WORLD WAR I : 1914 – 1918
In the years before 1914, various pacts were drawn up between the major
nations in Europe.
On one side you had the colonial powers of Great Britain, France and Russia, and on the other side were Germany, Austria and Hungary. Both sides had been building up their armed forces and on June 28th 1914 when the Austrian Grand Duke was assassinated at Sarajevo in Serbia, the ingredients for full-blown warfare in Europe were in place.
Austria declared war on Serbia, and Serbia’s ally Russia mobilized their
army. Germany then declared war on Russia and within days France and Britain declared was on Germany. As a result, fighting was to break out on the Eastern and Western flanks of Germany.
The Western Front stretched from the Belgian coast to Switzerland.
It was fortified on both sides with trenches, barbed wire and artillery. For three-and-a-half years there was stalemate with neither side making any significant progress from the original battle lines that had been drawn up. During this period of time, millions of lives were lost in useless offensives.
On the Eastern Front, the war was more mobile, and although each side
enjoyed more successful advances, because both sides were evenly matched, what would be a significant gain one month would turn into a defeat the following month.
This was a land War, the only significant sea battle being the Battle of
Jutland in 1916.
The balance of power was altered with the entry of the U.S.A. into the
conflict in 1917, which followed German submarines sinking neutral American ships.
Increased support from the French and British colonies also enabled the extension of the Fronts, notably the invasion from the south by Australian troops.
Eventually, the strain on Russia took its toll and this led to the
Revolution in 1917, and the Bolshevik government arranged an armistice with Germany in 1918. This provided a brief respite for the overstrained German war machine, as they could now transfer troops from the
Eastern to the Western Front.
This only prolonged the inevitable and with the increased input of fresh American troops, the German lines were finally broken and overrun. To the south, the Italian army defeated the Austrians and the German government was forced to surrender and sign the Peace Treaty at Versailles.
During these four years, the vast majority of the European Continent became
a huge war machine that consumed the able men of many countries.
Remarque’s story is not aimed at providing a German aspect, but a universal picture on the futility of war and the experiences endured by British, American, French, Russian and German troops alike. This is why the novel has such universal appeal. It is a study of the effects of war on the human spirit.