. On the evening of April 4, 1917 at 8:30 President Wilson appeared before a joint session of congress. Asking for the declaration of war to make the world “safe for democracy” On April 4, 1917 congress granted Wilson’s request and the United states were at war with Germany. The American ambassodor rececived a telegram in London from the British. It was from the German foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmerman. Then to the ambassador in Mexico. Zimmerman proposed that the event of the war with the United States. Germany and Mexico would join in alliance. Germany would fund Mexico’s conflict with the US; with victory achieved. Mexico would then be able to gain there lost territories with Arizona.

The US had to mobilize its military before it could aid the Allies by sending troops. The cadre of the U.S. Army had experience in mobilizing and moving troops from its Mexican expedition, but the Army needed to expand to over one million men, most of which were untrained. In the same way, the Navy could send a battleship division to assist the British Grand Fleet, but needed to expand. Logistics (see the chapter on the Civil War for a definition) also US History/World War I 4 compelled the U.S. to set up its supply lines in France south of the British and French lines, which meant the U.S. would take over the southern part of the Western Front battle line. However, the US could and did help the Allies with monetary assistance. Increased taxes and the sale of bonds allowed the US to raise enormous sums of money.

The U.S. commander, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, faced immense pressure from the British and French governments to use American forces in small units to reinforce depleted British and French units. This was impossible politically. Pershing insisted to General Foch, the Generalissimo of the Allied armies, that the U.S. Army would fight as a single Army. Pershing did not want to give his men to other Allied commanders, many of whom’s strategies he disagreed with. The Allies were involved in a trench warfare, especially in France. Pershing saw this as a useless technique and believed it only achieved stalemates and needless deaths. The trenches themselves were dug, lined with barbed wire and mines, and were festering places for disease. Outside of the trenches, between to battle lines, rested a virtual “no man’s land” where soldiers were cast into certain death by machine gun or gas. Pershing’s views turned out to be correct. Trench warfare often ended with little accomplished and many deceased. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, for example, Allied troops suffered 600,000 dead and wounded to earn only 125 square miles.

Trench Warfare

The United States troops were shipped out to France to do their fighting under the American command. General John J. Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), insisted that his “sturdy rookies” remain a separate independent army. He was not about to turn over his “doughboys” to Allied commanders, who had become wedded to unimaginative and deadly trench warfare, producing a military stalemate and ghastly causalities on the western home front. Since the fall of 1914, zigzag trenches fronted by barbed wire and mines stretched across France. Between the muddy, stinking trenches lay “no man’s land,” denuded by artillery fire. When ordered out, soldiers would charge enemy trenches. If machine gun fire did not greet them, poison gas might.

First used by the Germans in April 1915, chlorine gas stimulated overproduction of fluid in the lungs, leading to death by drowning. One British officer tended to troops who had been gassed reported that, “quite 200 men passed through my hands….Some died with me, others on the way down….I had to argue with many of them as to whether they were dead or not.” Gas in variety of forms (mustard and phosgene, in addition chlorine) would continue in use throughout the war, sometimes blistering, sometimes incapacitating, and often killing.

The extent of dying in the trench warfare is hard to comprehend. At the Battle of the Somme ub 1916, the British and French suffered 600,000 dead or wounded to earn only 125 square miles; the Germans lost 400,000 men. At Verdun that same year, 336,000 Germans perished and at Passchendaele in 1917 more than 370,000 British men died to gain about 40 miles of mud and barbed wire. Ambassador Page grew sickened by what Europe had become “A bankrupt slaughter-house inhabited by unmated women.”

Revolution in Russia

The underlying causes of the Russian Revolution are rooted deep in Russia’s history. For centuries, autocratic and repressive czarist regimes ruled the country and most of the population lived under severe economic and social conditions. During the 19th century and early 20th century various movements aimed at overthrowing the oppressive government were staged at different times by students, workers, peasants, and members of the nobility. Two of these unsuccessful movements were the 1825 revolt against Nicholas I and the revolution of 1905, both of which were attempts to establish a constitutional monarchy. Russia’s badly organized and unsuccessful involvement in World War I (1914-1918) added to popular discontent with the government’s corruption and inefficiency. In 1917, these events resulted in the fall of the czarist government and the establishment of the Bolshevik Party, a radical offshoot of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, as the ruling power.

Series of events in imperial Russia that culminated in 1917 with the establishment of the Soviet state that became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The two successful revolutions of 1917 are referred to collectively as the Russian Revolution.

The first revolution overthrew the autocratic imperial monarchy. It began with a revolt on February 23 to 27, 1917, according to the Julian, or Old Style, calendar then in use in Russia. On January 31, 1918, the Soviet government adopted the Gregorian, or New Style, calendar, which moved dates by thirteen days; therefore, in the New Style calendar the dates for the first revolution would be March 8 to 12. Events discussed in this article that occurred before January 31, 1918, are given according to the Julian calendar.

The second revolution, which opened with the armed insurrection of October 24 and 25, organized by the Bolshevik Party against the Provisional Government, effected a change in all economic, political, and social relationships in Russian society; it is often designated the Bolshevik, or October, Revolution.

There were two factions of the Communist Party, and there was much bloodshed. . At first the current Russian monarchy was overthrown by the people. The rebellion lasted for only three years. Once the revolution had ended, Russia made its way to the industrial age. This led to better technology and larger cities for Russia. Education was increasing and illiteracy was at a very low rate[8] . Eventually Lenin won, and he was made head of the country, which came to be called the Union of the Soviets or the Soviet Union. Lenin was Head of Party, the biggest figure in Russia, and Leon Trotsky was named Commissar of War. Lenin’s representatives signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers in the spring of 1918. Russia ended its participation in the war. It also lost Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States to Germany. The Germans were then free to concentrate their troops on the Western Front. Lenin tried later to make other rebellions but was unsuccessful. He said that he fought to “pull the Bearded Man (God) out of the Sky.” Lenin’s slogans were “Brotherhood and Freedom” and “Rebellion to Authority.” The later is popularly called NIN and in the United States is a common gang sign.

Permanent Revolution

Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), whose original name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein, was one of the chief figures in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After years spent in exile agitating in favor of Russian communism, he put his ideas into practice as one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution. After falling out with Stalin, he was expelled from the Russian Communist Party in 1927 and forced into exile once again. There he wrote prolifically about the meaning of the Russian, and French Revolutions. Trotsky is known for his policy of permanent revolution and for being assassinated in Mexico in 1940 by Stalinists as part of the Great Purge. Permanent Revolution is a term within Marxist theory, which was first used by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels between 1845 and 1850, but has since become most closely associated with Leon Trotsky. The use of the term by different theorists is not identical. Marx used it to describe the strategy of a revolutionary class to continue to pursue its class interests independently and without compromise, despite overtures for political alliances, and despite the political dominance of opposing sections of society.

Trotsky put forward his conception of ‘permanent revolution’ as an explanation of how socialist revolutions could occur in societies that had not achieved advanced capitalism. Part of his theory is the impossibility of ‘socialism in one country’ – a view also held by Marx, but not integrated into his conception of permanent revolution. Trotsky’s theory also argues, first, that the bourgeoisie in late-developing capitalist countries are incapable of developing the productive forces in such a manner as to achieve the sort of advanced capitalism which will fully develop an industrial proletariat. Second, that the proletariat can and must, therefore, seize social, economic and political power, leading an alliance with the peasantry.

The End of the War

Despite the fact that the Germans could concentrate their efforts in one area, the Central Powers faced grim prospects in 1918. Encouraged by the United States joining the war, several nations joined the Allied Powers. The four Central Powers of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria faced the combined might of the Allied Powers of the United Kingdom and the British Empire, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, France, Belgium, Japan, Serbia, Montenegro, San Marino, Italy, Portugal, Romania, the United States, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, Brazil, Liberia, Siam (Thailand) and China (some of the above nations did not support the war with troops, but did contribute monetarily.) The Germans launched a final, desperate attack on France, but it failed miserably. Due to Allied counterattacks, the Central Powers slowly began to capitulate.

Bulgaria was the first to collapse. A combined force of Italians, Serbs, Greeks, Britons, and Frenchmen attacked Bulgaria through Albania in September, 1918. By the end of September, Bulgaria surrendered, withdrawing its troops from Serbia and Greece, and even allowing the Allies to use Bulgaria in military operations.

British forces, led by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), together with nationalist Arabs, were successful in the Ottoman Empire. About a month after Bulgaria’s surrender, the Ottoman Empire surrendered, permitting Allies to use the Ottoman territory, including the Dardanelles Strait, in military operations.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire also decided to surrender in October. The royal family, the Habsburgs, and the Austro-Hungarian government desperately sought to keep the Empire of diverse nationalities united. Though Austria-Hungary surrendered, it failed to unite its peoples. The once-powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire was destroyed by the end of October, splitting into Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.

Germany, remaining all alone, also decided to surrender. President Wilson required that Germany accede to the terms of the Fourteen Points, which, among other things, required Germany to return territory acquired by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to Russia and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to France. Germany found the terms too harsh, while the Allies found them too lenient. But when German Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated the throne, the new German government quickly agreed to Wilson’s demands. On November 11, 1918, World War I had come to an end.

Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was the peace settlement signed after World War One had ended in 1918 and in the shadow of the Russian Revolution and other events in Russia. The treaty was signed at the vast Versailles Palace near Paris – hence its title – between Germany and the Allies. The three most important politicians there were David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson. The Versailles Palace was considered the most appropriate venue simply because of its size – many hundreds of people were involved in the process and the final signing ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors could accommodate hundreds of dignitaries. Many wanted Germany, now led by Friedrich Ebert, smashed – others, like Lloyd George, and were privately more cautious. On June 28th 1919, the chief Allied Powers of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy, and Japan met with the Central Powers in France to discuss a peace settlement. There were men, David Lloyd George of Britain, Woodrow Wilson of America, and Clemenceau of France, who were known as the big three. Each of the Allied Powers had distinct interests during the talks. The UK wanted to keep the Royal Navy supreme by dismantling the German Navy, and also wished to end Germany’s colonial empire, which might have proved to be a threat to the vast British Empire.David of Britain wanted to be hard on the Germans because if he looked soft people would not vote for him in the future[9] . Italy wanted the Allies to fulfill the promise of territory given to them at the beginning of the war. Clemenceau wanted Germany to be brought to its knees so it could never start a war again France wanted Germany to compensate them for the damage caused to France during the War. Japan had already accomplished its interests by taking over German Pacific colonies. President Wilson’s main goal for the conference was the creation of the League of Nations; he felt such an organization would be the only way to prevent future wars. Many historians believe that his concentration on the league, forcing him to sacrifice possible kindnesses to Germany, would lead to WWII.

The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to cede Alsace and Lorraine to France, dismantle its Army and Navy, give up its colonial Empire, pay massive reparations to the Allies, and take full responsibility for causing the war. The conference also led to the creation of the League of Nations. The US Senate, however, did not consent to the Treaty, and the European powers were left to enforce its provisions themselves. This eventually led to violations of the treaty by Germany, which then led to the Second World War. The treaty crippled Weimar Germany and led to great bitterness in Germany. This bitterness eventually led to the rise of fascism and Adolf Hitler.


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