100 Fixing the Calendar 1582

  The War to End All Wars 1914

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26  The War to End All Wars 1914 
IT IS EASY to record how the Great War began: The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, set off a disastrous chain reaction of demands and counterdemands among the great powers of Europe. But it is almost impossible to comprehend why, for the scale of the slaughter was out of all proportion to the grievances of either side. 
Nearly nine million soldiers were killed between 1914 and 1918--an average of 5,600 each day. And yet, it wasn't just the number killed that made the war a historical watershed, it was also the way they died. World War I was the first modern war, the first to make wide use of some of the ghastly weapons of destruction we know today. "I saw trees as large round as a man's thigh literally cut down by the stream of lead," gasped one witness, describing the effects of a machine gun, which could fire 500 bullets per minute. The HMS Pathfinder became the first warship ever torpedoed by a submarine. The world's first tanks rumbled across a French battlefield. And, it was discovered, havoc and death could be wreaked from the air. But for millions, the war was defined by trenches--wide enough for two men to walk abreast, filled with mud, rats, lice and suffering. Clouds of mustard and chlorine gas drifted into them, bringing excruciating deaths. 

The war's ill effects resonated for decades: Russia's sufferings led to the triumph of communism, Germany's helped produce Nazism. In two decades the embers of conflict would ignite a second world war that--incomprehensible as it seems--would prove more horrible still. 

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