World War I: "the war to end all wars" and the birth of a handicapped international criminal justice system

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Date: Summer 2002
Publisher: University of Denver
Document Type: Article
Length: 21,161 words

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"Strategy is a system of stop-gaps."

--Moltke (1)


The words of Von Moltke, Germany's well-known general, are an apt prelude to the strategy of justice pursued by the Allies after World War I. It was, indeed, a "system of stop-gaps."

World War I, commonly referred to as the "Great War" and "the war to end all wars," took place between 1914 and 1918 and "was the first general war, involving all the Great Powers of the day, to be fought out in the modern, industrialized world." (2) The trigger for the war was an incident that occurred in the volatile Balkans (3) on June 28, 1914, in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip as they rode in a car in Sarajevo. (4) The plot to assassinate the heir to the Hapsburg throne was planned by a secret Serbian nationalist organization known as the Black Hand. (5) Bosnia, which had been annexed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1908, was viewed by such nationalist groups as an extension of Serbia. (6) On July 28, 1914, following a Hapsburg ultimatum and the Serbian government's refusal to allow Austro-Hungarian representatives to participate in its official investigation of the assassinations, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. (7)

What began as nothing more than a local Balkan conflict, however, soon escalated into a continental one. (8) Following Russia's general mobilization on July 30, 1914, and France's refusal to declare its neutrality in the event of a Russo-German confrontation, Germany declared war on Russia and France on August 1 and August 3, respectively. (9) Then, on August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany after the latter invaded Belgium. (10)

The Allied and Associated Powers included the major powers of the Triple Entente, namely: Russia; France; and Great Britain; as well as, Belgium; Serbia; Japan; Italy; and numerous other nations. (11) The United States did not officially enter the conflict until April 6, 1917, when it declared war on Germany and joined the Allied and Associated Powers. (12) The Central Powers' alliance comprised Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. (13) In total, twenty-eight countries entered the war. (14)

The number of casualties from the war was unprecedented--totaling 33,434,443. (15) The final tally of the dead was 7,781,806, in addition to 18,681,257 persons who were wounded, (16) and no one knows how many among the latter died of their injuries or related illnesses. Russian, German, and French deaths due to combat or disease were estimated at 4,696,404. (17) World War I was the first time that asphyxiating gas and mustard gas were utilized as weapons in warfare. (18) These chemical agents not only caused painful deaths and immediate illness, but permanent injuries as well. (19) In time, many of the chemical agents' victims died of their injuries or of health complications. (20) In addition, there were many allegations of atrocities being committed by combatants against civilians, including claims that women and children had been used as human shields, mutilated, and...

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A102453766