One hundred years ago today, on 28 July 1914, the Empire of Austria-Hungary fired the first shots of a campaign to invade neighboring Serbia, in response to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie a month earlier by a Serb named Gavrilo Princip. The conflict grew as Austria-Hungary was joined by Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire to form an alliance called the Central Powers; and Serbia was joined by its small neighbor Montenegro and its much larger ally Russia, and eventually the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, Romania, the United States and other countries to form the Allies. The war became known as the World War or the Great War, and later as World War I after the start of World War II.
The war involved about 70 million combatants, 9 million of whom were killed in the fighting. Much of the combat, especially on the front between France and Germany, was fought in trenches. Because of the location of the combatant nations and their overseas colonies, the war was fought in Europe, the Middle East, parts of Africa, eastern Asia, and the Pacific. The war ended on 11 November 1918 with an armistice and an Allied victory, which along with the early withdrawal of Russia, re-drew the map of Europe and the Middle East. The Russian, Ottoman, German and Austro-Hungarian empires all ceased to exist, the last of these being dismembered, with the others losing a substantial amount of land and undergoing a change of their respective types of government. The aftermath saw the birth of a number of modern European nations and the assignment of mandates in the Middle East, each comprising part of the former Ottoman Empire, the remainder of which became modern Turkey. Germany was stripped of her possessions in Africa and the Pacific.
While World War I became known as the "war to end all wars", in reality became a war that led to other wars. The harsh economic conditions faced by Germany would contribute to the rise of the Nazi party, thus leading to World War II. The Russian Empire was taken over by communists known as Bolsheviks, who reorganized their country into the Soviet Union. After World War II, the Soviet Union became locked with the United States in a non-shooting conflict called the Cold War, which gave rise to "hot" proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam. The mandates in the Middle East would become the nations of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, leading to wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the Iraqi war against Iran, the Gulf war started when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its coalition allies.
To learn more, go to Wikipedia, World War 1(dot)com, History(dot)com, About(dot)com and BBC History.
In a related development, BBC News announces the creation of a database commemorating everyone in their empire and commonwealth who gave their lives in the war.