Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

War IndexGlossaryEducational ResourcesAbout the Show
The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps and Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewExplosionStalemateTrench WarfareWilhelm II / MeidnerJaures / Gibbs

Franz Joseph
Franz Joseph
In the four decades prior to August 1914, the western world and the countries in its sphere of influence were undergoing unprecedented changes in every area of society. Industrial expansion and wealth, both personal and national, had a profound impact on economic life. These changes lead to conflicts, jealousies and differences that were not easily reconcilable. Monarchies and democracies alike sought to cope with the changes and to protect their authority. Meanwhile, as the major European nations sought to expand their wealth and territories, they also looked for partners they could turn to in case of war.
But with the expanding European economies, a majority of Europeans leaders were optimistic about the future in early June 1914. A small number of people, however, sensed a coming apocalypse. 

More on Explosion *

German soldiers firing
German soldiers firing
Both sides originally believed that the Great War would be over quickly. In Germany, this belief was based on a long established war strategy called the Schlieffen Plan. The German generals were so confident of success that Kaiser Wilhelm II proclaimed that he would have "Paris for lunch, St. Petersburg for dinner." The plan required precise timing, with no interruptions in the timetable -- its first objective was to capture Paris in precisely 42 days, and force the French to surrender. The German armies would then shift their focus to the eastern front and defeat the Russians before they were fully prepared to fight.
The Schlieffen plan got off to a quick start with a German army invading Belgium to reach Paris, and then soon began to unravel.  

More on Stalemate *

The Trenches: The Trenches:
Symbol of Stalemate
Kaiser Wilhelm II Kaiser Wilhelm II
The Kaiser
Ludwig Meidner Ludwig Meidner
German Painter in Berlin
Jean JaurĖs Jean Jaurès
French Anti-war Activist
Philip Gibbs Philip Gibbs
British Journalist

Home Prologue Explosion/Stalemate Total War/Slaughter Mutiny/Collapse Hatred & Hunger/War Without End

Timeline Maps & Battles Shaping of the 21st Century Historians War Index Resources About the Show