This year marks the 100th Anniversary of World War I. Today, July 28th, marks the start of the war. On this day in 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after Serbia rejected the conditions of an ultimatum sent by Austria on July 23 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war was dubbed “The Great War” for a reason. Never before had so many nations, around the globe, picked up weapons and fought. It was the first time chemical and aerial warfare was used. The war years also saw the century’s first genocide in the form of ethnic cleansing of the Armenian people (as well as Greek and Assyrians) by the Ottoman Empire.
The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were filled with assurance that they would not be defeated by the Allied Forces of Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan. When fighting broke out in 1914, no leaders believed it would last long. It was thought that the War would be over by Christmas. However, by the end of the first year, trench fighting proved slow. Never before, and never repeated since, a total stalemate left the world in a shocked silence. Who would be the first to make a move? How long could soldiers physically and psychological survive in trenches? The outcome was nothing short than catastrophic.
By the time of the official Armistice on November 11, 1918, an estimated nine million people died on the battlefield. Another seven million were permanently disabled and around fifteen million were seriously injured. Four empires had collapsed and large parts of France, Belgium and Russia were littered with crater holes and desolate cities. Technological advances and battlefield tactics changed the face of modern warfare forever. When peace came, it was not real peace. Germany was left bitter and discontent with the Treaty of Versailles. Many Germans believed that Germany was the true winner of the war. There was as strong feeling of betrayal – that their politicians were traitors and their actions undermined those fighting on the battlefield. So they searched for someone to better lead them. That man was Adolf Hitler.
While it was thought that World War I was to be “the war to end all wars,” it was instead the war that started another and left Europe in utter devastation.