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The War That Will End All Wars – Part 1: Grand Adventure Becomes Grisly Nightmare

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The War That Will End All Wars

Part 1: Grand Adventure Becomes Grisly Nightmare

History evidences that the first world war was inevitable. It was not a matter of if nations would engage in global warfare, but when it would happen and how it would come about.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Struggling to find meaning in the aftermath of World War I, man declared this long conflict, “The War to End All Wars.” WWI was so horrific—in number of casualties, shattered families and divided nations—that humanity resolved to never again allow global warfare to threaten civilization.

Yet there were men who did not learn from the destructive lesson of the first world war, also called “The Great War.” Swelling with pride and inspired by visions of global domination, men lusted for power and thirsted for revenge. They dreamed of establishing a utopia fashioned after their own vision and values of genetic superiority—and desired to impose their will on the rest of humanity.

Human beings, having forgotten—or perhaps having grown morally numb to—the horrors and gruesome realities of the first global war, have engaged in localized skirmishes, bloody revolutions and coup d’etats, military police actions, and preemptive strikes in the nearly 100 years since the War to End All Wars.

Think of how many lives have been damaged and stolen. Think of how many families and marriages have been ripped apart. The grisly nature of war—senseless acts of murder, rape, irreversible injuries, looting, missing loved ones—have left deep scars on humanity, changing the course of nations.

Earth has witnessed two world wars; does anyone doubt it will experience yet another? The Bible reveals that man will reach the brink of utter destruction—of erasing himself from the face of the planet!—before he is finally ready to learn the way of everlasting peace.

This three-part series examines how and why.

Pre-WWI Mindset

At the turn of the 20th century, the United States represented the “New World,” a young and promising national power on the rise. Its material prosperity and freedoms of democracy drew to its shores millions of immigrants, particularly from Europe, who sought to establish new lives and participate in the American Dream.

Meanwhile, “Old World” nations of Europe were either influenced or led by monarchies. Through imperialism, nations carved up and colonized foreign lands (Africa, India, parts of Asia) and established global empires. Great Britain, for example, acquired so many colonies around the world it could boast that the sun never set on the British Empire. France, Spain, Germany and other European nations raced to establish their own global empires.

This contributed to an atmosphere of fierce competition, heated rhetoric, espionage and military action, as no power could gain territory except at the expense of another.

Rival European nations engaged in an ever-escalating arms race, with each country striving to keep up with—or even top—others in amassing weaponry and warships. Governments drew up battle plans—“just in case”—and established military treaties with each other. If a country was attacked, its allies were politically obligated to defend it. This would eventually create a domino effect in which Europe and its colonies around the world would soon find themselves at war.

On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated by a Serb nationalist. Germany influenced an enraged Austria-Hungary to declare war on the kingdom of Serbia. Defending its Serbian ally, Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary and mobilized troops. Germany rushed to Austria-Hungary’s defense and declared war on Russia. France, which was undergoing a cultural “love affair” with Russia, was drawn into the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. When Germany invaded neutral Belgium to knock out France, Britain declared war to defend its French ally.

With most of Europe engulfed in war, its colonies were also engaged. Thus, the first world war debuted on the global stage.

“Glamour” of War

Domestic industrialization put mass-produced mechanized 20th-century weapons into the hands of soldiers and officers with 19th-century mindsets. War was promoted as a grand adventure, a means to gain honor while defending one’s country.

The fervor and pride of nationalism deceived virtually all involved into believing that the war would be over in a matter of months. Governments, soldiers and civilians soon learned they were horribly mistaken.

Weapons now had the capacity to cut down thousands of lives in a matter of minutes. But the Allied powers (Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Belgium, Romania, Serbia, Portugal, Greece, Montenegro and later the United States) and the Central powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Turkey’s Ottoman Empire, and the kingdom of Bulgaria) were both armed with these weapons, often resulting in stalemates. No one nation could easily gain the upper hand in battle.

World War I experienced many innovations: flame throwers, steel helmets, chemical weapons and gas masks, warplanes, aircraft carriers and tanks. During the war, the United Kingdom used 2,636 tanks, France employed 3,870, the U.S. fought with less than 100, and Germany had only 20 in operation.

Life in the Trenches

World War I is known for trench warfare, in which troops from opposing sides inhabited long lines of trenches dug in mud and sand. In between lay the flat “No Man’s Land,” where soldiers were often mowed down by machine-gun fire or snipers.

According to information obtained from Spartacus Educational, a website produced by author and historian John Simkin-Toulouse, trench life was a defining characteristic of World War I.

The German army dug trenches as a line of defense from advancing Allied troops. When the Allies realized they could not easily break through enemy lines, they also dug trenches. With both sides relatively protected, they fired artillery shells upon each other daily.

  • Wet, muddy environment: Soldiers dug trenches barely a few feet above sea level, and often struck water while digging. As sandy or clay soil did not allow adequate drainage in times of heavy rain, the trenches created muddy, waterlogged living conditions. Craters created by enemy bombardments would also fill with rainwater and pour into the trenches, creating an even more uncomfortable living environment for soldiers.
  • Dysentery and lice: The poor sanitary conditions of trench latrines often led to dysentery, which caused inflammation of the lining of the large intestine, leading to stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Dysentery occurred as a result of contaminated food or water, and its symptoms resulted in severe dehydration, which often proved fatal for soldiers. In addition, troops surviving in the trenches had to contend with disease-carrying lice that infected men with a nonfatal illness called “trench fever.”
  • Trench foot: Standing for hours in unsanitary, waterlogged conditions while wearing wet socks and boots caused trench foot, an infection similar to frostbite that made soldiers’ feet numb and resulted in painful blisters. If untreated, trench foot turned gangrenous—which meant a soldier’s foot would need to be amputated. More than 75,000 British troops suffered from trench foot throughout the course of the war. To prevent it, soldiers were instructed to keep their feet dry—an often impossible task in the trenches during times of battle or rain—and change socks throughout the day.
  • Rats: Soldiers also had to contend with an enemy from within the trenches—rats—which sometimes fought each other over decomposing soldiers’ body parts. It was not uncommon for wounded troops to have to struggle to defend themselves from rats trying to eat them alive. Food scraps, as well as decomposing bodies, attracted swarms of these rodents, which were often the size of house cats.
  • Injured combatants: If shot, a soldier was expected to treat his own wounds, as his fellow brothers in arms were forbidden from stopping to help. Many of the wounded dragged themselves into shell-holes—at the risk of sinking into the mud and drowning—as they waited for stretcher-bearers to carry them away to safety. It usually took only two stretcher-bearers to carry a soldier, but muddy fields caused by heavy rains sometimes made it necessary for four men to usher a wounded fighter to safety.
  • Desperate measures: Weary of their daily circumstances, some troops gave themselves self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the hope of being transferred away from the frontlines. Several soldiers were even desperate enough to commit suicide by standing up in the trenches—thus making themselves easy targets for enemy snipers—to escape the miserable living conditions.
  • Shell shock: A growing segment of soldiers evidenced psychological symptoms of “shell shock,” including headaches, strange episodes of giddiness and irritation, and loss of concentration. Some physicians suspected the cause of these mental breakdowns to be the constant enemy artillery bombardment: shells that burst would create a vacuum, allowing air to rush in, which disrupted the cerebrospinal fluid within the brain, adversely affecting how the mind functioned.
  • Chemical warfare: The German army fired chemical-filled shells and chlorine gas cylinders against enemy troops. These destroyed the opposition’s respiratory organs, resulting in death by asphyxiation. To neutralize the poisonous gases, Allied troops wore masks of urine-soaked cotton pads.
  • Daily rations: At the start of the war, British soldiers survived on daily rations of 10 ounces of meat and 8 ounces of vegetables. Toward the war’s end, however, this was reduced to 6 ounces of meat. Soldiers fighting from the trenches ate canned corned beef, bread, biscuits made with dried ground turnips for flour, and pea soup cooked with horse meat.

After the War

Because of the collapse of government bureaucracies in Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, the precise number of war-related deaths is difficult to measure. Estimates range from 8.5 to 10 million.

Most soldiers died during major offensives. For example, 21,300 died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and more than 50 percent were wounded.

The war officially ended November 11, 1918, with Germany signing an armistice with the Allies. The end of the Great War saw national borders change and monarchies fade or be dismantled entirely.

  • Russia’s government radically changed. Its monarchy was executed and replaced with a new form of government: communism. The Russian Empire became the Soviet Union.
  • Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Blamed for instigating the war, the victors weighed down the German nation with extreme financial burdens, which created severe national inflation.
  • Austria-Hungary was divided into separate countries, exiling the Habsburg monarchy. The regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Opava-Silesia and the western part of Duchy of Cieszyn, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia became Czechoslovakia. The regions of Galicia, the eastern part of Duchy of Cieszyn, the northern county of Orava and northern Spisz were transferred to Poland. Bolzano-Bozen and Trieste were transferred to Italy. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia-Slavonia, Dalmatia, Slovenia, and Vojvodina ultimately became Yugoslavia. And Transylvania and Bukovina merged with Romania.
  • Turkey’s Ottoman Empire came to an end, as did its control over Jerusalem.

The optimism generally felt in the early 1900s was no more. A “Lost Generation” of authors, musicians and artists emerged after the war, whose works reflected the stark reality that man had experienced.

Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, who served in the war as an American Red Cross ambulance driver, rose to prominence with sparse, lean writing styles that immediately grabbed attention and reflected the nations’ bleak post-war mentality.

While on duty, Hemingway had been injured by mortar fire. The incident was described in a letter he sent home, which was quoted by the U.S. National Archives magazine, Prologue: “Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red.”

While struggling to carry an injured Italian soldier to safety, the already-wounded Hemingway was hit by machine-gun fire. He recuperated in a Milan hospital for six months.

Writing of his battle experience some years later in his book Men at War, Hemingway stated, “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you…Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you.”

Yet the stark, life-and-death reality of war—the senseless destruction, the low value placed on life—did not only affect Ernest Hemingway’s writing style and subjects he undertook. Society as a whole was changed by the brutalities of war.

While visiting a battlefield, the protagonist in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s post World War I novel Tender Is the Night stated, “All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here…” Composers such as Samuel Barber wrote haunting musical pieces inspired by the despair of battle.

Having allowed pride, jealousy, lust and greed to sway him into a war never before seen, man established a League of Nations to prevent military conflicts.

But did humanity truly learn the lesson of war? Do not miss part two of this series in the March-April issue of The Real Truth.

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