World War I in a nutshell – Part I

So, there have been a bunch of wars between humans. I’m sure that each has a unique and amazing story behind it, and we’ll probably get to them all at some juncture. However, for the moment, I thought I’d start with the big ones, you know the ones that were so significant that they were called “WORLD” wars. And if having only one wasn’t enough, the world got together to follow up World War I with a sequel a few years later and then spent the better part of the next 4 decades living in fear of part III.

World War I

World War I, also known as “The Great War”, took place mostly in Europe between 1914 and 1918. World War I is also sometimes called, “The War to End All Wars” which makes no sense because it did no such thing. Sort of like the Civil War being called “Civil.” Anyway, there were about 20 million soldiers and civilians killed in World War I and another 20 million injured in some way. 20 million. Times two. For some perspective, you could fill Yankee stadium to capacity every home game for 8 and a half years and not get to 40 million people.

The war was mostly battled between Germany and Hungary against Britain, Italy, and France. The Russians were involved (fighting against the German side) ’til their revolution in 1917. The United States got involved for the last year of the conflict. World War I was the first war where planes participated in the destruction. Of significant note, World War I essentially destroyed the world order that had existed for about 100 years. The Russian empire? Niet. Ottoman? Gone. German? B’bye. After things were said and done, about half a dozen countries (including Finland, Latvia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania) had their independence.

So how did this awesome display of humans destroying everything around them begin? The prevailing theory is that a single shot from a single assassin left a power-vacuum in a really appealing place, thus bringing a bunch of greedy despots to a dinner table where there was a big steak on the table but only silverware for one person. The truth is actually a bit more complicated then that: on June 28, 1914, a young Bosnian-Serb named Gavrilo Princip shot and killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Austria-Hungry, justifiably pissed off, demanded that the Serbs take action against the radical group to which Princip claimed affiliation or allow them (the Austro-Hungarians) to come in to Serbia to investigate. The Serbs did nothing so Austria-Hungary declared war on them. Here’s where things get tricky: through decades and decades of agreements between countries to protect each other’s interests and defend each other in the event of a war, a lot of favors were called in by the Serbs and Austro-Hungarians seemingly overnight. Give it a couple of weeks, and a continent and a half are officially at war.

Here’s the rub: Ferdinand should have never been killed that day. Princip’s group had 7 assassins lined up along the route the Arch-duke would be driving. Each was supposed to try and kill him. The first guy choked and did nothing. The second guy hurled a grenade that missed the Arch-Duke’s car and hit another in his convoy, injuring two people. The Arch-Duke and his crew sped away safely. Later that day, they decided to go visit the folks injured by the bomb at the hospital but his driver took a wrong turn. When the driver realized the error of his directions, he tried to turn the car around but it stalled…in front of a sandwich shop where Princip happened to be eating lunch. When the car stopped, Princip stepped out in the street with a pistol and from about 5 feet away at 11am, set off a chain of events that led to World War I.

And since things are never simple in international politics, it’s only fair to point out that a wide range of other factors contributed to the extraordinarily fast pace that things went from docile to devastating. The German’s and English had been in an arms race of their own over the ocean… the German mobilization plan caused them to move quickly to avoid fighting a war on two fronts… the Russians seem to think that economic imperialism from the West is in part to blame… the United States held in part that trade barriers caused the war…and most all of Europe is in agreement that everyone was so concerned about maintaining a balance of power among all nations that the moment the balance was upset a little, everyone went bonkers to protect their own self-interest with the belief that the balance could not be restored. It’s possible, even probable, that Europe was a powder keg waiting to blow in the 1910’s. That said, for some reason, it didn’t catch fire until Arch-Duke Ferdinand’s driver stalled his convertible in front of a sandwich shop.

So, once things got going, what happened? Strangely, much of the first fighting happened in Africa between the British, French, and Germany. A week or so later, the Serbs started fighting the Austrians that had crossed their border. A week after that, the Germans and Russians got in to it. While that was going on, the Germans didn’t have the resources to fight the English and French to the west, which ensured that the conflict would not be a short one. Not to be outdone, the Australians and Japanese were picking off islands under German control in the South Pacific. Soonafter, Allied forces had taken over all the islands Germany had in the area.

World War I was the first war to use some really nasty advances in war technology. For example, large infantry units had hell moving around due to barbed wire being strung across the European continent. They also had difficulty moving across open land due to the introduction of the machine gun. And, just in case they made it close enough to the enemy to consider how they would fight them, the soldiers got to breath poisonous gas thrown at them by their adversaries. And if that weren’t enough, big hulking masses of steel called “tanks” were now available. Ah, the joy of technology!

For the next 2 years, no one made much progress in “winning” anything. Mostly, the war was a contest to see who could kill or maim the most people on the other side. The participants also succeeded in digging trenches and foxholes all over Europe to serve as protection and shelter. To get an idea of how many miles of trenches were dug, get in your car and drive from New York City to Los Angeles and then back to New York….and you’d still be about 300 miles short.

Tomorrow: Part II of World War I.

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15 Responses to “World War I in a nutshell – Part I”

  1. Candace Shevonne Says:

    Hi there,

    I studied WWI last year, but after the summer, I kinda forgot what it was all about. I googled “WWI nutshell” and found this.

    Thanks for this! It helped me a lot.



  2. Maria Says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I have my history exam in 8½ hours and this helped SO much!

  3. Ben Says:

    You rock! i need to give a presentation on this in less than 24 hours and gawd this is gonna help!

  4. Eric Says:

    Thanks a bunch! This is awesome

  5. Mildred Yadon Says:

    Nice post, thanks for posting. Now I just need to get up off the couch and actually do something… Pleasee continue this great work and I look forward to more of your great blog posts.

  6. Maud Littlewood Says:

    your a bit good!

  7. katy Says:

    trying to write a paper this helped alot who wants to read all the boring stuff?

  8. maazadanwar Says:

    thanks a lot… knowing history is a long process… thanks for making it in a nutshell…

  9. Olivia Says:

    AHHHHH! thank you!! This is so helpful, I have an essay to wrote and naturally I left it till the last day. This is greatness !! 🙂

  10. Russian Revolution - Революция в России Says:

    Russian Revolution – Революция в России…

    […]World War I in a nutshell – Part I « BitLesson[…]…

  11. Not Andrew Says:

    i knew nothing about WW1, just wanted to know a bit, hey but now I’m an “expert” lol.


  12. Red Letter Days Experiences Says:

    Red Letter Days Experiences…

    […]World War I in a nutshell – Part I « BitLesson[…]…

  13. Kagisho Says:

    Thanks, man! Thank you for being brief and explaining it with todays’ English and not bombastic words like, “due to the dispensation of oblique phenomenon, the world war estaticly precruminated forecasting obnoxious spectrum speculating fiesies of wood…”

  14. sathish Says:


  15. BOOM Says:


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