The war that began in 1914 was called the Great War for many reasons, including the tremendous loss of life, the widespread physical destruction in Northern France and Western Russia and the political collapse of five major empires during and after the war. It is also commonly believed that the war planted the seeds for World War II.
The immediate cause of the First World War was the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914. (The details of what happened on June 28th read like a tragedy/comedy of errors.) The underlying causes of the war, though, included an intense international arms race and ideas of national honor and prestige prevalent in Europe by the start of the twentieth century. There was also the long simmering Franco-German rivalry (since the German victory over France in 1871), Russian-Austrian confrontation in the Balkans (dating back to Austria's threatened intervention against Russia during the Crimean War in 1855), Anglo-German tensions about overseas colonies (since the Congress of Berlin in 1885 and then the start of Germany's navy) and Russo-German rivalry over Poland (since the eighteenth century). These tensions all lay buried beneath the peaceful surface of European diplomacy waiting to explode. In 1914, they did.
It is difficult to quantify the enormous
impact that the war had on Europe. The war destroyed most of the economies
in Europe and left the U.S. as chief creditor nation to the world. (After the
war, Great Britain owed America $3.7 billion, France--$2 billion, Italy--$1
billion. The total was over $7 billion owed to the U.S.) But to some things
no price tag could ever be attached. It is not wrong to simply say that
an entire generation of men lay dead on the battlefield. The numbers (very
approximate) are especially horrible. Military casualties: 8.5 million
killed, 29 million wounded or missing. There were 6 million German casualties
versus 5.5 for France, which had a significantly smaller population than
Germany. To put these numbers into further perspective, the French had
mobilized 8 million men. Of these, 1.5 million were killed and 4 million
wounded, i.e., about 3/4 were casualties. Of all Frenchmen between the
ages of 20 and 32, 1/2 had been killed during the war. That entire generation
of young men could not be replaced.
While I could list this site below, I felt that the home page of the American Battle Monuments Commission deserved some mention here. Among the many preservation duties of the Commission is the charge to maintain twenty-four cemeteries for over one-hundred-and-twenty thousand U.S soldiers who died overseas during World War I and then World War II. Please have a look and remember those who have served. My uncle, who was washed overboard in the Pacific in November 1942, is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the West Coast Memorial in Presidio, California.
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