In any war, there is almost always more lost than gained. Yes, technological developments were accelerated, and the whole of Europe believed it would be the “war to end all wars,” but many of these technological developments were specifically tailored to the extermination of human beings on the battlefield, and the whole “war to end all wars” thing didn't last very long at all. Not only were soldiers mercilessly killing other soldiers, but there was rampant disease that spread through the unsanity trenches, killing nearly as much as the bullets themselves, as well as an expansion of attacks on civilians in a way never seen before. According to the BBC series, 8.5 million soldiers were killed, a horrific and gruesome total, one that is almost impossible to comprehend, yet somehow even more innocent people lost their lives. 13 million. The scale of such a mass extermination of human life is something beyond imaginable. No end is justified by this means. This matters because of the trend it set in place for the wars that would follow. A new age of warfare was characterized by expanded capability from the sky, and most importantly, by the intention of killing civilians. In addition, on the IWM website it describes the causes and effects of such killing, “Attacks on civilians became increasingly common as each nation tried to break their opponents’ home morale and diminish popular support for the war. Propaganda demonised entire nations and attacked the ‘national characters’ of enemy peoples.” This outlines the reason for the turn to civilian killings, a trend that would continue in WW2, where 55 million civilians were killed. Such civilian attacks, like the ones in the photo series by the IWM, were brutally common in later wars, and people like my grandmother had to often run down to neaborhood bomb shelters for fear of an attack (she lived in northern Ireland).
The world clearly learned how ripe it was for global conflict. A simple assasination prompted by flaring tensions caused a system of alliances and to kick in, and by July 28th, fighting began. It learned how brutal rival powers can be for petty gains at best. It should have learned a lot more than it did though, and the massive destruction of the first true “World War” was followed up by another just a few decades later. Today, this can seem pretty far away, but we must realize how interconnected our systems of alliance are today (think NATO), and how we have designed advanced warfare techniques that are ruthless in their killing of civilians. With our modern use of human-less technology for killing, we are entering an age where it is easier than ever to kill without suffering losses of your own.
The world was truly very different after the war than before it. Massive gains in communication and information technology were made during the war, and a much more connected global system lay in the wake of the war. Gone too, was the age of monarchies in Europe (for the most part), as the war sparked conflicts like the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The borders that were hastily drawn from the remnants of the Ottoman empire continue to be a point of contention in the modern middle east. Most importantly of all, WW1 taught the entire world what it was like to have millions die on the battlefields, and millions more in their homes or living their normal lives. It shocked the elite of the time in a profound way, sparking innovation, revolution, and a new age of political dominance. The United States rose to power on a global stage in the aftermath of this war as well.
It is crucial to study and understand the motives and effects behind war, including WW1, because it gives us an insight into preventing such conflicts in the future. Was it truly the “war to end all wars?” At the time no. But with powerful films like “They Shall not grow old,” and images of a desolate and truly dead battlefield like those in the article from the Atlantic, we are reminded of the horrors of war, and appalled to action. It is the duty of each and every one of us to prevent conflicts like this from ever happening again, and an important start is learning about the tragedies of the conflicts of the past.