The financial planning firm of Waddell and Reed teamed up with the National World War One Museum to develop a superb traveling World War One museum. The museum, contained within a semitrailer, is currently touring 75 cities in the United States. On December 10, 2011, the Texas Civil War Museum hosted this special tour in its parking lot. Free of charge, the museum featured weapons, tools, uniforms, and equipment used during one of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts.
The war was fought from 1914 to 1918 between the Central Powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States). It was the first truly modern war that featured aerial bombardment, all steel battleships, machine guns, tanks, flame throwers, submarines, mega-size artillery pieces, and poisonous gas. Because of these modern weapons, no side could gain the upper hand. Like the U.S. Civil War, the tactics couldn’t keep up with the weapons. For four years, the war was fought mainly from muddy, rat infested trenches. Thousands were slaughtered over a few mere yards. The number killed was a staggering 15 million and led to the fall of four monarchies: Germany, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The fall of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary led to a slew of new nations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Iraq, where the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein, was carved out of the Ottoman Empire.
Russia got the worst of it. They lost over 5 million fighting Germany, dropped out of the war, booted out Tsar Nicholas, suffered massive starvation, and then lost 15 million during a civil war fought between Communists and Anti-Communists. After all that, the Communists formed a central government; the Soviet Union was born.
Here’s how it all began:
- In June, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in the Balkan country of Bosnia. When he wasn't being the Arch Duke, Franz Ferdinand was a big time game hunter that kept track of an incredible 300,000 kills in his diaries. All this guy did was travel the globe and shoot any animal that crossed his path. If the Serbs didn’t shoot him, wildlife conservationists probably would have. Serbia is a Slavic, Eastern Orthodox country that hated the Catholic, Austro-Hungarians that once ruled Serbia. They also hate the Muslims because they were also once ruled by the Ottoman Turks.
2. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
3. Russia, which is also a Slavic, Eastern Orthodox country, was a close ally of Serbia. They declared war on Austria-Hungary. Anytime you mess with the Balkans, the Russians aren’t going to like it.
4. Germany, which was an ally of Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia.
5. France, which was an ally of Russia and hated Germany because of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, declared war on Germany. It you’re totally confused at this point, it gets better.
6. Italy, which had been a member of the Central Powers, wanted to seize some of Austria-Hungary’s turf. It decided to switch sides. Feeling the Allies had the upper hand, they declared war on Austria-Hungary then declared war on Germany.
7. In order for Germany to attack France, German troops had to go through Belgium. This ticked off Great Britain which declared war on Germany. Anytime you mess with the Low Countries (The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium), the British aren’t going to like it.
8. Four years later, the U.S. declared war because German submarines sank U.S. merchant ships and the British ocean liner Lusitania which had American passengers on board. Anytime you mess with U.S. ocean vessels, the United States isn’t going to like it (See the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin). Also a German telegram to Mexico (known as the Zimmerman Telegram) was intercepted by the British. It encouraged Mexico to attack the U.S. and regain territory it lost during the War with Mexico. You can imagine how the U.S. public felt about that.
The war ended in November, 1918 when Germany, wracked with internal discord, labor strikes, and shortages due to a British naval blockade, signed a peace treaty. The Treaty of Versailles ended the war but placed the blame squarely on Germany. The Germans were forced to pay ridiculous reparation payments that weren’t paid off until 2010! The United States Congress rejected the treaty. Germany felt humiliated and wasn’t about to forget their defeat. One German corporal, twice decorated during the war, certainly didn't forget. His name was Adolph Hitler.
Here’s what we got out of World War I:
1. A really bitter Germany that brought Adolph Hitler and the Nazis to power.
2. The Soviet Union, World Communism and the decades long Cold War.
3. A Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 50 million worldwide.
4. Simmering ethnic hatreds between Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians in the Balkans (remember all that mess in Bosnia during the 1990’s?)
5. The first weapons of mass destruction.
6. A horrific ethnic cleansing of Armenians by the Turks.
7. An isolationist U.S. that turned a blind eye toward early German, Italian and Japanese aggressions during World War II.
8. The rise of Israel and Arab Nationalism. This led to the Arab-Israeli conflict that we still have today.
9. A League of Nations, which the U.S. didn't join, that collapsed at the start of World War II.
Due to its manpower and industrial strength, the U.S. was a deciding factor in the Allied victory. France was kept from being overrun. Many Americans, however, felt the U.S. should have stayed out of the War. A period of isolationism ensued that had big repercussions before the second world war. Nevertheless, the contributions of the U.S. Expeditionary Force in World War One shouldn't be disregarded.
Be sure and see the new Stephen Spielberg movie “War Horse.” It takes place during World War One. Also check out the film classics “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Paths of Glory.” Both are critically acclaimed and must see war movies.
The best book on World War One is Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Guns of August.” This book should be required reading for all incoming U.S. Presidents. President Kennedy loved this book so much he gave copies to foreign heads of state.