Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

World War I, the Not So Great War

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

World War I, the Not So Great War

Article excerpt

NEWBURY, England -- World War I began as most wars do, with patriotic fervor and predictions of a quick end. It lasted four years.

While the match igniting the "war to end all wars" was lit by the assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, formal declarations of war occurred 100 years ago on July 28 (Austria declares war on Serbia) and Aug. 1 (Germany declares war on Russia, and Russia on Germany). Aug. 1, 1914 will be commemorated Sunday at a charity event to benefit current British war veterans.

What was called The Great War turned out to be great only in its carnage. The figures, though still in dispute, are staggering. According to figures compiled by the U.S. Justice Department, there were more than 37 million dead, wounded and missing. Russia and Germany lost the most (1.7 million and 1.73 million respectively), followed by Austria-Hungary (1.2 million), France (1.35 million) and Britain (908,371). The U.S., because of its late entry, suffered 116,516 dead, 204,002 wounded.

Contributing to the slaughter was Germany's use of modern weaponry, including machine guns. Other European nations employed weapons and tactics used in previous wars. Inept commanders, of whom there were many, were also to blame.

Of all the wars, this one may have been the least predictable. As historian Max Hastings writes in "Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War in 1914":

"The war had not been precipitated by popular nationalistic fervor, but by the decisions of tiny groups of individuals in seven governments." He quotes the Fabian Society's Beatrice Webb, who was offended by what she called "the disgusting misuse of religion" to stimulate patriotism. Sound familiar?

Hastings writes that this war might have offered lessons for the wars and conflicts that followed: "So extravagant was the sentimentality with which the war was promoted in its early months that in due time, as its human cost soared, a lasting revulsion emerged among some of the audience, who felt that they had been duped. …

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