Just like the Napoleonic Wars, World War I was fought for the domination of Europe. But as the continent’s great powers drew their colonies into the conflict, it expanded into armed confrontation on a global scale. At a distance of a hundred years, we can assert that none of the European powers were able to defeat their opponents. To be more precise, despite its alliance with France and Russia, Great Britain – defender of the old balance of power – was unable to defeat the powerful, emerging German Empire. The victory of the Entente Powers – the alliance led by Great Britain and France – became possible with the entry of a new actor in world politics: the United States. Victory, however, came at a horrific price. When, in November 1918, the Central Powers capitulated one after another, ten million of the sixty-five million soldiers who had been conscripted had died heroes’ deaths, while another twenty-one million had been wounded. The cruel Spanish flu pandemic which broke out at the end of the war claimed at least another twenty million victims. Even after four years of butchery, Europe could not find calm; instead it became a test laboratory in which a life-and-death struggle between new, hitherto unknown forces rendered insecurity a permanent condition. In fact the war never ended: the new world order created by the victors at Versailles has been responsible for a whole series of conflicts, the impact of which is still being felt today. The world war that started in 1914 and the peace contrived to end it produced a new but tempestuous world.


Dr. Mária Schmidt

Director General of the House of Terror Museum,
Member of the First World War Centenary Memorial Committee,
Director General of the Institute of the Twentieth Century