During the 1800s many Europeans worked to unify their lands. Before the French Revolution, many "countries" were simply groups of small states. Such states often shared common language, religion, and many cultural traditions.
You will remember that the French dictator Napoleon tried fo conquer and unite all Europe under his rule. As a result, strong feelings of nationalism grew throughout Europe. Nationalism is a feeling of loyalty and devotion fo one's country, language, and culture. The regions that spoke German, for example, did not want to become "French" under Napoleon. Due to such nationalistic feelings, many nations were born.
Nationalism also caused some nations to start "territory wars." Sometimes a region might be made up of people with many different backgrounds. For example, French, German, and Belgian families may have lived side-by-side in one small region for generations. Nationalism, however, could end friendships.
Fearful of attack by rivals, many European nations joined together in an alliance. An alliance is a formal agreement between two or more nations to work together in war or commerce. If an alliance member is attacked by a rival nation, for example, other members of the alliance will come to its defense.
By the early 1900s, two rival alliances angrily faced each other in Europe. The nations of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy formed the alliance known as the Central Powers. Britain, France, and Russia made up the Allied forces. One observer said that the rivalry between the members of these two alliances made Europe like powder keg, needing only s small spark to set it off.
The spark was struck in a small country called Serbia, on the Balkan peninsula. The Serbs had strong feelings of nationalism and led territory wars against their more powerful neighbors. The Serbs believed, for example, that some lands within Austria-Hungary belonged to them. This created a difficult problem.
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir fo the throne of Austria-Hungary, visited Serbia. Only an hour after his arrival, however, both he and his wife were killed by a Serbian nationalist. By August the world was at war. Know today as World War 1, this war stretched on for four agonizing years.
The men slept in mud, washed in mud, ate mud, and dreamed mud.
This is how one soldier described his war years when he finally got back home to Britain. Soldiers from both alliances dug trenches, or deep ditches, for protection. The muddy trenches were their terrible homes during the war.
After three years of such warfare, neither alliance was winning. Many people wondered if the war would ever end. After Russian Revolution in 1917, many Europeans thought that the Central Powers would win. Lenin, the new Russian leader, had signed a peace treaty with Germany. As a result, Germany and Austria-Hungary no longer had to fight in the east. They could send more troops to the trenches in the west. But year 1917 brought another important change.
The United States entered the war on the side of the Allies in April 1917. By the summer of 1918., 200,000 American soldiers arrived in Europe each month. These soldiers helped the Allies win important victories ans forced the Central Powers to surrender in November 1918.
In January 1919, 27 nations met at the Palace of Versailles near Paris to work out a peace treaty. Some of the Allies wanted to punish the Central Powers, especially Germany, for the war. These leaders wanted to make sure that Germany would be too weak ever to start another war.
As a result, the Treaty of Versailles called for Germany to lose 13% of its lands, and forbade it to make weapons. Under the treaty, Germany was also ordered to pay a huge amount of money to the Allies.
As World War 1 was breaking out, some people called it "The War to End All Wars." By the time it ended, a whole generation of men had been killed. Europeans believed there would never again such a terrible war. But only 20 years would pass before another war would explode.