World War One. An extremely deadly and world-wide war. It claimed the lives of 18 million people and spanned from the coasts of the Americas to the deserts of Arabia. It involved many of the world’s powerful nations today, as well as the strongest empires from long ago. Yet, it attracts neither the remembrance nor the interest of many. Why is that? What makes WWI less memorable and interesting to most people than WWII? It’s a simple answer but an invalid justification.
First of all, WWI was only centered in one part of the world. Although there were several campaigns and battles across Africa and Asia, the bulk of the war’s action was seen in Europe and the water surrounding it, not to mention that the wars in Africa and Asia were quickly turned into guerrilla wars.
World War II was fought on many, colossal fronts, with different enemies on each continent. The Allies were fighting all over, whether it was against the Germans in Europe, the Vichy French in Africa or the Japanese in Asia and the Pacific. Another reason that WWI is less popular than WWII is the fact that little progress was made in the war until 1918. During most of the war, the Allies were in a stalemate on the western front in France and Belgium and the Central Powers made slow progress in Poland and the Baltic states in the east. This can seem repetitive and boring to people learning about the war, in contrast to WWII, in which the entire first phase of the war consisted of Germany conquering countries within weeks, followed by the Allies slowly pushing Germany and Japan back into their homeland. Of course, because of the sheer horror of the Holocaust and how many people died in the war also makes people pay more attention to WWII. The fact that one type of people were targeted and exterminated in humongous numbers both horrifies and fascinates many people. The Holocaust and the overall massive amount of casualties suffered in WWII (80 million people) is just shocking and riveting to many people. Now we get into the bigger reasons.
One reason WWI may confuse people is because some of the countries that fought in it are either defunct or unrecognizable. Today, almost all of the Central Powers (the alliance that fought the allies) are unknown by anyone younger than 13. The only country that fought for the Central Powers that might sound familiar is the German Empire, only because many people are of German descent (especially in the U.S). Most people will recognize France, Russia and the U.S, but it might confuse many people to see countries such as Siam, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania on the list of countries that fought in the war. This confusion may discourage people from doing extra research about WWI and not remember much about it.
Another reason why people may not care about WWI as much as say, WWII, is that there was no clear “good guy” or “bad guy”. The Germans violated Belgium’s neutrality and invaded it when Belgium did not want to be involved in the war. However, Great Britain did the same thing by sending thousands of troops to Thessaloniki, Greece when Greece was a neutral state. Britain did this to force Greece to join the Allies, which did happen in the end. Someone may also point out that the Germans used poison gas which was frowned upon and previously a rule to not use at the Hague Convention. However, the French used mustard gas in early battles in the war not to mention the allies soon started using gas as well.
The final thing that may make the Central Powers seem “bad” is the fact they killed civilians by air raids in London and the Armenian Genocide. Although these are unquestionably horrible things to do, the Allies had even before the war murdered thousands of native Africans as well as thousands of Indians in Asia. Neither side was really worse because they both engaged in questionable actions as well as the fact they both could be blamed for the large scale the war was fought on.
You may ask: “Why does WWI matter?” Well, it matters for many reasons. WWI showed the world that the old way of war, gentlemanly and respectful, was over. Murders, chemical weapons, and hate for the enemy was now the way of war. Countries now fought to either completely annihilate the enemy country, or to bring them to their knees and force a political, economic and military collapse, rather than fighting until one nation decided that its interests no longer presided in the war. WWI showed the world that there were going to be some events, some occurrences were going to kill millions of people for really no good reason. The international community now knew that they had to do something to prevent future wars and conflicts that were so deadly. Unfortunately this didn’t happen until after a second World War. WWI is important because it taught us as humans, that humanity isn’t always humane.
When you look at WWII on can easily say “The Nazis, Facist Italians and Imperial Japanese are the bad guys because they murdered millions for no reason”. However, in WWI there is not a clear way to differentiate bad from good. Overall WWI is a fascinating (in my opinion) and important historically war. Without WWI, we would not be fighting in the air, under the sea in submarines or with tanks, saving thousands of lives. WWI slowly made the imperial ideology (believing that empires should exist) die. It also directly led to WWII. Since 2014 and continuing up until 2018 is the centennial of WWI, since it was fought from 1914-1918. WWI deserves to be remembered much more than it is and I think if we all stopped to remember and honor the lives lost and innovations and change that occurred as a result of the war than we would all be enriched.
If you would like to learn more about the topic of World War One, I recommend watching this video because it’s fun and educational, click here. You can also find other good videos and websites that will teach you about WWI.
- WWI: World War One
- WWII: World War Two
- Guerrilla War: A war in which smaller units of combatants (usually citizens and paramilitary) fight unconventionally using tactics like raids, ambushes, sabotage and hit and run attacks.
- Centennial: a one hundred year anniversary
- Armenian Genocide: an event in which the Ottoman Empire (Basically Turkey) killed Millions of Armenians by forcing them to walk across the Syrian dessert because they were believed to be traitors.