'Explosion' starts parts that make a whole 'War'

November 09, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach

"The Great War" plays out across four nights and eight episodes, beginning at 9 p.m. tomorrow on MPT, Channels 22 and 67. Here's a look at each chapter.

Parts 1 and 2, which air tonight, look at the rampant nationalism and the gross miscalculations that led to war (Part 1, "Explosion") and how quickly the conflict degraded into trench warfare with no end in sight (Part 2, "Stalemate").

Viewers will be introduced to the strutting German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who struggled to hide his withered left arm in both photographs (by concealing it) and affairs of state (by acting like a global town bully and insisting he, and he alone, knew what was good for Germany); Jean Jarez, a French socialist who was Europe's most influential voice for peace, until he was felled by an assassin's bullet in 1914; Wilfred Owen, a British soldier and poet who became one of the most eloquent voices of his generation -- until he was killed in the war's last week; and Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo (trouble in the Balkans; sound familiar?), would get the wheels of war grinding.

You'll also hear about the most lethal domino effect in history: When Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, was killed, the Austrians asked for Germany's help in exacting punishment on the Serbs. Germany agreed, which brought Russia into the war, as they'd signed an alliance with Serbia. Which brought France into the war, as they'd signed an alliance with Russia. Which brought Britain into the war, as they'd signed an alliance with France.

On Monday, "Total War" details how what started as a European conflict mushroomed into a world war, as British and French colonies joined the battle -- most notably in Gallipoli, where a combined British and Australian force invaded Turkey.

"Slaughter" explains how masses of people came to die, often through senseless battlefield charges that did little more than provide target practice for the enemy (a million men died at Verdun, for example, where the German commander's strategy was simply to bleed his enemy to death).

jTC Tuesday, Part 5, "Mutiny," looks at how both sides were sick of the war by 1917. In France, half the Army mutinied, simply refusing to take part in what appeared to be an endless and senseless battle, a slaughter that had left 1.5 million Frenchmen dead -- one for every minute of the war. In Russia, mutiny took on an even more ominous tone, leading to the toppling of the czarist regime and the arrival of the Bolsheviks.

Part 6, "Collapse," sees America entering the war, a move that helped hasten Germany's surrender not because of Allied success on the battlefield, but because an influx of 5 million fresh soldiers spelled doom to a country already forced to draft old men and young boys.

"The Great War" concludes Wednesday with two final chapters. "Hatred and Hunger," the story of the Treaty of Versailles -- a treaty that, despite the best efforts of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, did not establish a new world order guaranteeing peace, but simply enabled France, Britain and the other Allies to enact revenge on Germany.

"War Without End" maintains that World War I never really ended, but simply took a 20-year break before re-emerging as World War II.

Pub Date: 11/09/96

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