Have you ever wondered what caused World War 1? How World War 1 started? If you look at the facts of it, it should never have happened. It’s a fascinating history lesson.
I got two different versions of it as a freshman in high school. First, for whatever reason, my freshman English teacher decided everyone in the class should write an essay on someone who’d been assassinated. I know, odd.
One of my classmates got Archduke Francis Ferdinand. I got Abraham Lincoln, a slightly easier topic, in the grand scale of things.
Second, my history teacher was obsessed with the Balkans. She was convinced that the Serbian crisis that was going on at the time was going to explode into World War 3. She gave us many a lecture on current events, and the Serbian attempted genocide, and how the only way there is ever peace in Serbia is from an outside influence keeping them down.
Supplies for How World War 1 started history lesson
How World War 1 started version 2: World War 1 puppets to act out the start (on my subscriber page, join my newsletter)
So how did World War 1 start?
Well, I wanted to make sure my kids understood the powder keg that was Europe right before World War 1, so I printed out a map I found here, blown up and cropped down to what I needed and grabbed one of the books from the Heritage History Early America CD
I had to print it out rather than read it on my Nook because…….. Well, I ran my Nook through the washing machine, and it was on a 2-hour cycle from the last load. It came out with a slight arc to it and didn’t look to be too healthy. I’m saving up for a new one, and have a loaner from a friend right now……………. But, as you can see it works quite fine to print it out. It does have an advantage that now I can mark it up to my heart’s content.
We started reading about the “Balkan Powder Keg,” if you look at the map up above there are a lot of little countries surrounding Serbia, and all of them wanted to be bigger. They thought their best bet to get bigger was to attack Serbia. Serbians were known for not being a country that got along with each other particularly well, so they looked to be easy pickings.
Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary visited Serbia. There was an attempt on his life, and it failed. The bomb missed his car and blew up the car behind his. He was hurried to a safe house and was in the process of heading home, when a, for lack of a better term, suicide gunner, came in and shot him and his wife.
Of course, Austria is rather upset about someone in line to get the crown being assassinated, so they immediately send a rather nasty letter to Serbia demanding reparations of absurd levels or they will attack.
Well, Serbia is allied with Russia at the time. So, Russia says, “If you attack Serbia, then I’ll attack you!” Now the theoretical war has expanded to three countries.
Austria-Hungary is allied with Germany, and they say, “But if you attack Austria, they’re my friends so I’ll attack you.” And now four countries are in the war.
At which point all of the allies start getting pulled out. Great Britain and France say, “Well, we’re Russia’s allies, so we’ll have to get in on this too.”
Italy is Germany’s ally, but their alliance says they only have to help if Germany is attacked, so they’re planning on sitting this whole thing out……… But it didn’t quite work out like that.
Because it’s before wide-spread telephones, and obviously emails are out of the question, the telegrams start flying and everyone is sending letters to everyone else, demands start flying.
This next part we acted out with popsicle stick theater. Sir Edward Gray of Britain took it upon himself to talk this all down, and for a while it looked like it was going to work, and then Germany just said, “Oh look we’re being attacked, I declare war on France.” (they claimed France had launched bombs. After the war was over they acknowledged that was a lie). If you want to make your own figures here’s the World War 1 puppets.
Then we looked at allies. At the start of the war Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy were allied. But Italy said, “I don’t have to be part of this since you weren’t attacked,” and they changed sides.
Then we looked at Britain’s allies in the war.
Then we looked at the neutral countries in World War 1. This is what truly brought Britain into the war. Luxemburg, that itty bitty country that is completely covered by its pin is allied with Britain. Actually, it has a non-aggression pact with people. It won’t attack anyone and it won’t take sides in a war, but if it’s attacked it will be defended by Britain and France (here’s where I was working on memory).
Germany decided going through Luxemburg was the easiest way to get to France. They delivered a letter to Luxemburg saying, “Let us go through your country or we will destroy you.” Luxemburg, of course, said something that loosely translated meant “Over our dead bodies,” and Germany did their best to oblige. So Britain got involved.