The Great Ridiculous War

Zach – Welcome back! Today we will be discussing the causes and beginning of the first World War, also known as the Great War. We are joined by our guest panelists, starting with Anna Komemne, first woman historian.
Anna – It is a great pleasure to be here as always.
Zach – Next we have Julius Caesar. Dictator of the Roman Republic.
Caesar – I will enlighten all that listen.
Zach – Then we have Buffalo Calf Road, Cheyenne woman warrior and killer of Custer.
Buffalo – (Nods)
Zach – And last and certainly not least, because if I said that she’d cut off my head, Hua Mulan! Famous woman soldier from China.

We get kitted out and hit the trenches as we discuss WWI!

Mulan – Let’s get started.
Zach – And so we shall! Our topic today is the First World War. You will notice that we don’t have our favorite guest, Napoleon.
Anna – That was… what you call, sarcasm, right?
Zach – Yes, that was heavy sarcasm, but there is a reason he’s not with us today. The reason is, he’s too close to the subject.
Caesar – What do you mean? He was almost a hundred years earlier.
Zach – We’ll find out as we get to it.
Mulan – I understand that they called it, the war to end all wars? Sounds rather naive, don’t you think? Do they not understand human nature?
Zach – Well, that has to do with the culture that dominated Europe at the time. Europe has been at relative peace ever since they defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. And well, a whole lot hadn’t changed in the past hundred years.
Buffalo – How could it not change? My people saw you Americans change a great deal in that time.
Zach – True, they developed trains, machine guns, planes and cars, but the way they fought wars didn’t really change.
Mulan – I talked with Napoleon for a while. I was interested in his way of warfare and we compared notes. From what I understand, they got into formations, concentrated rifle fire with artillery support. They hauled everything around with horses and Napoleon developed the Division, large formations of 12 battalions with 12 batteries of cannons. That’s 12,000 rifle men and seventy two cannons.
Anna – And each nation had dozens of these Divisions.
Caesar – Wait a minute. How could they form and sustain such large armies? Not even my legions were that large!
Zach – That’s right. These are the largest armies that the world had ever seen and with firepower more devastating than anything they’d had before. They now had cannons that created bigger booms, machine guns that fired a whole lot of bullets and bombs dropped from the air. This was industrialized and mechanical slaughter. But there was a problem.
Mulan – They didn’t change their tactics.
Zach – Correcto!
Buffalo – So they would march slowly towards a forest of machine guns?
Zach – Pretty much. Yup.
Mulan – That’s insane. They’re sending their men to their deaths. It’s wasteful to say the least. Murder at most.
Zach – It’s a horrible thing to think about. But before we get into the nitty gritty of how the war was started and fought, let’s talk more about Europe before the war broke out. As I said, not much had changed since the fall of Napoleon. Europe was a peaceful place that was ruled by the ideas of the Enlightenment, a philosophy that basically said that reason, rationality and liberalism are the way to go. Europe, though controlled by monarchies, were governed by constitutions and the rule of law, that everyone was equal under it.
Anna – They didn’t believe a war could break out in their day and age. They had been at peace for so long that they thought a war was impossible.
Caesar – Again, they forgot human nature. They also thought no one would start a war because they were too prosperous and no one would want to disturb such great money making.
Mulan – But war broke out.
Anna – Yes, and it was the most devastating war the world had seen. Ten million dead. Two million dead in France and four million dead from Germany. 630,000 war widows in France alone and countless others that never had a chance to get married. There were hundreds of thousands of veterans that were so maimed that they had to have special communities where they could vacation just to get away.
Mulan – Those are cold facts. Your historians tend to shrug this off and say “oh, they quickly repopulated after the war,” but they forget to take into account the emotional damage the war did to Europe.
Zach – The war was so devastating that it shattered their belief in rationalism, humanity and democracy. It left the whole continent embittered, shattered and vengeful. Germany, in particular was full of rage at having lost the war. They hadn’t been allowed to mourn their dead properly like other countries. France and England buried their dead as heroes. Germany only got unmarked mass graves in France.
Anna – So, this war shattered the unified, peaceful culture in Europe and replaced it with an angry, hopeless, and disillusioned one; a culture that would allow the atrocities that happened in the second world war. The second World War was fought with some of the same people, such as Winston Churchill who was Lord Admiral of the Navy and Rommel and often fought in the same places.
Zach – Remember, no one say the “H” word around here. I’ve promised my readers that we will not mention a certain evil dictator’s name.
Caesar – I’ll try.
Buffalo – But Europe wasn’t a bunch of hippies before the war. They had warrior societies like us Cheyenne. Every man had to join the military for two years and then go into the reserves, like that National Guard you were in, Zach.
Anna – Yes, we in the Roman…Byzantium to distinguish it from Caesar’s western empire, had a theme system like that as well.
Zach – Every male was in the reserves, so they all knew about military life first hand and this allowed a potential for MILLIONS of soldiers.
Caesar – If I had had that many soldiers, I could have conquered all of Germania!

Zach – So, now we get into how the war started. I’m going to put this as delicately as possible.
It was completely moronic.
Mulan – A continent of fools.
Anna – But how did it start. I’m a historian and I’m still confused.
Buffalo – I don’t understand how you Europeans can complicate everything. It’s almost as if you’re afraid of simplicity.
Zach – Well, Buff, I’ll try to make this as simple as possible.
Caesar – Good luck. I read the books you suggested and I’m still not certain how it all came about.
Mulan – I thought it was simple. One country wanted to fight a smaller country but the small country had a big friend that stepped in so the other country called in its big friend and….
Buffalo – I’m confused already.
Anna – I’m not sure it can be simplified in such terms.
Mulan – Sure it can. I must admit that as a soldier, things are much simpler.
Zach – Well, let’s start at the beginning.
Caesar – I need an Aspirin.
Buffalo – I’m going to get a drink.
Zach – I got some Dew in the fridge.
Anna – Might I bother you to fetch me one as well?
Mulan – Me as well.
Caesar – And bring those…what did you call them?
Zach – Hot pockets.
Caesar – Yes! Bring to me Hot Pockets!
Buffalo – Say please.
Caesar – I never say please.
Buffalo – Then you never get Hot Pockets.
Caesar – Um…well…please?
Buffalo – That’s better.
(Buffalo steps out.)
Zach – So, as I was saying, we start at the beginning and take this step by step.
Caesar – From what I read, all the trouble started with an assassination of a patrician.
Anna – A nobleman by the name of Archduke Ferdinand. He went down to Bosnia for an annual military inspection.
Zach – But he chose the wrong day. It was the anniversary of a huge defeat of Serbia by the Ottoman Empire. That just ticked them off even more.
Anna – So some rebels, with guns and bombs from the Serbian military armory ambushed the Austrian duke and killed him.
Mulan – Austria didn’t appreciate that and wanted to punish Serbia. But Serbia had a big friend, Russia. Austria was afraid Russia would step in. So they went and asked their own big friend, Germany if they would “have their back.”
Caesar – They should have acted with some boldness. If they just went ahead and attacked as was their right, no one would have noticed or cared much, but since they went crying to Germany, this got the attention of Russia.
Anna – We must understand that the Austro-Hungarian Empire at this time was a weak, divided empire that wanted to prove to the rest of Europe that they weren’t weak. So they mobilized their armies to get ready for war.
Zach – And this made Russian begin a pre-mobilization. A full mobilization is the final step before declaring war and would cause Germany to mobilize or even declare war.
Mulan – But Austria wasted time. The assassination took place on the 28th of June and waited until the 5th of July to ask Germany.
Zach – On the 6th the Kaizer gave his thumbs up and promptly went on a three week long cruise. Bad timing there buddy.
(Buffalo comes back in with bottles of Mountain Dew and microwaved Hot Pockets.)
Caesar – Finally!
Buffalo – You’re welcome, jerk.
Mulan – Thank you Mrs. Road.
Zach – So, the Kaizer gave Austria their promise to support them in case Russia steps in, but a war was the last thing Germany wanted. So Austria decides to send an ultimatum to Serbia, a strongly worded letter telling Serbia that they’re Austria’s plaything now. But they waited until the 19th to get together to write it. I don’t know why they waited two weeks.
Mulan – But this gave time for the French minister to reach Russian on his little trip. So, when Russia heard of this, they were able to immediately talk to France about it.
Buffalo – What happened with the ultimatum?
Caesar – It got to Serbia on the 23rd and they had till the 25th to answer. At first they were about to cave in and do what the Goths…er…Austrians wanted. But then they heard from their ambassador that Russian wanted to support Serbia and this made them too big for their togas and so they decided to reject Austria’s demands.
Mulan – They sent their rejection and immediately began preparing for war. Russia then began their pre-deployment.
Zach – I’ve experienced this pre-deployment before. We get word that war might be coming and so we get in contact with our chain of command and the units start preparing their equipment. It’s kind of nerve racking because you don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.
Anna – English and French ambassadors told Russia to stay calm and not mobilize because that might cause Germany to declare war on them.
Mulan – Now enters a villain. While Russia and Austria began to try to talk to each other, an Austrian count named Berchtold, secretly began to prepare for war and was about to send out a call for full mobilization. But before he could, there was a small skirmish between Austria and Serbia and this gave Berchtold the excuse he was looking for and declared war on Serbia.
Buffalo – But he wasn’t the chief. How could he do that?
Zach – He didn’t have the authority or power, but he did it anyway and the rest of the government just went along with it because…I don’t know, they’re stupid. This was the 28th of July. Then Russia was about to declare their full mobilization.
Buffalo – But why? What does Austria fighting with Serbia have to do with Russia? I’ve seen the map. They’re far apart.
Caesar – It was pointless. They had no reason to do so. They were only afraid that if Austria went to war, then Germany would mobilize and that meant a whole German army on Russia’s boarders.
Mulan – It was fear and mutual distrust then.
Anna – At this time, the Kaizer sent the Tzar a telegram saying “It would be quite possible for Russia to remain a spectator of the Austro-Sebian conflict without involving Europe in the most horrible war she has ever witnessed.”
Caesar – He knew what was at stake.
Buffalo – So, the German chief didn’t want war? So why are they blamed for it?
Anna – Because the Franks won and the victors get to write the history.
Zach – Well, the telegram made the Tzar cancel his mobilization.
Buffalo – But it didn’t end there, did it? Who messed up?
Mulan – The German Chief of Staff, Moltke, wanted a partial mobilization but then Austria sent all its eastern divisions south to Serbia to beat up on them, but this left the east weak against Russia. So when Moltke heard of this, he ordered his partial mobilization.
Buffalo – So this made them look two faced to Russia.
Mulan – And then Russia went ahead with their full mobilization.
Anna – That was the 31st of July and Germany declared war on Russia.
Caesar – Then France declared war and England. It was like falling pillars, one knocking the other over and the whole temple tumbles over.
Zach – So, Germany followed the schlieffen plan which was developed by a total dork who only cared about time tables and troop movements. He concocted this plan that made Germany go through neutral Belgium and rush to Paris and knock France out of the war.
Mulan – Isn’t that the plan they used in the second World War?
Zach – It is but it didn’t work this time because as the plan said itself, they just couldn’t get enough troops to Paris quick enough to knock them out.
Buffalo – So, their plan was doomed from the beginning?
Zach – Yup.
Caeser – but Germany went ahead with this asinine plan and went into Belgium.
Mulan – And committed atrocities there. This made the Belgians hate Germany and shamed Germany. Their offensive went into France came to a stop before they got to Paris.
Anna – And that’s where the war turned into a meatgrinder. The war wasn’t about gaining ground or objectives, but about enemy deaths. The war was an atrocity and everyone could see the systematic death that happened daily.
Zach – And the final result was?
Anna – a traumatized Europe. Gas attacks were used. Hatred was stoked like a fire and hope was shattered. The second World War was just a continuation of this one, only now they had less morals and mercy.
Buffalo – I still find it hard to imagine millions of deaths. Custer only had about two hundred with him.
Zach – Smaller battles in WWI killed more people than Waterloo or Sekigahara. The larger battles, like Somme were total atrocities that saw thousands and thousands get mowed down. It was a new era and a much darker one. Things wouldn’t be the same. This war created the second World War and that shaped the modern world we live in now.
Anna – So, why should we care about the first World War? Because it created the world we now live in. Just look at a map of Europe today.
Buffalo – That’s not a good thing.
Mulan – A war without honor, pity or mercy. I wouldn’t want to be a part of such a thing. Numbers shouldn’t mean more than a person’s life.
Buffalo – I feel like mourning.
Zach – Have some Mountain Dew. That always cheers me up.
Caesar – And bring me more Hot Pockets!
Buffalo – Quiet or I’ll show you what I do to loud mouth braggarts.

A map of Europe before WWI. Notice the fewer but larger countries and empires.

Now notice all the many countries that gained independence due to the continent tearing itself apart.


15 comments on “The Great Ridiculous War

  1. Bonaparte says:

    Ha ha! See? My influence reached a hundred years! Top that you smelly, little, shaven headed historian! Your so called, American Civil War used my tactics as well! Your great Robert E. Lee was just a little puppy in my shadow!

  2. Glenda says:

    mans inhumanity to man. All for pride. So many lives destroyed, and a world crippled by grief. The animals, were used like tools, till they broke. A very sad tale of just how low humanity can go. Why do we do these things, to ourselves. You would think we would learn.

  3. S. Guymon says:

    Thanks for breaking it down. I get it now!

  4. Thomas Wicklund says:

    One note — I thought most of the soldiers during the Napoleonic wars had muskets, not rifles. This makes a big difference. You can march a column of troops into a line of muskets since musket fire is not accurate for any real distance. The move to rifles occurred toward mid century, with a muzzle loading rifle as the primary weapon in the U.S. Civil War. The more accurate rifle made marching up to a line of defenders less effective than against muskets, but the slow rate of fire meant it could still work.

    The move to faster rates of fire, especially machine guns, made marching or charging an enemy a losing proposition. You’re right that too many military leaders in WWI were stuck in the past and thought they could still overwhelm positions by sheer mass of men. As is often the case, the generals were still fighting the last war.

    • zacharyhill says:

      Indeed sir, they did have rifles. The British Enfield rifle had a 10 round magazine! During the first engagement of Germans vs. British, the Germans, still stuck in the Napoleonic mind set, marched forward toward the British position. Well, the British had learned from the Boer war that bullets hurt so they were dug in to trenches. The Germans called them “the invisible enemy” because they, well, took cover. The British rifles tore into the Germans with such ferocity that it scattered the German army. They soon learned to entrench themselves as well and thus we get the stagnation of trench warfare. But at the beginning of the war, they still used (modified) Napoleonic tactics. The French cavalry still had the same shiny metal breastplates and plumed helmets from Napoleonic times and the Belgian uniform had barely changed at all.

      • Thomas Wicklund says:

        Looking again, I misread Ms. Mulan’s comments about Napoleon developing the division as saying that Napoleon’s divisions were 12,000 riflemen and 72 cannon, where she was actually referring the the WWI use of Napoleon’s force structure.

        My apologies.

  5. sohmdaddy says:

    Man, I never realized how stupid, pointless and evil that war was. I guess that Enlightenment didn’t really stick, did it?

  6. Joe in PNG says:

    Sadly, and tragically, a big part of WWI had to do with the Kaiser Willy’s ego.

    -He thought he could out Bismark Bismark, and wound up driving Russia, France, and England into an alliance.

    -He, with the able assistance of Tirpiz, wound up in a naval arms race with England… because Willy liked to dress up and play Admiral with real battleships.

    -And there was his tendancy to frequently shoot his mouth off and come across as an unhinged loon (his remarks during the Boxer rebellion do come to mind) which made it that much harder to deal with him.

  7. Countess Matilda of Tuscany says:

    What a waste of lives. Its a shame my beloved Italy had to get involved. I do, however, have a few questions. How long was it between the first World War and the second and how did they ever build up the population again? I’ve never imagined so many deaths were possible. And how did the United States get involved in all of this?

    • zacharyhill says:

      Great questions, Countess. WWI ended in 1918 and WWII started in 1939. 21 years passed. That meant that the babies of the post war baby boom were just old enough to fight in the war their parents caused. And somehow, they managed even higher body counts and more atrocities. I don’t understand it myself. And to answer the next question: how did America get involved? America for the first three years of the war was very neutral. There was a large portion of German immigrants who wanted to join in on Germany’s side. (that was a real possibility at the beginning of the war.) But then Germany sunk a cruise ship called the Lusitania and it had Americans on board. So America said “Hey! Germany, would you mind not sinking civilian ships?” To which Germany replied “Oh, sorry about that.” And they stopped sinking civilian ships…for a while. In early 1917 Germany said “Oh, um, never mind, we’re actually going to just sink every ship that goes to Britain. We don’t give a strudel.” So, America, with former president Teddy Roosevelt demanding America stops “Germany’s piracy” starts arming their merchant ships to scare off the Germans, but the Germans kept sinking our ships. But still, that wasn’t enough to get America into the war. Then America intercepted a telegram, the Zimmerman Telegram. It was a message from Germany to Mexico telling Mexico that if joined their side, they’d give them back all the territory America took from them. Wilson didn’t make this telegram public because he was campaigning to get re-elected on an anti-war platform. But when he finally saw that popular opinion was for the war, like a truly brave man (sarcasm) he sent the telegram to the press. America said “That’s it! We’ve had enough of your crap!” We declared war on the 6th of April, 1917, but didn’t join the fight until 1918 with general John Pershing in charge.

  8. dave says:

    Kinda gotta blame america and britain for the Lusitania sinking. They kept it secret for a long time but they were shipping war materials ie… ammunition explosives etc.. to England aboard civilian ships for secrecy i imagine since we were oficially not involved in the war. Germany had apparently told us to cut it out or else but we kept doing it anyway. From Germany’s position i can see why supposedly civilian shipping became regrettably valid targets. Kinda reminds me of terrorists hiding in a school or church knowing you wont attack as long as they have human shields. By the way a very good book to make WW1 either slightly clearer or much more muddy depending on your previous knowledge about it is George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm the three big leaders ow the war were first cousins all grandchildren of Queen Victoria so you can put the whole family fued arguement in there as well.

  9. dave says:

    Just found your site a couple of days ago and so far love what your doing. Keep it up. thinking about buying your zombie book also but might buy the other zombie ones first if they are sequential reading.

  10. […] Napoleon – My turn!  My vote is WWI.  If you want to know why, just look here.  WWI […]

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