Also known as the Great War, World War I was a horrifically deadly world conflict that lasted for roughly four years (1914-1918). You know a bit about WWI from history class: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, "War to End All Wars," Allied Powers vs. Central Powers, trench warfare, Europe changed forever, millions upon millions dead. But do you really know how World War I changed the world?
Here's how World War 1 changed the world (among many, many other ways): it changed warfare forever, and along the way, ushered in countless technological advances we still use today. It was an event that straddled times of great advancement, something that was documented both with modern film photography and traditional paintings. Some of these things - like more effective sanitary napkins - were destined to be developed anyway, but one of the ways WWI changed the world was by greatly hastening these developments: necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention. Read on to learn how World War 1 shaped the modern world.
It was in WWI that "technology became an essential element in the art of war," to quote Guillermo Altares of El Paîs. Submarines, aerial bombardment, armored tanks, toxic gas attacks, barbed wire - all were either invented or revolutionized during the Great War. It was also the first time technology was such an overwhelmingly destructive force, with poison gas alone capable of wiping out thousands at a time. The Germans even had so-called "blue cross" shells containing diphenylchloroarsine, which made victims sneeze violently. They called these shells "mask breakers."
Historian Jay Winter argues that World War I "discredited the concept of glory" and exposed the idea that it was noble to die for one's country as an "old lie." Winter claims that the "propaganda" literature and painting of war was "cleaned away" by artists and poets following WWI because "millions of men slaughtered deserved more than elevated prose; they deserved the unadulterated truth." This truth came to light in the "nonsense verse of the Dada movement and in the nightmare paintings of the surrealists," who "denounced the obscenities" of war. Winter also notes that soldiers writing popular memoirs helped expose the realities of war to millions back at home.
The British developed a knack for code-breaking during World War I, particularly with encrypted German radio transmissions. These advancements later led to now-famous intelligence-gathering operations such as MI-8, GCHQ, and the NSA in the US. The most famous bit of code-breaking during WWI was the so-called Zimmermann telegram: German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann received an encrypted telegram describing plans to attack US shipping lanes to the UK, as well as describing Germany's desire to ally with Mexico and have the Mexican army attack US territory. This decoded telegram led the US to declare war on Germany in April 1917.
Post-traumatic stress disorder wasn't formally recognized until 1980, but doctors during and after WWI began to understand and diagnose the psychological impacts of war in a new way, which resembles our modern understanding. During WWI, some medics thought the physical impact of explosions caused the "war neurosis" so many soldiers were experiencing (also known as shell shock). We now better understand - thanks largely to the efforts of doctors and scientists during WWI - that the emotional stressors of war are to blame for the symptoms shown by thousands of soldiers coming home from the battlefield. Because so many WWI-era soldiers (80,000 British soldiers, by one estimate) were experiencing these symptoms in the safe confines of their homes, scientists and doctors began looking for answers.