105 Years Later: My Reflections on World War I

Published: 11 November 2023

By Matthew Klint
via the Live and Let’s Fly web site

Charles Klint

Charles Klint

In a turbulent world, today marks the 105th anniversary of the end of World War I. The wars currently in progress brought to mind a piece I wrote five ago on the Great War and what followed.

My original piece, written for the 100th anniversary of the end of Word War I on November 11, 2018, appears below.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, the “Great War” meant to end all wars. My reflections below trace back the history of the war, the impact upon my family, and how we might learn from the past in a new era of uncertainty.

Historical Context

104 years ago, Serbian rebels dreaming of changed political boundaries assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. The initial response was muted, but three weeks later, Austria-Hungary responded forcefully by issuing an ultimatum to Serbia essentially threatening force if it did not bring the killers to justice.

Russia and Serbia were allied and as a precautionary move against the slim chance of a Russian entrance into the dispute, Austria-Hungary sought assurances from Germany that it would provide aid should Russia declare war on Austria-Hungary.

Serbia actually did respond in a conciliatory matter to Austria-Hungary, but it failed to appease Austria-Hungary and war was declared on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Russia, bound by treaty to come to Serbia’s aid, mobilized its army. Germany responded by declaring war on Russia. France, obligated by treaty to Russia, found itself at war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany invaded Belgium to clear the path for a conquering of Paris.

Britain, citing a treaty obligating it to protect Belgium, declared war on Germany. The Empire was called upon, meaning Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa entered the foray to fight on the side of Britain. Attempting to pioneer the seas, the Germans began submarine warfare, openly sparring with Britain and France and also threatening the commercial interests of a neutral America.

On May 7, 1915, German submarines torpedoed the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Germany claimed it thought the civilian vessel was a military vessel carrying munitions. 128 Americans onboard perished and the U.S. would later use the incident as a justification to enter the conflict and declare war on Germany.

World War I would drag on till November 11, 1918, killing roughly 10 million military personnel and 7 million civilians. Over 20 million were wounded.  The “war to end all wars” was hardly that – the world found itself embroiled in war again just two decades later.

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