World War I
| An integral part of history|
|A view to kill|
"The real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war. You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way there could never be a war."
|—Captain Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) & Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson)|
World War I (also known as the First World War and known at the time as The World War, The War to End All Wars, and still, especially in France and the UK, as The Great War), took place from 1914 to 1918, and was so horrifying in terms of the casualties suffered that an entire generation that had been raised to view war as a glorious and heroic endeavor came home (at least those who survived) either with a deep loathing of the horrors of war or the idea that the war had created a new model for society. The former thought that the conflict proved once and for all that war was a futile exercise, summed up in the hope that it had been "the war to end all wars". The latter was equally convinced of the transformative powers of war, emphasizing the equality, fraternity and sacrifice of the "trenchocracy" as qualities which both made them suited to create a new and better world and earned the veterans a special right to trace their countries' future. Unfortunately, the peace terms amounted to a bad compromise between the spirit of revenge (guaranteeing punitive elements and condemnation of the losers) and idealistic language (which seemed doubly hypocritical in light of the punitive elements), leading to an even worse war. This meant that World War I has, like most wars, typically been seen as a pointless waste of human life.[note 1]
Rather embarrassingly for God, it was one of those wars where everyone assumed He was on their side. No doubt this embarrassment and confusion was why it took four years and the deaths of tens of millions of His followers before He finally admitted that it was the Catholic/Anglican/Hindu/Protestant/Muslim/Orthodox[note 2]/Shinto alliance that had been right, not the Catholic/Protestant/Muslim/Orthodox one. But the hideous slaughter of religious believers by religious believers sporadically stopped for a few hours on 25 December 1914, proving conclusively and once and for all that religion is a Good Thing™.
- 1 How the war progressed, in brief
- 2 How'd it get started?
- 3 Civil liberties
- 4 All Hands on Deck
- 5 Why was World War I such a big deal?
- 6 World War I in popular culture
- 7 From bad to worse - the Spanish Flu
- 8 Myths about the war
- 9 See also
- 10 External links
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
How the war progressed, in brief
The Russians were rushin' the Prussians;
The Prussians were crushin' the Russians.
The Balkans were balkin' and Turkey was squawkin'
Rasputin disputin' and Italy hootin'.
The Boches all bulled Bolshevikis;
The British were watching the sea.
But the good Lord I'm thankin'
The Yanks started yankin',
And yanked Kaiser Bill up a tree.
How'd it get started?
“”The next great European war will begin over some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.
|—Otto von Bismarck, 1888|
The political map of Europe looked very different 100 years ago. There were far fewer countries than now — with most of Central and Eastern Europe controlled by large multi-ethnic empires. Many European countries — even small ones like the Netherlands and Belgium — operated colonial empires. Most of them were constitutional monarchies but with varying degrees of (mostly male) enfranchisement and liberal and human rights, but all fairly undemocratic by current standards.[note 3] Massive technological and industrial changes were sweeping the world, and political structures that had already been under pressure and various degrees of reforms for most of the previous century were struggling to catch up.
There was no United Nations, but ongoing informal gatherings and consultations among major powers (the so-called "Concert of Europe" of the early 19th century) operated to confront (the ever more frequent) international crises by negotiated settlements which avoided great-power wars after 1871. This system, in place since the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars a century before, came under increasing strain as two new unified states, Germany (proclaimed in 1871) and Italy (formed 1815-1871), upset the old balance, while older powers, such as the Austr(o-Hungar)ian and Ottoman Empires, weakened, the latter losing most of its European territories between 1829[note 4] and 1913[note 5]. Competition for the spoils of the fraying Ottoman Empire (the "Eastern Question") especially tended to raise tensions between the smaller Balkan states, Austrians and Russians over the European bits, and between the Russians, British and French over the rest of the Ottoman domains. Throw in the competition for colonies between all the major powers, an interlocking alliance system, and the uncertainty about how fast and extensively various powers could industrialise (and thus improve their military powers), and you have a recipe for a twitchy and trigger-happy scenario ripe with the possibility for conflicts which could escalate into a great-power war unlike anything seen since 1815.
Balance of power in continental Europe
Establishment of the German Empire
In 1871 Prussia pwned France in the Franco-Prussian War and France ceded/returned[note 6] Alsace-Lorraine to the newly formed German Empire. Faced with French revanchism, Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of the German Empire,
avoided an all out war maintained peace by mostly isolating France through his foreign-policy efforts.
Formation of opposing alliances
In 1890 Kaiser Wilhelm II's disagreement with Otto von Bismarck led to the latter's dismissal. In Bismarck's absence,
all hell broke loose the isolation efforts fell apart, starting with the failure to renew the non-aggression pact (the Reinsurance Treaty) with Russia, which in turn led to France forming an alliance with Russia. The United Kingdom, operating under a balance-of-power policy,[note 7] joined France and Russia out of concern that France might get pwned once again. This became known as the Triple Entente.[note 8]
In central Europe, Germany had only one friend left: Austria-Hungary, a "dual monarchy" with two parliaments, two governments, well over a dozen nationalities, but one King/Emperor[note 9], one navy and one air force, whereas its land forces were split into three (Austrian, Hungarian and common imperial). Searching for new allies, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians had signed up Italy to form the Triple Alliance (1882) (though Italy skipped out when war actually came and instead joined the Entente[note 10]), but managed to coax the Ottomans onto their side (October 1914)[note 11] to shore up their position after the war had already begun. They also secured the support of Bulgaria, a traditional Russian ally — due to Russia's support for Serbia during the Second Balkan War in 1913.
Decline of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire, which had been in a long (and increasingly rapid) decline since the relief of Vienna in 1683, was steadily losing control of the Balkans, and several of the other European Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom) were trying to become the new chief power in the region. Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottomans in 1908, and the Ottoman Empire suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a Balkan alliance in 1913, being forced to cede much of its European territory.
Things went pear-shaped after the assassination of the heir to the
dictatorship throne of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) on June 28, 1914. The assassin was associated with Serbian military figures, and Austria-Hungary seized this opportunity to gain revenge and crush Serbia[note 12] at the same time. They cooked up an ultimatum that the Serbs rejected.[note 13] Russia, feeling betrayed by an earlier bargain in 1908/09, refused to stand by and see its interests and allies in the Balkans trampled and decided to back Serbia. German leaders, concerned over Russian military investments which they expected would made time work in Russia's favor, backed the Austrians and encouraged a quick attack on Serbia to settle the matter before the alliances could come into play. With the security of the German "blank cheque", the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia (28 July 1914), but dithered for various reasons (including a French mission to Russia) and the notion of a quick defeat of Serbia followed by a fait accompli to the Entente which they might simply accept proved to be only the first of many illusions shattered by the Great War. Instead, Russia promptly declared war on Austria-Hungary, but not on Germany.
However, Russian mobilization plans required a mobilization against both Austria-Hungary and Germany, and since a quick defeat of France in time to face a slower Russian mobilization was the key in German war plans, Germany demanded that Russia stop mobilizing on the German borders or face a German declaration of war. The Russian Tsar asked his generals to mobilize against Austria-Hungary only, but they told him that such an improvisation was effectively logistically impossible, hence Russia continued with the total mobilization already planned and the Germans promptly declared war on Russia (1 August 1914).
To avoid a two-front war, Germany had prepared to quickly knock out France before Russia was ready. The central idea was that Russia would be slow to mobilize, France markedly faster, but Germany would be fastest of the three and use a hammer-and-anvil maneuver (the so-called Schlieffen Plan). Here, the German left flank would hold French forces at the Franco-German border in Alsace-Lorraine while the right flank came bowling through neutral Belgium into northern France, swinging in behind the French armies in a giant pincer movement. Contrary to the most optimistic German plans, Belgium didn't surrender to let the Germans simply march though, but fought back tenaciously. Meanwhile, the violation of Belgium's neutrality gave the British Empire its diplomatic casus belli against Germany. The French armies thundered into the German forces on the Franco-German border, losing huge numbers of men in frontal assaults over open country. In the nick of time, the French high command realized that the Germans were about to surround them and land a knockout blow via the "right hook" coming careening down through Belgium and northern France. A desperate series of battles finally halted the German advance, whereupon the German armies retreated to a more defensible line in Belgium and France where fighting on the Western Front essentially settled down into brutal trench warfare for the next four years.
Not only did Germany not avoid a two-front war, it was now locked into what was fast becoming a war of attrition against the two greatest global imperial powers (Britain and France) in the west while the Russian steamroller was coming in from the east. Only a major German victory on the Eastern Front (the Battle of Tannenberg in late August 1914) prevented what had looked like an extremely dangerous strategic situation for Germany.
Austria-Hungary fared even worse; its corps of trained officers - which were not only the backbone of the army, but also one of the few unifying institutions in the shaky dual monarchy - suffered horrendous casualties in the early months of the war, crippling both the empire's military capabilities and further weakening one of its central pillars. Even worse, Austria-Hungary initially got its ass handed to it by Serbia, which repelled the Austro-Hungarian invasion, sending the dual monarchies' armies limping home with a large butcher's bill (December 1914). Furthermore, in a pattern which would hold throughout the war, while the Russians generally fared poorly against the Germans, they took the Austro-Hungarians to the cleaners. The outlook from Vienna quickly dimmed and the perspectives grew even worse in 1915.
As the war continued, the Central Powers brought Bulgaria (1915) and the Ottomans (1914) in against the Entente, while the Entente signed up Japan (1914), Romania (1916), Portugal (1916) and Italy (1915).[note 14] After three bloody years of fighting, the Russian Empire collapsed during the February Revolution (March 1917), and the Bolshevik government that emerged in the October Revolution (November 1917) made peace with Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918).
To challenge British superiority at sea and break the stranglehold of the British naval blockade, Germany declared an unlimited submarine war in which U-boats would sink all shipping, neutral or otherwise, in a German-designated zone around the British Isles without warning, resulting in the sinking of American vessels as well. Washington's patience with this policy wore increasingly thin, and the final straw came when the U.S. found out that Berlin was trying to enlist Mexico in an attack on the U.S. with the promise of the return of the territory Mexico had lost in 1848. Thus in April 1917 the United States declared war on Germany, providing a much needed infusion of manpower[note 15] to the exhausted Entente to clinch a decision on points over the equally exhausted Triple Alliance.
Schools of thought regarding the causes for World War I
The historiography as to why the war happened are — in comparison to the relatively simple explanations for WWII — hideously diverse, but most emphasize the rampant nationalism, imperialism and Social Darwinism bubbling throughout the whole continent (leading to an unstoppable arms-race), with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia ultimately pushing things over the edge.
The initial enthusiasm for war (at least in certain segments of the populations) had at first put some of the internal tensions in the warring states to rest. Regardless, civil liberties were quickly curtailed, even before the grinding war effort produced widespread dissatisfaction.
The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) curtailed freedom of speech and extended the government's ability to confiscate or control resources and property it regarded as necessary for the war effort (further strengthened by the Munitions of War Act 1915).
World War I saw a massive propaganda campaign (run by the grandaddy of PR, Edward Bernays) and an all-out government attack on civil liberties by Woodrow Wilson. The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 made it illegal to speak out against the war in any significant way. Citizen groups carried out vigilante actions against those considered "un-American", including Americans of German descent such as Hutterites, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Yiddish-speaking Jews. People were forced to support the war vocally and financially by various "citizens groups" who could report others for disloyalty for not buying war bonds and giving other material support. Among those who were sent to jail for opposing the war and/or conscription were Eugene V. Debs (10 year sentence) and Emma Goldman (2 year sentence). The Supreme Court also upheld the government's ability to curtail speech during wartime with the Schenck v. United States case.
All Hands on Deck
France, at least, was so desperate for
cannon fodder manpower for the war that it mailed summonses to Frenchmen living in other countries, demanding they return to France to join the army. It did at least pay their way if they agreed, but those who failed to show up were barred from returning to the country before age 55 (on pain of imprisonment), making many of them permanent expatriates. As you might expect, plenty of Frenchmen living abroad blew off the summons; those who were later drafted into the US military (or fought in other Allied militaries) were exempt though, since they were at least fighting the war on the side of the Allies.
Why was World War I such a big deal?
German soldiers were killed at the rate of one every 45 seconds, and French death rates were even higher. In the five months during which the battles of Verdun and the Somme were waged in 1916, nearly a million men died, an average of 6,600 every day, more than 277 every minute, nearly 5 every second. This was not exceptional. As Martin Gilbert pointed out, the 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme are often recalled with horror, yet on average, a similar number of soldiers died during every four-day period of the entire war. French casualties from the First World War were greater than US casualties from every war that the US has ever taken part in.[note 16] Russia and Germany each suffered even greater casualties. However, the greatest losses per capita were those of Serbia which lost somewhere between a sixth and a quarter of its pre-war population, a rate at least double that of the second hardest hit population (Romania's).
WWI also reconfigured the political and territorial landscapes of not only Europe but also other parts of the world, especially the Middle East:
- Several dynasties, notably the House of Hohenzollern in Germany, the House of Habsburg in Austria-Hungary and the House of Romanov in Russia, were toppled and several of the leading members of the latter were executed by the Bolsheviks.
- The Soviet Union, the world's first avowedly communist state, arose out of the war's ashes after a ferocious civil war, as did the Weimar Republic in Germany after a briefer and far less bloody civil war; this short-lived republican experiment was followed by the even briefer Third Reich.[note 17]
- The Austro-Hungarian Empire split up into or divided between several independent states, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia (initially known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). Italy took several German-speaking areas in the Alpine region and some important Northern Dalmatian ports and islands along with one-third of the Slovene lands.
- The rise of nationalism, already present prior to the war, received a great boost (at least in Europe) with the creation of a host of new states in line with Woodrow Wilson's ideal of self-determination. However, these all contained large ethnic minorities and the regime of minority rights set up by the newly formed League of Nations (another Wilsonian project) proved a weak guarantee against first discrimination and later ethnic cleansing and genocide in WWII, the latter prefigured and possibly inspired by the Armenian Genocide of WWI (which, according to the Turks, never actually happened until quite recently, when it apparently did ).
- Most of the Middle East (Iran and Egypt being among the notable exceptions), formerly constituting the Ottoman Empire, was carved up into a multitude of new states which became
colonies"mandates" of the victorious Entente powers, mainly Britain and France, under formal supervision of the League of Nations. The borders of these new countries were largely arbitrarily drawn and owed more to the interest of the imperialmandate powers than to local cultural or historical context. Some of these new Middle Eastern states (e.g. Iraq and Jordan) were created as kingdoms to be ruled by Arab leaders who had sided with Britain against the Ottoman Empire during the war. After World War II, with Britain unable to stop the fighting between Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine and a United Nations partition plan getting nowhere, Israel was proclaimed as a sovereign Jewish state by David Ben-Gurion. The repercussions of all of these actions are still felt to this day.
The war also introduced or honed many different kinds of military technologies and tactics. During the American Civil War both sides had occasionally gotten bogged down in trench warfare (e.g. the Siege of Petersburg); however, during World War I it became the main method of fighting and while it did reduce casualty rates,[note 18] it also meant that the war became one of attrition and effectively a race to (avoid) collapse. Horse cavalry began its long decline to be replaced by tanks. Machine guns, previously employed mainly in colonial warfare to multiply the firepower of comparatively small numbers of colonial troops,[note 19] were used prolifically by all sides in the Great War. Indirect fire artillery, the main casualty generator in both this and future major conventional wars, came of age and was mostly perfected. Air power, initially for reconnaissance, later for bombing and aerial combat, was first brought to bear on a large scale. Submarines also demonstrated their effectiveness and ushered in a new dimension in naval warfare. Finally, both sides began experimenting with chemical warfare, initially chlorine, later the more lethal phosgene, as well as mustard gas which, though less immediately lethal, caused terrible chemical burns and often meant a lingering and painful death for soldiers.
World War I in popular culture
The years following the end of the war were marked by an almost unparalleled number of monuments being erected in both Europe and the United States to those who fought and those who died in the carnage. In America perhaps only the Civil War has produced more memorials than the First World War. One particular statue, The Doughboy by sculptor E.M. Viquesney, is believed to have over 200 castings through out the US, though he claimed to have produced around 300 of them.
The legendary football match said to have taken place in 1914 during a Christmas truce between German and British forces is one of the most iconic images of World War I, and later used as the basis of the video for Paul McCartney's song "Pipes of Peace" as well as John McCutcheon's ballad "Christmas in the Trenches". The War also remained alive through the Rock n' Roll era in songs such as The Zombies' "The Butcher's Tale (Western Front, 1914)."
In Germany, the war produced two rather different best sellers, one fictional and anti-war, the other (somewhat) autobiographical and with an emphasis on the "ennobling" aspects of the war experience. The former, and the best known internationally, was Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) which, unsurprisingly, was not well received by the Nazis and other right-wing groups. The book was in fact among those the Nazis burned upon coming into power in 1933. The latter was Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel (1920) which was far more suited to Nazi tastes (although it should be noted that Jünger published some quite different versions of the book and was no admirer of Nazism, despite being a radical right winger). Both books were written by men with personal but quite divergent experiences of WWI: Remarque had spent 1½ months at the Western Front as an 18-year old conscript in 1917 before being wounded and spending the rest of the war in a hospital. Jünger, by contrast, had volunteered aged 19 in 1914 (after having briefly served in the French Foreign Legion prior to the war), advanced from private to lieutenant, was wounded 14 times during the war and finally received the highest award for bravery in the German Empire, the Pour le Mérite. All Quiet on the Western Front was adapted for the big screen several times, the first time in 1930 by Universal which was than led by German born Carl Laemmle senior. This version won two Academy Awards, among them the one for best director and was nominated for two more.
The 1981 film Gallipoli, named after the campaign of the same name, reminded many people (many did not need to be reminded) of the pointless waste of human life that accompanied much of the action in the war.
The main character in Charles Todd's series (1996–2008) of British village murder mysteries, Inspector Ian Rutledge, is a shell shocked veteran of the trenches, who is always accompanied (at least in his mind) by a Scottish soldier that he was compelled to execute.
The fourth and final series of the BBC One sitcom Blackadder was set in a trench during World War I. Though a comedy show, it featured many truths and poignant moments regarding life in the trenches.
The comedy Oh! What a Lovely War tells the story of the war, very loosely, using British Army songs and fanciful scenes of recruiting. It originated as a radio script by Charles Chilton in 1961, was adapted for the stage by Theatre Workshop in 1963, then became a very successful film directed by David Attenborough (1969.)
In 2016, EA DICE released Battlefield 1, a FPS based off the first war. The game was very well-received, a surprise for both developer and gamer. The plot, unlike the rest of the series, is told in a series of personal vignettes, with the deaths of soldiers treated with utmost respect, particularly in the prologue.
From bad to worse - the Spanish Flu
While many thought when the war was winding down that at least now they could mourn their dead, rebuild their country, and vow revenge for the next war, a small virus of the H1N1 variety had other plans. While the flu pandemic of 1918 is known commonly as the "Spanish Flu", it almost certainly did not originate in Spain. However, Spain was a neutral country and as such it did not employ strict press censorship about matters even tangentially related to the war. The major belligerent powers, however, each at least keeping in mind the possibility of the flu being some sort of new weapon of the other side, kept the story under wraps, making effective countermeasures of any kind very difficult. While there is still no scientific consensus as to the ultimate origin of the "Spanish Flu", we now know that the earliest cases that were without a doubt H1N1 of this epidemic occurred in a US Army camp in Kansas. Hence the spread was probably aided by hundreds of thousands of Americans entering Europe after having been in close proximity to each other for weeks on end. Unlike "regular" flu epidemics, this one was also peculiar in that healthy man in early or mid adulthood died disproportionately often from it, whereas the elderly, children and overall weakened people had a somewhat higher rate of survival. This indicates that some part of the immunological response to the Spanish Flu made its effects even worse for people with a healthy and intact immune system. While thankfully no pandemic - flu or otherwise - has reached the levels of the Spanish Flu since, it is a good case study how censorship, lack of efficient response (due to most governments being preoccupied with the war) and the specific characteristics of a pathogen can contribute to a particularly lethal pandemic. Whether the right lessons have been learned will unfortunately only become clear once the next pandemic hits. The mixture of panic, censorship and breakdown of (some) government functions during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa 2014 seems to indicate otherwise.
Incidentally, its extinction in 1957 (when H2N2 replaced it as the only Type A influenza virus in circulation) somewhat diminished H1N1's original lethality, which extinction will often do. In 1967, H3N2 replaced H2N2, driving the latter to extinction, a natural process that had been the typical lifecycle of Type A influenza for several millennia. Indeed, until 1977, when H1N1 mysteriously popped up again. It now circulates globally with H3N2, perhaps the first time two serotypes of Type A have circulated together in the history of that virus. Here's where the story gets interesting and returns to the subject of war and biological weaponry. It turns out, H1N1 escaped during an episode of
drunken careless mishandling within a laboratory situated in the Soviet Union (or possibly China, so perhaps it was an opium-related error instead, though it might have actually been released in the USA or UK (possibly making it a beer-related accident), for all anybody REALLY knows). Curiously enough, genomic evidence indicates a continuous serial passage of the virus in a HUMAN host, and probably not an animal host, as has been posited most often within politically-correct scientific discussions. Whatever its source, clearly at least one (and probably multiple) state-run laboratories had kept the H1N1 strain viable during its decades-long "extinction", which can only be explained in terms of interest in its properties as a best example of a (somewhat) controllable biological warfare agent. Given this provenance with all its not-so-subtle association with state cover-up and misinformation, one wonders why conspiracy types would rather prattle on about a Moon landing hoax with this oh-so-juicy tidbit on the serving table.
Myths about the war
- The US was entirely neutral until 1917 — Woodrow Wilson privately supported the Allies from the onset of the war. US businesses supported the Allies with materiel, but not Germany, due to a naval blockade.
- Opponents to war were isolationists — Many opponents were in fact peace supporters and/or internationalists.
- Opposition dissolved once the US declared war — A rally of 15,000 in New York city opposed the war in 1917 despite police intimidation. The precursor of the ACLU was formed at this time to defend opponents of the war who were exercising their free speech rights.
- African Americans eagerly supported the war — While some prominent African American leaders did support the war, the support was far from universal, particularly because of troop segregation and the lack of full democracy for African Americans.
- The new conscription law was widely obeyed — Resistance to conscription was strong: 3 million of 27 million eligible men did not register, and 338,000 of the registered either failed to obey induction orders or deserted.
- World War II
- World War III
- Scramble for Africa — African colonialism was a major expression of the 19-20th imperialism that led Europe to war.
- Iran-Iraq War — Trench warfare is back, baby!
- Remembering The Great War: The Outbreak, Popular Science
- A global guide to the first world war - interactive documentary, The Guardian
- Over There!
- Especially as its historiography has been dominated by British, French and German scholars, rather than those of the newly independent states formerly in the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman and Russian empires. The British had lost much and gained little. The French had lost much and had not completely destroyed Germany. The Germans had lost, felt unfairly humiliated and looked for scapegoats. With the hindsight of WWII, WWI looked even more pointless to many historians and the general public of these three countries.
- Though, presumably, only the Greek, Romanian, Serbian, and possibly the Czechoslovak and Polish variants, not the Russian or Bulgarian Orthodox ones.
- Finland (still part of the Russian Empire at the time) and Norway were the only countries in Europe that allowed full voting-rights to those without penises, while France, Switzerland and San Marino were the only long-standing republics, and Portugal had overthrown its king in 1910.
- When Greece became independent
- The Balkan Wars
- The French had taken it from the Holy Roman Empire in bits and pieces during the 17th century, but the place was still mostly German-speaking in 1870.
- Simply put, make sure no country becomes dominant on the continent, so that the British Empire can safely expand its territory and sphere of influence overseas.
- From the French Entente Cordiale or "cordial understanding" - a designation for the increasing closeness of Britain and France motivated by concerns about the power of Germany.
- The old Holy Roman Emperors happened to also be the Archdukes of Austria and the Kings of Hungary. In 1806, after losing to Napoleon again and pretty much totally losing control over the H.R.E., Emperor Francis officially ended it and reworked Austria as the Austrian Empire, with himself as its first emperor; he continued to hold the title King of Hungary, which the Hungarians weren't terribly happy about and there was a major (but unsuccessful) revolt in 1848. In 1866-67, after badly losing a war against Prussia, the Hungarian aristocracy successfully convinced the emperor to grant a form of autonomy to Hungary, thereby creating the "Dual Monarchy" of the Austro-Hungarian Empire- essentially two countries ruled by one man.
- Italy was always an odd member of the Central Powers, being Austria-Hungary's traditional enemy and desiring Austro-Hungarian territory, so pointing out that Italy was only obliged to join in a defensive war and that it was the Austro-Hungarians who had declared war in the first place, Italian leaders proclaimed that they followed the path of "sacro egoismo" (sacred egoism) and stayed out when war began. A wise decision, especially considering what happened when Italy actually joined the fray: twelve(!) Battles of the Isonzo, 'nough said.
- "Coax" = a British shipyard was working on two warships for the Ottoman Navy. The British Navy seized them when the war started, and the Ottomans obviously weren't super stoked about it. The Germans, having previously declined a prior Ottoman offer of alliance, had seen their critical offensive in France stall at the Marne in September 1914 and reconsidered; they offered two warships of their own to the Ottomans if they'd join their side, and the Ottomans accepted.
- Austria-Hungary controlled Bosnia, whose population included a significant number of Serbs. There was a movement, both in Serbia and in Bosnia, that sought to free Bosnia from Austrian control, and either to make it independent or to join it with Serbia as a larger state. Eventually, the latter goal came about with the formation of Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War I.
- It involved ten demands, mainly things like that Serbia had to suppress anti-Austrian groups in their country, and arrest everyone involved in the assassination, including some government officials. Despite the relatively harsh demands, Serbia agreed to submit to all of them but one — that Austrian police be allowed to operate in Serbian territory.
- Italy was originally allied with Austria-Hungary and Germany. However, Italy and Austria have a long history of disliking each other, especially since Austria controlled some territory that many Italians considered to be rightfully theirs — Italians referred to it as "Italia Irredenta", or "unredeemed Italy". When Austria declared war on Serbia, Italy said that they didn't have to join the war because the alliance was "defensive" and Austria was the attacker. As the war progressed, the Allied Powers promised Italy that if they joined forces, Italy would be given Italia Irredenta if they won; Italy agreed to join their side. After the war ended, the Entente gave Italy less territory than they expected. This "betrayal" contributed to the rise of Mussolini and the fascists in the 1920's.
- Unlike in WWII, U.S. troops were largely equipped by the British and French, while food supplies and loans had already been flowing across the Atlantic prior to the U.S. declaration of war simply because the Entente paid well.
- Which puts all claims of French cowardice to bed, especially considering that America's bloodiest war was the one it spent fighting itself
- Consider that the reviled "intermezzo", as Weimar is often depicted, lasted about 14 years, whereas the Third Reich, aka the "1000 year Reich", lasted exactly 12 years, 3 months and 8 days.
- While the slaughter at such meat grinders as Verdun or the Somme is rightly (in)famous, the early months of mobile warfare on the WWI Western Front were actually deadlier in terms of casualties per month (for the French and the Germans) and casualties as percentage of forces committed (for the British).
- A pithy summary can be found in Hillaire Belloc's rhymed and rather sarcastic children's book The Modern Traveller (1898): "Whatever happens, we have got; The Maxim gun, and they have not."
- "Goodbyeee", Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
- "The Yanks Started Yankin" by Arthur Fields
- On the Brink, The New York Times
- Dual Alliance, Encyclopedia Brittanica
- The Great Powers and the "Eastern Question", MSU
- The Schlieffen Plan, Alpha History
- How WWI's U-Boats Launched the Age of Unrestricted Warfare, Wired
- The debate on the origins of World War One, The British Library
- World War One: 10 interpretations of who started WW1, BBC News
- Espionage and Sedition Acts, Sewanee University
- Martin Gilbert. The First World War: A Complete History, 2004. 
- The Christmas truce, BBC News (The actual scale and details of the football match remain unclear, and reports are prone to romanticization.)
- Gallipoli (1991) on Rotten Tomatoes (Note: It is a Mel Gibson movie.)
- A Brief, Terrifying History of Viruses Escaping From Labs
- Genomic evidence for the adaptation of the influenza virus to its human host
- Five myths about World War I by Michael Kazin (April 6, 2017) The Washington Post.
- War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 by Michael Kazin (2017) Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1476705909.