One hundred years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, World War I ended. Life would never be the same for the more than 65 million men from some 30 nations who fought in it, or for the civilians who experienced the first “total war” in history.
Four empires fell during the conflict — the Ottoman, Habsburg, German, and Russian — the last in a Revolution (1917-1921) that sparked a 30-year “European civil war” between left and right. New nations — Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland among them — were born from the war’s ashes.
The modern strongmen, and the fascist and communist political systems that they shaped, emerged from the war’s vortex of ruined bodies and disfigured minds — the psychological and physical wreckage of mass violence.
World War I was the first mass conflict among industrialized nations, and it upended the way war was fought and conceptualized. The weapons it introduced — submarines, machine guns, poison gas, grenades, tanks, and more — have become part of our arsenals, as did airpower and strategic bombing.
An immense laboratory of military, scientific, and political transformation, the war birthed many visionaries who believed a better society could rise out of its ashes, whether that meant adapting democracy for a new message or discarding it as a failed experiment.
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