Archdukes, Cynicism, and World War I: Crash Course World History #36

Archdukes, Cynicism, and World War I: Crash Course World History #36


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
World History, and today we’re gonna talk about World War I. The so-called, Great War? World War I wasn’t the most destructive
war, or the first total war, and it certainly wasn’t – despite its billing – the war to
end all wars. But it was the war to change all wars. World War I changed our outlook,
it normalized cynicism and irony, which, I think you’ll agree, are kind of dominant lenses for
describing our world today. Basically, I’d argue that World War I helped make possible everything from
The Simpsons to intentionally unattractive mustaches. Mr. Green, Mr. Green! are you referring to
me? Oh, Me From the Past, you’re an embarrassment
to our family. Also to all our other selves. [theme music] Most people think of World War I as a tragedy
because it didn’t need to happen and didn’t really accomplish much, except for creating
social and economic conditions that made World War II possible. So when we talk about the causes of
the war, inevitably, we’re also assigning blame. The immediate cause was, of course, the assassination
in Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, by a Bosnian Serb
nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. Quick aside: It’s worth noting that the first big war
of the 20th century began with an act of terrorism. So Franz Ferdinand wasn’t particularly well-liked
by his uncle, the Emperor Franz Joseph – now that is a mustache! But even so, the assassination
led Austria to issue an ultimatum to Serbia, whereupon Serbia accepted some, but not all,
of Austria’s demands, leading Austria to declare war against Serbia. And then Russia,
due to its alliance with the Serbs, then mobilized its army; Germany, because it had an alliance
with Austria, told Russia to stop mobilizing, which Russia failed to do, so then Germany
mobilized its own army, declared war on Russia, cemented an alliance with the Ottomans, and then
declared war on France, because, you know, France. Germany’s War plan, the Schlieffen Plan,
required that it invade France in the most expedient way possible, which as you can see
is via Belgium, And Great Britain was a friend of Belgium – I mean, as much as anyone can be a friend
of Belgium – and so they declared war on Germany. So by August 4th, all the major powers of
Europe are at war with each other. By the end of the month, Japan, honoring its alliance
with Britain, would be at war with Germany and Austria as well. When all was said and
done, counting colonies and spheres of influence, the world map would eventually look like this.
You’ll never guess who wins. So there were many opportunities NOT to mobilize
and declare war, none of which were taken. Some blame the web of alliances itself, which
is what Woodrow Wilson tried to fix with the League of Nations. Some blame Russia, the
first big country to mobilize. Some blame Germany for the inflexibility of the Schlieffen
Plan. Leninists claim war grew out of imperialism and was fueled by capitalist rivalries; and
others claim it was a war between Germany’s radical modernism and Britain’s traditional
conservatism. But if I had to assign blame, I’d go with
the alliance system and the cultural belief that war was, in general, good for nations.
War helped define who was “them” and who was “us”, and doing that strengthened the idea
of us. And before World War I, war was perceived to be necessary and often even glorious. The trench warfare on the Western Front is
most famous for its brutal futility – Great Britain and France on one side, Germany on
the other, with no man’s land between. World War I was a writer’s war, and there’s
a lot of metaphorical resonance in living men digging holes where they would in time
die. The lines of trenches on the Western Front covered only about 400 miles as the
crow flies, but because of the endless zigzagging, the trenches themselves may have run as much
as 25,000 miles. But the stalemate of trench warfare wasn’t
seen on every front. Especially at the beginning of the war, there was a lot of offensive movement,
especially in the initial German strikes, especially on the Eastern Front, the Germans
were pretty successful against the Russians, who had a large but pretty hapless army. Also,
for those blessed few of you who sat through all of Lawrence of Arabia, you’ll remember
that T. E. Lawrence’s exploits took place in the context of World War I, with the British
battling the Ottomans. This brings up an important point: World War
I featured combatants from around the world – Britain’s army, especially, included soldiers
from India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, who was just happy to be invited.
Africans served with the French, and for a lot of these people, their experiences helped
build nationalist movements when survivors returned home after the war. That’s about as close as we get to a silver
lining. The war itself was incredibly destructive. Over 15 million people were killed and over
20 million wounded. In France, 13.3% of the male population between the age of 15 and
49 died in the war. The war also saw a lot of civilians die, especially in the Ottoman
Empire where more than 2 million of the 3 million people killed were non-combatants. But like so many other wars, World War I’s
most efficient killer was disease. Stupid disease, always hijacking history. Dysentery,
typhus, and cholera were rampant, and otherwise minor injuries would prove fatal when gangrene
set in. I mean, 25% of arm wounds among German soldiers were fatal. And that’s not even
to mention the famous influenza epidemic that broke out toward the end of the war, which
killed three times as many people as the war itself. The main reason the war was so deadly was
the combination of new technology and outdated tactics. While we may think about tanks, airplanes
and poison gas, all of which made their debut in the First World War, the two most devastating
technologies were American: machine guns and barbed wire. Attempting to march in lines
towards an enemy’s trench, soldiers of both sides were mowed down by machine gun fire. According to one German machine gunner at
the battle of the Somme in 1916, “The [British] officers went in front. I noticed one of them
walking calmly, carrying a walking stick. When we started firing we just had to load
and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn’t have to aim, we just fired into
them.” At the Somme, the British lost 60,000 men in the first day of fighting. Remember
the old colonialist verse, “Whatever happens / we have got / the maxim gun / and they have
not”? Yeah, well, now everybody had machine guns. One of the things we try to remember here
at Crash Course is that people both make history and are made by it. World War I brings this
fact into stark relief because we know so much about the soldiers who fought in it,
and how they wrote about the war really changed our relationship with systemic violence. For most soldiers, there was nothing glamorous
or heroic about this war. For the British, for example, the trenches were two things
above all: wet and smelly. The dampness came from the fact that the British trenches were
in the wettest part of Flanders. The smell was mainly decomposing flesh. Nothing glorious
about that. On the upside, soldiers were at least rarely
hungry, and there was a lot of food from home, which is worth underscoring, because it reminds
us that home wasn’t very far away. Even for the British, at their closest the front
was only 70 miles from England. They could read newspapers from London one day later
than Londoners could. While going “over the top” – Stan, no
puns in this episode! – Right, while going “over the top” of the trench to cross
no-man’s land and attack the enemy trench is what lights our romantic imagination, most
soldiers’ lives were dominated by the fear of shelling. According to a journal published
by French soldiers: “There’s nothing more horrible in war than being shelled. It’s
a form of torture that the soldier can’t see the end of. Suddenly he’s afraid of
being buried alive… The man stays put in his hole, helplessly waiting for, hoping for,
a miracle.” Although soldiers then, as now, lived under
conditions it’s difficult to imagine, there was more than even the threat of death to
distress them. According to German officer Ernst Jünger, it was not “danger, however
extreme … that depresses the spirit of men, so much as over-fatigue and wretched conditions.”
And for most soldiers, especially the British and French, the pay for their efforts was
pitiful. So why did they even keep fighting? Duty, nationalism, loyalty to comrades, and
fear of being shot for desertion all played a role. But so did alcohol. As one British medical
officer said: “Had it not been for the rum ration, I do not think we should have won
the war.” Ernst Jünger also remarked on the propensity of soldiers to drink their
troubles away: “Though ten out of twelve had fallen, still the last two, as sure as
death, were to be found on the first evening of rest over the bottle drinking a silent
health to their dead ‘companions’ ”. Oh, it’s time for the open letter? Whew!
An open letter to alcohol. I wonder what’s in today’s secret compartment. Oh, shocking, it’s a golf club. And an actual
disco golf ball made by a crash course fan! Dear Alcohol – oh, that’s…
Like disease, you’ve been a key figure in human history, despite not actually being
a person, and for millennia, you’ve played an important role in war, often helping soldiers
do their duty, often distracting them from it. But here’s the thing, alcohol, in my experience,
which is extensive, if you need to be drunk to do something, you should maybe not do the
thing. Unless of course, the thing is golf. Best wishes, John Green. So what did we take away from the so-called Great
War? Well, not much. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World
War I, fixed the blame for the war on Germany, which proved ruinous to the German economy
and destructive to its political institutions. And unless you’re really nostalgic for totalitarian
communism, you’ve gotta say that World War I was also a disaster for Russia, because
it facilitated the rise of the Bolsheviks. The Russian Revolution had two phases. In
the first phase, called the February Revolution, because get this, it occurred in February,
army mutinies and civil unrest forced the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty which had
been in power in Russia since, like, forever, to use a proper historian term. The monarchy was replaced by a provisional
government led (eventually) by Alexander Kerensky, which made the terrible decision to keep Russia
in the war, which led to the October Revolution, so called because it happened in October,
in which Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks took over, famously promising the Russian
people “peace, bread, and land.” To which the Russian people responded, “Hey, you
just named of our three favorite things.” Lenin’s first big achievement was signing
a separate peace with Germany and getting Russia out of the war, which was helpful to
him since he needed to fight a civil war that wouldn’t end until 1922. This might’ve
helped Germany, too, except the US entered the war on the side of the British and the
French. Which led to another outcome of the war: increased
geopolitical influence for the U.S. The U.S. was already becoming a major economic power,
and being able to avoid the destruction and loss of manpower associated with World War
I certainly didn’t hurt. The war helped catapult the U.S. from being a debtor nation
to a creditor one, and Wilson’s leading role in the negotiations at Versailles – even
though he actually didn’t get what he wanted – made America a big player on the world
stage for the first time. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So just so we don’t get completely Eurocentric,
another major outcome of the war was the end of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of
the nation-state of Turkey. The rest of the world saw some change too, but not much for
the better. In Africa, Britain took Germany’s colonies, and even though Indians fought and
died in a higher percentage than Americans in World War I, India didn’t gain any real
autonomy. All these terrible outcomes led to a general
sense of disappointment in literary circles, And this feeling of pointlessness and cynicism
was expressed by the writers of the “lost generation.” It was a war full of loss:
Millions of people were lost. Traditional ideals of war’s nobility and heroism were
lost as well: I mean, what is heroism when you’re just sitting in a trench, waiting
to be blown up? And after World War I, war might be necessary,
but it would never again be glorious. We see this shift in the writing and art that emerged
from the Great War as artists transitioned from romanticism to modernism. Think of Hemingway’s
The Sun Also Rises, which is about a men rendered not noble but impotent by war. This dark,
cruel irony here – you go to war to become a man and war takes away the organ often called
“your manhood” – that defined Hemingway’s worldview. And it also defines ours. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Meredith Danko, our Associate Producer is Danica Johnson.
The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself, and our graphics
team is Thought Bubble. Last week’s phrase of the week was “unless
you are the Mongols” (we brought it back for you), if you’d like to suggest future phrases
of the week, or guess at this week’s, you can do so in comments, where you can also ask questions
that will be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course, and, as we
say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

100 thoughts on “Archdukes, Cynicism, and World War I: Crash Course World History #36

  1. Alcohol helped, rum for the British, wine for the French… But what about cocaine? Ask the enterprises Merck or Nederlandsche Cocaïnefabriek… Every nation used, so they made good business

  2. I'm not going to lie it feels a bit unsettling how they crack lighthearted jokes about an event that killed 16 million people including two of my relatives. If you guys are looking for something a bit more respectful check out "The Great War" which is also on youtube.

  3. Johnnie, get your gun
    Get your gun, get your gun
    Johnnie show the Hun
    Who's a son of a gun
    Hoist the flag and let her fly
    Yankee Doodle do or die

  4. WWI also served as Inspiration for the art and literary movements of Dada and Neue Sachlichkeit… whether that's a good thing or not..

  5. Wasn't France allied to Russia and that's why Germany declared war upon France? Did Germany even declare that war or was it France who wanted Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lotharingen) back? I don't really see a clear incentive for Germany to attack France otherwise.

  6. Произошла великая пролетарская революция входе которой было образованно первое в мире социалистическое государство , а не "переворот" как говорит слуга капитала в этом видео.

  7. There was a great proletarian revolution the entrance of which was formed the world's first socialist state , not a "coup" as the servant of capital says in this video.

  8. Count me among the “blessed few” who sat through Lawrence of Arabia. That movie is LONG, and I’m sorry to say I hated most of it.

  9. I love Lawrence of Arabia!
    Also, could you guys make a video that talks about the 'ace' pilots? I mean, only if you want to. I just thought that It would be interesting.

  10. Canada beating a not yet modernized usa in a war with a world superpower's support during pax britannia doesnt mean it's a good military.

  11. "At the Somme, the British lost 60,000 men on the first day of fighting." God help us. All for nothing. This should give all of us prayerful pause to contemplate the wretchedness of the human condition. We should then strive to solve all conflicts without violence.

    "Why did they even keep fighting?" Let's chalk this one up to toxic masculinity, the notion that turning away from any fight is "wimpy," emasculating, morally wrong. Unfortunately, significant numbers of men and women still are deeply influenced by these notions of toxic masculinity. Given that fact, it is perhaps unlikely that this pattern will ever change. A fearsome thought for all of us in the age of nuclear weapons, especially combined with America's "city on the hill" moralizing mythology.

  12. I'm from the uk and it seems that no one ever talks about the futility of ww1. I mean, come armistice day, you'll often hear people say (particularly focusing on ww1) "they gave their today for our tomorrow" when realistically the phrase should be "they had their today stolen from them for a few on top to retain power and inadvertently cause ww2". In fact there's a stain glassed window at my church made around about the time of the end of the war or so which has jesus carrying an english flag (i know, crazy and untrue about jesus) that says that talks about how "they gave up their lives for our freedom" even tho it was nothing to do with freedom (infact it helped to create the conditions for fascism) and they had their lives taken not "given". I'm all for respecting the dead and those who died in various different wars, but only if it strips war of all it's perceived glory, talks about the futility of it (particularly ww1) acknowledges that these soldiers didn't give their lives, their lives were snatched from them and encourages us to do our best in the future to avoid conflict in the future

  13. WWI also lead to many of the problems during the Great Depression. During WWI, the American government urged farmers to increase their crops for rations. After the war food prices began to drop, and during the Great Depression the prices were so low that many farmers went broke trying to take care of all that extra surplus. Some corn farmers even went as far as to burn their corn as coal they had way to much of it.

  14. Hey guys, try watching the Art Assignment video on three farmers before starting your WWI lesson. It's really good.

  15. 0:20 Irony…?!

    Yea like a Facist mini mustashed man named Hitler Hit – ler be one of the soliders on the filed.

  16. Actually the February Revolution took place in March 8, and the October Revolution took place in November 7. Their names derive from the fact that they used the Julian Calendar until Russia adopted the Gregorian Calendar in February 14, 1918.

  17. Did anybody capture the Jurassic Park reference, besides me? Who here is a Jurassic Park nerd?

  18. Actually the February Revolution happened in March and the October Revolution in November due to Russia not adopting the Gregorian calendar until 1918, a year after the revolutions.

  19. The February Revolution didn't actually occur in February! At the time of the February Revolution, Russia used the Orthodox Calendar, so for them, it was "February," however, in our calendar system it was much closer to March.

  20. So if you need to be drunk to kill people in war because it goes against every thing you believe in you should just go against your military and leave and face the court?

  21. may 22, 2019 at exactly 3:34 pm in Philippines an average girl discovered that her favorite author discuses her fave subject : HISTORY

  22. I like the crash course series but there seems to be a hint of bias in some of them, this one is a prime example. John Green says WW1 wasn't the most destructive war, but other documentaries I've seen dispute that and say it was the most destructive. How much of crash course is fact and how much is opinion?

  23. Soooooooooooo here's your explanation for anti-nationalism? Here's your excuse for socialism??? Socialism and communism has kept the corporations going okay, it's kept the "stuff" okay, but it killed millions upon millions more than any of these stupid wars! The cause of all these stupid wars and the failure of socialism and communism are all the same, HUMAN NATURE! Power corrupts. PERIOD!

  24. You don't have to be a communist to support the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy. Nicholas II was a brutal dictator and the people supported the revolution

  25. Britain also conscripted soldiers from their territories in the Caribbean for both world wars but we won't get that recognition i guess 🙄

  26. I shouldnt be doing the things I do when drunk? But I actually clean my room while drunk. And do other things I normally find boring.

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