Vickers Machine Gun Crew

The War to End All Wars

The First World War caused every major conflict of the last century, including the current one with North Korea

It started in the Summer of 1914. Europe, ruled by monarchies and entangled in a labyrinth of complicated alliances established by confusing treaties, had not seen a major war in 40 years. By the end of 1918, the entire continent would lay in ruins, with entire empires wiped from the planet.

Modern weapons developed during that period of peace had never been used in any major conflict. Among them, the Maschinengewehr 08, which could fire 600 rounds a minute and had an effective range of 2,000 yards— a considerable advancement in technology when you consider that competent soldiers in the American Civil War could load and fire just three shots in the same amount of time.

The nations of Europe, blinded by nationalism and pride, started an arms race, though nobody actually thought that any other nation would be crazy enough to engage one another on the battlefield.

In late June of 1914, The King of Austria-Hungary received distressing news. His nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had been assassinated while visiting Serbia.

The man who killed him was a domestic terrorist named Gavrilo Princip, who was a member of an ultra-nationalist, Pro-Serb organization called The Black Hand. This was the spark that ignited the fire.

Austria-Hungary, enraged by the assassination, declared war on Serbia. Serbia was allied with Russia, which was bound by a treaty to defend them, so Russia mobilized. Germany, which was bound to Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia. France, who was allied with Russia, declared war on Germany. Germany invaded Belgium, so England, because it was allied with Belgium, declared war against Germany. By August of 1914, the whole of Europe was at war — all because the nephew of the King had been assassinated.

Two soldiers and a mule wearing gas masks, circa 1917. SOURCE

There were five million casualties in the first year alone, with one million killed in action. Every nation grossly underestimated the carnage that would follow, as did the millions upon millions of men who enlisted and who had no idea what happened when you introduced 20th century weaponry onto 19th-century battlefields.

The French, in particular, seemed completely unaware of how the world had changed since their last major engagement 40 years before. They marched onto the fields, still wearing their signature blue, red and white uniforms, which made them easy targets for snipers and infantrymen and for machine gun nests, with their intersecting fields of fire and their 2,000-yard range.

World War One would last four years, until the United States intervened in the final months, forcing Germany to sign an armistice, which the world would know as the Treaty of Versailles. It went into effect at 11 AM on November 11, 1918. The expression “at the eleventh hour” comes from this date in history.

But instead of being magnanimous in victory, the Allied powers chose to cripple Germany and its allies with sanctions and debt that brought them to their knees. This angered the millions of German war veterans, who saw Versailles as a betrayal.

Things were bad enough in the years immediately following the war. And then the US stock market crashed in 1929, and as bad as things got in America, they were 100 times worse in Germany.

Among those bitter veterans was an Austrian corporal named Adolph Hitler, who vowed to avenge both his native Austria, as well as his adopted home of Germany, which he perceived as victims of an international conspiracy perpetuated by communists and their “Jewish” puppets.

In September of 1939, just 21 years after World War One ends, Hitler invaded Poland, starting World War Two.

17 million people died on the battlefields of World War One, with another 20 million succumbing to disease and starvation. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Instead, the world ignored the lessons on history, and by the time the Japanese surrendered to Allied forces aboard the USS Missouri in August of 1945, another 55 million had perished, including 40 million civilians who died in concentration camps in Germany, ghettos and death camps in Poland, in purges throughout the Soviet Union, and in the whole of China, which was not only fighting the Japanese, but its own Civil War.

With Europe, Africa, and Asia in utter disarray, colonial empires, and their holdings, collapsed into civil war — including Vietnam, a French colony, and Korea, which had been ruled by the Japanese for decades. Just a year later, in 1946, France started fighting the first Indochina War, which begat US involvement 18 years later.

An American soldier lies dead, entangled in barbed wire, circa 1918. SOURCE

Just five years after World War Two ended, the Korean peninsula erupted into Civil War. Allied with the Democratic South, United Nation forces led by the United States engaged in a “police action” against communist North Korea, aided by China, which supplied both weapons and troops, many of whom died by American hands over the next three years.

America bombed the North so badly the entire country became one large field of craters and bones. War crimes were committed by both sides. Tens of thousands of American soldiers and marines were killed. Hundreds of thousands of Korean and Chinese died, too. Finally, after three years of carnage, a ceasefire was declared in 1953, which remains in effect to this day.

The Korean War is largely forgotten by the American public, to say nothing of its collective conscience. This stands in stark contrast to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), whose national identity is founded on the narrative that America is a belligerent empire bent on total domination. To know the truth of this history is to understand why tensions are unlikely to ever cease on the Korean Peninsula, which is now arguably the most dangerous piece of real estate in the world.

Every major conflict for the past 100 years can trace its routes to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand — including the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the rise of The Taliban, both wars in Iraq, and 9/11. And Serbia, where it all began, remains a powered keg, immune to the lessons of history.

Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LPCA, LCAS

Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LPCA, LCAS

I'm a dually-licensed in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselor, specializing in Co-Occurring Disorders.
Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LPCA, LCAS

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