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1914-18: Horrors of the ‘war to end all wars’

   PARIS, March 13, 2008 – Lazar Ponticelli, one of the last living
veterans of World War I died on Wednesday in France at age 110.
   Key facts about one of the most murderous conflicts of world history, which
lasted from 1914 to 1918:
   – Main belligerents:
   Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire on one side;
France, Britain, Russia and the United States (from 1917) on the other.
Because most of the participating nations had empires, troops from all over
the world took part.
   – Precipitating event:
   The assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand by a Serb
nationalist on June 28, 1914 in the Balkan city of Sarajevo.
   – Main theatres:
   Northern France, Belgium, eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and the
Balkans, northern Italy, plus the world’s oceans.
   – Technology:
   Mechanised warfare was advanced enough to cause massive casualties. But the
lack of mobility and good communications kept opposing troops pinned down in
trenches or mounting futile attacks on prepared positions, where they suffered
horrific casualties.
   The weapons used included poison gas, heavy artillery, early designs of
tanks and bomb-carrying aircraft, while German submarines wreaked havoc at sea.
   During some of the major battles, the deaths per day numbered in the tens
of thousands.
   – Casualties: Around 10 million military dead, and 20 million injured.
   Estimated fatalities for the major belligerents: Germany 1.9 million,
Russia 1.7 million, France 1.4 million, the Austro-Hungarian empire one
million, Britain 760,000, Italy 650,000, Ottoman Empire (Turkey) 336,000,
United States 115,000.
   Many colonial troops serving with the main European countries also died.
   – Consequences:
   The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were broken up, while a revolution
brought communism to power in Russia (1917).
   The humiliation of Germany after the conflict helped sow the seeds of
Nazism, leading to a second world war in 1939.
   The United States clearly emerged as the number-one world power.
   Socially, the devastation and loss created a level of trauma among the
populations of the main belligerent countries that had never been seen before.
   – Great illusions:
   When they set out to war in September 1914, many of the participating
troops on both sides were light-hearted, convinced it would all be over in
time for Christmas.
   The US president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, described the conflict both
as "the war to end all wars" and "a war to make the world safe for democracy."