Children today are lucky to live in a time of relative peace. Of course, there are armed conflicts in many places around the globe, but today's children have not had to endure times of great worldwide conflict.
That was certainly not the case a century ago. The early 20th century was marked by a global conflict the likes of which the world had never seen before. In fact, it was so widespread and devastating that it became known as the Great War.
The war we're talking about is World War I, of course. Back then, however, no one expected there ever to be a World War II. In fact, the Great War was often known as the War to End All Wars.
The early 20th century was marked by foreign policy disputes amongst the major powers of the world. As military strength was increased and alliances were formed, tensions rose around the world. Then, on June 28, 1914, an event occurred that would spark the start of the Great War: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian terrorist organization called The Black Hand.
With the support of its ally, Germany, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Serbia's ally, Russia, came to its defense. Soon, a complex system of treaties and alliances drew multiple nations into the conflict.
Europe became divided into two sides: the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy faced off against the Triple Entente of Russia, France, and Great Britain. As other countries joined sides in the war, the Triple Alliance became known as the Central Powers and the Triple Entente became known as the Allied Forces.
The Great War turned into a bloody war of attrition that was mainly fought along two long fronts in eastern and western Europe. Although many new types of war technology were introduced during World War I, including tanks and airplanes, most of the fighting took place between soldiers who fought from deep trenches dug into the ground in a zigzag pattern.
Trench warfare was brutal. Soldiers sometimes spent days and weeks in the trenches, where they continually faced death from not only opposing guns, grenades, and artillery fire, but also diseases and infections, such as Trench Fever and Trench Foot.
When fighting in the trenches, troops would mount attacks on the opposing side by attempting to cross the section of land between the trenches, which they called "No Man's Land." Unfortunately, these soldiers out in the open were easily cut down by opposing fire.
The Great War led to an astounding number of deaths, but there was little ground won or lost during the entirety of the war. Historians estimate more than 15 million people died and over 20 million people were wounded over the course of World War I. To put that in perspective, that's an average of over 6,500 deaths every day of the war!
The United States entered the war in 1917 on the side of the Allied Forces. With fresh troops on their side, the Allied Forces soon had the Central Powers in retreat. Germany requested a cease-fire on October 3, 1918, and fighting finally stopped with the signing of an Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month: November 11, 1918, at 11am.
The war officially ended in 1919 with the signing of a peace treaty called the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty also established the League of Nations to prevent such wars from occurring in the future. Sadly, the terms of the treaty ended up laying the groundwork for World War II, which would end up being even more widespread and devastating than the Great War.