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WW1 - Oversimplified (Part 1)

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Oct 21, 2016

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WW1 - Oversimplified (Part 1)
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  • The world of 1914. A time of modern technology, culture, and fashion.
  • Truly the height of civilization.
  • Let's have a war.
  • Everyone knew a big war was coming.
  • France wanted some stuff back that Germany had taken from it,
  • Germany wanted to take more of EVERYONE'S stuff,
  • and they're building a big sexy navy that was making the British uncomfortable.
  • These two empires thought they're really cool.
  • But lots of different people who live there didn't think it was so cool.
  • And some of them had even been declaring independence,
  • with help from Russia.
  • Everyone was talking about each other behind each other's backs.
  • Throw in the fact that military technology had come a long way since the last major war,
  • and suddenly everyone was pretty eager to beat each other up.
  • In this area of Austria-Hungary lived some Serbs and Bosnians who hated living in Austria-Hungary.
  • So the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand goes there for a nice drive in an open-top car,
  • with his car's route published in advance.
  • And that went just about as well as you'd expect.
  • Some assassins were waiting for him along the way and threw bombs at his car,
  • but they missed and blew up some officers behind him, instead.
  • So, the Archduke goes into hiding, leaves Sarajevo and whole war never happens.
  • Except no. The Archduke doesn't leave,
  • but instead goes back out in the open top car, to visit the injured officers in hospital.
  • The driver takes a wrong turn and by sheer coincidence gets stuck besides one of the failed assassins.
  • Who shoots him.
  • Austria-Hungary is understandably pissed about all this,
  • and they think the Serbian government had something to do with it (which they might have).
  • So they go to their ally Germany and say:
  • "Hey Germany, we're gonna declare war on Serbia!",
  • and Germany is all for that.
  • So Austria-Hungary sends a big list of impossible demands to Serbia
  • and when Serbia refuses, they declare war.
  • Austria-Hungary and Germany are friends and Serbia is protected by Russia,
  • who's friends with France, so they all declare war on each other.
  • Montenegro joins in, too.
  • France and Britain also have a kind of alliance.
  • So, when France says: "Hey, Britain you got my back?", Britain is like:
  • "Maybe...?",
  • and then they decide to stay out of it.
  • Which is great for Germany because Germany has a plan:
  • They know that Russia is so big and clumsy that it will take them all to get ready for war.
  • So with this guy in charge Germany will send all its troops into France at Lightning speed while Russia is getting ready.
  • Defeat France then move all the troops to Russia and defeat Russia. Then we all speak German and eat Pfefferpotthast every day.
  • Just one problem:
  • France has loads of forts and defences along its German border.
  • And Germany can't waste any time fighting them so Germany decides to go around them.
  • Through Belgium.
  • Belgium is neutral but Germany wants to march 750 thousand troops through it to get around France's defenses.
  • They're hoping Belgium will just kind of sit down and shut up.
  • But they don't. They fight back, and they're pretty good, too, so they slow the Germans down.
  • What's worse is that Britain shows up. And they're pretty pissed that Germany is invading neutral countries.
  • So now Britain declares war on Germany.
  • So Germany push on through Belgium and commit some atrocities along the way. They also wear spikes and sometimes skulls on the uniform.
  • So, if you're trying to not look like the bad guys:
  • Good job.
  • The allies have a propaganda extravaganda and this starts having an influence around the world, notably in America.
  • The US President Woodrow Wilson sees himself as a bit of a Jesus figure
  • and spends most of the war trying to get everyone to just hug it out.
  • But there's also a large population of ethnic Germans living in the United States and when the war first broke out
  • they were like: "Yay, Germany!!" But now that they are committing atrocities in Belgium
  • they are less enthusiastic.
  • Let's play: Spot the French soldier!
  • Did you see him? Easy right? He's wearing a bright blue uniform with red trousers
  • and do you know who else spotted him easily, too?
  • The Germans.
  • So, when the French were slowly marching in columns to the countryside
  • the Germans easily tore them to shreds with their giant guns.
  • All the nations involved in this war went in with an old-school war mentality.
  • And all of them had to update the uniforms and tactics a lot during the great war.
  • Because this war was going to be like nothing anyone had ever seen before.
  • Russia is ready for war and way earlier than expected.
  • "Hey, Austria-Hungary, can you get on top of that?"
  • "Oh? Yeah, sure! We've got this."
  • nope.
  • So, Germany has to send some troops back to the east to defend against the Russians.
  • The chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army is this guy. And although he is handsome,
  • He turns out not to be the best military strategist.
  • Austria-Hungary constantly ignores Germany's advice,
  • ...and then comes running back to Germany whenever they get in trouble.
  • Austria-Hungary even gets its ass kicked by tiny Serbia who repels all their invasion attempts at the start of the war.
  • It's better news for Germany in the North, though, where they almost
  • completely wipe out the Russians second army.
  • Back on the western front, the Germans
  • continue advancing and are in sight of Paris.
  • At this point anyone would be forgiven for thinking the Germans were going to get that quick victory after all.
  • But then things start to go wrong. The French commander-in-chief knew something had to be done.
  • And he ordered his armies to stop retreating.
  • In the resulting battle, a gap opened up in the German lines.
  • If a gap opens up, the enemy can use it to flank you from the side and behind.
  • So the German armies have to retreat.
  • The Allies launch a counter-attack, so the Germans dig into defensive positions. The Allies do the same.
  • Then both sides move north trying to outflank each other along the way. When they reach the sea,
  • They're in a stalemate with trench systems running the whole way from the coast to Switzerland.
  • The beginning of trench-warfare on the Western front.
  • Here's, how trench warfare works:
  • Two opposing lines of trenches with No-man's land in between.
  • One side would pummel the other with hundreds of thousands of artillery shells, sometimes for days at a time.
  • This had a huge psychological effect on the soldiers leaving many shell-shocked.
  • Then, the attacking troops would leave their trenches and rush across no-man's land,
  • A muddy wet mess of shell craters and barbed wire.
  • The defending trench would unleash machine-gun fire on the attackers inflicting thousands of casualties.
  • The attackers would send wave after wave until either they gave up or the opposing trench was finally overrun.
  • There would be months of fighting and the deaths of thousands in order to gain a few meters or kilometers of land.
  • Living in the trenches was hard work, too. Corpses, mud that could swallow you whole,
  • pools of poisonous water, rats,
  • disease, the smell...
  • It's insane that millions of soldiers put up with these conditions and commanders ordered them to do so for years.

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PART 2 HERE: /watch?v=Mun1dKkc_As

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Content inspired by Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast, check it out if you want to learn about WW1 in more detail!
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World Map
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli (land surface, shallow water, clouds). Enhancements by Robert Simmon (ocean color, compositing, 3D globes, animation). Data and technical support: MODIS Land Group; MODIS Science Data Support Team; MODIS Atmosphere Group; MODIS Ocean Group Additional data: USGS EROS Data Center (topography); USGS Terrestrial Remote Sensing Flagstaff Field Center (Antarctica); Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (city lights).

Pfefferpotthast by Oliver Hallmann (Creative Commons)
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