World War I is more than a passing thought to the people of Ypres, Belgium. They are surrounded by the reminders of this war through cemeteries, monuments, trenches, and museums. But to your student who is living in the United States—a country with few physical reminders of the Great War—World War I may just be another event mentioned in the BJU Press Heritage Studies textbooks. It’s important that young people understand a war that began a hundred years ago because it still affects our world. Here are some suggestions to help them.
What brought about the war?
Ultimately, mankind’s inherent sin nature and the choices we make result in fighting (James 4), yet there are specific actions that led to the start of the Great War. The initial conflict began with the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s heir to the throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand. A Bosnian radical carried out the offense, but demands were made on Serbia, where the assassination took place. The demands were not met, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Europe quickly divided itself into two sides as a result of previously established alliances. These alliances were motivated by nationalism, imperialism, and militarism, which resulted in countries expanding their colonies and resources through force. Political tensions were high at the start of the war, and each action led to an equally troubling reaction.
Individual activity idea: Set up domino tiles into a standing position about 1 inch apart on a flat surface. When the pattern is complete, have your student tip over the very first domino. Watch the dominoes fall over in succession. Discuss the effect one action has on events and people. Relate this activity to the conflicts that led to World War I.
Group activity idea: Gather your students in a tight circle. (Groups of 8-10 work best.) Have each student hold hands (or a piece of short rope) with someone across the circle. Make sure no one is holding hands with someone directly next to him. (Each student should be connected to two people—a different person for each hand.) Have students untangle themselves (get back into a circle) without letting go of each other’s hands. Time how long it takes. Discuss the challenges of working together and deciding whom to follow. Relate this activity to the alliances established between the countries drawn into World War I.
What influenced the war?
War hurried the development of machines as countries looked for ways to defeat their enemies. These new tools of torture forever changed warfare. Heritage Studies 4 from BJU Press explains some of these changes.
The style of fighting in World War I was new and different from any earlier war. Machine guns were better and more powerful than earlier models. . . . Armies began using tanks, moving vehicles that could fire shells as they went along. Because of their heavy armor, tanks were very hard to stop. Later in the war, they were big enough to drive across trenches.
Chemical weapons were also first used in this war. Poisonous gases were placed inside shells. When the shells exploded, the gas was released into the air. The gas was difficult to breathe. Sometimes it made soldiers ill, blinded them, or even killed them. Gas masks were invented to help protect soldiers from poison gas.
Aircraft were also used in warfare for the first time. The Germans used zeppelins, similar to blimps, to drop bombs. Later in the war, airplanes replaced these slower machines. Fighter planes were light and fast and could carry machine guns.
The submarine emerged as another effective weapon that the German navy used to sink warships and commercial ships. These attacks on civilians influenced America’s decision to enter the war.
Discussion question: How do our motives affect the way we use something? Point out that machines (such as airplanes) can be used for good or evil. Relate this discussion to the inventions and strategies that influenced World War I.
What resulted from the war?
The Great War ended in an armistice—a ceasefire—on November 11, 1918, but relations between the two sides did not improve after the Treaty of Versailles. Soon certain trends began to emerge, some negative and some positive.
- Ambitious men took advantage of the chaos that came after the war and promoted themselves as political leaders. Their personal agendas went unchecked and contributed to another world war.
- Military tactics changed. By implementing new strategies and inventions, fighting became more violent. Civilians also found they were no longer spectators of war.
- Economies collapsed because of debt from the war.
- More than eight million people were killed. Most were from Germany, Russia, France, and Austria-Hungary. The United States lost 116,516 people.
- People’s philosophies of life changed. Pessimism was followed by a “live for pleasure” mentality.
- Improvements made for the war were adapted for peaceful uses—airplanes, cars, steel buildings.
- The United States of America developed as a world leader. Our land was preserved. Our rights were defended.
How do you teach your students about the impact of war?