The Great War, the destructive technology and the strength of naked humanity
It is normally quite easy to understand why wars break out and who is pitted against who. Not so for the Great War. The reasons why the war even broke out are so complex and so entangled that historians still debate about them today. They all agree on the point that nobody wanted or expected this war to be what it turned out to be. But it happened, and it was terrible.
Not without reason, it has been defined as one of the most enigmatic events in contemporary history.
The industrial revolution was one of the most determining factors.
Scientific and industrial processes had evolved much during the 1800s. At the beginning of the 1900s, technology was far ahead of what the population could or was allowed to use. But it was used in the war in the attempt to get out of the stalemate trench warfare (an innovative strategy before the war, made dramatically outdated by the new technologies) had imprisoned all armies.
Nobody expected the destructive power of these new technologies. Nobody really knew how to use them properly. Wildly innovative, the new weapons were implemented in outdated tactics and strategies that belonged to the previous century.
It was carnage.
What the new weapons could do to the human body was something beyond horror. And yet every army used them, and nobody knew how to defend themselves from them.
This is why I say the Great War is especially about human vulnerability. It exposed all the flaws of human nature, its different limitations – in terms of understanding and also of foresight. But also its strength, its ability to find solutions even to the unexpected.
At the end of the war, the destruction of human lives was devastating. Of the 60 million European soldiers mobilised in 1914-1918, 8 million had died, 7 million were permanently disabled, 15 million were seriously injured. An estimated 5 million civilians had died for causes connected to the war.
I always find the mere numbers horrific.
It was a horrible, mindless carnage that changed the souls of all the nations involved forever, a dramatic breaking point as few had been in the history of the world. Although the old Victorian ideas and social mores still persisted, they were utterly ineffective in guiding this new world.
The world that emerged from the Great War was a new place that few knew how to navigate.