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Learn About World War I

Triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, World War I began in August 1914 when Germany invaded Belgium and France. On the Eastern Front, Russia agreed to stop fighting late in 1917 following the Russian Revolution. The Western Front was stalemated in trench warfare for three-and-a-half years before the United States intervened in 1917 on the side of the Allies.

Several events led to U.S. intervention: the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger liner; unrestricted German submarine warfare; and the Zimmerman note, which revealed a German plot to provoke Mexico to war against the United States.


1.  Nearly 10 million soldiers died and about 21 million were wounded. U.S. deaths totaled 116,516.

2.  Four empires collapsed: the Russian Empire in 1917, the German and the Austro-Hungarian in 1918, and the Ottoman in 1922.

3.  Independent republics were formed in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Turkey.

4.  Most Arab lands that had been part of the Ottoman Empire came under the control of Britain and France.

5.  The Bolsheviks took power in Russia.

6.  Under the peace settlement, Germany was required to pay reparations eventually set at $33 billion; accept responsibility for the war; cede territory to Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, and Poland; give up its overseas colonies; and accept an allied military force on the west bank of the Rhine River for 15 years.

World War I killed more people--9 million combatants and 5 million civilians--and cost more money--$186 billion in direct costs and another $151 billion in indirect costs--than any previous war in history. Politically, it resulted in the downfall of four empires and contributed to the Bolshevik rise to power in Russia in 1917 and the triumph of fascism in Italy in 1922. The war allowed the United States to become the world's leading creditor and industrial power. Its consequences included the mass murder of Armenians in Turkey and an influenza epidemic that killed over 25 million people worldwide.

I Did My Bit for Democracy
Andrew Johnson was an African-American veteran interviewed in 1938. In the excerpt below, from the Library of Congress' American Life Histories, 1936-1940, he describes some of his experiences serving in the military.
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Handouts and fact sheets:

World War I

Recommended lesson plan:

The 369th Infantry and African Americans during World War


Test your knowledge about World War I

Recommended books:

David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Examines the impact of the war on the home front, including its impact on labor, dissenters, intellectuals, and African Americans, and assesses Wilson's presidential leadership.

Recommended film:

All Quiet on the Western Front

This anti-war film, based upon the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, received the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie's prologue states:

This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war...


View the movie trailer (requires Windows media player):


Masterminded by Britains First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 and 1916 was designed to take Turkey out of the war by gaining the Dardanelles strait and capturing Constantinople. A lack of cooperation among the Allies and tough Turkish resistance made the campaign a costly failure.

View the movie trailer (requires Windows media player):

learn more film

Recommended Website:

The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century


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