Duration of the War
The First World War has been regarded by many as the first ‘total war’, and it certainly seems a modern war to us, with its use of modern weaponry and tactics, its novel approaches to recruiting and managing vast numbers of soldiers and the way in which the economies of combatant states contributed to the war effort. However, did this war represent a truly modern war, or whether it was the last of the old wars?
All governments recognised the importance of uniting their people behind the war. Initially many were enthusiastic about the war, but not all agreed to it, such as the Socialists and Communists who took a pacifist stance. By approaching the war as a defensive strategy, many people were on board with the war. Unlike in France and Germany, the British Army was comprised of volunteers and arguably the large numbers that flocked the recruitment station demonstrate their enthusiasm. Conscription was later introduced in Britain in 1916.
Ultimately, the war enthusiasm was brief and somewhat unifying. The years of hardship however during the war created discontent, and governments were again preoccupied with managing discontent and strike action. There were not just strikes at home, but on the front too. When the pressures of war led to mutiny in Russia in 1916 and 1917, the result was defeat and revolution; while in Germany, the mutiny of Germany’s sailors spelt the final end of a war that, by the autumn of 1918, could no longer be won.
Have a look at photos from the time about the announcement of war. Infer the type of people who are enthusiastic, are they old or young, urban workers or farmers, men or women? What can you say about war-time enthusiasm or dissonance
The Nature of the First World War
The war that broke out in August 1914 was not the war that most contemporaries had expected. It was not short and the troops were not home by Christmas, while it was not a very mobile war on the offensive. The war took years in planning, was global in scale and involved unimaginable human suffering and loss of life. The First World War differed in that it vastly affected citizens, using modern machinery to conduct the fighting like machine guns, poison gas and aircrafts. As a total war, it converted the economy, standardised the process for caring for the injured and changed the policing of prisoners of war. Unfortunately we do not have conclusive figures of the death toll, however globally more than 60 million soldiers were deployed, and nearly 9 million of them died. This means the death rate is 14%, and means about 6,000 soldiers were killed daily (Hirschfeld et al., 2012, p. 731). Despite this, many soldiers were held captive as Prisoners of War
When thinking of the war, what image does it conjure? For many, they think of the trenches and the Western Front, or the battles like the Somme (1916). The Eastern Front saw more fluid warfare
Not all experiences of the war were the same, but there were new experiences not previously seen in warfare, such as the machine guns and poison gas, that caused horrific wounds. Soldiers, if they survived the gas and bullets, could be left with disfigurement, loss of limbs and psychological injuries, like ‘shell shock’. Gas and machine guns meant the battle was less personal, with gas targeting people indiscriminately, causing fear and anxiety. Gas masks themselves were dehumanising. Nevertheless, there remained continuity with previous wars, the trenches, mud, disease.