Could the United States of World War I defeat modern Canada?

First World War

Martin Bayer

To person

B.A. War Studies, M.A. of Peace and Security Policy Studies, born 1971; Journalist and curator, active in political education and artistic engagement with war; Suarezstrasse 20, 14057 Berlin. [email protected]

Just a few years ago, the First World War received hardly any attention and was considered a stepchild in current historical perception in Germany. A hundred years after the start of this "world fire", however, the topic has developed into a major media event: in countless articles and special supplements in newspapers and magazines, in books, TV features and other media reports, reference is made to the "great catastrophe of the 20th century", so that there was already talk of a "barrage of memory". Does the First World War really have this great significance? Isn't the mere mention of a 100th anniversary enough to set off an avalanche of memories, the content of which ultimately remains flat or even questionable? And isn't there a risk of putting National Socialism into perspective if you remember a war in which everyone was somehow victims and the time span from 1914 to 1945 is stretched? In order to understand the true meaning of the First World War for human history, it is necessary to understand it in its complexity and to open up many, partly unprocessed aspects.

The term "World War" was not coined in retrospect, but rather shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914, as it was not limited to Europe from the start. In Europe, fighting took place not only on the Western Front in Belgium and France and on the Eastern Front, which stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, but also in the Balkans, the Alps and the Dardanelles. Fighting also took place in the German colonies of Asia and Africa, in the Caucasus and in the Middle East. Added to this was the globally waged naval war. The fronts were also overcome with zeppelins and ever larger aircraft to bomb military and not least civilian targets. If you consider the great civilian losses, the delimitation of the war is not only to be understood spatially.

The Entente from Great Britain, France and Russia received massive support from their colonies with material, auxiliary staff and soldiers. When the USA entered the war in 1917, various independent states such as Brazil, China, Liberia and Thailand followed. However, the First World War should not be reduced to just a series of battles: the economic effects were as global as they were diverse. As a result of the Allied naval blockade, the Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary were largely excluded from world trade, with effects not only on Germany, which is poor in natural resources, but also on exporting countries such as Chile. Japan and other countries, however, experienced an economic boom due to the need for war. But often only a few people benefited directly from the economic growth, while the falling international demand after the end of the war led to economic crises, hunger and revolts.

In addition, it is often overlooked that the First World War can be viewed as a catalyst for numerous developments: the replacement of various monarchies and the establishment of other models of society such as democracy and communism; the emergence of new states in the Baltic States, the Balkans, Central Europe and the Middle East; the transition from a class to a mass society; the beginning of the end of colonialism; the establishment of collective security structures; and last but not least, new developments in art, film, photography, music, science, technology and medicine.

Perceptions of war

Despite its global reach, the perception of the First World War has national connotations, often with an emphasis on battles or sectors of the front with the highest personal losses. In addition, the First World War is mostly perceived as immobile trench warfare - which applies to the Western Front and the Alpine War, but not to other war zones: The Eastern Front, for example, had phases of high mobility. The use of war gases also shapes public memory, not least because of the soldiers' faces that have been dehumanized by the gas mask; the actual losses were comparatively small. New weapons such as planes and tanks as well as the massive use of machine guns underline the perception of industrial killing.

The western front determines the memory in many countries, whereby national focuses are also set here, for example the battles of Verdun (France, Germany), on the Somme, at Passchendaele (Great Britain) or Arras (Canada). For Australia and New Zealand, the failed invasion attempt on the Dardanelles Peninsula Gallipoli shaped the image of war, despite the later higher losses on the western front. [1] The Alpine War on the Isonzo Front is of outstanding importance for Italy, Austria and Slovenia. This is remarkable insofar as the battles of the Austro-Hungarian ("imperial and royal", k.u.k.) army on the Eastern Front lasted much longer and resulted in higher losses. In the Balkans, the First World War is generally seen as a continuation of the Balkan Wars (1912–1913), with repercussions also on the recent past and the present, while in Asia and Africa it remained the "war of the Europeans".

In this country the memory of the First World War was masked by the National Socialist tyranny, the Second World War and the Holocaust. This is hardly surprising: the civilization rupture caused by it was immeasurable, the civilian and military casualties were even higher, Germany itself was severely destroyed and divided between the two power blocs of the Cold War for decades. The GDR largely adopted the Soviet perception of the First World War as that of an imperialist war, with which one saw no points of contact within its own understanding of the state. Here, too, the focus of remembrance was on the events from 1933 to 1945.

Furthermore, it is difficult to create meaning (defense against an aggressor, preservation of the nation, joint probation) in the face of a lost war. From today's point of view, the positive consequences of the war (abolition of the monarchy, establishment of a democratic parliamentary republic) were highly controversial and were therefore unsuitable for a common guiding principle at the time; The interpretations of the central events by the political groups were too different: Who was to blame for the outbreak of the war? Why did the military collapse occur? Who was responsible for the end of the monarchy? And last but not least: How should the situation be dealt with? There was only broad agreement on the assessment of the unjust terms of peace created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.