USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

The War: Introduction

The military history of WWI is interesting and extremely diverse. In many senses, we see a completely new type of warfare. Machine guns and long-range artillery made defensive positions much stronger than offensive tactics, a notable change from the Napoleonic era. The technologies encouraged armies to “dig in” – to create vast and serpentine trench systems that allowed the troops to withstand massive shelling of their positions. To dislodge an opposing army from a series of trenches was a herculean task, one that came with tens or even hundreds of thousands of casualties. Indeed, the staggering number of dead and wounded from the war’s major thrusts were nearly inconceivable to participants, witnesses, and the general public back home.

The new warfare expanded beyond the trenches on the “Western Front” between Germany and the Entente powers of France, Britain, and eventually the United States. Airplanes were first used as military equipment in the First World War. Large-scale submarine warfare was pioneered by the German navy to help break Britain’s hegemony at sea. Eventually, the invention and deployment of armed motorized vehicle, the tank, helped shift the military balance of power to the side of the Entente. More distant from the battlefield, World War One was the first true industrialized war. War production was a central concern of all belligerent nations, which necessitated a total mobilization of the resources of the home front, both in terms of commodities and human labor. And mobilization went well beyond the home front. The war effort sucked up resources from around the globe and helped shift and instigate new commercial dynamics. This globalization of what was essentially a European conflict reflected the globalization of the economy and politics that had been transforming the world over the previous decades, in some sense since the late 17th and 18th centuries. One might say that WWI was the first great crisis in the age of industrialized globalization.

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