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World War I (1914–18)

World War I (1914–18) CausesCauses of U.S. EntryMilitary and Diplomatic CourseDomestic CoursePostwar ImpactChanging Interpretations
World War I (1914–18): Causes Although the United States did not enter World War I until 1917, the outbreak of that war in 1914, and its underlying causes and consequences, deeply and immediately affected America's position both at home and abroad. In the debate on neutrality and later on peace aims, much was made of European secret diplomacy, which was rejected on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, of militarism and the escalating arms race before 1914, and of the impact of colonialism. Undoubtedly, all these factors contributed to the origins of the European catastrophe, but they do not explain why the war broke out when it did. This question can only be answered more precisely by looking at the political and military decision‐making processes in the last months, weeks, and days of peace in 1914.

After decades of debate about whether Europe “slithered over the brink” ( David Lloyd George's phrase) owing to general crisis mismanagement among all participant nations or because of the actions of a clearly identifiable group of people, the overwhelming majority consensus has emerged among historians that the primary responsibility rests in Berlin and Vienna, and secondarily perhaps on St. Petersburg. Judging from the documents, it has become clear that the German kaiser and his advisers encouraged Vienna to settle accounts with Serbia following the assassinations of the heir to the Austro‐Hungarian throne, Archduke Ferdinand, and his wife at Sarajevo in Bosnia‐Herzegovina on 28 June 1914.

By issuing a “blank check” to Austria‐Hungary on 5 July 1914, the German government took the first step in escalating a crisis that involved the risk of a world war among the great powers. This risk was high not only because these powers had been arming over the previous years, but also because they had regrouped into two large camps: the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria‐Hungary, Italy) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia). And when, after various diplomatic maneuvers, it became clear toward the end of July that such a world war might indeed be imminent, Berlin refused to deescalate although the decision makers there were in the best position to do so.

The Czarist government, as Serbia's protector, also had a role in this development; but it was primarily a reactive one after Vienna had delivered a stiff ultimatum in Belgrade and subsequently began to invade its smaller Balkan neighbor. So, while the main responsibility for the outbreak of war is therefore to be laid at the kaiser's door, the question of why he and his advisers pushed Europe over the brink continues to be a matter of debate. The German historian Fritz Fischer has argued that the kaiser's government saw the Sarajevo crisis as the opportunity for aggressively achieving a Griff nach der Weltmacht (Breakthrough to World Power Status), as the 1961 German version of Fischer's first, and highly controversial, book on the subject was entitled. The American historian Konrad Jarausch and others, by contrast, have asserted that Berlin's and Vienna's initial strategy was more limited. By supporting Austria‐Hungary against the Serbs, the two powers hoped to weaken Slav nationalism and Serb expansionism in the Balkans and thus to restabilize the increasingly precarious position of the ramshackle Austro‐Hungarian empire with its many restive nationalities. According to this interpretation, the assumption was that Russia and its ally, France, would not support Serbia, and that, after a quick localized victory by the central powers in the Balkans, any larger international repercussions could be contained through negotiation following the fait accompli.

It was only when this strategy failed owing to St. Petersburg's resistance that the German military got its way to launch an all‐out offensive, the first target of which would be Russia's ally, France. This was the sole military operations plan, the “Schlieffen Plan,” first developed by Gen. Alfred von Schlieffen, that the kaiser still had available in 1914. The alternative of an eastern attack on Russia had been dropped several years before. Worse, since the German Army was not strong enough to invade France directly through Alsace‐Lorraine, Helmut von Moltke, chief of the General Staff, had further reinforced the right flank of the invasion force with the aim of reaching Paris swiftly from the north. However, this could only be achieved by marching through Belgium, and it was this violation of Belgian neutrality that brought Britain into the conflict, definitely turning it into a world war.

In a further radicalization of his argument, Fischer asserted in his second book, War of Illusions (1973), that the German decision to start a world war had been made at a “War Council” on 8 December 1912, and that Berlin used the next eighteen months to prepare it. However, this view has not been generally accepted by the international community of scholars. Unless new documents supporting Fischer emerge, possibly from the Russian archives, the most plausible argument seems to be the one developed by Jarausch and others of a miscalculated “limited war” that grew out of control.

While diplomatic historians and political scientists have dominated the debate on the outbreak of World War I, social historians have more recently begun to examine the attitude of the “masses” in that summer of 1914. The older view has been that there was great enthusiasm all‐round and that millions in all participant countries flocked to the colors expecting to achieve victory no later than Christmas 1914. No doubt there was strong popular support, reinforced by initial serious misconceptions about the nature of modern industrialized warfare. But there have been recent challenges to this view, and it appears that divisions of contemporary opinion were deeper and more widespread than previously believed. French social historians have shown that news of the mobilization was received in some parts of the country with tears and consternation rather than joy and parades. In Germany, too, feeling was more polarized than had been assumed. Thus, there were peace demonstrations in major cities to warn Austria‐Hungary against starting a war with Serbia. And when the German mobilization was finally proclaimed, the reaction of large sections of the population was decidedly lukewarm. As one young trade unionist wrote after watching cheerful crowds around him near Hamburg's main railroad station on 1 August 1914: “Am I mad or is it the others?”

Considering the unprecedented slaughter that began shortly thereafter in the trenches of the western front as well as in the east, this was certainly a good question, and further research may well open up new perspectives on the mentalities of the men and women in 1914 and on the socioeconomic and political upheavals that followed, which ultimately also involved the United States as a participant.


Fritz Fischer , Germany: War Aims in the First World War, 1967.
Konrad Jarausch , The Enigmatic Chancellor, 1972.
Volker R. Berghahn , Germany and the Approach of War in 1914, 1973.
Fritz Fischer , War of Illusions, 1973.
James Joll , The Origins of the First World War, 1984.
John W. Langdon , July 1914, The Long Debate 1918–1990, 1991.
Samuel R. Williamson, Jr. , Austria‐Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, 1991.

Volker R. Berghahn

World War I (1914–18): Causes Of U.S. Entry Like the origins of World War I itself, the causes of U.S. entry on 6 April 1917 have been much debated. The 1930s emphasis on economic motivations—the desire of American munitions makers and financiers to protect their stake in Allied victory—has been superseded by two new interpretations. One, a broad view enunciated first by historians William Appleman Williams and N. Gordon Levin, emphasizes the desire of President Woodrow Wilson and many among America's economic and foreign policy elites to ensure a liberal, capitalist world order in contrast to reactionary militarism and colonialism or widespread revolution and communism. The other reflects a greater focus on Wilson's decision making and is put forward by Arthur S. Link, Ernest May, Robert H. Ferrell, and Thomas J. Knock. They emphasize variously the strategic situation of the United States as the leading neutral industrial and financial power; and the influence upon Wilson of the German submarine warfare, the predominantly pro‐British attitude of American elites, and the president's own appropriation of the leadership of the liberal movement toward a just and lasting peace based upon a league of nations.

In 1914, Wilson proclaimed U.S. neutrality in keeping with American tradition. He was also aware of the great divisions over the war: although perhaps a bare majority of Americans favored Britain, nearly as many were hostile to the Allies because of ethnic loyalties or suspicions of Britain, the world's most powerful empire and financial center, or hostility toward czarist Russia with its autocracy and pogroms.

Both Germany and Britain violated U.S. neutral maritime rights, as Wilson strictly defined them, but German submarine warfare seemed more ruthless, particularly with the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger liner, in 1915. American trade with the Allies tripled to $3 billion a year between 1914 and 1916 and helped economic recovery in the United States. Pro‐British elites and the urban press increasingly emphasized German immorality—the invasion of neutral Belgium and alleged atrocities there and later the barbarity of sub marine warfare. Seeking to avoid being drawn into the war but also insisting on Americans' right to aid the Allies, Wilson held Germany to “strict accountability” for its submarine warfare, and for a while caused Berlin to restrict its U‐boats.

After his reelection in 1916, Wilson offered to mediate a peace; but both sides refused. Berlin then decided on unrestricted submarine warfare, beginning 1 February 1917, to starve Britain into terms. Wilson severed diplomatic relations on 3 February. American public opinion was also inflamed by the Zimmermann note, in which Germany sought a military alliance with Mexico against the United States. When submarines sank three American merchant ships, Wilson abandoned temporary armed neutrality and decided to take the United States into the war, in part because his strict accountability policy had failed and in part because he wanted the United States to help shape a treaty for peace.

In his powerful war message of 2 April 1917, Wilson condemned the German submarine campaign as “warfare against mankind,” and urged Americans to fight, in his famous phrase, to make the world “safe for democracy.” By a vote of 82–6 in the Senate (4 April) and 373–50 in the House (6 April), Congress adopted a resolution declaring that a state of war existed between the United States and Germany.
[See also Germany, U.S. Military Involvement in.]


William Appleman Williams , The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, 1959.
Ernest R. May , The World War and American Isolation, 1914–1917, 1959.
Arthur S. Link , Wilson: Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace, 1916–1917, 1965.
N. Gordon Levin, Jr. , Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution, 1968.
Ross Gregory , The Origins of American Intervention in the First World War, 1971.
Robert H. Ferrell , Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917–1921, 1985.
Thomas J. Knock , To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, 1992.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

World War I (1914–18): Military and Diplomatic Course “The situation is extraordinary. It is militarism run stark mad.” Col. Edward House, President Woodrow Wilson's closest adviser, did not exaggerate when he wrote these words. The Europe he described in the spring of 1914 was divided into two armed camps: the Triple Entente (Russia, France, and Great Britain) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria‐Hungary, and Italy). An unprecedented arms race was underway that coincided with revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare. Magazine‐loading rifles, belt‐fed machine guns, and improved artillery dramatically increased the firepower of armies. Relying on an expanding network of railways, the general staffs of the major European powers devised elaborate mobilization and offensive schemes. The smallest details were covered, including the preparation of exact railway timetables and even the registration of farmers' horses for possible use. Universal conscription fostered militarism. Governments identified and registered able‐bodied males of military age. Approximately 4 million men were in uniform when the war started in August 1914; that number had risen to a staggering 20 million by the end of the month.

Europe's military elite, accepting Carl von Clausewitz's military principles of “the decisive force, at the decisive place, at the decisive time,” were committed to an offensive strategy designed to climax in one or two great decisive battles. Clausewitz's ideas on war may also have influenced society. The historian John Keegan argues that Europe had been transformed into a warrior society by the acceptance of Clausewitz's maxims that war was a continuation of political activity and that “war is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds.”

A month after House's letter, the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro‐Hungarian throne, precipitated a general European crisis that quickly became unmanageable. The Austrians, given unequivocal support by their ally, Germany, blamed Serbia for the archduke's death and decided to crush Serbia's challenge to the fragile Austro‐Hungarian empire. Vienna's determination to go to war triggered a general conflict. The illusion that modern industrialized wars would be short made this decision easier. Few believed the Polish banker and economist, Ivan S. Bloch, the author of The Future of War in Its Economic and Political Relations: Is War Now Impossible? (1898), who argued that modern military technology had made unlimited war mutually destructive for the participants.

Germany's “Schlieffen Plan,” designed to achieve victory over France within six weeks by a gigantic flanking movement through neutral Belgium, came to grief during the First Battle of the Marne (5–9 September). An ominous portent was that the French, Germans, and British had suffered over half a million casualties in three weeks of fighting. Meanwhile, the Russian offensive in East Prussia was checked and thrown back, with an entire Russian army destroyed at Tannenberg (26–30 August).

Following the opening battles, the armies in the west dug in. An almost continuous line of parallel defensive systems was constructed from the North Sea to Switzerland. Protected by barbed wire, usually 50 or more feet deep, these earthworks were frequently built in depth. The front resembled a spiderweb, consisting of thousands of miles of connecting and parallel trenches. Trench warfare also existed to some extent of other fronts—in some areas of Russia, Italy, the Balkans, and Palestine—though nowhere did it become as prominent as in France and Flanders.

Europe's military leaders sought to return to a war of maneuver by rupturing the enemy's front. To restore the offensive, new weapons such as tanks and chemical warfare were eventually introduced. High‐explosive shells, recoilless carriages, optical sights, improved communications, and cannon ranges of 20 or more miles made indirect artillery bombardment the dominant force of the battlefield. The application of massive and increasingly sophisticated artillery fire proved to be the most effective means of reducing fortifications. But the western defenses, bolstered by dramatic advances in firepower, were so strong and thickly defended that it was possible to break into them but not through them prior to 1918. When breakthroughs were successful, there remained limitations to the advance. The 1916–18 version of the tank lacked the speed and reliability to maintain the momentum of an attack over battle‐torn ground before defenders dug in again. Nor could the heavy guns be moved forward rapidly to support a continued advance of the infantry.

The 1930s view, which lingers still among many, is that the generals of the western front were inept and their approaches to winning the war futile. “A war of attrition was substituted for a war of intelligence,” is the way that Lloyd George, British prime minister and a leading critic of attempts to win the war on the western front, put it. The historian Tim Travers has emphasized that many commanders had difficulty abandoning their nineteenth‐century vision of warfare, which emphasized the élan of the individual soldier over the new weapons technology. But recent studies of the evolution of tactics by Paddy Griffith and Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson have demonstrated that the western front during the last half of the war was not tactically stagnant. The Germans are often considered the most innovative with their elastic defense‐in‐depth and stormtrooper tactics of infiltration. But the British, with more offensive experience than the enemy in 1916–17, also perfected all‐arms assaults and advanced techniques of trench raiding prior to the tactical successes of the Germans in the spring of 1918.

Germany, relying on strong support from Austria‐Hungary, concentrated its resources on the eastern front in 1915. The vastness of that front, and the clear superiority of German artillery and leadership, made possible an advance of some 300 miles. Although Italy joined the Allies in 1915, by the end of the year, Berlin dominated Central and southeastern Europe, had a bridge to Asia and Africa through its Turkish ally, and retained Belgium and the most industrial part of France. Serbia had been defeated and Bulgaria enlisted as an ally. British efforts to find a “way around” the western front ended in dismal failure in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns. The central powers, with a more unified command because of Germany's dominant position, interior lines, and a good system of railways, held a formidable position despite their inferiority in warships, manpower, and industrial capacity.

In 1916, Germany sought to break the stalemate in the west in the ten‐month Battle of Verdun, deliberately seeking a decisive battle of attrition and will. To relieve Verdun, a massive Anglo‐French offensive was launched on the Somme in July. When winter brought the fighting to a close, the western front had little changed: Verdun remained in French hands, and the Allies had captured no position of strategical importance on the Somme. Combined German‐Allied casualties exceeded 2 million. Despite the carnage, the warring coalitions faced a bleak future of continued stalemate and exhaustion.

Compared to the great powers of Europe, the United States was a profoundly peaceful and unmilitaristic nation. Prior to America's entry into the war in April 1917, Wilson's secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels, was decidedly antiwar if not pacifistic, and Newton Baker, secretary of war since 1916, was an ardent antimilitarist. The U.S. Navy had expanded to defend American shores and trade routes, but the U.S. Army ranked seventeenth in the world. The United States was the world's number one industrial power, but the army lacked modern weaponry, including tanks, poison gas, aircraft, heavy artillery, and trench mortars. War mobilization, 1917–18, failed to remedy this deficiency: the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) largely fought with foreign weapons.

Although legally neutral, the United States had become a vital factor for the Allies with their growing dependence on American credit and material. Caught between the effective Allied naval blockade and Germany's submarine warfare campaign, America's right to trade overseas was jeopardized. To keep the United States from being drawn into the global conflict, Wilson attempted mediation. With the European belligerents unable to take the U.S. military seriously, he had little diplomatic leverage except for American economic might. The European nations wanted a peace to reflect their immense sacrifices in blood and treasure. But an acceptable peace to one side represented defeat to the other.

Wilson's mediation efforts implied that he was prepared to accept a global role for the United States to obtain a compromise peace, but he certainly never imagined any circumstances that would involve American forces in what he referred to as the “mechanical game of slaughter” in France. Nor apparently could he identify any strategic interest for the United States in the total defeat of Germany, which he believed would result in an unbalanced peace of victors. His formula for a satisfactory end to the fighting as he announced in January 1917 was “peace without victory.”

Pressed into the war in April 1917 by Germany's gamble for quick victory through unrestricted submarine warfare, Wilson initially believed that American belligerency would largely be economic and psychological and that the central powers could be forced to the peace table without U.S. troops becoming involved on European battlefields. Pressure from London and Paris and the realization that his voice in any peace conference would be small without an American military presence in Europe changed his mind.

Only once before, during the American Revolution, had the United States fought as part of a military alliance. The General Staff in the War Department, however, quickly concluded that the only way that the United States could fight in Europe was through a collective military enterprise with the British and French on the western front. Nonetheless, America's leadership was determined to maintain a distinct military and political position. Wilson immediately disassociated himself from the entente's controversial war objectives by insisting that the United States was an “associate power,” with freedom to conduct independent goals.

The commander in chief of the AEF, John J. Pershing, proved an excellent choice to defend a separate and distinct U.S. military role in the war. The AEF commander tenaciously adhered to his goal of an independent U.S. force with its own front, supply lines, and strategic goals. His preparations for a win‐the‐war American breakthrough to occur in 1919 in Lorraine to the east and west of Metz profoundly influenced America's military participation. The United States supported unity of command and the selection of Gen. Ferdinand Foch as generalissimo; but Pershing resisted anything but the temporary amalgamation of American units into French and British divisions, even during the grave military crisis confronting the Allies in the spring of 1918. The German High Command, with Russia knocked out of the war in the winter of 1917–18, attempted to destroy the French Army and drive the British from the Continent through a series of offensives. Pershing resisted the only means of immediately assisting the depleted Allied forces: the inclusion of American units in British and French divisions. Small numbers of American soldiers, however, began to enter combat under the American flag in May and June. On 28 May, 14 months after the United States entered the war, a reinforced U.S. regiment (about 4,000 men) captured the village of Cantigny. Several days later, the Second Division (which included a Marine brigade) took up a defensive position west of Château‐Thierry and engaged the advancing Germans.

Pershing rebuffed efforts by Allied soldiers to share their increasingly sophisticated tactical techniques with his forces. Revisionists have been critical of his emphasis on riflemen, the American frontier spirit, and open field tactics, arguing that he did not comprehend how science and the machine age had revolutionized warfare.

After gaining reluctant approval from Foch for the formation of an independent American force, the U.S. First Army, Pershing went forward with plans to eliminate the threatening salient of St. Mihiel, as a prelude to his Metz offensive. The Battle of St. Mihiel (12–16 September 1918) proved to be an impressive but misleading U.S. victory because German forces were in the process of withdrawing to a new and shorter defensive line when the Americans attacked and cut off the salient.

The pressing demands of coalition warfare, however, forced Pershing to delay preparations for his 1919 Metz campaign. Complying with Foch's strategy, he reluctantly shifted most of his troops some sixty miles northward to the Meuse‐Argonne sector, where he was expected to participate in simultaneous and converging Allied attacks against the large German salient. Logistical chaos, flawed tactics, and inexperienced men and officers contributed to a disastrous start to the Meuse‐Argonne offensive (26 September–11 November 1918). Pershing hoped to advance ten miles on the first day; his front, however, had moved just thirty‐four miles by the armistice six weeks later, much of the ground gained only during the last phase of the offensive when Germany had exhausted its reserves.

Although only involved in heavy fighting for 110 days, the AEF made vital contributions to Germany's defeat. With tens of thousands of “doughboys” crossing the Atlantic to reinforce the Allies, and with the AEF emerging as a superior fighting force, the exhausted and depleted Germans had no hope of avoiding total defeat if the war continued into 1919.

Before Berlin's appeal in early October for a peace based on Wilson's Fourteen Points, the United States was on the verge of brilliantly coordinating its participation in the land war in Europe with its political plans to reshape the postwar world. If the war had continued into the spring of 1919, Pershing's plan to deliver a knockout blow to the German Army probably would have been achieved. Gen. Jan C. Smuts, the South African statesman who served in the British War Cabinet, warned the British government in October: if the war continued another year, the United States would become the “diplomatic dictator of the world.”

In contrast to Pershing's wishes for total victory, Wilson hoped to avoid placing Germany at the mercy of the Allies. American participation had not been designed to further the British empire, strengthen French security, or even maintain the European balance of power. Wilson stood not with the interests of the nation‐states, but with the rights of humankind. He thus attempted with mixed results to use separate negotiations with Berlin over an armistice to impose his Fourteen Points on the Allies as well as Germany.

As the Great War concluded with the armistice on 11 November 1918, American policy was directed toward the repudiation of power politics and the erection of a “permanent” peace. Wilsonianism promised an end to war primarily through democratic institutions, the end of secret diplomacy, the self‐determination for ethnic minorities, and most especially through a League of Nations. It has been argued that this visionary approach raised expectations that were impossible to meet. The war had destroyed the old balance of power in Europe, and the peace settlement made revisionist nations out of the two states that would soon dominate the Continent, Germany and the Soviet Union. The United States, the greatest economic beneficiary of the war, helped make the peace, but with its rejection of the Treaty of Versailles refused responsibility for maintaining it.

A war in which over 65 million troops had been mobilized by the belligerents ended in a twenty‐year truce instead of “permanent peace.” The failure to achieve Wilson's unrealistic though desirable goal was hardly surprising. But another general war was not inevitable. World War II was caused by many factors, including the flawed peace settlement of 1919, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the psychological scars of World War I, which enfeebled the democracies. But the inability of the victorious powers, especially Great Britain and the United States, to work together to prevent the resurgence of German military power, was certainly one of the most important reasons for the resumption of war in 1939.


B. H. Liddell Hart , The Real War 1914–1918, 1930.
Edward M. Coffman , The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I, 1968.
Donald Smythe , Pershing: General of the Armies, 1985.
Tim Travers , The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front and the Emergence of Modern Warfare, 1900–1918, 1987.
Allan R. Millett , Over Where? The AEF and the American Strategy for Victory, 1917–1918, in Allan Millett and Williamson Murray, eds., Against All Enemies: Interpretations of the American Military from Colonial Times to the Present, 1988.
Timothy K. Nenninger , American Military Effectiveness in the First World War, in Military Effectiveness, Vol. 1: The First World War, Allan Millett and Williamson Murray, eds., 1988.
David Stevenson , The First World War and International Politics, 1988.
Robin Prior and and Trevor Wilson , Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914–18, 1992.
John Keegan , A History of Warfare, 1993.
David F. Trask , The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917–1918, 1993.
David R. Woodward , Trial by Friendship: Anglo‐American Relations, 1917–1918, 1993.
Paddy Griffith , Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army's Art of Attack, 1916–18, 1994.
D. Clayton James and and Anne Sharp Wells , America and the Great War, 1914–1920, 1998.

David R. Woodward

World War I (1914–18): Domestic Course With its dynamic economy, its large population, and its stable government, the United States was well suited to the kind of total conflict that was raging overseas in World War I. But to realize its potential as a belligerent, it had to overcome several obstacles. Unity was vital in a war that pitted whole nations against one another; yet in the months that followed the country's entry into the war in April 1917, the country remained divided. Faults ran through American society along lines of race, ethnicity, and economic class. The declaration of war had not eliminated isolationism apathy, pockets of pacifism and antimilitarism, and even sympathy in some quarters for the people America was fighting. Although American factories, farms, and mines had been producing materials for the Allies for many months, the task of converting the economy to war production promised to be complex and difficult. The method for raising and supporting an army of the size that would have to fight had barely been sketched out.

President Woodrow Wilson's administration improvised a series of solutions to these problems. It exhorted Americans to work and sacrifice for the war and to submerge their differences. It isolated and punished the war's opponents and rewarded people and organizations whose cooperation it needed. The result of its efforts was what has been called a wartime welfare state, in which government and interest groups sought to manage one another; in which patriotism and idealism and sacrifice existed alongside the determined pursuit of self‐interest; in which those with the greatest power, the strongest organization, or the most badly needed resources tended to secure the largest benefits from Congress and the Wilson administration.

To control domestic public opinion, the administration established a Committee on Public Information, which supplied American media with overwhelming quantities of facts and propaganda. Together with the Department of Justice and the Post Office, the Committee on Public Information defined what Americans were permitted to say in wartime. Notable dissenters, including the Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs and hundreds of others whom government officials felt had opposed government policies or interfered with war production, were sent to prison. The government's portrayal of a monstrous enemy and its attacks on dissenters, together with the reports of casualties suffered in battle at enemy hands, helped promote a frenzy of anti‐German and anti‐German American feelings in parts of the nation.

Appealing to liberals, at that time a very large faction, the administration made the war, in some respects, a continuation of the prewar Progressive movement. It depicted the struggle against the central powers as a campaign for worldwide reform. It endorsed a federal women's suffrage amendment as a reward for women's war work. It extended disability benefits to members of the armed forces, provided financial support to their dependents, and created occupational health and safety standards for war workers. It tried to limit alcohol consumption and abolish prostitution, goals of many reformers. To assure the cooperation of pro‐war labor unions, the administration approved collective bargaining for the duration of the conflict, provided federal mediation of labor disputes, and gave union officials an opportunity to sit on boards that managed the economy—but not to determine the policies of those boards. To the small and weak contingent of racial equality reformers, however, it offered only modest concessions, including positions in government as intelligence workers so that civil rights leaders could inform the government of possible disaffection among African Americans.

American corporations made large gains in wartime. The government enabled business groups to regulate themselves. Executives of leading companies dominated agencies, such as the Council of National Defense and the War Industries Board, that coordinated war production and distribution and arranged prices. It could hardly have been otherwise. Without a large, experienced regulatory bureaucracy of its own, the U.S. government needed not only the products of factories run by these businessmen but also their expert knowledge of how their industries operated. The president and Congress provided some checks on abuses by businesses. They declined for several months to give precise authority to the Council of National Defense and the War Industries Board; for a long time they failed to stop the War Department from resisting control over procurement by the business‐dominated agencies. Congress passed legislation that in principle outlawed conflicts of interest. In some cases, the administration even used federal agencies to run important segments of the war economy, such as the railroad system. Yet the bureaucracy that managed railroads for the Railroad Administration was recruited from executives who had managed the railroads before the government took them over, so even that organization—a supposed example of “war socialism”—continued the practice of self‐regulation.

The economic war agencies operated largely through a system of incentives, often using indirect methods rather than overt commands to achieve their objectives. They established a priority system in which companies that volunteered to manufacture war goods were given greater access to raw materials, workers, fuel, and transportation than those whose activities were deemed less essential. (To put it another way, companies that chose not to cooperate might receive barely enough of what they needed to keep them going). These agencies offered cooperating businesses the chance to earn very large profits, partly because prices for whole industries were set at a level that could make the most inefficient producers profitable. Because the people who awarded contracts and negotiated their terms came from the industries that received the awards, executives who sought those contracts could feel confident that they were dealing with knowledgeable persons, not insensitive government officials. Businesses could engage in collusion without fear of being prosecuted. Although producers in the lumber, steel, automobile, and other industries drove very hard bargains with the war agencies, and in some cases threatened to refuse contracts for vital war products, American capitalists used publicity about their war work to restore an image of private enterprise that had been seriously tarnished in the prewar years. Certain large business leaders also appreciated the wartime opportunity to substitute cooperation for competition—a change some of them hoped would be permanent.

Incentives and publicity played significant parts in other areas of war mobilization. To induce farmers to expand production, the federal government set a minimum price for wheat. It ran massive propaganda campaigns encouraging citizens to conserve food and fuel and to help pay for the war by purchasing government Liberty bonds. The Committee on Public Information and the Treasury Department staged Liberty bond rallies at which movie stars, war heroes, politicians, and other celebrities appeared to promote bond sales. Government publicity encouraged men of military age to join the armed forces and promoted a public climate in which able‐bodied “slackers” felt extremely uncomfortable. Though thousands held back out of conscientious objection or for other reasons, plenty of Americans wanted to enlist. Still, the government decided not to rely on volunteers alone. It instituted conscription, administered by a Selective Service System, which sent two and three‐quarter million men to the armed forces. The Selective Service System also promoted economic mobilization, inducing essential civilian workers to stay where they were by exempting them from the draft, but warning them that they must work or fight.

From women suffragists to civil rights leaders, from union officials to corporate executives, American civilians sought to turn the war to their advantage or to the advantage of the groups to which they belonged. Their political leaders and representatives did the same. After announcing that “politics is adjourned,” President Wilson asked the voters to elect candidates from the Democratic Party in 1918 as a referendum on his war leadership. (They responded by giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.) Several of the state councils of defense, which had been established to foster mobilization, became political organizations, usually dominated by Republicans. Many wartime measures were intensely political—for example, the decisions to fix minimum prices for certain products and not others, and to pay part of the cost of the war by progressive taxation and by taxes on “excess” profits.

The wartime welfare state, created for temporary purposes and staffed largely by volunteers rather than by a standing bureaucracy, dissolved at the end of the war. But the memory of the wartime system remained in the minds of those who had run it, and some of its components persisted in the 1920s—such as a federal system of medical benefits to veterans and government‐sponsored cooperation among businesses. During the Great Depression, several wartime agencies were resurrected with new names and altered purposes, including the War Finance Corporation, restored in Herbert C. Hoover's administration as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and a host of New Deal organizations such as the National Recovery Administration, which traced its origins to the War Industries Board. Short‐lived though it may have been, the wartime system for managing America's home front in 1917 and 1918 contained some of the germs of the late twentieth‐century welfare state, and was a progenitor of modern big government.
[See also Agriculture and War; Civil Liberties and War; Economy and War; Industry and War; Public Financing and Budgeting for War.]


David M. Kennedy , Over Here: The First World War and American Society, 1980.
Robert H. Ferrell , Woodrow Wilson and World War I: 1917–1921, 1985.
David R. Woodward and and Robert Franklin Maddox , America and World War I: A Selected Annotated Bibliography of English‐Language Sources, 1985.
John Whiteclay Chambers II , To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America, 1987.
Ronald Schaffer , America and the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State, 1991.

Ronald Schaffer

World War I (1914–18): Postwar Impact World War I marked a turning point in world history. It reduced the global influence of Europe, destroying some of its monarchies and empires and diminishing the strength of others. It enabled new nations to emerge. Shifting economic resources and cultural influences away from Europe, the war encouraged nations in other areas of the world, notably the United States, to challenge Europe's international leadership.

Essentially a civil war in Europe with global implications, World War I destroyed some empires and weakened others. The 1917 Revolution in Russia, following the czarist regime's collapse, culminated in the Bolshevik seizure of power. With military defeat in 1918, the Otto man and Austro‐Hungarian Empires disintegrated, while Germany replaced the kaiser's government with the Weimar Republic. New nations such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia emerged from former empires. Victory for the European Allies came at a high price. They owed over $11 billion to the United States, which was transformed from a net debtor to a net creditor. New York replaced London as the world's financial center. The European Allies also faced increasing demands for self‐rule from their colonies. They no longer controlled sufficient military and economic resources to shape world affairs as before.

By war's end, the United States and Japan were among the victorious powers at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, along with the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, with U.S. president Woodrow Wilson playing a leading role. He made the League of Nations an essential part of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany. The United States and the Allies, refusing to recognize the Bolshevik government in Russia, excluded the Soviet Union from Paris. Still, the specter of Bolshevism loomed over the conference.

Wilson sought a peace settlement that would protect democratic and capitalist nations. Affirming the principle of national self‐determination, he called for a postwar League of Nations to provide collective security for its members. He expected the League, under American leadership, to protect its members' territorial integrity and political independence against external aggression, and thereby preserve the peace.

Within the belligerent countries, the war had enhanced the state's role in the economy and society, but it also generated a backlash. Democratic governments in Western Europe retained civilian control, while autocratic governments in Central and Eastern Europe had succumbed to both military rule and revolution. Western democratic governments lost authority after the war. British elections in 1918 that kept Prime Minister David Lloyd George in office also registered Irish demands for self‐rule. France experienced political instability after Premier Georges Clemenceau's resignation following his defeat in the presidential election.

Americans likewise reacted against Wilson's strong wartime leadership. The 1918 elections reduced the Democrats to the minority in Congress. After the war, as wartime agencies removed regulations, the United States experienced rapid inflation, labor strikes, and economic recession. The American Expeditionary Forces returned from France and quickly demobilized. Congress reorganized the armed forces with the National Defense Act of 1920, reducing the regular army to nearly its prewar level.

Rapid readjustment and demobilization produced social unrest in the United States in 1919–20. Regardless of their wartime patriotism, African Americans were primary victims of urban race riots and rural lynchings, while socialists and other radicals, whether immigrants or native‐born, were targets of the Red Scare. Wilson was partly responsible for this postwar impact, given his negative attitudes toward black people, new immigrants, and labor strikes, and his international focus, resulting in a neglect of postwar reconstruction at home. He contributed to the Red Scare, too, by advocating the League of Nations as a barrier against Bolshevism. Nevertheless, under Henry Cabot Lodge's leadership, the Republican Senate kept the United States out of Wilson's League by rejecting the Treaty of Versailles.

Americans reacted against the wartime regulatory state and international involvement. Voters in 1920, including women who had just gained the suffrage under the Nineteenth Amendment, elected Republican senator Warren G. Harding to the presidency. Promising less government at home and less entanglement abroad, he epitomized one postwar alternative to Wilsonianism.

The postwar legacy of World War I was very different from Wilson's hopes. The League of Nations failed to maintain peace when aggressive nations—notably Communist Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan—later challenged the Versailles peace. These revisionist powers rejected democracy and capitalism and challenged the status quo. They exploited the Anglo‐American revisionism of the treaty's critics, such as John Maynard Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920), to justify their aggression. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, which resulted in part from the postwar failure to create a sustainable world economy, they turned modern nationalism into a hostile force that culminated in World War II.

Yet the long‐term impact of World War I also included the enduring legacy of Wilsonianism. Wilson had emphasized the principle of national self‐determination in the peacemaking. To curb nationalist excesses and aggression, he had advocated collective security through the League of Nations, hoping to enable free nations to participate in a new world order of peace and prosperity. He had endeavored to shape public opinion in favor of democracy and capitalism as well as internationalism. Despite his failure after World War I, Wilson's ideals deeply influenced the statecraft of future generations. Wilsonianism would continue to shape the international history of the twentieth century.


Burl Noggle , Into the Twenties: The United States from Armistice to Normalcy, 1974.
Barry D. Karl , The Uneasy State: The United States from 1915 to 1945, 1983.
Robert H. Ferrell , Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917–1921, 1985.
Klaus Schwabe , Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918–1919: Missionary Diplomacy and the Realities of Power, 1985.
Arthur Walworth , Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, 1986.
Lloyd E. Ambrosius , Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective, 1987.
Manfred F. Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Glaser‐Schmidt, eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years, 1998.

Lloyd E. Ambrosius

World War I (1914–18): Changing Interpretations Historical opinion about the causes of World War I, American entry, and the making of peace has changed sharply over the years, with the publication of documentary collections, the opening of archives, and the appearance of memoirs and collections of personal papers, as well as changing theories and international circumstances. There is now general agreement on the causes of the war and of American entry; but disagreement remains over the American role in the peace.

During the years between the two world wars, contentions abounded between the adherents of Sidney B. Fay of Harvard University and Bernadotte Schmitt of the University of Chicago, who took respectively the sides of the central powers and the Allies, and based their books and articles on the national documentary collections and memoirs. At the end of World War II, the American and British governments took control of the German Foreign Office files and opened them, which revealed the bias of the earlier German documentary collection, Die Grosse Politik der Europaeischen Kabinette: 1871–1914. Opinion now is that German nationalism bears primary responsibility for starting the war.

American entrance into the great European conflict, which made it a true world war, produced an argument in the 1930s between Charles Seymour of Yale University and the popular historian Charles A. Beard, in which Seymour singled out German submarine warfare, especially the resort to unrestricted use of submarines beginning 1 February 1917, contrary to historical American neutral rights, as the cause of President Woodrow Wilson's decision to move from neutrality to intervention. Beard belittled such a monocausal contention, writing that the cause of any large event is necessarily complex, akin to a chemist pouring reagents into a test tube and obtaining a precipitate—but the latter is not the cause. Historical opinion now favors multicausality within a larger cultural and economic context provided by U.S. ties with the Allies.

In the making of the peace it is possible to say that the Wilsonian internationalists, the champions of the American president, such as historians Arthur Link and Arthur Walworth, have held the field. But questions remain, notably about whether the American people were prepared in 1919 for, if not a world government, then a world organization. Historians have agreed that Wilson himself was not his own best advocate. Thomas J. Knock has argued that Wilson undermined the progressive internationalist coalition by wartime repression. There is particular concern about the Wilson design of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which was neither fish nor fowl—neither a general scheme to promote international law and arbitration, which was in the American diplomatic tradition, nor a design for a postwar alliance of the victorious powers, which such conservative senators as Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts might have approved on a short‐term basis. Historians have remarked on the extraordinary nationalism of post‐1918 America, the inchoate but ardent desire to promote peace, and the victory of isolationism. They are unsure that any American president, seeking an acceptable peace, could have done anything other than what President Warren G. Harding did, which was to declare agreement with the nonpolitical provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
[See also Disciplinary Views of War.]

Robert H. Ferrell

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World War I


Imperial Russia entered World War I in the summer of 1914 along with allies England and France. It remained at war with Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Turkey until the war effort collapsed during the revolutions of 1917.

In 1914 military theory taught that new technologies meant that future wars would be short, decided by initial, offensive battles waged by mass conscript armies on the frontiers. Trapped between two enemies, Germany planned to defeat France in the west before Russia, with its still sparse railway net, could mobilize. Using French loans to build up that net, Russia sought to speed up the process, rapidly invade East Prussia, and so relieve pressure on the French. Berlin therefore feared giving Russia a head start in mobilizing and, rightly or wrongly, most statesmen accepted that if mobilization began, war was inevitable.

On June 28, 1914, a nationalist Serbian student shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, at Sarajevo. To most statesmen's surprise, this provoked a crisis when Austria, determined to punish the Serbs, issued an unacceptable ultimatum on July 23. Over the next six days, pressure mounted on Nicholas II but, recognizing that mobilization meant war, he refused to order a general call-up that would force a German response. Then Vienna declared war on Serbia, Nicholas's own efforts to negotiate with Kaiser William II collapsed, and on July 30 he finally approved a general mobilization. When St. Petersburg ignored Berlin's demand for its cancellation within twelve hours, Germany declared war on August 1. Over the next three days Germany invaded Luxembourg, declared war on France on August 4, and by entering Belgium, added Britain to its enemies.


Some Social Democrats aside, Russia's educated public rallied in a Sacred Union behind their ruler. Strikes and political debate ended, and on August 2, crowds in St. Petersburg cheered Nicholas II after he signed a declaration of war on Germany. Local problems apart, the mobilization proceeded apace as 3,115,000 reservists and 800,000 militiamen joined the 1,423,000-man army to provide troops for Russian offensives into Austrian Galicia and, as promised, France and East Prussia.

Although Nicholas II intended to command his troops in person, he was pressured into appointing instead his uncle, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich the Younger. Whatever its merits, this decision split the front administratively from the rear thanks to a new law that assigned the army control of the front zone. This caused few problems when the battle line moved forward in 1914 and early 1915. However, without the tsar as a civil-military lynchpin, it led to chaos during the later Great Retreat.

The Grand Duke established his skeleton Stavka (Supreme Commander-in-Chief's General Headquarters) at Baranovichi to provide strategic direction to the Galician and East Prussian offensives. These were to open on August 18-19 under the direct supervision of the separate operational headquarters of the Northwest and Southwest Fronts. Yet on August 6 Austria-Hungary declared war and on the next day invaded Russian Poland. This forestalled the Southwest Front (Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Armies, with 52% of Russia's strength) and it opened its own Galician offensive on August 18. Despite early enemy successes, the Front's armies trounced the Austrians and captured the Galician capital of Lvov (Lemberg) on September 3. A week later the Russians won decisively at Rava Ruska, and by September 12 they had foiled an Austrian attempt to retake Lvov. By September 16 they had besieged the major fortress of Przemysl and reached the San River. Resuming their offensive, they then pushed another 100 miles to the Carpathian passes into Hungary. Over seventeen days the Austrians lost 100,000 dead, 220,000 wounded, 100,000 prisoners, and 216 guns, or one-third of their effective strength.

The Northwest Front (First and Second Armies, with 33% of Russia's forces) was less successful. Ordered forward to aid the desperate French on August 13, Pavel Rennenkampf's First Army advanced slowly into East Prussia, was checked at Stalluponen, then defeated the Germans at Gumbinnen on August 20, and turned against Konigsberg. To the south, Alexander Samsonov's Second Army occupied Neidenburg on August 22, and all East Prussia seemed open to the Russians. But by August 23, when the new German commander Paul von Hindenburg arrived with Erich von Ludendorff as chief of staff, General Max von Hoffmann had implemented plans to defeat the Russians piecemeal. Accordingly, on August 2324 the Germans checked Samsonov and, learning his deployments through radio intercepts, withdrew to concentrate on Tannenberg. When the Second Army again advanced on August 26, it was trapped, virtually surrounded, and then crushed. Samsonov shot himself, and by August 30 the Germans claimed more than 100,000 prisoners.

This forced Rennenkampf's withdrawal, and during September 914, he too suffered defeat in the First Battle of the Mansurian Lakes. Despite German claims of a second Tannenberg and 125,000 prisoners, the First Army escaped and lost only 30,000 prisoners, as well as 70,000 dead and wounded. The Germans then advanced to the Niemen River before the front stabilized in mid-September. Again alerted by radio intercepts, they fore-stalled a Russian thrust at Silesia by a spoiling attack on September 30. Counterattacking in Galicia, the Austrians then cleared the Carpathian approaches and relieved Przemysl before being halted on the San in mid-October.

The Russians, repulsing a secondary attack in the north, finally held the Germans before Warsaw. As the latter withdrew, devastating the countryside, the Russians again drove the Austrians back to Kracow and reinvested Przemysl. This set the pattern for months of seesaw fighting all along the front. In the north, despite German use of poison gas in January 1915, the Russian Tenth Army withstood the bloody Winter Battles of Mansuria and held firm until April. In the south, by December they again were deep into the Carpathians, threatening Hungary, and holding positions 30 miles from Kracow. When relief efforts failed, Przemysl finally fell (with 117,000 men) in March 1915, leaving the Russians free to force the Carpathians.

Meanwhile, on October 2930, 1914, two German-Turkish cruisers had raided Russia's Black Sea coast. On declaring war, the tsar set up an autonomous Caucasian Front in which the talented chief of staff Nikolai Yudenich exercised real command. As he prepared the Caucasian Army to meet a Turkish invasion, the Turkish Sultan-Khalifa's call for jihad (holy war) fueled pro-Turkish uprisings in the borderlands. Then on December 17 Enver Pasha launched his Third Army, still in summer uniforms, on a crusade to recover lands ceded to Russia in 1878. By December 25 the Russians were fully engaged in the confused battles known as the Sarykamysh Operation. In twelve days of bitter winter combat Yudenich's troops, despite heavy losses, decisively crushed the Turks, and in January 1915 they invaded Ottoman Turkey.

During this period, the Russians held their own against three enemies in two separate war zones and showed that they had capable generals by routing two enemies and fighting a third, the Germans, to a draw. For most, the heavy losses at Tannenberg and other locations were overshadowed by the stunning victories elsewhere. Like other combatants, Russia was slow to recognize that it faced a long war, but it had avoided the trench warfare that gripped the French front. Yet Grand Duke Nikolai already had complained of shell shortages in September 1914. The government responded by reorganizing the Main Artillery Administration, and a special chief assumed responsibility for completely guaranteeing the army's needs for arms and munitions by both state and private production. If this promise was illusory, and other ad hoc agencies proved equally ineffective, for the moment the Russian command remained confident of victory.


On May 2 the seesaw struggle in the East ended when the Austro-Germans, after a four-hour "hurricane of fire," broke through the shallow Russian trenches at Gorlice-Tarnow. This local success quickly sparked the disastrous Great Retreat. As the Galician armies fell back, a secondary German strike in the north endangered the whole Russian

front. Hampered by increasing munitions shortages, rumors of spies and treason, a panicked Stavka's ineffective leadership, administrative chaos, and masses of fleeing refugees, the Russians soon lost their earlier conquests. Despite Italy's intervention on the Allied side, Austro-German offensives continued unabated, and in midsummer the Russians evacuated Warsaw to give up Russian Poland. Some units could still fight, but their successes were local, and overall, the tsar's armies seemed over-whelmed by the general disaster. The only bright spot was the Caucasus, where Yudenich advanced to aid the Armenians at Van and held his own against the Turks.

The munitions shortages, both real and exaggerated, forced a full industrial mobilization that by August was directed by a Special Conference for Defense and subordinate conferences for transport, fuel, provisioning, and refugees. Their creation necessitated the State Duma's recall, which provided a platform for the opposition deputies who united as the Progressive Bloc. Seeking to control the conferences, these Duma liberals renewed attacks on the regime and demanded a Government of Public

Confidence (i.e., responsible to the Duma). Yet by autumn Nicholas II had weathered the storm, assumed the Supreme Command to reunite front and rear, and prorogued the Duma. As the German offensives petered out, the front stabilized, and a frustrated opposition regrouped. With the nonofficial voluntary societies and new War Industries Committees, it now launched its campaign against the Dark Forces whom it blamed for its recent defeats.


In early December 1915, Stavka delegates met the allies at Chantilly, near Paris, to coordinate their 1916 offensives. Allied doubts about Russian capabilities were somewhat allayed by a local assault on the Strypa River and operations in support of Britain in Persia. Still more impressive was Yudenich's renewed offensive in the Caucasus. He opened a major operation in Armenia in January 1916, and on February 16 his men stormed the strategic fortress of Erzurum. Retreating, the Turks abandoned Mush, and by July, the Russians had captured Erzingan. V. P. Lyakhov's Coastal Detachment, supported by the Black Sea Fleet, also advanced and on April 1718, in a model combinedarms operation, captured the main Turkish supply port of Trebizond. In autumn 1916 the Russians entered eastern Anatolia and Turkish resistance seemed on the verge of collapse.

Assuming the mauled Russians would be inactive in 1916, Germany opened the bloody battle for Verdun on February 21. Yet increased supplies had permitted a Russian recovery, and on March 18, Stavka answered French appeals with a twopronged attack on German positions at Vishnevskoye and Lake Naroch, south of Dvinsk. Two days of heavy shelling opened two weeks of mass infantry assaults over ice, snow, and mud. The Germans held, and the Russians lost heavily but, whatever its impact on Verdun, this battle showed that trench (or position) warfare had arrived in the East. And like generals elsewhere, Russia's seemed convinced that only a single, concentrated infantry assault, preceded by heavy bombardments, and backed by cavalry to exploit a breakthrough, could end the deadlock.

Some saw matters differently. One was Yudenich, who repeatedly smashed the Turks' German-built trench lines. Others included Alexei Brusilov and his generals on the Southwest Front. Like Yudenich, they devised new operational and tactical methods that gained surprise by avoiding massed reserves and cavalry, and by delivering a number of simultaneous, carefully prepared infantry assaults, at several points along an extended front, with little or no artillery preparation. Despite Stavka's doubts, Brusilov won permission to attack in order to tie down the enemy forces in Galicia. When Italy, pressed by Austria in the Trentino, appealed for aid, Brusilov struck on June 4, eleven days before schedule. With no significant artillery support, his troops achieved full surprise on a 200-mile front, smashed the Austrian lines, and advanced up to eighty miles in some sectors. On June 8 they recaptured Lutsk before fighting along the Strypa. Again the Germans rushed up reserves to save their disorganized ally and, after their counterattack of June 16, the line stabilized along that river. In the north, Stavka's main attack then opened before Baranovichi to coincide with Britain's Somme offensive of July 1. But it relied on the old methods and collapsed a week later. The same was true of Brusilov's new attacks on Kovno, which formally ended on August 13. Even so, heavy fighting continued along the Stokhod until September.

Brusilov had lost some 500,000 men, but he had cost the Austro-Germans 1.5 million in dead, wounded, and prisoners, as well as 582 guns. Yet his successes were quickly balanced by defeats elsewhere. Russia had encouraged Romania to enter the war on August 27 and invade Hungarian Transylvania, after which Romania was crushed. By January 1917 Romania had lost its capital, retreated to the Sereth River, and forced Stavka to open a Romanian Front that extended its line 300 miles. This left the Russians spread more thinly and the Central Powers in control of Romania's important wheat and oil regions.

Yet the Allied planners meeting at Chantilly on November 15-16 were optimistic and argued that simultaneous offensives, preceded by local attacks, would bring victory in 1917. Stavka began implementing these decisions by the Mitau Operation in early January 1917. Without artillery support, the Russians advanced in fog, achieved complete surprise, seized the German trenches, and took 8,000 prisoners in five days. If a German counterstrike soon recovered much of the lost ground, the Imperial Army's last offensive shows that it had absorbed Brusilov's methods and could defeat Germans as well as Austrians.

By this date Russia had mobilized industrially with the economy expanding, not collapsing, under wartime pressures. Compared to 1914, by 1917 rifle production was up by 1,100 percent and shells by 2,000 percent, and in October 1917 the Bolsheviks inherited shell reserves of 18 million. Similar increases occurred in most other areas, while the numbers of men called up in 1916 fell and, by December 31, had numbered only 3,048,000 (for a total of 14,648,000 since August 1914). Yet their quality had declined, war weariness and unrest were rising, and, in late June 1916, the mobilization for rear work of some 400,000 earlier exempted Muslim tribesmen in Turkestan provoked a major rebellion. By 1917 a harsh winter, military demands, and rapid wartime industrial expansion had combined to overload the transport system, which exacerbated the tensions brought by inflation, urban overcrowding, and food, fuel, and other shortages.

Despite recent military and industrial successes, Russia's nonofficial public was surprisingly pessimistic. If war-weariness was natural, this mood also reflected the political opposition's propaganda. Determined to gain control of the ministry, the liberals rejected all of Nicholas II's efforts at accommodation. As rumors of treason and a separate peace proliferated, the opposition dubbed each new minister a candidate of the dark forces and creature of the hated Empress and Rasputin, whose own claims gave credence to the rumors. This "assault on the autocracy," as George Katkov describes it, gathered momentum when the Duma reopened on November 14. Liberal leader Paul Milyukov's rhetorical charges of stupidity or treason were seconded by two right-wing nationalists and longtime government supporters. The authorities banned these seditious speeches' publication, but the opposition illegally spread them throughout the army, and some even tried to suborn the high command. The clamor continued until the Duma adjourned for Christmas on December 30, when a group of monarchists murdered Rasputin to save the regime. Yet the liberal public remained unmoved and its press warned that "the dark forces remain as they were."


Russia therefore entered 1917 as a house divided, the dangers of which became evident as a new round of winter shortages, sporadic urban strikes and food riots, and military mutinies set the stage for trouble. On February 27 the Duma reconvened with renewed calls for the removal of "incompetent" ministers, and 80,000 Petrograd workers went on strike. But the tsar, having hosted an Inter-Allied

Conference in Petrograd, returned to Stavka confident that his officials could cope.

Events now moved rapidly. On March 8, police clashed with demonstrators protesting food shortages on International Women's Day. Over the next two days protests spread, antiwar slogans appeared, strikes shut down the city, the Cossacks refused to fire upon protestors, and the strikers set up the Petrograd Soviet (Council). When Nicholas II ordered the garrison to restore order, its aged reservists at first obeyed. But on March 12 they mutinied and joined the rebels. The tsar's ministers were helpless before two new emergent authorities: a Provisional Committee of the State Duma (the prorogued Duma meeting unofficially) and the Petrograd Soviet.

This list now included soldier deputies, and on March 14 the Petrograd Soviet issued its famous Order No. 1. This extended its power through the soldiers' committees elected in every unit in the garrison, and in time in the whole army. For the moment, the Soviet supported a newly formed Provisional Government headed by Prince Georgy Lvov. When Nicholas tried to return to personally restore order, his train was diverted to the Northwest Front's headquarters in Pskov. There he accepted his generals' advice and on March 15 abdicated for himself and his son. His brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, followed suit, the Romanov dynasty ended, and the Imperial Army became that of a de facto Russian republic.

At first both the new government and soviets supported the war effort, and the army's command structure remained intact. Plans for the spring offensive continued, although the changing political situation forced its delay. By April antiwar agitation was rising, discipline weakening, and Stavka was demanding an immediate offensive to restore the army's fighting spirit. Hopes for success rose when Brusilov was named commander-in-chief, and a charismatic radical lawyer, Alexander Kerensky, War and Naval Minister. Finally, on July 1, the Southwest Front's four armies, using Brusilov's tactics, opened Russia's last offensive. Initially successful, it collapsed after only three days, and the Russians again retreated. In two weeks they lost most of Galicia and more than 58,000 officers and men, while a pro-Bolshevik uprising in the capital (the July Days) threatened the government.

Kerensky survived the crisis to become premier, while Lavr Kornilov, who advocated harsh measures to restore order, replaced Brusilov. The Bolshevik leaders were now imprisoned, underground, or in exile in Finland, but their antiwar message won further soldier-converts on all fronts. The Germans tested their own Brusilov-like tactics by capturing Riga during September 16, but otherwise remained passive as the revolutionary virus did its work. Riga's fall revealed Russia's inability to fight even defensively and helped provoke the much-debated Kornilov Affair. When Stavka ordered units to disperse the Petrograd Soviet, Kerensky (whatever his initial intentions) branded Kornilov a traitor and used the left to foil this Bonapartist adventure.

Bolshevik influence now made the officers' position impossible. Desertion was massive, and units on all fronts dissolved. After Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky took power on November 7, the army became so disorganized that a party of Baltic sailors easily seized Stavka and murdered General Nikolai Dukhonin, the last real commander-in-chief. The army no longer existed as an effective fighting force and, with peace talks underway at Brest-Litovsk, the so-called demobilization congress of December sanctioned the harsh reality. In February 1918 the army's remnants mounted only token resistance when the Austro-Germans attacked and, despite desperate attempts to create a Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, forced the Soviet government to accept the diktat (dictated or imposed peace) of Brest-Litovsk on March 3.


Western accounts of Russia's war are dominated by the Tannenberg defeat of 1914, the Great Retreat of 1915, and the debacle of 1917. Yet the Imperial Army's record compares favorably with those of its allies and its German opponent, and surpassed those of Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. Despite many real problems, the same is true of efforts to organize the war economy. But the regime's failures were exaggerated, and its successes often obscured, by a domestic political struggle that undercut the war effort and helped bring the final collapse.

See also: brest-litovsk peace; july days of 1917; kerensky, alexander fyodorovich, kornilov affair; nicholas ii; stavka; tannenberg, battle of; yudenich, nikolai nikolayevich


Allen, W. E. D., and Muratoff, Paul. (1953). Caucasian Battlefields: A History of the Wars on the Turco-Caucasian Border, 18281921. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Brusilov, Aleksei A. (1930). A Soldier's Note-Book, 19141918. London: Macmillan.

Florinsky, Michael T. (1931). The End of the Russian Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Gatrell, Peter. (1986). The Tsarist Economy, 18501917. London: Batsford.

Golder, Frank A. [1927] (1964). Documents of Russian History, 19141917. New York: Appleton-Century; reprint, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith.

Golovin, Nicholas N. (1931). The Russian Army in the World War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Heenan, Louise Erwin. (1987). Russian Democracy's Fatal Blunder: The Summer Offensive of 1917. New York. Praeger.

Jones, David R. (1988). "Imperial Russia's Forces at War." In Military Effectiveness, 3 vols., ed. A. R. Millet and W. Murray. London: Allen and Unwin.

Jones, David R. (2002). "The Imperial Army in World War I, 19141917." In The Military History of Tsarist Russia, ed. F.W. Hagan and R. Higham. New York: Palgrave.

Katkov, George. (1967). Russia 1917: The February Revolution. London: Longmans.

Kerensky, Alexander F. (1967). Russia and History's Turning Point. New York: Duell, Sloane and Pearce.

Knox, Alfred W. F. (1921). With the Russian Army, 19141917, 2 vols. London: Hutchinson.

Lincoln, Bruce W. (1986). Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians in War and Revolution, 19141918. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Pares, Bernard. (1939). The Fall of the Russian Monarchy. New York: Knopf.

Showalter, Dennis E. (1991). Tannenberg: Clash of Empires. Hamden, CT: Archon.

Siegelbaum, Lewis H. (1983). The Politics of Industrial Mobilization in Russia, 191417: A Study of the War Industries Committees. London: Macmillan.

Stone, Norman. (1975). The Eastern Front, 19141917. New York: Scribner's Sons.

Wildman, Allan K. (1980, 1987). The End of the Russian Imperial Army, 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

David R. Jones

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World War I

World War I


World War I, which spanned a four-year period between 1914 and 1918, erupted as a result of the complicated European alliance system. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, by Serbian nationalists sparked pan-European conflict when Russia, backed by France, declared their intent to defend Serbia, should Austria declare war. The Austrian government, with its ally Germany, declared war on Serbia three days later. British forces joined the French and Russians, but the United States, home to large immigrant populations of all of the fighting nations, resolved to remain out of the conflict.

The United States declared its neutrality, but the nation harbored Allied sympathies. United States manufacture and trafficking of munitions and supplies to aid British and French forces angered Germany and Austria. The German Navy attacked American ships, potentially loaded with contraband, in the Atlantic, and sent intelligence agents to conduct sabotage operations within the United States. In 1917, German hostility prompted the United States to enter the conflict in Europe.

The war ended in 1918, followed by the formal surrender of German and Austrian forces with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. However, World War I forever changed modern warfare, introducing the concepts of total warfare and weapons of mass destruction.

National intelligence communities. At the outbreak of the war, many nations had weak or fledgling national intelligence communities. The French government and military both maintained trained intelligence forces, but no central agency processed intelligence information, or facilitated the distribution of critical intelligence information. Russia had special agents of the Czar, and secret police forces, but its foreign intelligence infrastructure was almost non-existent.

The United States developed stronger domestic intelligence and investigative services in the decade before World War I. However, the country's lingering isolationism and neutral posture in the war hampered the development of a foreign intelligence corps until the United States entered the war in 1917.

Britain had a well-developed military intelligence system, coordinated through the Office of Military Intelligence. British intelligence forces engaged in a range of specialized intelligence activities, from wiretapping to human espionage. The vast expanse of British colonial holdings across the globe provided numerous outposts for intelligence operations, and facilitated espionage. British forces were among the first to employ a unit of agents devoted to the practice of industrial espionage, conducting wartime surveillance of German weapons manufacturing.

Of all the warring nations in 1914, Germany possessed the most developed, sophisticated, and extensive intelligence community. The civilian German intelligence service, the Abwehr, employed a comprehensive network of spies and informants across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and in the United States. German intelligence successfully employed wire taps, infiltrating many foreign government offices before the outbreak of the war.

World War I forced most national intelligence services to rapidly modernize, revising espionage and intelligence tradecraft to fit changing battlefield tactics and technological advances. The experience of the war formed the first modern intelligence services, serving as forbearers of the intelligence communities in France, Britain, Germany, and the Untied States today.

Sabotage. German intelligence trained special agents, most of whom used professional or diplomatic covers in the United States, to conduct acts of sabotage against United States industries that aided the British, French, and Russian allied forces in the war. International rules of engagement limited the ways in which Germany and Austria-Hungary could provoke or attack the declaredly neutral United States. German high command desired to cripple United States aid capabilities, but not provoke the nation to enter the conflict. German undercover agents attacked railroads, warehouses, shipyards, and military instillations in 1914 and 1915. Agents attempted to make these attacks appear as accidents, but United States authorities caught several potential saboteurs before they destroyed property, unmasking the German plot. Anti-spy hysteria fueled public fear and anger regarding the acts of German saboteurs.

German and Austrian agents carried out more than 50 acts of sabotage against United States targets on American soil during the course of the war. Most of the attacks occurred in New York City and the region surrounding New York harbor. The most famous and devastating attack, the sabotage of Black Tom Pier, shook buildings and broke windows across New York City and suburban New Jersey. The July 29, 1916, explosion destroyed several ships and waterfront ammunition storage facilities. The attack decimated Black Tom Pier, the staging area for most shipments bound for the Western Front in Europe.

German sabotage attacks in the United States, while successful, only managed to strike at a handful of military and shipping targets. The United States government continued to aid British and French forces in Europe, but the attacks inflamed pro-war sentiment.

Communications and cryptology. Advancements in communications and transportation necessitated the development of new means of protecting messages from falling into enemy hands. Though an ancient art, cryptology evolved to fit modern communication needs during World War I. The telegraph aided long-distance communication between command and the battlefront, but lines were vulnerable to enemy tapping. All parties in the conflict relied heavily on codes to protect sensitive information. Cryptology, the science of codes, advanced considerably during the first year of the war. Complex mathematical codes took the place of any older, simple replacement and substitution codes. Breaking the new codes required the employment of cryptology experts trained in mathematics, logic, or modern languages. As the operation of codes became more involved, the necessity for centralized cryptanalysis bureaus became evident. These bureaus employed code breakers, translators, counterintelligence personnel, and agents of espionage.

The most common codes used during the war continued to be substitution codes. However, most important messages were encrypted. Encryption further disguised messages by applying a second, mathematical code to the encoded message. Encryption and coding both required the use of codebooks to send and receive messages. These books proved to be a security liability for the military. During the course of the war, four separate German diplomatic and military corps code books fell into the hands of British intelligence, compromising the security of German communications for the rest of the war.

Both the Germans and the British broke each other's World War I codes with varying success. The German Abwehr broke several British diplomatic and Naval codes, permitting German U-boats to track and sink ships containing munitions. British cryptanalysis forces at Room 40, the military intelligence code-breaking bureau, successfully deciphered numerous German codes, thanks in large part to the capture of German codebooks. In 1917, British intelligence intercepted a diplomatic message between Berlin and Mexico City, relayed through Washington. The message, known as the Zimmerman Telegram, noted German plans to conduct unrestricted warfare against American ships in the Atlantic, and offered to return parts of Texas and California to Mexico in exchange for their assistance. Discovery of the Zimmerman Telegram prompted the United States to enter World War I.

Cryptology, once the exclusive tool of diplomats and military leaders, became the responsibility of the modern intelligence community. After World War I, many nations dissolved their wartime intelligence services, but kept their cryptanalysis bureaus, a nod to the growing importance of communications intelligence and espionage.

Trench warfare and the evolution of strategic espionage tradecraft. The advent of trench warfare necessitated the development of new surveillance and espionage techniques to locate enemy positions and gauge troop strength. Crossing "no man's land," the area between trench fronts, was dangerous, and using human scouts proved costly to both sides in the early months of the war. Military intelligence officers instead relied on networks of local citizens for information on enemy advances and supply lines. Finding sympathetic locals was possible for both sides in the trenches of Northern France, as the battlefront crossed the linguistically and culturally diverse German-French region of Alsace-Lorraine.

The airplane was a new invention when war broke out in Europe. Though the device was unproven in war, German commanders recognized that air combat and aerial bombardment were the most significant war tactics of the future. Britain developed fighter squadrons of its own to combat the German air menace. Despite the fame of the German Red Baron and World War I aerial dogfights, airpower was a very small part of the war effort on both sides. However, low-flying airplanes proved invaluable surveillance and intelligence tools, permitting military command to obtain accurate and up-to-date information on enemy trench locations and fortifications. British forces experimented with aerial surveillance photography, trying several cameras, but the medium had little success during the course of World War I.

German and Austrian forces introduced the use of balloons to monitor weather patterns and deliver explosive charges. Sometimes, dummy balloons were sent across enemy lines so that scouts could monitor where individual balloons were shot down, thus mapping probable enemy strongholds. British and French forces soon reciprocated by using balloons of their own, but by the time they introduced the devices, balloons signaled the impending use of a far more sinister weapon, poison gas.

Chemical weapons. Although military strategists during the nineteenth century noted the potential use of poison gas on the battlefield, the development of the first, World War Iera chemical weapon happened by accident. Seeking to conserve TNT, British and German forces substituted two different agents, Lyddite and Dianisdine salts respectively, into their explosive charges. The chemicals produced a tearing agent and mild respiratory irritant, sending victims into violent fits of sneezing.

The French first developed strong tear gas agents for battlefield use in June 1914. French forces first employed the gas in the form of tear-gas grenades, in August 1914. German scientists created a similar agent, and were the first to research various types of poison gas for extensive battle use. In October 1914, the Germans fired the first gasfilled shells. A few months later, experiments with filled shells were unsuccessful. Gasses failed to properly vaporize on the Eastern Front during the freezing winter. Variable winds on the Western Front made dispersal of gasses difficult.

By 1915, the German, French, and British armies all sought to develop chemical agents that would help end the relentless stalemate of trench warfare. Outdated battlefield tactics ordered soldiers to charge fortified trenches, across open fields strewn with barbed wire. Military commanders hoped poison gas would help soften or destroy manned defenses, permitting successful seizure of enemy positions.

The first major use of strong poison gas was an asphyxiant and respiratory irritant, chlorine, at the Second Battle of Ypres. German forces mounted a heavy bombardment of the French, British, and Algerian Ypres Salient. In the evening, the firing grew more intense, and Algerian troops noticed a peculiar yellow cloud drifting toward the Salient. French military commanders believed the yellow smoke hid an oncoming German advance, so soldiers were ordered to stand their ground and man machine gun defenses. As a result, many men died and the Salient was broken, forcing the Allies to retreat.

Germany drew immediate criticism for its inhumane use of gas on the battlefield. German diplomats assured rival powers that poison gas would be used regularly against their forces, provoking further condemnation. Both sides of the conflict employed agents of espionage to spy on the production of new weapons. Informants told Allied authorities about the possible German use of chlorine gas at Ypres. After Ypres, intelligence personnel changed its tactics to obtain specific information on the gasses each side was producing, and how they intended to weaponize the chemicals.

The British government commissioned Special Gas Companies to create poisons for wartime uses. On September 24, 1915, Allied forces retaliated the initial German gas attacks. Setting some 400 chlorine gas canisters along the German lines at Loos, British forces began the gas attack at dawn. A few minutes after sunrise, the prevailing winds suddenly shifted, driving the cloud of gas back over British lines. The operation was disastrous, Britain suffered more causalities on the day than did Germany.

After the incident at Loos and several similar gas reversals, both British and German forces experimented with different means of delivering poison gasses to minimize friendly-fire exposure to the chemicals. The creation of stronger, more deadly agents, such as Phosgene (an asphyxiant) and later Mustard Gas (a blister agent that burned exposed skin and eyes), necessitated a remote delivery system. Gas canisters were dropped from balloons and airplanes, but the system was not always reliable and targeting specific locations was difficult. Advancement in ammunition design, and the chemical agents themselves, finally permitted chemical agents to be placed in the payload of long-range artillery shells.

Despite more efficient delivery mechanisms, chemical warfare eventually became less effective on the battle-field. All armies in the conflict quickly devised protective gear to shield soldiers from exposure to chemical agents. Cotton wraps dipped in baking soda and gas masks greatly reduced the number of casualties from most gasses, though they offered no protection from the increasingly used Mustard Gas. Battlefield toxins became more deadly, especially with the limited use of cyanide derivatives and prussic acid, a crippling nerve gas. However, protective clothing and gas masks limited mortality from rare gasses.

Better intelligence also helped combat casualties incurred from gas attacks. Intelligence aided troops in the trenches to reposition to avoid an impending attack. Identification of the type of gasses possessed by the immediate enemy corps further detracted from the element of surprise, upon which gas attacks heavily relied. Despite its diminished success, gas continued to be regularly deployed.

The legacy of World War I. By the end of World War I, over 100,000 people were killed, and one million injured, by poison gas attacks. Those injured often suffered debilitating injuries, creating further public ire for chemical weapons. Civilians were inadvertently injured by contaminated areas, especially by the long-lingering mustard gas. After the war, the newly established League of Nations moved to amend the international rules of engagement to disallow the use of poison gas. Though the motion gained public and diplomatic support, military leaders were hesitant to agree to a total ban on chemical warfare. In 1925, the Geneva Protocol outlawed the use of chemical and biological weapons in war against human targets. However, the treaty did not prevent their further use, and chemical and biological weapons attacks by rogue nations or terrorist organizations have now reemerged as a global threat.

The Armistice created the political map of Europe that sparked the powder keg of World War II. The German government collapsed under the weight of reparation payments and hyperinflation, only to emerge from economic troubles under the reign of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. In the East, small ethnic nations were combined into larger states, embittering nationalists that hoped the war would bring freedom from Austrian, Russian, or German domination. Russia began a tumultuous revolution in 1917, withdrawing from the war to concentrate on domestic affairs.

The legacy of World War I extends beyond World War II, however. Many nations participating in the conflict realized the necessity for some sort of permanent intelligence services, whether cryptology and surveillance units, or large government intelligence agencies. The nature of war, and the business of intelligence in wartime and peacetime were altered by the events of World War I.



Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.


Black Tom Explosion
Room 40
World War I: Loss of the German Codebook

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World War I


WORLD WAR I. The United States did not enter World War I until April 1917, although the conflict had begun in August 1914. After an intense period of military buildup and imperial competition, war broke out in Europe between Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) and Britain, France, and Russia (the Allies). Turkey quickly joined the Central Powers and Italy joined the Allies in 1915.

Prelude to Involvement

Immediately, President Woodrow Wilson issued a declaration of neutrality. He was committed to maintaining open use of the Atlantic for trade with all the European belligerents. However, British naval supremacy almost eliminated American trade with Germany while shipments to the Allies soared. To counter this trend, German U-boats (submarines) torpedoed U.S. merchant vessels bound for Allied ports. In May 1915, Germans sunk the British passenger ship Lusitania, killing 128 Americans. Strong protest from Wilson subdued the submarine campaign, but it would emerge again as the war ground on and became more desperate. In late January 1917, Germany announced it would destroy all ships heading to Britain. Although Wilson broke off diplomatic ties with Germany, he still hoped to avert war by arming merchant vessels as a deterrent. Nevertheless, Germany began sinking American ships immediately.

In February 1917, British intelligence gave the United States government a decoded telegram from Germany's foreign minister, Arthur Zimmerman, that had been intercepted en route to his ambassador to Mexico. The

Zimmerman Telegram authorized the ambassador to offer Mexico the portions of the Southwest it had lost to the United States in the 1840s if it joined the Central Powers. But because Wilson had run for reelection in 1916 on a very popular promise to keep the United States out of the European war, he had to handle the telegram very carefully. Wilson did not publicize it at first, only releasing the message to the press in March after weeks of German attacks on American ships had turned public sentiment toward joining the Allies.

Gearing Up for War: Raising Troops and Rallying Public Opinion

On 2 April 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war and four days later all but six senators and fifty representatives voted for a war resolution. The Selective Service Act that was passed the following month, along with an extraordinary number of volunteers, built up the army from less than 250,000 to four million over the course of the conflict. General John Pershing was appointed head of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and led the first troops to France during the summer. Initially, the nation was woefully unprepared to fight so large a war so far from American soil. The task of reorganizing government and industry to coordinate a war and then of recruiting, training, equipping, and shipping out massive numbers of soldiers was daunting and would proceed slowly. The first serious U.S. military action would not come until April 1918, one year after declaration of war. It would take a gargantuan national effort, one that would forever change the government and its relationship to the citizenry, to get those troops into combat.

Although there is strong evidence that the war was broadly supported—and certainly Americans volunteered and bought Liberty Bonds in droves—the epic scale of the undertaking and the pressure of time led the government, in an unprecedented campaign, to sell the war effort through a massive propaganda blitz. Wilson picked George Creel, a western newspaper editor, to form the Committee on Public Information (CPI). This organization was charged with providing the press with carefully selected information on the progress of the war. It also worked with the advertising industry to produce eyecatching and emotional propaganda for various agencies involved in the war effort in order to win maximum cooperative enthusiasm form the public. Its largest enterprise was the Four Minute Men program, which sent more than 75,000 speakers to over 750,000 public events to rouse the patriotism of as many as 314 million spectators over the course of the war. The CPI recruited mainly prominent white businessmen and community leaders; however, it did set up a Women's Division and also courted locally prominent African Americans to speak at black gatherings.

Gearing Up for War: The Economy and Labor

The government needed patriotic cooperation, for it was completely unequipped to enforce many of the new regulations it adopted. It also had to maximize the productive resources of the nation to launch the U.S. war effort and prop up flagging allies. The War Industries Board was charged with gearing up the economy to war production, but it lacked coercive authority. Even the Overman Act of May 1918, which gave the president broad powers to commandeer industries if necessary, failed to convince capitalists to retool completely toward the war effort. The government only took control of one industry, the railroads, in December 1917, and made it quite clear that the measure was only a temporary necessity. In all other industries, it was federal investment—not control—that achieved results. The Emergency Fleet Corporation pumped over $3 billion into the nation's dormant shipbuilding industry during the war era. Overall, the effort to raise production was too little and too late for maximizing the nation's military clout. American production was just hitting stride as the war ended, but the threat that it represented did help convince an exhausted Germany to surrender.

The government also sought the cooperation of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and involved its top

officials in the war production effort, but very low unemployment emboldened union workers and it became difficult for the leadership to control the rank and file. Many workers connected Wilson's war goals—democracy and self-determination for nations—to struggles for a voice in their workplaces through union representation. However, the number of striking workers was lower in 1917 and 1918 than in 1916. The government hastily created labor arbitration boards and eventually formed a National War Labor Board (NWLB) in April 1918. The government had considerable success in resolving disputes and convincing employers to at least temporarily give some ground to the unions. When this novel arbitration framework disappeared along with government contracts in 1919, workers participated in the largest strike wave in the nation's history—over four million participated in walkouts during that year.

Women and African Americans in the War

For women workers the war also raised hopes, but as with labor as a whole, they were dashed after the conflict. The number of women working as domestic servants and in

laundering or garment making declined sharply during the war, while opportunities grew just as dramatically in office, industrial, commercial, and transportation work. The very limited place of women in the economy had opened up and government propaganda begged women to take jobs. However, few of these new opportunities, and even then only the least attractive of them, went to nonwhite women. Mainly confined to low-skilled work, many women were let go when the postwar economy dipped or were replaced by returning soldiers. Although women did gain, and hold on to, a more prominent place in the AFL, they were still only 10 percent of the membership in 1920. The government made some attempts through the NWLB to protect the rights of working women, although it backed off after the war. But women fought on their own behalf on the suffrage front and finally achieved the right to vote in 1920.

African Americans also made some gains but suffered a terrible backlash for them. There were ninety-six lynchings of blacks during 1917 and 1918 and seventy in 1919 alone. Blacks were moving out of the South in massive numbers during the war years, confronting many white communities in the North with a substantial nonwhite presence for the first time. Northward migration by blacks averaged only 67,000 per decade from 1870 through 1910 and then exploded to 478,000 during the 1910s. This Great Migration gave blacks access to wartime factory jobs that paid far better than agricultural work in the South, but like white women, they primarily did lowskilled work and were generally rejected by the union movement. The hatred that many of these migrants faced in the North forced them into appalling ghettos and sometimes led to bloodshed. In July 1917, a race riot in East St. Louis, Illinois, left thirty-nine African Americans dead. The recently formed NAACP championed justice and democratic rights for African Americans at a time when black soldiers were helping to guarantee them for the peoples of Europe. Although job opportunities would recede after the war, the new racial diversity outside the South would not—and neither would the fight for equal rights.

Repression and the War

The fragility of a war effort that relied on a workforce of unprecedented diversity and on cooperation from emboldened unions led the federal government to develop for the first time a substantial intelligence-gathering capability for the purpose of suppressing elements it thought might destabilize the system. The primary targets were anti-capitalist radicals and enemy aliens (German and Austro-Hungarian immigrants). The former group was targeted through the Espionage Act of June 1917, which was amended by the Sedition Act in May 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia convinced the government to seek even wider powers to control public speech. The Department of Justice, through its U.S. attorneys and Bureau of Investigation field agents, cooperated with local and state authorities to suppress radical organizers. Many government agencies developed at least some intelligence capacity and the private, but government sanctioned, American Protective League recruited perhaps 300,000 citizen-spies to keep tabs on their fellow Americans. In this climate of suspicion, German-speaking aliens had the most cause to be afraid. War propaganda dehumanized Germans and blasted their culture and language. Well over a half-million enemy aliens were screened by the Department of Justice and were restricted in their mobility and access to military and war production sites. Several thousand enemy aliens deemed disloyal were interned until the conflict was over.

American Soldiers in Battle

The end of the war was nowhere in sight when U.S. troops first saw significant fighting in the spring of 1918, after the new Bolshevik government in Russia pulled out of the war in March and Germany switched its efforts to the western front. Under British and French pressure, General Pershing allowed his troops to be blended with those of the Allies—ending his dream of the AEF as an

independent fighting force. Now under foreign command, American troops helped stop the renewed German offensive in May and June. The First U.S. Army was given its own mission in August: to push the Germans back to the southeast and northwest of Verdun and then seize the important railroad facilities at Sedan. The campaign got under way in September and American troops succeeded in removing the Germans from the southeast of Verdun, although the latter were already evacuating that area. The Meuse-Argonne offensive to the northwest of Verdun was launched in late September and proved to be much more bloody. Although the German position was heavily fortified, well over a million American soldiers simply overwhelmed all resistance. This massive and relentless operation convinced the German command that its opportunity to defeat the Allies before American troops and industry were fully ready to enter the fray had been lost. As exhausted as the United States was fresh, the Central Powers surrendered on 11 November 1918.

In the end, two million American troops went to France and three-quarters of them saw combat. Some 60,000 died in battle and over 200,000 were wounded. An additional 60,000 died of disease, many from the influenza pandemic that killed over twenty million across the globe in 1918 and 1919. Many surviving combatants suffered psychological damage, known as shell shock, from the horrors of trench warfare. The casualties would have been far greater had America entered the war earlier or been prepared to deploy a large army more quickly.

Wilson hoped that after the war the United States would become part of the League of Nations that was forming in Europe to ensure that collective responsibility replaced competitive alliances. But America was retreating inward, away from the postwar ruin and revolutionary chaos of Europe. The government was suppressing radicals at home with unprecedented furor in 1919 and 1920 in what is known as the Red Scare. Progressive wartime initiatives that further involved the government in the lives of its citizens withered against this reactionary onslaught. But the notion of government coordination of a national effort to overcome crisis had been born, and the Great Depression and World War II would see this new commitment reemerge, strengthened.


Farwell, Byron. Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917–1918. New York: Norton, 1999. Focuses on military action.

Greenwald, Maurine Weiner. Women, War, and Work: The Impact of World War I on Women Workers in the United States. West-port, Conn.: Greenwood, 1980.

Kennedy, Kathleen. Disloyal Mothers and Scurrilous Citizens: Women and Subversion during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Luebke, Frederick. Bonds of Loyalty: German-Americans and World War I. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974.

McCartin, Joseph. Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912–1921. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Focuses on workers and war production.

Preston, William, Jr. Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903–1933. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963. Focuses on home front repression.

Venzon, Anne Cipriano, ed. The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1995. Good general work.

Zieger, Robert. America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. Stresses the home front.

Zeiger, Susan. In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Force, 1917–1919. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999.


See alsoInternment, Wartime ; Palmer Raids ; Riots ; Sedition Acts ; Women in Public Life, Business, and Professions andvol. 9:America's War Aims: The Fourteen Points ; Dedicating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ; Peace and Bread in Time of War ; The War in Its Effect upon Women ; Letters from the Front, World War I, 1918 ; Lyrics of "Over There," 1917 .

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World War I

World War I, 1914–18, also known as the Great War, conflict, chiefly in Europe, among most of the great Western powers. It was the largest war the world had yet seen.


World War I was immediately precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serbian nationalist in 1914. There were, however, many factors that had led toward war. Prominent causes were the imperialistic, territorial, and economic rivalries that had been intensifying from the late 19th cent., particularly among Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, and Austria-Hungary.

Of equal importance was the rampant spirit of nationalism, especially unsettling in the empire of Austria-Hungary and perhaps also in France. Nationalism had brought the unification of Germany by "blood and iron," and France, deprived of Alsace and Lorraine by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, had been left with its own nationalistic cult seeking revenge against Germany. While French nationalists were hostile to Germany, which sought to maintain its gains by militarism and alliances, nationalism was creating violent tensions in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; there the large Slavic national groups had grown increasingly restive, and Serbia as well as Russia fanned Slavic hopes for freedom and Pan-Slavism.

Imperialist rivalry had grown more intense with the "new imperialism" of the late 19th and early 20th cent. The great powers had come into conflict over spheres of influence in China and over territories in Africa, and the Eastern Question, created by the decline of the Ottoman Empire, had produced several disturbing controversies. Particularly unsettling was the policy of Germany. It embarked late but aggressively on colonial expansion under Emperor William II, came into conflict with France over Morocco, and seemed to threaten Great Britain by its rapid naval expansion.

These issues, imperialist and nationalist, resulted in a hardening of alliance systems in the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente and in a general armaments race. Nonetheless, a false optimism regarding peace prevailed almost until the onset of the war, an optimism stimulated by the long period during which major wars had been avoided, by the close dynastic ties and cultural intercourse in Europe, and by the advance of industrialization and economic prosperity. Many Europeans counted on the deterrent of war's destructiveness to preserve the peace.

War's Outbreak

The Austrian annexation (1908) of Bosnia and Herzegovina created an international crisis, but war was avoided. The Balkan Wars (1912–13) remained localized but increased Austria's concern for its territorial integrity, while the solidification of the Triple Alliance made Germany more yielding to the demands of Austria, now its one close ally. The assassination (June 28, 1914) of Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo set in motion the diplomatic maneuvers that ended in war.

The Austrian military party, headed by Count Berchtold, won over the government to a punitive policy toward Serbia. On July 23, Serbia was given a nearly unacceptable ultimatum. With Russian support assured by Sergei Sazonov, Serbia accepted some of the terms but hedged on others and rejected those infringing upon its sovereignty. Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany, rejected the British proposal of Sir Edward Grey (later Lord Grey of Fallodon) and declared war (July 28) on Serbia.

Russian mobilization precipitated a German ultimatum (July 31) that, when unanswered, was followed by a German declaration of war on Russia (Aug. 1). Convinced that France was about to attack its western frontier, Germany declared war (Aug. 3) on France and sent troops against France through Belgium and Luxembourg. Germany had hoped for British neutrality, but German violation of Belgian neutrality gave the British government the pretext and popular support necessary for entry into the war. In the following weeks Montenegro and Japan joined the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia, Serbia, and Belgium) and the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). The war had become general. Whether it might have been avoided or localized and which persons and nations were most responsible for its outbreak are questions still debated by historians.

From the Marne to Verdun

The German strategy, planned by Alfred von Schlieffen, called for an attack on the weak left flank of the French army by a massive German force approaching through Belgium, while maintaining a defensive stance toward Russia, whose army, Schlieffen assumed, would require six weeks to mobilize. By that time, Germany would have captured France and would be ready to meet the forces on the Eastern Front. The Schlieffen plan was weakened from the start when the German commander Helmuth von Moltke detached forces from the all-important German right wing, which was supposed to smash through Belgium, in order to reinforce the left wing in Alsace-Lorraine. Nevertheless, the Germans quickly occupied most of Belgium and advanced on Paris.

In Sept., 1914, the first battle of the Marne (see Marne, battle of the) took place. For reasons still disputed, a general German retreat was ordered after the battle, and the Germans entrenched themselves behind the Aisne River. The Germans then advanced toward the Channel ports but were stopped in the first battle of Ypres (see Ypres, battles of); grueling trench warfare ensued along the entire Western Front. Over the next three years the battle line remained virtually stationary. It ran, approximately, from Ostend past Armentières, Douai, Saint-Quentin, Reims, Verdun, and Saint-Mihiel to Lunéville.

Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, the Russians invaded East Prussia but were decisively defeated (Aug.–Sept., 1914) by the Germans under generals Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and Mackensen at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes (see under Masuria). The Germans advanced on Warsaw, but farther south a Russian offensive drove back the Austrians. However, by the autumn of 1915 combined Austro-German efforts had driven the Russians out of most of Poland and were holding a line extending from Riga to Chernovtsy (Chernivtsi). The Russians counterattacked in 1916 in a powerful drive directed by General Brusilov, but by the year's end the offensive had collapsed, after costing Russia many thousands of lives. Soon afterward the Russian Revolution eliminated Russia as an effective participant in the war. Although the Austro-Hungarians were unsuccessful in their attacks on Serbia and Montenegro in the first year of the war, these two countries were overrun in 1915 by the Bulgarians (who had joined the Central Powers in Oct., 1915) and by Austro-German forces.

Another blow to the Allied cause was the failure in 1915 of the Gallipoli campaign, an attempt to force Turkey out of the war and to open a supply route to S Russia. The Allies, however, won a diplomatic battle when Italy, after renouncing its partnership in the Triple Alliance and after being promised vast territorial gains, entered the war on the Allied side in May, 1915. Fighting between Austria and Italy along the Isonzo River was inconclusive until late 1917, when the rout of the Italians at Caporetto made Italy a liability rather than an asset to the Allies.

Except for the conquest of most of Germany's overseas colonies by the British and Japanese, the year 1916 opened with a dark outlook for the Allies. The stalemate on the Western Front had not been affected in 1915 by the second battle of Ypres, in which the Germans used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front, nor by the French offensive in Artois—in which a slight advance of the French under Henri Pétain was paid for with heavy losses—nor by the offensive of Marshal Joffre in Champagne, nor by the British advance toward Lens and Loos.

In Feb., 1916, the Germans tried to break the deadlock by mounting a massive assault on Verdun (see Verdun, battle of). The French, rallying with the cry, "They shall not pass!" held fast despite enormous losses, and in July the British and French took the offensive along the Somme River where tanks were used for the first time by the British. By November they had gained a few thousand yards and lost thousands of men. By December, a French counteroffensive at Verdun had restored the approximate positions of Jan., 1916.

Despite signs of exhaustion on both sides, the war went on, drawing ever more nations into the maelstrom. Portugal and Romania joined the Allies in 1916; Greece, involved in the war by the Allied Salonica campaigns on its soil, declared war on the Central Powers in 1917.

From America's Entry to Allied Victory

The neutrality of the United States had been seriously imperiled after the sinking of the Lusitania (1915). At the end of 1916, Germany, whose surface fleet had been bottled up since the indecisive battle of Jutland (see Jutland, battle of), announced that it would begin unrestricted submarine warfare in an effort to break British control of the seas. In protest the United States broke off relations with Germany (Feb., 1917), and on Apr. 6 it entered the war. American participation meant that the Allies now had at their command almost unlimited industrial and manpower resources, which were to be decisive in winning the war. It also served from the start to lift Allied morale, and the insistence of President Woodrow Wilson on a "war to make the world safe for democracy" was to weaken the Central Powers by encouraging revolutionary groups at home.

The war on the Western Front continued to be bloody and stalemated. But in the Middle East the British, who had stopped a Turkish drive on the Suez Canal, proceeded to destroy the Ottoman Empire; T. E. Lawrence stirred the Arabs to revolt, Baghdad fell (Mar., 1917), and Field Marshal Allenby took Jerusalem (Dec., 1917). The first troops of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), commanded by General Pershing, landed in France in June, 1917, and were rushed to the Château-Thierry area to help stem a new German offensive.

A unified Allied command in the West was created in Apr., 1918. It was headed by Marshal Foch, but under him the national commanders (Sir Douglas Haig for Britain, King Albert I for Belgium, and General Pershing for the United States) retained considerable authority. The Central Powers, however, had gained new strength through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Mar., 1918) with Russia. The resources of Ukraine seemed at their disposal, enabling them to balance to some extent the effects of the Allied blockade; most important, their forces could now be concentrated on the Western Front.

The critical German counteroffensive, known as the second battle of the Marne, was stopped just short of Paris (July–Aug., 1918). At this point Foch ordered a general counterattack that soon pushed the Germans back to their initial line (the so-called Hindenburg Line). The Allied push continued, with the British advancing in the north and the Americans attacking through the Argonne region of France. While the Germans were thus losing their forces on the Western Front, Bulgaria, invaded by the Allies under General Franchet d'Esperey, capitulated on Sept. 30, and Turkey concluded an armistice on Oct. 30. Austria-Hungary, in the process of disintegration, surrendered on Nov. 4 after the Italian victory at Vittorio Veneto.

German resources were exhausted and German morale had collapsed. President Wilson's Fourteen Points were accepted by the new German chancellor, Maximilian, prince of Baden, as the basis of peace negotiations, but it was only after revolution had broken out in Germany that the armistice was at last signed (Nov. 11) at Compiègne. Germany was to evacuate its troops immediately from all territory W of the Rhine, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was declared void. The war ended without a single truly decisive battle having been fought, and Germany lost the war while its troops were still occupying territory from France to Crimea. This paradox became important in subsequent German history, when nationalists and militarists sought to blame the defeat on traitors on the home front rather than on the utter exhaustion of the German war machine and war economy.

Aftermath and Reckoning

World War I and the resulting peace treaties (see Versailles, Treaty of; Saint-Germain, Treaty of; Trianon, Treaty of; Neuilly, Treaty of; Sèvres, Treaty of) radically changed the face of Europe and precipitated political, social, and economic changes. By the Treaty of Versailles Germany was forced to acknowledge guilt for the war. Later, prompted by the Bolshevik publication of the secret diplomacy of the czarist Russian government, the warring powers gradually released their own state papers, and the long historical debate on war guilt began. It has with some justice been claimed that the conditions of the peace treaties were partially responsible for World War II. Yet when World War I ended, the immense suffering it had caused gave rise to a general revulsion to any kind of war, and a large part of mankind placed its hopes in the newly created League of Nations.

To calculate the total losses caused by the war is impossible. About 10 million dead and 20 million wounded is a conservative estimate. Starvation and epidemics raised the total in the immediate postwar years. Warfare itself had been revolutionized by the conflict (see air forces; chemical warfare; mechanized warfare; tank).


There is a tremendous amount of general and specialized literature on World War I. Classic accounts of the war are S. B. Fay, The Origins of the World War (rev. ed. 1930, repr. 1966) and B. E. Schmitt, The Coming of the War, 1914 (1930, repr. 1966). Two short guides to the military history are B. H. Liddell Hart, The Real War (1930, repr. 1963), and H. W. Baldwin, World War I (1962).

See also W. S. Churchill, The World Crisis (6 vol., 1923–31; repr. 1970); B. H. Liddell Hart, A History of the World War, 1914–1918 (1934); B. Tuchman, The Guns of August (1962); L. LaFore, The Long Fuse (1965); F. Fischer, Germany's Aims in the First World War (tr. 1967); G. P. Hayes, World War I: A Compact History (1972); P. Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (1975); D. M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980); G. F. Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War (1984); M. Ferro, The Great War (1987); T. Travers, The Killing Ground (1987, repr. 2004); D. Stevenson, The First World War and International Politics (1988), Cataclysm (2004), and With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 (2011); M. and S. Harries, The Last Days of Innocence (1997); H. Strachan, ed., World War I (1998) and, as author, The First World War (Vol. 1, 2001)) and The First World War (2004); N. Ferguson, The Pity of War (1999); J. Keegan, The First World War (1999); J. S. D. Eisenhower, Yanks (2001); E. D. Brose, The Kaiser's Army (2001); D. Fromkin, Europe's Last Summer (2004); N. Stone, World War One (2007); G. Martel, Origins of the First World War (rev. 3d ed., 2008); W. Mulligan, The Origins of the First World War (2010); P. Englund, The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War (2011); A. Hochschild, To End All Wars (2011); M. S. Neiberg, Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I (2011); J. Beatty, The Lost History of 1914 (2012); S. McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (2013); C. Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2013); P. Hart, The Great War (2013); M. Hastings, Catastrophe 1914 (2013); M. Holborn and H. Roberts, The Great War: A Photographic Narrative (2013); M. MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace (2013).

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World War I

World War I



World War I (19141918), known as The Great War at the time, marked a profound political, economic, and social shift in international relations. Historian Eric Hobsbawm has referred to 1914 as the de facto beginning of the twentieth century.

The triggering cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Habsburg heir, on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb nationalists. This matter might have stayed an internal dispute in Austria-Hungary, but other states quickly took sides. Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary made up the Central Powers. Russia stood up for the Serbs, and was joined by France and Great Britain in the Triple Entente.

According to one interpretation of World War I, a rigid alliance structure drew reluctant states into what would otherwise have been a localized conflict. Many of the belligerents did have alliances binding them to a particular side. For example, both Britain and France had pledged to defend Belgian neutrality, which was violated at the beginning of the war by German invasion. However, all of the belligerents also had compelling national interests for participating in World War I, including concerns about national insurgency and perceptions of the European balance of power.

Nationalism drew belligerents into World War I in two ways. Russia defended Serbia at least partly in the name of pan-Slavism, or solidarity among Slavic peoples. The Ottoman Empire had a different concern. Like its Habsburg counterpart, the Ottoman Empire comprised a variety of national groups, all ruled by a single dominant national group. The spread of democracy and other egalitarian movements in Europe challenged the legitimacy of the old empires. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire experienced various national uprisings, including those by Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, and Armenians. By helping the Habsburgs resist nationalist insurgency, the Ottomans hoped to avert future problems of their own.

In addition, many states were concerned about the changing European balance of power. The pentagonal balance created at the 1815 Congress of Vienna had been relatively successful, both in keeping European conflicts manageable and protecting the interests of Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany (previously called Prussia), and Russia. By 1914, however, several of these states were not content with the existing balance of power.

For example, Germany was a latecomer to imperialism, a process dominated by France and Britain, and therefore perceived itself at a disadvantage in both power projection and resource extraction. Although overseas imperialism offered limited possibilities by the early 1900s, Germany began to pursue a policy (Drang nach Osten ) of increased economic and political influence in eastern Europe, thus colonizing the region. German leaders argued that this would balance French and British power.

France and Britain, however, did not perceive themselves as at an advantage vis-à-vis Germany. Germany had benefited tremendously from the Industrial Revolution, especially since its natural resource base was well suited to industrial production. In 1870, Germany ranked third in industrial production behind Britain and France. By 1914, Germany led them both by a substantial margin. Britain and France feared that Germanys economic trajectory would soon render moot efforts at power balancing. To avoid German hegemony as a fait accompli, the other great powers would need to act quickly.

Russia, too, had balance-of-power concerns regarding Germany, with which it shared a tense history. The Drang nach Osten interfered with Russias domestic economy and trade with its neighbors. Furthermore, Russia had been at an enduring geopolitical disadvantage because it lacked warm water ports (i.e., ones in which the water does not freeze), which limited its military and commercial expansion. Defeating the Central Powers could mean Russian access to Germanys Baltic ports and the Mediterranean Sea via Turkish straits.


Once the war began, its course was horrifyingly unique to European experience. Germany expanded the aggression outside of Austria-Hungary by implementing the Schlieffen Plan, a military strategy designed to prevent Germany from fighting on two fronts simultaneously. The existence of such a plan reflected the influence of prevailing social attitudes on military doctrine. The popularity of ideas such as Social Darwinism, a perversion of Charles Darwins concept of natural selection then applied to human social interaction, bred a pan-European cult of the offensive, or fanatical confidence in initial aggression as the guarantor of victory. Darwin argued that organisms with traits well suited to their environment would be the most likely to survive and reproduce. The Social Darwinist ideal twisted this commentary to argue that powerful groups had the ability, even the right, to dominate weaker ones and to mold human relations as they saw fit. As a result, states generated extremely aggressive military grand strategiestheir overall plans for using the military instrument of foreign policy. For example, Germanys Schlieffen Plan called for the speedy conquest of France, via neutral Belgium, so German forces could then focus on an eastern front against Russia, which would mobilize relatively slowly for geographic and technological reasons.

The reality of World War I looked very little like the Schlieffen Plan. In early August 1914, Germany attacked Belgium. Reinforced by troops from Britain and France, Belgium tenaciously resisted German invasion. Russia, having anticipated conflict with Germany and availing itself of technological advances such as railroads, mobilized faster than Germany had anticipated. Within weeks, Germany found itself caught in a two-front war.

This conflict was unlike any Europe had seen before. A popular slogan claimed that soldiers marching off in August 1914 would be home before the leaves fall from the trees, but even after months the two sides had made little progress toward their war aims. Various conditions of the war made territorial conquest difficult. In the west, the extremely flat terrain of Southwestern Belgium provided little natural shelter. This encouraged trench warfare, the digging of passageways open to the surface, from which soldiers could attack with at least minimal cover. The introduction of barbed wire assisted in this process and in holding territory. Capturing territory from the trenches was difficult. Instead, World War I became a war of attrition, in which victory would be defined by exhausting the enemys resources rather than by superior mobility and territorial conquest. Military engagement frequently ended in deadlock, as when the 1916 German attack at Verdun preempted an Entente offensive on the Somme, but did not achieve the larger goal of crippling the French. Later that year, Britain launched its first major offensive of the war, at the Somme. In four months the Entente lost some 600,000 men while gaining only a few miles of territory. For years, neither side had an enduring battlefield advantage, although both expended unprecedented amounts of materiel and human lives. At least twenty million soldiers were killed or wounded during the war.

Military leaders introduced destructive new technologies, attempting to break the trench stalemate. Machine guns allowed for tremendous firepower and resulted in devastating casualties, as did tanks and submarines as new weapons platforms. Poison gas, introduced by Germany at Ypres in 1915, was difficult to control in deployment and undetectable until its effects were irreversible; gas caused pain, burns, other physical trauma, and death. These conditions eventually generated a sense of futility and ennui among many soldiers, and caused mutiny late in the war, such as that of the French army in 1917. One of the lasting consequences of these battle conditions was the emergence of shell shock (today known as post-traumatic stress disorder), which disabled thousands of soldiers who had survived the fighting.

On the eastern front, armies enjoyed greater mobility but suffered staggering casualties in the face of the technological innovations. In 1917 Russia withdrew from the conflict because of the Bolshevik Revolution. Britain and France appealed to the United States, which had been supplying their war effort for some time, to take Russias place. Although President Woodrow Wilson (18561924) had campaigned on a no-war platform, the economic significance, in particular of Britain and France, finally persuaded him to change his position. With the declaration of war by the U.S. Congress on April 6, 1917, the United States formally allied itself with Britain and France.

The new influx of American resources and personnel, beginning in earnest in the summer of 1918, was too much for Germany. Recognizing that Germany could not win a war of attrition against this energetic, well-supplied new enemy, the German navy mutinied, popular revolution led the Kaiser to abdicate, and the new government agreed to an armistice on the Ententes terms. The agreement was signed on November 11, 1918, at 11: 00 a.m. For many Germans, the Entente victory seemed illegitimate. Germany had not been outmaneuvered on the battlefield and victorious Entente troops did not capture Berlin. Rather, the Entente seemed to have won by calling in outsiders to the dispute; this said nothing about Germanys prowess vis-à-vis France and Britain.

Beginning in January 1919, the former belligerents met in Paris to formulate the peace treaty, known as the Treaty of Versailles after the palace in which it was signed. President Wilson attended the conference, to the surprise and consternation of many of his counterparts, making him the first sitting U.S. president to visit a foreign country. Two major goals of the treaty were to render Germany harmless and to avoid future problems with national insurgency. To achieve the first goal the victors implemented a number of programs targeting Germany, including reparation payments, disarmament, and neutralization of territory. To achieve the second goal, the victors promoted national selfdetermination for European ethnic groups, redrawing the map of eastern Europe so that the political boundaries more closely matched the homelands of ethnic groups.

SEE ALSO Colonialism; Darwinism, Social; Genocide; Imperialism; Isolationism; Monarchy; Nationalism and Nationality; Ottoman Empire; Patriotism; PostTraumatic Stress; Revolution; Russian Revolution; War; Wilson, Woodrow; World War II


Ferro, Marc. 1973. The Great War, 19141918. Trans. Nicole Stone. London: Routledge & K. Paul.

Fussell, Paul. 1975. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kennedy, David M. 1980. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. New York: Oxford University Press.

Keylor, William R. 2001. Germanys Bid for European Dominance (19141918). In The Twentieth-Century World, an International History. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Van Evera, Stephen. 1984. The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War. International Security 9 (1): 58107.

Lisa L. Ferrari

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First World War

First World War. In August 1914 Britain ostensibly went to war against Germany because of the latter's unprovoked invasion of Belgium. In reality Britain fought the First World War to prevent Germany dominating Europe and, with the help of her Austrian and Turkish allies, threatening the British empire in Asia and Africa. Though from the outset British policy-makers recognized that co-operation with their Russian and French allies would be essential if they were to win the war, they were determined to give that co-operation strictly on their own terms, rendering only enough assistance to their allies to prevent them from collapsing. The men who made British policy during the war had reached maturity and formed their vision of the world in the late 1870s and early 1880s. They had learned to see Russia and France as Britain's most bitter imperial competitors and they did not forget that fact even after the German threat emerged in the decade before 1914. Their misgivings concerning their allies' ambitions played a major role in determining British war aims. They wanted a peace settlement which would reduce Germany's power and also ensure that neither Russia nor France could tilt the European balance against Britain or menace Britain's imperial possessions.

In 1914 the Asquith government believed that the war would reach its climax in 1917. Britain could achieve her objectives at least cost by allowing her allies to carry the weight of the continental land war with only token British assistance. Meanwhile the Royal Navy would undermine the German economy by blockade and Britain would offer financial help to her allies. Kitchener formed the New Armies in the belief that by the end of 1916 the armies of the other belligerents would be exhausted. His troops would be unbloodied and in 1917 Britain could intervene decisively in land war, crush Germany and her allies, Turkey, Austria-Hungary, and (after September 1915) Bulgaria, and impose Britain's peace terms on everyone.

This policy collapsed because France and Russia were not willing to fight for three years without British military support. By late 1915 the government had reluctantly accepted that if they failed to give their allies large-scale support on the continent, France and Russia might prefer to make a negotiated peace. But it was equally obvious that the cost of increasing Britain's commitment to the continental land war might be self-defeating. Some argued that if the New Armies were committed to a major allied offensive in France in 1916, losses could only be made good by conscription. But if more men were taken away from the civilian economy, Britain would be bankrupt before the enemy sued for peace. The British offensive on the Somme in 1916 was an enormous gamble. The government was wagering that the Entente could win the war before Britain went bankrupt.

The attack failed, for although both the British and German armies suffered enormously, the Germans had no intention of asking for peace terms. Instead they tried to starve Britain into submission by launching a campaign of unrestricted U-boat warfare against British shipping. This was the strategic situation which Lloyd George inherited when he became prime minister in December 1916. His aims were the same as Asquith's, but he was more aware than Asquith that he would have to work hard to sustain popular support for the war, for war-weariness was now rife in Britain. The armed forces were a serious drain on the economy, and nothing was more likely to undermine support for the war than shortages of food, fuel, and housing, especially if such shortages gave rise to the corrosive belief that ‘profiteers’ were making unfair gains from the war while the rest of the population suffered. But morale depended upon more than adequate supplies of food and fuel. Lloyd George knew that the people had to be convinced that their sacrifices were reaping tangible victories, and if they could not be won on the western front, they had to be gained elsewhere. One reason why he supported offensives at Salonika in Greece, in Palestine, and in northern Italy was his belief that a victory gained on one of those fronts would provide a much-needed stimulus to British morale.

The new government also knew that victory could only be achieved in co-operation with its allies. But in the spring of 1917 the pillars upon which British strategy rested began to crumble. In March 1917 the British greeted the first Russian Revolution with cautious enthusiasm, hoping that Russia would follow the same path as France in 1794; from the ruins of the tsarist regime would emerge a new military colossus. But news of the crumbling discipline of the Russian army meant that their hopes soon gave way to the fear that Russia would desert the alliance, and that the Germans would move large numbers of troops to the western front and break the allied economic blockade by gaining access to Russian food and fuel. In the mean time a large part of the French army mutinied, and although most French soldiers were ready to defend their trenches, they would not participate in further futile offensives. At sea German U-boats were sinking so many merchant ships that Britain was close to starvation. The only cause for optimism in the Entente camp was that in April 1917 the USA declared war on Germany. But any hope that the Americans would soon be able to throw their weight into the land war in Europe was quickly dashed. The USA had a tiny regular army and would not be able to deploy an appreciable force in France before 1918 or even 1919.

The debate about the future of British strategy in the summer of 1917 therefore concerned one question: what should be the new timetable for administering the knock-out blow against Germany? One option was to follow the French example. After the mutinies they had decided to remain on the defensive in the west for the remainder of 1917, and wait for 1918 and the Americans before trying to drive the Germans back across the Rhine. In the meantime the British might, as Lloyd George urged, divert troops to northern Italy. The Italians had entered the war on Britain's side in May 1915. If they could defeat the Austrians, and persuade them to make peace, they would destroy Germany's ambition of establishing an empire stretching from Hamburg, through Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, to Baghdad. The alternative was to permit the commander-in-chief, Sir Douglas Haig, to have his way and mount an offensive in Flanders. If Haig drove the Germans from the Belgian coast he would remove the threat of invasion, inflict a major defeat upon the German army, and take German pressure off France and Russia. Haig believed that he could force the Germans to sue for peace by Christmas 1917. The politicians doubted, but allowed him to try. They expected little military help from the French, but they were afraid that if the British did nothing, France would go the way of the Russians and collapse.

The third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in July 1917 was a failure. Haig then launched a second offensive, using massed tanks, at Cambrai, but that also failed. In October Italy suffered a major defeat at Caporetto and in November the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and soon signed an armistice. The arrival of the American army was even slower than the British had anticipated. Lloyd George still believed that the war could be won only after the German army had been defeated on the western front but he also believed that, if the British mounted another large-scale offensive in France in 1918, their army would be exhausted, America would dominate the Entente in 1919, and America, not Britain, would dictate the peace treaty. He therefore decided that Britain must preserve her army and economic staying-power in 1918. The knock-out blow against Germany would be delayed until 1919, when the arrival of the Americans would give the Entente a crushing superiority.

In January 1918, and despite the opposition of his own generals, Lloyd George persuaded Britain's partners to agree to his new timetable for victory in 1919. In 1918 each partner would increase production of artillery, aircraft, and tanks in order to multiply the fire-power of her dwindling military manpower, and Britain would safeguard her own imperial interests in Egypt and India by defeating the Turks in Palestine. The British were not fighting only to re-establish the balance of power in western Europe, for Turkey's entry into the war on the side of Germany in November 1914 had made the First World War an Asiatic as well as a European war. In 1915–16 the British had mounted expeditions against Mesopotamia, Palestine, and at the Dardanelles to protect their Asiatic possessions. The war was a contest for the division of world power. The Germans wanted to replace Britain as a world power by creating a middle European empire. It was a war in which the British assessed victory or defeat by their success or failure in frustrating Germany's ambitions and by their ability to maintain their own security in western Europe and in India and the Middle East.

Lloyd George's timetable for victory in 1919 collapsed because in the spring of 1918 the Germans made their own final attempt to win the war before they became exhausted. Between March and July 1918 the survival of the Entente alliance was in doubt. At one moment the Germans threatened to divide the British army from its French ally. But by June the last German offensive had been stopped, and in July the Entente's armies began a counter-offensive, forcing the Germans back. The way in which the war ended surprised Britain and her allies. As late as August they were still preparing plans to continue fighting into 1919 and even 1920. As late as mid-October Haig did not think that the German army was so badly beaten that the German government would accept the armistice terms which the Entente wanted. When the armistice negotiations began in October the British had to consider several conflicting factors. Should they continue fighting into 1919, to invade Germany and inflict a Carthaginian peace upon the German people? Would such a settlement threaten the future peace of Europe by leaving the French too powerful and by making the Germans vengeful? Were the British people willing to fight for another year? Would the economic and political cost of doing so leave western Europe devastated and dominated by the USA? How could the allies devise armistice terms which would not be so harsh that the Germans would reject them but which would prevent Germany from gaining a breathing space after which it could start fighting again? It was only after weighing these factors they opted for an early peace and the guns fell silent on 11 November 1918, a year earlier than most British policy-makers had anticipated.

David French


Bourne, J. M. , Britain and the Great War, 1914–1918 (1989);
Turner, J. (ed.), Britain and the First World War (1988);
Wilson, T. , The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914–1918 (Oxford, 1986).

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World War I


War involving the Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) against the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Greece, Romania, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Montenegro, Japan, and the United States).

World War I (then called the Great War) began on 28 July 1914, when Austria declared war on Serbia (ostensibly because a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the throne, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife on 28 June); on 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia; on 3 August, Germany declared war on France; on 4 August, Germany invaded Belgium.

In retaliation and to aid an ally, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August. The Russians crossed their western border at the Ukraine to enter Austro-Hungarian Galicia and pressed on to battle Germany, losing the Battle of Tannenberg (2630 August), on what came to be called the Eastern Front. Germany marched on France in late August but was stopped in the First Battle of the Marne (610 September) on what came to be called the Western Front; here trench warfare ensued until March 1918.

In the Middle East, the leadership of the Ottoman Empire was divided among those who desired neutrality, those who wanted to join the Allies, and those who preferred to join the Central powers. The last group, led by Minister of War Enver Paşa prevailed. The Ottoman cabinet signed a secret alliance with Germany on 2 August. The next week the Ottomans purchased the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau, replacing two Turkish ships (being built by Britain but confiscated by Britain at the outbreak of war). Renamed Sultan Selim Yavuz and Midilli, they shelled Sevastopol and Odessa, Russian cities on the Black Sea, 28 October, bringing the Ottoman Empire into the war; Russia declared war on the Ottomans 4 November; Britain and France declared war on them 5 November. Germany dominated Ottoman military actions, with General Otto Liman von Sanders directing the army and Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, the navy.

In November 1914, a British naval contingent bombarded the entrance to the Dardanelles, and in January 1915 the British organized to break through

the Turkish Straits (from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea at the Bosporus and Dardanelles). Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill convinced the war cabinet that an amphibious attack could accomplish this, thereby taking the Ottomans out of the war and opening a supply route to Russia. Britain's War Secretary Lord Kitchener sabotaged the plan by refusing to send the necessary land troops. Britain's navy unsuccessfully attacked in February and March; in April an Anglo-French army landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, where the Ottoman Turks caused heavy casualties to the Allies, which by then included Italian forces. The British-French-Italian forces almost broke through twice, but the lack of cooperation by the Russians at the Bosporus end of the Straits, faulty intelligence and, most of all, skillful tactics by the Turks and Germans led to a stalemate. The Allies withdrew from the Straits in January 1916.

Another area of major Middle Eastern hostilities was Egypt, under British protection since 18 December 1914. Khedive Abbas Hilmi II was deposed, and the British appointed Sharif Husayn ibn Ali to be sultan of Egypt. Cemal Paşa, Ottoman minister of marine, took over the Fourth Ottoman armythereby controlling Syria, including Palestine. He sent his forces to make a surprise attack on the Suez Canal in February 1915; they crossed the Negev desert without detection. The Turkish forces could not hold the eastern bank of the canal and retired to the Sinai desert, maintaining bases in Maʿan, Beersheba, and Gaza. Cemal continued to raid the Suez Canal by air, forcing the British to keep a large force there, but in the end the British prevailed. A second assault on the canal was delayed until the summer of 1916 and failed totally. The Turco-German forces were on the defensive there until the end of the war, although in March and April 1917 they withstood a heavy British attack at Gaza, and moved to the offensive in the Yilderim Operation commanded by General Erich von Falkenhayn. But the Turko-German forces were defeated by a combination of factors, including the troops of British General Edmund Allenby (commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force), failure of some of their transport, and sabotage.

Major battles were fought in Russia, where in late 1914 the Turks attempted to take Kars and Batum. In the battles of 1915 and 1916 the Russians took Erzerum, Van, Trabzon, and Erzinjan. They were aided by Armeniansrevolutionaries and irregulars. In 1916, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), commander of the Second Ottoman Army, joined the Third Army on the Caucasus front, but little was accomplished due to scarce ammunition, impossible conditions for transportation, and rampant disease. The two revolutions in Russia also affected the Caucasus front, as the Russian troops (except the Armenian and Georgian divisions) withdrew and went home to attend to domestic affairs in 1917. The Turks then occupied Kars, Ardahan, and Batum, but Georgian and German forces retook Batum. A Bolshevik-Armenian coup in Baku and the killing of ten thousand Turks there produced a Turkish drive to recapture the city in September 1918 and to kill many Armenians. At the end of the war, the Caucasus became the Allies' problem.

Iraq was the scene for the major hostilities of the Mesopotamia Campaign. British forces from India seized Basra before Turkey declared war. Traveling up to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Anglo-Indian forces under General Sir Charles Townshend took Kut al-Amara in 1915. In November, his army was defeated south of Baghdad and surrendered to the Sixth Turkish
Army at Kut al-Amara in April 1916. Halil Paşa erred in allowing the Anglo-Indian forces to remain in the south, for they reestablished their hold there, built a railroad, and under Britain's General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, retook Kut al-Amara in March 1917. Baghdad fell immediately after, and the Anglo-Indian forces headed north to Mosul (on the west bank of the Tigris), which they failed to reach by the time of the Mudros Armistice (30 October 1918).

Two national groups within the Ottoman Empire openly aided the enemy during the war: the Arabs and the Armenians. The Armenians followed the orders of the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church (who lived in Yerevan in the Caucasus) that the Russian czar was the protector of all Armenians. Some Armenians rebelled; in the region of Van and Erzurum, Armenians openly battled the Turks proclaiming an Armenian government in Van, April 1915which touched off the Armenian deportations and the massive killing of Armenian civilians by the Turks in 1915/16.

Cemal Paşa's actions in Syriain arresting and hanging about thirty Arabs in Beirut and Damascus 1915/16, many from prominent families, as well as his refusal to share grain with the starving Lebanese in 1916pushed many Arabs to desire independence from Ottoman Turkey. This desire was furthered by the proclamation of Arab independence by Sharif Husayn ibn Ali of the Hijaz in June 1916. Husayn's action was part of the outcome of the secret Husayn-McMahon Correspondence.

Another secret negotiation over the division of the Arab Middle East was the Sykes-Picot Agreement between France, Britain, and Russia. An open negotiation between the Zionists and the British had led to the issuance of the November 1917 pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration, concerning a "Jewish national home" in Palestine.

The failure of the German-Turkish campaigns led to the buildup of British troops in Egypt and their move into Palestine. General Allenby led his Egyptian Expeditionary Forces west of the Jordan river, and Jerusalem fell to them in December 1917. Joined by French military detachments, he moved north to take Lebanon, while Hijazi forces, aided by Colonel T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), Colonel C. C. Wilson, and Sir Reginald Wingate, paralleled Allenby's actions east of the Jordan River. Damascus fell in October 1918and although Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and the Seventh Turkish Army held Aleppo, the armistice at Mudros ended all fighting, 30 October 1918.

Four years of war had devastated Ottoman Turkey, and the old order died. A new period for the Middle East began with the peace treaties, the rise to power in Turkey of Mustafa Kemal, the fall of empires, and the creation of new nation-states and spheres of influence.

see also balfour declaration (1917); husayn mcmahon correspondence (19151916); sykespicot agreement (1916).


Barker, A. J. The Bastard War: The Mesopotamian Campaign of 19141918. New York: Dial Press, 1967.

Kedourie, Elie. England and the Middle East: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire, 19141921. Hassocks, U.K.: Harvester Press, 1978.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

sara reguer

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World War I


World War I was an international conflict primarily involving European nations that was fought between 1914 and 1918. The United States did not enter the conflict until April 1917, but its entry was the decisive event of the war, enabling the Allies (Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia) to defeat the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria). The leadership of President woodrow wilson led to both the conclusion of hostilities and the creation of the league of nations, an international organization dedicated to resolving disputes without war.

The war began on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. During the late nineteenth century, European nations had negotiated military alliances with each other that called for mutual protection. The Austria-Hungary declaration of war triggered these alliance commitments, leading to the widening of the war between the Allies and Central Powers.

During the next four years, the war was fought primarily on three fronts and on the Atlantic Ocean. The western front was in France, where Germany was opposed by France, Great Britain, and eventually the United States. The eastern front was in Russia, where Germany and Austria-Hungary opposed Russia. The southern front was in Serbia and involved Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

In August 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and then moved into France. German forces were unable to achieve a decisive victory, however, ever, and the war soon became a conflict of fixed battle lines. French, British, and German soldiers lived and fought in trenches, periodically making assaults on the enemy by entering the "no man's land" between the two sets of trenches. The use of machine guns, tanks, gas warfare, and artillery in these confined battlefields generated unprecedented human carnage on the western front.

Though Germany had more success on the eastern front, neither side had sufficient economic and military strength to achieve victory. In 1916 and early 1917, Wilson sought to bring about negotiations between the Allies and Central Powers that would lead, in his words, to "peace without victory." Wilson's efforts at first appeared promising, but German military successes convinced the Central Powers that they could win the war.

Germany's use of submarine warfare proved to be the key element in provoking the United States' entry into the war. In 1915 a German submarine had torpedoed without warning the British passenger steamship Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland. Nearly 1,200 persons died, including 128 U.S. citizens. Popular feeling in the United States against Germany was intense, leading to calls for declaring war on Germany. Wilson, however, sought a diplomatic solution. Though Germany rebuked his call for assuming responsibility for the tragedy, it did not sink any more passenger liners without warning.

Wilson abandoned his peacemaking efforts when Germany announced that unrestricted submarine warfare would begin on February 1, 1917. This meant that U.S. merchant ships were in peril, despite the fact that the United States was a neutral in the war. Wilson broke diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3 and asked Congress later that month for authority to arm merchant ships and take other protective measures. In mid-March German submarines sank three U.S. merchant ships, with heavy loss of life. Wilson called a special session of Congress for April 2 and asked for a declaration of war on Germany. Congress obliged, and on April 6, 1917, Wilson signed the declaration.

The United States immediately moved to raise a large military force by instituting a military draft. It took months, however, to raise, train, and dispatch troops to Europe. The first 85,000 members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), under the command of General John J. Pershing, arrived in France in June 1917. By the end of the war in November 1918, there were 2 million soldiers in the AEF.

Germany realized that U.S. war production and financial strength reduced Germany's chances of victory. In March 1918 Germany launched its last great offensive on the western front. U.S. troops saw their first extended action in the Battle of the Marne, halting the German advance on June 4. During the second Battle of the Marne, U.S. and French troops again stopped the German advance and successfully counterattacked. The Allies began pushing back the German army all along the western front, signaling the beginning of the end of German resistance.

Wilson renewed his peace efforts by proposing a framework for negotiations. On January 8, 1918, he delivered an address to Congress that named Fourteen Points to be used as the guide for a peace settlement. The fourteenth point called for a general association of nations that would guarantee political independence and territorial integrity for all countries. In October 1918 Germany asked Wilson to arrange a general armistice based on the Fourteen Points and the immediate start of peace negotiations. Germany finally capitulated and signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.

The 1919 treaty of versailles ended World War I and imposed disarmament, reparations, and territorial changes on Germany. The treaty also established the League of Nations, an international organization dedicated to resolving world conflicts peacefully. Wilson, however, was unable to convince the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty, because it was opposed to U.S. membership in the League of Nations.

World War I also saw the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The specter of a worldwide Communist movement generated fears in the United States that socialists, anarchists, and Communists were undermining democratic institutions. During the war, socialist opponents of the war were convicted of sedition and imprisoned. In 1920 the federal government rounded up 6,000 aliens who it considered to be politically subversive. These "Palmer Raids," named after Attorney General A. mitchell palmer, violated basic civil liberties. Agents entered and searched homes without warrants, held persons without specific charges for long periods of time, and denied them legal counsel. Hundreds of aliens were deported.

further readings

Macmillan, Margaret Olwen. 2002. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. New York: Random House.

May, Christopher N. 1989. In the Name of War: Judicial Review and the War Powers Since 1918. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press

Murphy, Paul L. c1979. World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States. New York: Norton.


Communism; "Fourteen Points" (Appendix, Primary Document); Socialism.

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World War 1

World War 1 (1914–18) International conflict, also known as the Great War, precipitated by the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbs in Sarajevo (June 28, 1914). Austria declared war on Serbia (July 28), Russia mobilized in support of Serbia (from July 29), Germany declared war on Russia (August 1) and France (August 3), and Britain declared war on Germany (August 4). World War 1 resulted from growing tensions in Europe, exacerbated by the rise of the German Empire since 1871 and the decline of Ottoman power in the Balkans. The chief contestants were the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia). Many other countries were drawn in: Ottoman Turkey joined the Central Powers in 1914, Bulgaria in 1915. Italy joined the Western Allies in 1915, Romania in 1916 and, decisively, the USA in 1917. Russia withdrew following the Russian Revolution (1917). In Europe fighting was largely static. The Allies checked the initial German advance through Belgium at the Marne, and the Western Front settled into a war of attrition, with huge casualties but little progress. On the Eastern Front, the Germans checked the initial Russian advance, and overran Poland before stagnation set in. An Anglo-French effort to relieve the Russians by attacking Gallipoli (1916) failed. Italy and Austria became bogged down on the Isonzo Front. Campaigns were also fought outside Europe – against the Turks in the Middle East, and the German colonies in Africa and the Pacific. Only one major naval battle was fought, at Jutland (1916). The naval blockade of Germany caused severe food shortages and helped to end the war. An armistice was agreed in November 1918 and peace treaties were signed at Versailles (1919). An estimated 10 million people died in the war.

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World War I


When the United States entered World War I (19141918) by declaring war on Germany on April 6, 1917, the global conflict had been underway for more than two and a half years. Also known as the Great War, World War I started as a result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. What began as a skirmish between Austria-Hungary and Serbia (the archduke was killed in the Serbian city of Sarajevo) quickly snowballed into a massive conflict when these nations' more powerful allies joined the dispute. Europe's existing alliance structure pitted the Central PowersGermany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkeyagainst the Triple EntenteFrance, Britain, and Russia. After provocation from Germany, whose naval fleets had begun to sink American merchant ships in British waters, President Woodrow Wilson (19131921) made the decision to mobilize U.S. troops.

Wilson's decision had immediate economic repercussions, as the U.S. government faced the task of raising money for the war effort. Analysts determined that the country would need upwards of $33.5 billion to finance its participation in the war, plus money for loans to European allies. With the War Loan Act (1917), Congress proposed that the U.S. would provide $3 billion in such loans, though the sum was later increased. Now it fell upon President Wilson and Congress to determine where the necessary money would come from. They offered a solution by passing the War Revenue Act (1917), which stated that 74 percent of funding for the war would come from taxation imposed on the highest individual and corporate incomes. With this bill Wilson and Congress demonstrated an intent to place the financial burden on the wealthy and to give a break to middle- and low-income individuals and families. A year later Congress passed another revenue act, which increased this burden on the nation's wealthiest, who were now called upon to provide 80 percent of funding for the war.

In another move designed to raise money, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a series of bonds called liberty loans. These were long-term bonds that promised to earn the holder 3.5 to 4.25 percent in interest. The campaign to sell the bonds was massive in scope. Liberty loan committees formed in all regions of the country, and spokespersons appeared in theaters, hotels, restaurants, and other public gathering places. Even clergymen contributed to the marketing effort, urging members of their congregations to support the country through liberty loan purchase. Banks stepped forward to lend money for liberty loans at rates lower than the interest on the bonds. The campaign was a tremendous success. Of the five bonds issued between May 1917 and April 1919 (the last of these was called a victory loan), all of them were oversubscribed.

Although participation in World War I required vast government spending, the country's domestic economy benefited greatly from the effort. Established in July 1917, a War Industries Board endeavored to tap the nation's industrial resources while protecting its basic economic infrastructure. A demand for supplies, weaponry, food, and other materials resulted in increased productivity among manufacturers and farmers. It was a boom time not only for large corporations, many of whose profits wildly multiplied, but also for farmers, who saw a rise in agricultural prices, and for blue-collar workers, whose wages increased. Businesses expanded their international markets by exporting goods to European ally countries. All in all, American industry profited enormously from increasing its production, exploiting its resources, and mobilizing its workforce.

Other participating nations, however, suffered more losses than gains during the course of the war. After the defeat of the Central Powers and the signing of an armistice in 1918, the Triple Entente and its allies pressed for reparations from Germany, which more than any other nation was held responsible for the war. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, placed the bulk of financial responsibility on Germany, and a Reparations Commission was established to determine the amount that the defeated Country would pay in damages to property and civilians. When the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the 1919 treaty, the United States forfeited its place on the commission, which decided in June 1920 that Germany would pay upwards of three billion gold marks a year for 35 years. The committee increased this amount in the following year, demanding a sum that Germany simply could not produce (indeed, in 1933 then-German leader Adolf Hitler (18891945) announced Germany's refusal to make further payments). Although the United States did not receive compensation for damages directly from Germany, it did collect payment on loans from its European allies, who derived these sums from German reparations.

American participation in World War I resulted in the loss of lives and a tremendous output of its financial resources. In addition to the $33 billion the U.S. government initially spent on the war, interest rates and veterans' benefits increased this sum to $112 billion. Yet the economic gains that were achieved during wartime far outweighed such losses. Between 1914 and the end of the decade, average annual incomes rose from $580 to $1,300. Moreover, the increase in international trade continued to raise profits for various industries. Propelled by the economic boost of war, America ushered in a new decadethe prosperous 1920s.

See also: War and the Economy, War Industries Board


Churchill, Allen. Over Here!: An Informal Re-Creation of the Home Front in World War I. New York: Dodd Mead, 1968.

Dictionary of American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976, s.v. "Liberty Loans" and "Reparation Commission."

O'Brien, Patrick. "The Economic Effects of the Great War,"History Today, December 1994.

Tompkins, Vincent, ed., American Decades: 1910 1919. TK CITY: Gale Research, 19801989.

The Oxford Companion to American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966, s.v. "Liberty Loans."

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First World War

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