The spark that set off the thousand fires, which became the blazing inferno of World War I (WWI), also known as The Great War, officially began with the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne committed by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. Fought from 1914 to 1918, World War I erupted because of Europe’s archaic treaty system. These entangling alliances, brought the Central Powers of the time, meaning Austria-Hungary, Germany and Turkey, into direct conflict with the Allied powers, meaning France, Great Britain, Russia, the United States, Japan and Italy.
The first skirmish of World War I began when Germany swept through neutral Belgium and invaded France. The Allies stabilized the defensive lines in France at the First Battle of The Marne, in 1914. World War I is characterized by infantry trench line warfare with machine guns and other, what was considered at the time to be, modern artillery. This military style of warfare did not gain much ground and resulted in a terrible loss of human life on both sides. This was particularly true at the Battles of Verdun and The Somme, both fought in 1916.
On the Eastern Front, the Russian army was repulsed several times, unable to break the defensive lines established by Germany and Austria-Hungary. Russia's dismal failure and enormous losses caused a widespread discontent that eventually led to the Russian Revolution of 1917. World War I was also fought on other fronts, which included the Dardanelles Campaign against Turkey, Mesopotamia, Italy and Egypt, and at sea where German and British fleets fought the inconclusive Battle of Jutland.
A cease-fire occurred on the 11th hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, and all opposing armies began to withdraw their troops from the Western Front. A state of war still persisted, however, and World War One did not officially end until the signing of The Treaty of Versailles on June 28,1919. Some historians claim that the signing of this treaty marked not only the end of World War One but also the prelude to World War Two some twenty years later.
World War One drastically altered the political, cultural and social order of the day. Old countries disappeared and new ones cropped up, as if from a conjurer’s magic wand. International organizations, such as The League of Nations, were established. Germany was forced to make economic reparations for starting World War One, and France would pay the a dear price for that some twenty years under the murderous regime of a lunatic named Adolph Hitler.
The ghosts of World War One linger still in some areas of France, particularly in the Champagne region, where many of the trench lines were located. Quantities of unexploded shells and other ammunition have remained, and continue to be ploughed by farmers who refer to them sardonically as the “iron harvest.” These shells cause occasional fatalities to this day. According to some estimates, France will not be completely cleared of World War One shells for several hundred years.
Too bad the modern world cannot say the same for war.