A New Thirty Years' War? The World Wars, 1914-1945


In 1914, and again in 1939, virtually every European state went to war. From 1914 to 1918, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) fought the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, Russia, and later Italy and the United States) in a bloody, protracted war of unprecedented geographic reach and scale. Because of the European colonial possessions, the war directly involved non-Europeans, and battles were fought in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. Europeans referred to the war as the "Great War" because of its impact on their society. Between 10 million and 13 million soldiers lost their life, with another 20 million wounded. In addition, nearly 7 to 10 million civilians died. The resulting food shortages and malnutrition after the war contributed to the 1918 influenza epidemic that claimed an additional 20 million victims worldwide. In short, the demographic, political, cultural, social, and diplomatic consequences of the Great War in Europe changed the continent forever. The forces unleashed by the war helped to bring Bolshevism to Russia and Nazism to Germany and led directly to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939--a war begun by Nazi Germany and its leader, a former private in the Great War turned politician, Adolf Hitler. In the Second World War, Germany, joined this time by Italy and Japan, again fought Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. When the second war ended in 1945, another 50 to 60 million lay dead, while 16 million Europeans were permanently uprooted.