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World War I: A Brief History

World War I: A Brief History

World War I, also known as the First World War, and (before 1939) the Great War, was a world conflict lasting from August 1914 to the final Armistice on November 11th, 1918. The Allied Powers (led by the Britain, France and until 1917 Russia , and, after 1917, the United States) defeated the Central Powers (led by the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire). The war caused the collapse of four empires and a radical change in the map of Europe and the Middle East. Before 1917 the Allied powers are sometimes referred to as the Triple Entente, and the Central Powers are sometimes referred to as the Triple Alliance.

Much of the fighting in World War I took place along the Western Front, embodied within a system of opposing manned trenches and fortifications (separated by a "No man's land") running from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland. Hostilities were also prosecuted, however, by more dynamic invasion and battle, by fighting at sea and - for the first time - in and from the air. More than 9 million soldiers died on the various battlefields, and nearly that many more in the participating countries' home fronts on account of food shortages and genocide committed under the cover of various civil wars and internal conflicts. In World War I, only some 5% of the casualties (directly caused by the war) were civilian - in World War II, this figure approached 50%.

Ultimately, World War I created a decisive break with the old world order that had emerged after the Napoleonic Wars, as modified by the mid-19th century national revolutions, the processes of European national unification and European colonialism. Three European land empires were shattered and subsequently dismembered to varying degrees: the German, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian. In the Balkans and the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire experienced the same fate. Three European imperial dynastys, represented by the Hohenzollern, the Habsburg and the Romanov families in Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia respectively, also fell during the war.

The failure of the Russian war effort led to the fall of the Czars's system; it was replaced briefly by a liberal regime that in turn fell to the Bolsheviks in late 1917 in the Russian Revolution of 1917. They made peace on Germany's terms. After a complex civil war the Communists won and created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was replaced by the Republic of Turkey and a number of successor states and territories throughout the Middle East controlled by the United Kingdom and France. In Central Europe, the new states of Czechoslovakia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Yugoslavia were born and Austria, Hungary and Poland were re-created. Shortly after the war, in 1923, Fascists came to power in Italy; in 1933, 14 years after the war, Nazism took over Germany. Problems unresolved or created by the war would be highly important factors in the outbreak, within 20 years, of World War II. (courtesy