World War I
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What was World War I?
World War I was a massive military conflict in Europe between 1914–18. Joining France and Great Britain, the U.S. fought on the Allied side against the German and Austria-Hungary empires.
It’s often noted for its military technology, such as tanks and mustard gas, which led to a death toll the world had never seen before, estimated at over 15 million.
How is World War I pronounced?
[ wurld wawr wuhn ]
What are some other words related to World War I?
- First World War
- The Great War
When was World War I?
Long-simmering tensions between European countries boiled over into World War I with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by a Serbian nationalist group known as the Black Hand. The event escalated into an all-out war between what came to be called the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan and later the United States). A previously isolationist United States joined the war in 1917, a hotly debated move that was motivated by the threat of German submarines to U.S. sea vessels.
World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 when the Central Powers officially surrendered to the Allies. The trauma of World War I would echo throughout Europe for decades after, however. In Germany alone, economic sanctions imposed by the Allied Powers led to crippling inflation and very low public morale, conditions that Adolf Hitler exploited—leading to World War II.
The term World War I was used as early as 1939 during the outbreak of World War II (a term which, interestingly, was used hypothetically as early as 1919). The phrase aimed to capture the extensive geopolitical reach of the war, fought by world powers on several continents and affecting economies across the globe.
World War I is notorious for the tremendous carnage and horrific destruction it wreaked in Europe. Trench warfare—which involved digging trenches near enemy lines and attempting to fire on or charge the other side—led to rampant disease, death and injury, and psychological damage in soldiers. Chemical warfare was also introduced, as both sides used agents such as mustard and chlorine gas to blind and debilitate enemy soldiers. The war also caused widespread famine and disease on the European continent off the battlegrounds.
World War I is also acknowledged as a major turning point in social and technological developments. With men fighting, an influx of women entered the workforce. As nationalism heightened, interest in intergovernmental organizations also grew and the US started emerging as a superpower. The introduction of tanks, battleships, military aircraft, machine guns, and other military technology changed the face of modern warfare.
How is World War I used in real life?
World War I inspired many works of art, including the books and films All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms, the film Lawrence of Arabia, the play War Horse, and paintings by John Nash.
Outside of its wide discussion in political and military history, World War I is popularly recognized by the images of trenches, its military technology, and haunting scenes of its violent aftermath.
In the next couple of weeks, the coronavirus will have killed more Americans than died in World War I.
It has already killed 40,000 more Americans than died in the Vietnam War — and has proven to be 33 times more deadly than the 9/11 attacks. https://t.co/4URpqgEH4W
— ABC News (@ABC) May 28, 2020
As a young woman during World War I, Irène Joliot-Curie (left) worked with her mother Marie Curie (right) to provide mobile X-ray units for wounded soldiers.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) May 24, 2020
More examples of World War I:
“In 1918, Hine was hired by the American Red Cross to document their work in Europe, as they provided aid to wounded soldiers and refugees affected by World War I.”
Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, May 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
British Dictionary definitions for great war
Cultural definitions for great war
A war fought from 1914 to 1918 between the Allies, notably Britain, France, Russia, and Italy (which entered in 1915), and the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. The war was sparked by the assassination in 1914 of the heir to the throne of Austria (see Sarajevo) (see also Sarajevo). Prolonged stalemates, trench warfare, and immense casualties on both sides marked the fighting. The United States sought to remain neutral but was outraged by the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915 and by Germany's decision in 1916 to start unrestricted submarine warfare. In 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies and helped to tip the balance in their favor. In full retreat on its western front, Germany asked for an armistice, or truce, which was granted on November 11, 1918. By the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, Germany had to make extensive concessions to the Allies and pay large penalties. The government leaders of World War I included Georges Clemenceau of France, David Lloyd George of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States. World War I was known as the Great War, or the World War, until World War II broke out. (See map, next page.)