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(464 words)

Author(s): Schneider, Gerhard
Superstition Superstition is a religious belief based on a magical perception of the world. Contemporary texts would seem to indicate that in addition to reviving older, well-known forms of war superstition, the First World War also created new ones. The uncertainty as to the successful outcome of the war, the threat of a premature, violent death, the worry over the fate of a relative, the suffering and hardship, the devastating consequences of individual batt…

Soldiers’ Humor

(395 words)

Author(s): Riemann, Aribert
Soldiers’ Humor The culture of popular humor during the First World War followed the structural features of prewar civilian humor, only with content related to the war. At its center was a mockery of the enemies in the war, the social élites, the relation between home and the front, problems in service and between comrades, and sexual relations. Several situational contexts of soldiers’ humor may be distinguished:…


(695 words)

Author(s): Ulrich, Bernd
Nerves The mental history of the Wilhelminian epoch is marked by the phenomenon of “nervousness.” The over-exertion of mind and body, the worries and fears, the sexual excesses and aberrations, the rapid pace, the noise; the over-indulgence in coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and morphine; as well as the “violent shocks to the body, for example from rail accidents” – those were causes that, taken with the suspected inheritability of “nervousness,” were ascribed to the “cultural progress” of the 19th century. In the semantic garb of ‘neurasthenia,’ nervousness seemed an all-controlling stigma of modernity, styled by a contemporary as the “fashionable disease of our time.” “Keeping one’s nerve” during a period of increasing speed, overstimulation, and anxiety for the future – that was a main requirement which only gained in importance with the beginning of the World War. The nerves were included after 1914 as a barometer of mental health in all manner of publications, from army post letters and newspapers to doctors’ medical records and military orders. Especially after late September 1914, when the Western Front persisted in positional warfare, engagements between the combatants were necessary so that the “passive courage of the nerves” could be discharged in the “active courage of the muscles.” Both civilians and soldiers were advised to have “iron nerve” or “as the layman would say, at best, no nerve at all” – that is, calm, cold-blooded, and above all, strong-willed in battle so as to remain capable of action despite their anxieties. This also cloaked a common fear: What about the “Health of the morale of the German people?” Was it possible to wage war with such a “weak-nerved” people? This fear was newly fed by the war’s beginning. One express…

Supreme Army Command (OHL)

(996 words)

Author(s): Pöhlmann, Markus
Supreme Army Command (OHL) When Germany mobilized for the war, the chief of the Prussian Army General Staff was named chief of the General Staff of the entire Armed Forces. According to law, of course, the Kaiser was commander in chief of the military. However, the chief of the General Staff actually led military operations. The department established for this purpose was the Supreme Army Command, which was placed under the control of the Supreme Headquarters. Early in the war the Supreme Army Comma…

Friedrich, Ernst

(362 words)

Author(s): Brandt, Susanne
Friedrich, Ernst (February 25, 1894, Breslau [modern Wrocław] – May 2, 1967, Le Perreux sur Marne), German pacifist. In 1924 Friedrich, a member of the SPD, published the still well-known volume of photographs titled Krieg dem Kriege! ( War against War!). With his multilingual captions he addressed an international audience. In 1925 he established the first International Antiwar Museum in Berlin. His life-long struggle against militarism and war was based on the conviction that an education for peace must start on the playground and, consequently, he sold pacifist toys for children. Friedrich could not comprehend how so soon after the horrors of the more than four-year long war patriotic monuments could be erected. “Humans are automatons programmed to forget!” was his conclusion, and he was determined to prevent people forgetting or glorifying the war. In his museum he documented, among other things, weapons and their effectiveness, with the intention of revealing the brutality of killing and dying, and in this context he also exhibited photographs of faces torn to shreds by splintered shells. However, Friedrich and the pacifist movement had little political clout in Germany; far too dominant was the widespread notion among the German public that even after the Armistice the nation continued to be threatened from abroad. In particular the so-called war guilt article in the Treaty of Versailles was seen as a bitter humiliation, against which the peace movement was unable to argue successful…


(1,806 words)

Author(s): Cornelissen, Christoph
India In August 1914, the Indian subcontinent was the most important pillar of the British Empire. After the start of the First World War India’s importance to the war effort was apparent in the considerable numbers of Indian soldiers employed on the Allied fronts in Europe, Africa, and Asia. By the end of 1918, some 1.5 million Indians had been mobilized for the war. Of these, almost 900,000 belonged to fighting units. More than 60,000 Indian soldiers died in the war and about the same number suffered wounds. It was originally envisaged that only restricted use should be made of I…

Naval Blockade

(1,483 words)

Author(s): Neitzel, Sönke
Naval Blockade During the World War, the Allied naval blockade br…

Sazonov, Sergei Dmitrievich

(338 words)

Author(s): Lindemann, Mechtild
Sazonov, Sergei Dmitrievich (August 10, 1860, Ryazan territory – December 25, 1927, Nice), Russian politician and diplomat. In the diplomatic service since 1883, Sazonov became deputy foreign minister in 1909. After being appointed foreign minister in 1910 he sought to improve relations with France, and especially with Britain, in order to secure the support of the British fleet in the event of war. In this, Sazonov pursued a policy of war avoidance, motivated in particular by Russia’s need for tim…

National Socialism

(2,472 words)

Author(s): Krumeich, Gerd
National Socialism The first industrialized mass war had considerable effects on political and social relationships, and on the mentality of people. Italian Fascism and German National Socialism owe their particular characteristics and their legitimization to the First World War, described by Eric J. Hobsbawm as a “machine for brutalizing the world.” By his own testimony, Hitler himself was a “son of the war.” In repeated references to the war in Mein Kampf and in numerous statements and doc…

Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia

(545 words)

Author(s): Lindemann, Mechthild
Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia (May 18, 1868, Tsarskoye Selo [Puschkin] – July 16, 1918, Yekaterinburg [murdered]), Tsar of Russia from 1894–1917. Nicholas saw his lifelong, God-given mission to be the preservation of his autocratic power so as to pass it on, undiminished, to his successor. He was strengthened in this point of view by the Tsarina Alexandra Fjodorovna. He thus did not feel authorized to yield to the demands of society’s elites for a voice and participation in his political authority. Nic…


(1,392 words)

Author(s): Hinz, Uta
Internment During the World War, the notion of internment referred both to the sheltering of sick or invalid war prisoners in neutral states and to coercive measures against so-called enemy aliens. This conceptual ambiguity resulted from …

Army Corps District

(482 words)

Author(s): Pöhlmann, Markus
Army Corps District Official German military command. Each of the 25 active army corps of the German Reich was placed under the command of an army corps districts. As a rule a commanding general of infantry, cavalry, or artillery was placed in charge of an army corps district. German army corps districts controlled the largest combined-arms units of the peacetime army, and the generals in charge of them had the right to report directly to the Kaiser. After the 1914 German mobilization, the army cor…


(1,164 words)

Author(s): Höpken, Wolfgang
Bulgaria In the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 Bulgaria had not been able to fulfill its hopes of creating an “ethnographic” Bulgaria that would include Macedonia, parts of Thrace and the Dobrudja. In the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest it was moreover forced to concede to its neighbors practically all the territory it had captured in the First Balkan War of 1912. The outbreak of the First World War seemed to offer a new opportunity for the military realization of a “Greater Bulgaria,” a dream pursued since t…

Grey, Sir Edward

(405 words)

Author(s): Winter, Jay
Grey, Sir Edward (April 25, 1862, Fallodon, County of Northumberland – September 7, 1933, Fallodon; from 1916 First Viscount Grey of Fallodon), British politician. Grey was foreign secretary from 1905 to 1916, and chief architect of Britain’s foreign policy before the war. After studying at Balli…

Haus, Anton Freiherr von

(355 words)

Author(s): Herwig, Holger H.
Haus, Anton Freiherr von (June 13, 1851, Tolmin – February 8, 1917, Pola [Pula]), Austro-Hungarian grand admiral. Haus entered the Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1869, and in 1901, as commander of the cruiser Maria Theresia, took part in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. Between 1902 and 1905 he served as chairman of the presiding council in the Naval Section of the War Ministry. He became rear admiral in 1905, commander of the Seco…

Red Cross

(1,371 words)

Author(s): Mönch, Winfried
Red Cross The red cross on a white ground signifies neutrality in war, and thus protection. The Ottoman Empire introduced the alternative symbol of the red crescent on a white ground during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/1878, and also used it during the First World War. The red crescent continues to be used by Muslim states in place of the red cross, in order to avoid using the Christian symbol. The associations that had assumed the voluntary, and most importantly unpaid, task of caring for the wounded in war, as well as preparing for that activity in peacetime, w…

Delbrück, Hans

(333 words)

Author(s): Cornelissen, Christoph
Delbrück, Hans (November 11, 1848, Bergen [Rügen] – July 14, 1929, Berlin), German historian and political commentator. Delbrück had become known before 1914 as an advocate both of Germany’s world role, and of internal and socio-political reform. Politically, the historian was identified with the Free Conservative Party. Appointed to Berlin University as successor to Heinrich von Treitschke in 1896, he achieved particular distinction with his four-volume History of Warfare in the Context of Political History 1900–1920 ( Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politische…

Neutral States

(688 words)

Author(s): Hoff, Henning
Neutral States States that do not participate in a war. The legal status “neutral” implies the right and the duty to pursue corresponding policies. The consequence thereof is a foreign policy that avoids any more or less explicit alignment in the international conflicts that occur in times of peace. Six European states adhered to various forms of neutrality for the entire duration of the war. The monarchs of the Scandinavian states Denmark (Christian X), the sovereign territory of which also inclu…

Naval Cabinet ( Marinekabinett )

(353 words)

Author(s): Herwig, Holger H.
Naval Cabinet ( Marinekabinett ) The German Naval Cabinet was founded on April 1, 1889, as a joint military-civilian bureau to handle the human resources tasks of the naval officer corps. The new cabinet was placed under the initial leadership of Naval Captain Freiherr Gustav von Senden-Bibran. Candidates for the top command levels of the German navy were chosen in full accordance with the recommendations of the chief of the Naval Cabinet, who enjoyed direct access to the Kaiser. Accordingly the cabinet chief bore the respons…

Polivanov, Alexei Andreyevich

(212 words)

Author(s): Dahlmann, Dittmar
Polivanov, Alexei Andreyevich (March 16, 1855, [unknown] – September 25, 1920, Riga), Russian general (minister of war). Polivanov was a graduate of the Nikolaevsky Engineering Academy (1880) and the General Staff Academy (1888). Between 1899 and 1904 he was active on the General Staff, where he was editor in chief of the journal Voenny Sbornik (War Digest). Chief of the Army Headquarters Staff in 1905/1906, and deputy war minister between 1906 and 1912, Polivanov was close to the bourgeois parties in the Imperial Duma during these years. This even…
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