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11-08-2015, 16:54

The Home Front

World War I brought unprecedented demands on the civilian populations of the warring nations. Once the initial campaigns of the war had produced stalemate, the conflict grew in scope and intensity. The need to supply the fighting forces, to produce the arms and the food supplies required by armies of unprecedented size, meant mobilizing entire societies. Thus, the story of events on the home front constitutes a crucial portion of the war. No country could hope to see the war to a successful conclusion without such an effort. The forerunners of such activity on a national scale can be seen in French history: in the levee en masse in 1793 to defend the imperiled revolution from outside invasion and domestic insurrection and in the subsequent national mobilization of 1870-1871 as France struggled to defend its territorial integrity in the Franco-Prussian War. But such earlier efforts paled in comparison to the way in which the resources, energies, and enthusiasms of several entire societies were conscripted during World War I. The systems of transportation and communication produced by the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of the right to vote, and the establishment of sweeping, if not universal, obligations for young men to perform military service tied individuals intimately to their governments as never before. World War I shows those governments, often in desperation, calling on their citizens for unprecedented massive efforts. In a real sense, this war now demonstrated how much a government could demand, not only from its fighting men, but from its civilians as well. Besieged from the outside and faced with demands from their governments for ever increasing sacrifices, the societies of Great Britain, France, and Germany heaved and buckled under the strain. Social pathologies proliferated, ranging from increased juvenile crime to slackening standards of sexual morality. Nonetheless, during a seemingly endless conflict, the basic elements of social cohesion remained intact. In this way. World War I demonstrated how great a strain modern industrialized societies could bear. Death from enemy action, life under enemy occupation, and shortages of food and other necessities afflicted millions. Nonetheless, the bonds of patriotism bolstered by expanded government power held the home front together in nations like these three until—or in the case of Germany almost until—the war's close.