How was World War I so shockingly different from previous wars?

World War I was so shockingly different from previous wars in that its death toll was extremely high. New technology led to very high casualties, even among civilians.

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World War I was shocking in the extent of the death and destruction it caused. This was the first war to use a lot of new deadly technology. Airplanes, machine guns, submarines, poison gas, and tanks changed the very nature of warfare. However, tactics did not keep up with the...

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World War I was shocking in the extent of the death and destruction it caused. This was the first war to use a lot of new deadly technology. Airplanes, machine guns, submarines, poison gas, and tanks changed the very nature of warfare. However, tactics did not keep up with the technology. Generals were still using battle tactics devised in the Napoleonic Wars to fight on this new modern battlefield. Having soldiers charge in mass across open fields to be slaughtered by a few heavy machine guns led to incredibly high casualties with little to show for it. Tens of thousands of soldiers could die on a single day. Never before had the world witnessed such carnage.

When the war began in the summer of 1914, many felt that it would be a quick and relatively bloodless war. Recruits were often told it would be over by Christmas. However, as the war quickly turned into a bloody stalemate, it became clear to many that this would be different than ever before.

Civilian deaths as a result of the war were also extremely high. It is estimated that 9.7 million combatants died in the war. However, 10 million civilians also died. Many of these deaths were the result of war-related famine. Many were also killed in bombardments of cities and towns or other military actions. The fact that so few people were safe from the ravages of war was shocking to many.

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World War I was different in that it was a total war, a war in which the whole of society was committed to achieving victory at all costs. As just about everyone was in some way involved in the conflict—both soldier and civilian alike—the war was turned into an epic battle of civilizations. Both sides in the war regularly churned out propaganda that dehumanized the enemy. This was an attempt to justify the previously unimaginable slaughter taking place on the battlefields of Belgium and northern France. The insistent propaganda message from both sides was rammed home time and again: this was a war like no other, a war with so much more at stake than previous conflicts. And thanks to the wholehearted support of official state churches, the combatants were able to paint the increasingly savage conflict as a fight to the death between the forces of good and evil.

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Over and above the advanced weaponry that was showcased in World War 1, what made this war stand out was trench warfare.

Under fire from machine guns and rapid-firing artillery, millions of men were forced to dig deeper trenches and live in them in an attempt to preserve their lives. These trenches formed a zigzagging below-ground-level network that became home to the soldiers, and included first aid stations, kitchens and all the facilities needed for basic survival.

Being in the trenches meant that there was nowhere to go when an attack came. Possibly the most brutal example of this came with the Battle of the Somme in 1916, when 60,000 British soldiers lost their lives on the first day of the battle.

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World War I was different from previous wars because it was fought at a far much larger scale than the wars fought before it. Furthermore, the war involved different countries from around the globe, with each providing arms and troops for participation. Consequently, the war resulted in one of the highest numbers of deaths of both soldiers and civilians.

8,528,831 - Total Military Deaths for all countries involved

In addition, the war introduced the use of chemicals (chlorine gas) to launch attacks, which led to the introduction of gas masks to fend off against such attacks. Moreover, the war saw improvements on weapon technology and defense systems, including body armor. The war registered the first use of flamethrowers and steel helmets. In addition, the World War I featured the first use of tanks and planes in the different battles.

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The advances in armament that became obvious as World War I got underway quickly showed that changes in tactics had not kept up with the changes in weapons. This was probably the biggest single area of difference between World War I and previous wars.

World War I saw the first large-scale use of airplanes by the military. Planes were used for reconnaissance, to drop bombs, and for attacks on ground forces.

German U-boats (submarines) marked the first widespsread use of submarines during a war, with devastating results in the first years.

Long-range artillery shelling and air-born delivery of bombs created the need for a completely new tactical approach to warfare - massed troops attacking each other by foot was no longer viable. Armored vehicles in the form of the first tanks came into use during World War I . Submachine guns and automatic rifles were also developed in response to the changed needs of the military during this war.

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