ChAPTER 33 -- Part 3: Descent into the Abyss: World War I
The lack of imagination and incompetence of most of the generals on both sides of the conflict was obvious from the years of carnage.
At this point in the industrial age, mass assaults on mechanized defenses have become suicidal.
The aged officers in the higher commands and overmatched politicians on the home fronts soon demoted or dismissed those who sought to find creative ways out of the trenches.
The war was over and would continue.
The Germans were alarmed by the rapidity with which the Russians were able to mount major offensives against them.
Having committed most of their forces to their own offensives against France, the German high com mand felt obliged to divert critical resources and manpower to check the Russian armies.
The reorganized German forces almost destroyed the entire Russian army.
The ultimate and utter defeat of the tsarist armies was caused by many of the weaknesses exhibited by the Russian forces.
Millions of mostly uneducated and poorly trained peasants were dispatched to certain death in repeated assaults on better-armed and led German forces.
Com mands in critical battles were sent in uncoded format.
Russian cannon, manned by upper-class personnel, usually provided little cover for massed peasant forces, which were reduced to little more than cannon and machine-gun fodder in assaults on the entrenched Germans.
Although the lines moved over large areas in the east, they inexorably moved east into the provinces of the Russian empire.
Serbia was held out until the end of 1915 by the Austrians.
The Austro-Hungarians were able to check repeated Russian offensives thanks to timely inter jections of German soldiers.
The Italians entered the war in May 1915 and the Austrian forces fought better against them.
Nine months earlier, Italian leaders refused to march to war with their Central Power allies, who they claimed had attacked first and nullified what was a defensive treaty.
The Italians launched a series of offensives against the Austrians after wresting British promises of substantial territorial gains.
The assaults all ended in disas ter with the Austrians enjoying the high ground in the eastern Alps.
Although British and French reinforcements rushed from the Western Front eventually stalling the Austrian advance, Italian soldiers deserted in droves and the war plunged Italy into social and political turmoil.
Mussolini would exploit this unrest to the fullest in his drive to impose a fascist dictatorship on Italy.
As the war dragged on without any sign that decisive victories could be won by either side, soldiers at the fronts across Europe grew resentful of the civilians back home.
The political leaders who cheered them on from the safety of the sidelines were the focus of their anger.
The soldiers were disturbed by the patriotic zeal and insensitivity of the civilian populace, which had little sense of the horrors that were experienced at the front.
The soldiers believed that the civilians behind the lines were more committed to the enemy than the soldiers were.
Despite growing food shortages and privatization on the home fronts, each of the powers was able to mobilize ever larger numbers of soldiers and military resources.
Governments responded by rationing resources and regulating production.
The railways were administered by the state.
Dissent was often suppressed by force and newspapers and other media outlets were strictlycensored.
The British were the best at propaganda.
The hope was that the Americans would be drawn into the war.
The stories of German atrocities were told to British and American citizens.
The German people were kept in the dark as the war went on.
Most Germans were shocked by the sudden defeat in 1918.
The Great War was the first total war in human history because of the extent of the civilian population and the power of governments to mobilize millions of men and women.
The war sped up many developments.
The new interventions of governments increased the power of organization.
To maintain unified backing of the civilian population, socialists and trade union chiefs were given new recognition and allowed to serve on governing boards in charge of industrial production and negotiate improved working conditions.
Some labor groups became more vocal critics of the war as their leaders became more drawn into the governmental system.
The war was out of control and these trends became more pronounced in Russia and Germany.
The wave of discontent and mass protest that brought down the tsarist regime in February 1917 gave rise to the Bolsheviks' power in October of the same year.
The military commanders who ran the country in the last years of the conflict were often threatened by labor unrest because of shortages of food and fuel.
The nation was on the verge of revolution in late 1918 and 1919 after the collapse of the German front in France and Belgium.
Women's participation in the labor force increased in Germany, Britain, and the United States as a result of the war.
The shortage of farm and factory workers caused by the military's need for manpower resulted in women being able to work in heavy industry, despite the prevailing prewar notions about the "natural" gender roles.
Better wages and the confidence they gained from I generals provided abundant, but often dangerous, job their mastery of such demanding and critical roles as factory workers and nurses at opportunities for women.
Women sought to change gender roles and improve their social status from the rising hemlines of their dresses and their license to smoke in public to unchaperoned dating.
Many women lost their jobs to men returning from the front as well as government programs designed to force them back into the home after the war ended.
They gained the vote in Britain, Germany, and the United States, which they had been unable to do before 1914.
In Germany, food shortages and growing anti-war sentiment compel tens of thousands of women to engage in political activism and disruptive protests to an extent almost unimaginable before the war.
The visibility and influence of the career-oriented and sophisticated "new women" of the 1920s gave promise of broader advances in the decades to come.