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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewMutinyCollapseBrittain / KamaraDesagneaux / Borden
Russian soldiers'We decided to advance in order to shame the men, having arrived at the conclusion that they would not let us perish in No Man's Land.' -- Maria Botchkareva-Yashka,  My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile

Trotsky arrives to sign armistice with Germany
Trotsky arrives to sign armistice with Germany
After three years of war, men, armies and nations were nearing a breaking point. For individual soldiers, it emerged as "shell shock," a personal withdrawal from an intolerable reality of trench warfare. For armies, it was outright rebellion; half the French army mutinied in 1917, refusing to undertake senseless attacks. Most of their demands were met, and only a small number of the mutineers were punished severely.
Entire populations were becoming restless and resentful with the conflict. In Russia, both the army and civilian population refused to fight anymore for the Tsar, who abdicated on March 15, 1917. Alexander Kerensky led the fragile democracy that emerged to govern Russia, but made the catastrophic mistake of continuing the war. Recognizing the weakness for the army and the refusal of the men to fight, he authorized women to be trained and sent to the front.

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

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As Kerensky's offensive failed and army desertions increased, his popularity decreased. Mobilizing anti-war sentiment, Lenin and his Bolsheviks quickly took over, and signed an armistice with Germany.

Top Photo: Russian soldiers

Wilfred Owen: Poet of the Trenches
British soldier and poet, Wilfred Owen, wrote many poems during World War I which have endured as timeless evocations of grief and loss in war. His poem Anthem for Doomed Youth was set to sacred music in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, written after World War II but returning to the poetry of the Great War.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent maids,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Historian Commentary The End of Heroism
Jay Winter, Historian

Shell-shock victim
Shell-shock victim
Many of the soldiers had to cope with images that wouldn't go away. Many parts of human bodies were actually used to shore up the trench system itself. Some soldiers found it humorous to hang their water canteens on a protruding arm or a protruding leg. These were not people who were disrespectful of the dead; they were living with the dead. One can imagine the possibility of becoming numb to such images, but those who couldn't turn off their feelings internalized them, brought them home with them, dreamt about them, and went mad because of them.

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Timeline Maps & Battles Shaping of the 21st Century Historians War Index Resources About the Show
U-boat sinks Lusitania Russia's last offensive French soldiers mutiny President Wilson asks Congress to declare war 1919 1918 1917 1916 1915 1914