History with Heart of Dakota:
Setting the stage
Just over 100 years ago, World War I ended. To some, it was known as “The Great War.” To others, it was known as “the war to end all wars.” To some, its end represented a hope for increased world peace. To others, World War I was the death-knell for 20th century dreams of a utopia here on earth. Whether for good or ill, there is no doubt that this titanic struggle left its mark on humanity.
War like never before
World War I was humanity’s first truly global conflict. The theaters of war ranged from the muddy trenches and ruined villages of France, the shimmering sands of Arabia, the tumultuous coastline of Gallipoli, the brisk seas of the North Atlantic, the alpine fortresses of Italy, and the wintery steppes of Russia during the last days of the Tsars. For 4 long years, multinational soldiers belonging to the Allied Powers fought bitterly with Central Powers forces on each of these battlefronts.
World War I also marked a crossroads between tradition and innovation. Previous wars had been fought with an extremely infantry-centric mindset, with mounted cavalry and artillery giving support. When the war began in 1914, generals on both sides expected a war of quick maneuver. Indeed, many soldiers expected to be home by Christmas. But what no one had counted on was the rapid development of new technology that would forever change the face of warfare.
The war on the ground
The way that ground forces were employed during World War I were shaped by several new threats that soldiers in previous wars never had to deal with. At the top of this list of new hazards was the machine gun. Capable of firing several hundred rounds per minute, a well-placed machine gun nest crewed by two or three men could effectively gun down hundreds of advancing enemy soldiers. Since the average soldier was still equipped with a bolt-action rifle that needed to be cocked before each shot, he didn’t stand a chance out in the open.
This situation lead to a stalemate where neither foe could successfully advance against the other. So, each side constructed trench networks measuring hundreds of miles, so their soldiers could hold the line in relative safety. Relative safety, of course, was still dangerous. Artillery easily shelled soldiers hiding in the mud with shrapnel and something far more insidious…poison gas. Snipers and machine gunners made quick work of anyone foolish to poke their heads above the trenches. Finally, there was also the new threat of being strafed from the air by aircraft. Truly no place was safe for the infantry on the ground.
The war at sea
The war at sea, too, was distinctly different than in previous conflicts. Hitherto, fleets had relied on large surface warships to win battles on the high seas. With World War I came the advent of an entirely new class of naval vessel: the submarine. Submarines could slip through blockades with ease and attack enemy ships without warning. The Germans, especially, took this form of warfare to new levels. Suddenly, it was a very real possibility to have German U-boats lurking off the coastline of Great Britain…or even America.
The war in the air
World War I also marked the dawn of an entirely new theater of war: the skies. Only 11 years after the mankind’s first powered flight, aircraft had evolved to the point where they could be utilized by the military. Airplanes represented a paradox in military innovation. They were on the bleeding edge of military technology, yet still remarkably primitive by our standards. They were capable of flying miles behind enemy lines, yet they were extremely vulnerable to structural failures and accidents. In an hour-by-hour sense, aircraft pilots were safer than the soldiers hunkered down in the trenches, yet a new pilot’s life expectancy could fall to as low as 11 days. Nonetheless, many brave pioneers took to the skies in these aircraft that stood as much chance of killing them as they did their enemies.
Where in Missions to Modern Marvels is World War I covered?
Since this pivotal war in history is often forgotten about, we want to ensure our students have a good grasp of how and why this war happened as it did. We highlight World War I in several of our guides, but for the sake of time, today I’ll only look at how we cover it in Missions to Modern Marvels. So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of books in this guide which cover World War I:
- All American History Volume II: touches on the causes of the war and the international effects.
- The Story of the World Volume IV: takes a narrative look at the primary people and events of the war.
- Great Events in American History: briefly outlines the defining characteristics of the war.
- Book of Great American Speeches: includes President Woodrow Wilson’s full speech asking Congress to formally declare war on Germany.
- Draw and Write Through History – the 20th Century: succinctly sets the stage and includes drawing lessons that teach students to draw a WW1 soldier, a submarine, and a biplane.
- War Horse: takes readers on a journey through both sides of the fighting through the eyes of a fictional British war horse named Joey.
- Angel on the Square: depicts the last days of the Tsars through the eyes of a fictional Russian girl named Katya living in the palace during the war.
- Soldier Dog: offers a fictional (but distinctly-relatable) account of life in the trenches as a messenger dog handler during the war.
(We also cover World War I briefly in Preparing Hearts For His Glory and Hearts for Him Through High School: World History, as well as more extensively in Hearts for Him Through High School: US History II.)
In my opinion, understanding World War I is crucial to understanding modern history. It marked the fall of empires and the ascension of America as a global power. It redrew borders and altered the face of warfare forever. Nonetheless, as far-reaching as these consequences are, World War I’s effects are not limited to mere historical fact. It proved for all time that there is no hope for peace on earth based solely on mankind’s efforts. The 20th century began as mankind’s declaration that social perfection was in fact attainable. As early as 1914, those dreams were proved to be hollow. The sound of whistling shells replaced the hopeful songs of peace, and bullet casings replaced the pens of statesmen.
If hope rests not with mankind, where then is it to be found? The answer is the same today as it was in 1914, and as it was since the beginning of time: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” – Isaiah 45:22
The legacy of World War I cries out that only in God is there hope for fallen humanity. Without Him, the best and brightest intentions still fall short, and peace cannot prevail. But with Him, there abides a true hope. A hope that cannot be extinguished even by the shock and flash of shells. Death claimed the lives of millions during that war just as death claimed the life of God’s own Son on the cross. Yet He emerged from the grave triumphant. Christ alone has overcome this world; so too shall we if we place our hope in Him.