Talk:World War I

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This War related article has been awarded BRONZE status for quality. It's getting there, but could be better with improvement. See RationalWiki:Article rating for more information.

Editorial notes

Could and should have Wikipedia articles replaced, but this could be a pretty strong contender for a silver rating.

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Wishful thinking and "The Royals"[edit]

Several books have been written about the "Trade Union of Kings" in this era, the changing nature of statecraft. There was much Wishful thinking that the blood-ties of various kings would make a full-scale war impossible. I'm not sure if it's worth covering, if we're going to delete the page. --TheLateGatsby (The end of the dock ) 13:39, 23 August 2013 (UTC)

Spanish Flu[edit]

One of the most immediate consequences of the war was the Spanish flu. It originated in Kansas and was spread mostly on the battlefield. Unlike other flu epidemics, its victims were mostly young males. The reason it is called "Spanish" flu is because Spain as a neutral country had less strict censorship and as such was the first country to have reports on it in the press. I though this might be important, but apparently it does not fit into the structure of the article as of now, so I'll just leave it here. (talk) 17:14, 15 July 2015 (UTC)

Personally, I don't think it fits, but it's not crazy to think it would. It didn't fit where it was placed, though. Plus it sounded odd enough (a subjective thing) to me that I thought it needed some sort of references to back it up. MarmotHead (talk) 17:21, 15 July 2015 (UTC)
This article gives an easily readable summary. While it does not confirm the Kansas origin outright, it does mention that the first cases were from there. It also mentions the death toll that was way higher than for a normal flu and even higher than the war itself. I do think the Spanish flu was kind of a big deal, if only because of the number of people it killed and how it shows that censorship and weak government response (due to being preoccupied with the war) exacerbate disasters. (talk) 19:21, 15 July 2015 (UTC)
This article adds further credibility to Kansas being the origin of the pandemic of 1918 and thus its spread partially due to the war (lots of young men from America going to Europe, something that rarely happened in peacetime back than) (talk) 19:23, 15 July 2015 (UTC)
If you think those refs will work, go for it and add it in, but, please, add it in a way that it fits. The prior version had it in a paragraph on WWI technological advances which didn't work. MarmotHead (talk) 21:30, 15 July 2015 (UTC)

Gas: I like citations, but...[edit]

I'm a bit sceptical about so bombastically stating that phosgene was only "marginally more lethal" than chlorine based on American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) data. First of all, the AEF isn't necessarily a representative population as it arrived late and was only employed in significant strength in 1918. Secondly, while the citation points to table 16, table 3 contains the total numbers of gas casualties and here, while still low in overall death rates, phosgene is almost three times as lethal as chlorine (0.97% vs. 0.38%), but also shows that the number of chlorine cases was only a third of that of phosgene. For such a definite claim as "marginally more lethal", I think either some context/qualification should be added to the footnote, or actual controlled clinical tests should be used (the standard being LD50 or LC50Wikipedia which is typically tested on lab mice or rats, but also doesn't consider the effectiveness and ease of countermeasures. This source (p. 189) puts the LC50 (lethal concentration) of phosgene as just over half that of chlorine (3200 mg•min/m3 vs. 6000 mg•min/m3) making phosgene roughly twice as lethal as chlorine. Not to mention that "marginally more lethal" clashes with WP's phosgene article's leadWikipedia as well as its entry on chlorine as a weapon.Wikipedia ScepticWombat (talk) 10:02, 26 July 2015 (UTC)

...Bluh. My brain was not on. I'll sort out my mess in a little bit if you don't beat me to it. WalkerWalkerWalker 15:49, 26 July 2015 (UTC)

Over by Christmas[edit]

As 'many previous wars' had either been short term sequences of events or part of a longer term process with intermittent battles (with those coming afterwards coming up with 'a handy title' - The Wars of the Roses) - so at the time 'it will be over by Christmas' was perfectly reasonable.

So why wasn't it? (talk) 18:05, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

The condensed version?
  1. Mass conscript armies.
  2. The seesaw of gains/losses (e.g. initial German success in the west offset by an early Russian invasion and dismal Austro-Hungarian performance in the east, then the German success at Tannenberg in the east was offset by the Battle of the Marne in the west and so forth).
  3. Underestimation of the staying power of modern industrial states in terms of both manpower, industry and finances (this was where guys such as Norman "The Great Illusion" Angel went wrong).
  4. Technology favoured the defensive (barbed wire, machine guns, artillery, but tanks only appeared during the war). However, it's worth noticing that this mainly pertains to the Western Front due to the extremely high concentration of troops per kilometre of front line.
That's one attempt at an extremely abbreviated version at least. ScepticWombat (talk) 01:20, 6 October 2015 (UTC)
It was also a simple matter of sunk cost fallacy. By the end of 1914 when it was starting to dawn on people that it would not be a quick war, the casualties had already passed the one million mark. At that point, it became politically impossible to stop. All sides needed something to show for the losses and nothing less than a decisive victory would do. So they just kept pouring more and more in. — Unsigned, by: / talk 00:00, 12 October 2015‎
The sunk cost fallacy definitely became a major issue from around 1915/-16 onwards. However, it doesn't address the widespread assumptions prior to August 1914 that war wouldn't even last that long in the first place, or that war had become a useless tool in the arsenal of the modern state due to its reliance on manufacturing and trade and hence war was a practical impossibility. ScepticWombat (talk) 16:37, 12 October 2015 (UTC)

Recommended reading on WWI[edit]

This is a list of several of the WWI works I’ve read and which I either recommend or suggest should be taken with a grain of salt.

General works on WWI[edit]

These books are those that seek to provide a general overview of the entire war, typically including its origins and aftermath as well.

  • G. J. Meyer (2006) A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918, Random House.
    • If you want just one book on WWI, this is the one I’d recommend. It’s well written, covers the entire war, its origins and aftermath, and intersperses its chronological narrative with thematic sections on, say, the Romanovs and other important topics.

Works on specific theatres/fronts[edit]

These books cover particular fronts or theatres in WWI in greater detail and can be especially useful for those who would like more information on events away from the Western Front, which tends to get the lion’s share of coverage in most English language works on the war as a whole.

  • Prit ButtarWikipedia (2014-2017) has written a series of four detailed books about the WWI Eastern Front(s) published by Osprey Publishing and entitled: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (2014), Germany Ascendant: The Eastern Front 1915 (2015), Russia's Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17 (2016), and finally The Splintered Empires: The Eastern Front 1917-21 (2017).
    • Apart from “highlights”, such as Tannenberg, the Brusilov Offensive, or the collapse of Russia, the Eastern Front(s) tends to get less detailed coverage than the Western Front in most English language works. Buttar’s four part series makes up for this, so if you are already conversant with WWI and want to dive more into its Eastern Front(s), this is a work for you.
    • I’d suggest that Buttar’s series finally has provided something to replace the rather dated 1975 book The Eastern Fron 1914-17 by the late Norman Stone,Wikipedia which is rather dry, but was the standard work for decades, not least because of the scarcity of books on the topic in general.
  • Mark ThompsonWikipedia (2008) The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915–1919, Faber and Faber.
    • This is an excellent book on the Italian front and includes a lot of material on Italian political and cultural history on either side of WWI as well. If the book has one glaring weakness, it is that it covers the other (i.e. Austro-Hungarian) side of the frontline rather cursorily.
  • Robert Gaudi (2017) African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, Caliber.
    • I bought this with the concern that I was about to embark on a heroic epos centred on Lettow-Vorbeck, so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a good, all round book on the African theatre of WWI, which necessarily has to mainly focus on Lettow-Vorbeck’s campaigns, as they comprised by far the largest part of the fighting in Africa.

Works on the origins and aftermath of WWI[edit]

When it comes to books specifically on the origins of WWI, I think that the following two are the best I’ve come across:

  • Christopher ClarkWikipedia (2012) The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
    • Clark provides a good, detailed account of the origins of WWI and argues well for the causes of the war having less to do with deliberate aggression or imperialist/militaristic wishes for conquest than with intertidal, drift and path dependency.
  • Margaret MacMillanWikipedia (2013) The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War, Random House.
    • MacMillan’s book provides a good overview of the background for and causes of WWI, without Clark’s strong underlying thesis of drift and inertia as key factors in the origins of WWI.

As for books on the end of WWI and the Paris Peace Conference, I’d recommend another Margaret MacMillan book:

Final remarks[edit]

While Barbara Tuchman’sWikipedia The Guns of AugustWikipedia (1962) is probably the most read non-fiction book on WWI in general and its origins in particular, I’ll only recommend it for its “readability”. It’s age is really showing, with internal monologues/motives that Tuchman cannot glean directly from her sources, and, more problematic, a strong tendency towards the kind of national stereotyping that she also employed in some of her other books (most egregiously in the 1956 book Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour). While it is entertaining, Tuchman’s book should at best be a point of departure for reading later and better works, not as a definitive book on the topic. ScepticWombat (talk) 12:44, 23 July 2019 (UTC)

Do you want to make a "Further reading" section in the article? Pizza SLICE.gifDuceMoosoliniYour friendly RW dictator moderator 20:05, 23 July 2019 (UTC)
Do you think it would improve the article? If so, I’d gladly add some or all of the works mentioned above to such a section. ScepticWombat (talk) 22:08, 23 July 2019 (UTC)
Yeah, I think it would be excellent for the article. Pizza SLICE.gifDuceMoosoliniYour friendly RW dictator moderator 18:30, 24 July 2019 (UTC)
Okay, I've added the ones mentioned above. Feel free to add/revise the list. ScepticWombat (talk) 12:49, 7 August 2019 (UTC)


61 references are Wikipedia, 20 are Britannica and 5 are ThoughtCo. That's nearly half of the references. And my computer won't let me remove them without it lagging out. Can someone fix this? Otherwise it has to be promoted. --Andrew5 (talk) 23:01, 21 January 2022 (UTC)