Firsthand Accounts Of What It Was Like When Real Wars Began

List Rules
Vote up the accounts from major conflicts that make you feel like you're there.

Reading about the strategy, reasons, and casualties of wars throughout history can be very informative, though listening to the voices of the individuals that actually experienced them can be an entirely different experience. The primary accounts of those lucky individuals whose voice was not lost with time give us valuable insight into the opinions and worries of their day. 

As Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine revealed, war is no less prevalent in the modern age. Listening to firsthand accounts of the historical people who engaged in, or were bystanders to war, helps us relate our modern world to theirs and form a deeper connection with those who lived in the past.

Whether they witnessed a more recent conflict, say during the 20th century, or an ancient one, it might surprise you to learn that as modern people, we share quite a bit of the concern regarding war with those in the past. No one enjoys having their lives disrupted or seeing family and friends leave, and despite the difference in time and context, their stories and recollections still resonate with us today.


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    44 VOTES

    As Russia Invaded Ukraine In 2022, One Russian Told Reddit They Were 'F*cking Horrified' At Their Country's Actions

    In more contemporary news, countless stories are being told online about the experiences of people on the ground during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are internet databases that are working to store the stories, images, and more regarding the invasion, and they are growing by the day. 

    On Reddit, one Russian commenter replied to a thread that posed the question "Russian Redditors, how do you feel about what's happening in Ukraine right now?" stating:

    I'm f*cking horrified. I can't believe this is really happening. I have already packed an emergency kit, withdrew all our dollars (not much) and rubles (worth next to nothing at the moment). There are lots of bots spamming that Ukraine gets what it deserves, but it's not f*cking true. Many celebrities have already called for the politicians to stop the war, the young are already getting arrested for anti-war protests as of right now.

    44 votes
  • At The Outbreak Of WWI, David Lloyd George 'Felt Like A Man Standing On A Planet That Had Been Suddenly Wrenched From Its Orbit...'
    Photo: Unknown / Adam Cuerden (restoration) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In July 1914, the complicated strings of European alliances launched the world into one of the bloodiest conflicts humanity has ever endured. The continent, unaware what relentless horror was in store, rejoiced and rallied with nationalist glee at the outbreak of the war.

    The British raised Union jacks in countless numbers awaiting the official announcement by King George, as well as printing several famous works of recruitment propaganda to entice the already excited population into enlisting. The French and Russians painted "See you in Berlin in September" on their trains carrying infantry. While the Germans felt confident in their supposed inevitable success under the leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm.

    Contrasted by this national war fervor, the opinion of Prime Minister David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom regarding the outbreak of war was not so optimistic. After receiving the news from Sir Winston Churchill that confirmation of war was sent to the entirety of the British Navy, and that the war was inevitable, David Lloyd George expressed:

    As I left, I felt like a man standing on a planet that had been suddenly wrenched from its orbit by a demoniacal hand, and that was spinning wildly into the unknown.

    34 votes
  • Before The Syrian Civil War, 'Nobody Could Have Guessed The Protests Would Have Taken Us Here - To War, Killings, Exile....'
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
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    29 VOTES

    Before The Syrian Civil War, 'Nobody Could Have Guessed The Protests Would Have Taken Us Here - To War, Killings, Exile....'

    Beginning with the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, Syria has been involved in a domestic conflict between the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, and the interim government which opposes it. Despite attempts at peace talks hosted regularly to put this infighting to a stop, unfortunately, conflict is still ongoing.

    The difference between the Syria before 2010 and the Syria today is staggering, as 24-year-old Rayan states in an interview with openDemocracy:

    In Syria, before the war, there was such a level of security that we could go to the market at 2 am in the night, I swear. We would gather at midnight with my aunt and relatives and go to the park, to the markets... with no problems... Nobody could have guessed the protests would have taken us here - to war, killings, exile. We thought it was just about words.

    29 votes
  • After The Pearl Harbor Attack, One American College Student Described 'Fury And Anger That We Had Been Betrayed'
    Photo: Unknown navy photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    On December 10, 1941, the United States came under a surprise airborne strike by Japanese forces at the naval shipyard at Pearl Harbor, HI. The American population was well informed of the foreign European and Pacific wars of their time and were equally aware of the domestic conversation by policymakers of what America's position was.

    American opinions prior to this invasion ranged from actively hoping for military involvement in both war theaters to a more traditional isolationist attitude. This invasion by the Empire of Japan was certainly a shock to the nation and left little room for domestic negotiation regarding American military involvement in the war. 

    The reasoning behind the attack from the leadership of the Japanese Empire felt that this hit on Pearl Harbor would be critical to disarming the American naval capability and lead to America's capitulation to Japan's imperial expansion. This would make their continued aggression in the Pacific safer and allow them time to conquer strategic footholds in the Pacific without the threat of American involvement. As history tells us, however, American naval capability was effectively back in original working condition within a few months, much to the surprise of the Japanese Empire.

    In one of several "man-on-the-street" style interviews from the time, one American college student, Mike Fox, gave his response three days after this surprise attack, saying:

    Oh, I'd say it was... a feeling of fury and anger that we had been betrayed... I believe that we should work in concert with other democratic nations of the world... I have felt that we should give England and later Russia every assistance short of war. Now, my feelings are exactly the same now that we're in it.

    30 votes
  • As The Hundred Years' War Began, King Edward III Elected Not To Ride To His Son's Aid, Because He Wanted To 'Let The Boy Win His Spurs'
    Photo: Jean Froissart / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Battle of Crécy was the first large engagement between English and French forces that started the Hundred Years' War. Crécy is credited with several turning points of medieval strategy and is one of the most famous battles of the war. With overwhelming French losses and successful strategies employed by English forces under the command of King Edward III, it is a highly studied battle compared to other engagements during the war.

    King Edward III, earlier in the day received news that his son Edward, the Black Prince, had been caught up in a skirmish with French and German forces and that the King's presence was requested. To which Edward replied:

    Is my son dead, unhorsed, or so badly wounded that he cannot support himself?

    To which the messenger knight replied:

    Nothing of the sort, thank God, but he is in so hot an engagement that he has great need of your help

    The king replied:

    Now, Sir Thomas, return those that sent you, and tell them from me not to send again for me this day, or expect that I shall come, let what will happen, as long as my son has life: and say that I command them to let the boy win his spurs; for I am determined, if it please God that all the glory and honour of this day shall be given to him and to those into whose care I have intrusted him.

    Talk about tough love!

    25 votes
  • One Year Before The Declaration Of Independence, British Traders Warned King George That Victories Against Americans Would Spell 'No Good Effects To The Commerce... Of This Kingdom'
    Photo: William Walcutt / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    25 VOTES

    One Year Before The Declaration Of Independence, British Traders Warned King George That Victories Against Americans Would Spell 'No Good Effects To The Commerce... Of This Kingdom'

    We are all quite familiar with the perspectives of the founding fathers and their struggle for independence from the United Kingdom, though what did the British have to say about this foreign revolution? During the 1760s and '70s, tensions were escalating between the American colonies and King George III in response to a string of additional taxes, laws, and cases of unwarranted violence against the colonists (a notable example is the "shot heard around the world" which can be interpreted as the beginning of the American Revolution).

    Understandably, these aspects of colonial life in America did not sit well with colonists, and gradually grew a case for American independence. Though on the other side of the Atlantic, historical documents show us that British citizens did not necessarily favor any military intervention in the Americas, as for them it would simply be bad for business! Citizens of the United Kingdom had little knowledge about the harsher aspects of living in colonial America and understandably showed more care for their private enterprises involving production and trade. 

    In 1775, one letter originated from merchants in England addressed to King George III recommending, or rather pleading, to prevent any military interaction with the American revolutionists, and to focus on maintaining the trading relationship, saying (emphasis added):

    We are apprehensive that if the present measures are adhered to, a total alienation of the affections of our fellow subjects in the colonies will ensue, to which affection much more than to a dread of any power, we have been hitherto indebted for the inestimable benefits which we have derived from those establishments. We can forsee no good effects to the commerce or revenues of this kingdom at a future period from any victories which may be obtained by your majesty's army over desolated provinces and [...] people.

    25 votes