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April 6, 2017

On the 100th anniversary: How World War I changed the world forever

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April 6, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the day Congress declared war and officially entered the United States into World War I.

This trailer from PBS’ The Great War, which premiers April 10, looks at the effects of World War I, which drastically altered the global map and changed the course of history. You may also wish to check out the video clip of The Great War: Chapter 1 (about 8 minutes).

Seventeen million people died during the four year war between the Allies — made up of the U.S., France, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom — and the Central Powers — Germany, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary.

The conflict initially began after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Serbia by Serbian nationalists. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in response to the assassination, causing Russia to mobilize its army in support of Serbia. Germany, an ally of Austria-Hungary, then declared war on Russia and France. Soon, the major powers were aligned against each other, turning the conflict into a major world war.

The war also began at a time of increased imperialism, when the world’s major empires were motivated to expand their borders.

The U.S. entered the war in 1917 with the Allies after discovering that Germany had encouraged Mexico to fight the U.S. More than four million Americans fought in the war. Of these, 116,000 died and 200,000 were wounded.

The war was notable for using more advanced industrial technology than any previous war, leading to high numbers of casualties. It ended with the Treaty of Versailles in Paris in 1919. After the fighting ended, the maps of Europe and the Middle East looked drastically different. The Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empires collapsed, and their former territories formed many modern-day European nations.

Economic and political struggles in Russia during the war gave rise to the Russian Revolution in 1917, which led to the creation of the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin.

In addition, the Ottoman Empire, which had joined the Central Powers, dissolved completely after the war and formed the modern-day nation states of the Middle East. Some of the borders that formed at this time are still in today.

The war also had major effects on the home front. During the war, women joined the work force in greater numbers than ever before, helping create a momentum which led to the legalization of female suffrage under the 19th Amendment in 1920.


Warm up questions
  1. What were some initial causes of World War I?
  2. What major empires existed at the beginning of World War I?
  3. What is imperialism, and how could it have affected the empires’ decision to join the war?
Discussion questions
  1. What challenges did women face as the war took men from their communities?
  2. U.S. soldiers had to fight in the war if they were drafted. Would a draft ever happen in the U.S. again today? Why or why not?
Writing prompt

Check out this pre-war and this post-war map. What are some key differences between these maps? How could these new borders have contributed to modern-day conflicts in the Middle East? Think in particular about Afghanistan; Iraq and Syria, which formed from parts of the former Ottoman Empire; and Ukraine, which was a part of the Russian Empire. Consider current events in these areas and how they may relate to the after-effects of World War I.

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