Significance of WWI shared days before centennial of its end

A century will have passed Sunday since the Armistice was declared, effectively ending the First World War.

To commemorate this event, Pennsylvania College of Technology hosted a lecture entitled “The Limits of Modern Warfare: Stalemate, Technology and the Isonzo Front in the First World War” at the Klump Academic Center Auditorium on campus on Thursday night.

“A full understanding of the First World War tends to escape us,” Dr. John Deak, guest lecturer, said. “We can’t really understand both the depth and the magnitude of it in only the numbers.”

Deak, an associate professor of European history at Notre Dame University, was brought in as part of the Hesburgh Lecture Series in association with Notre Dame University and the Notre Dame Club of Greater Williamsport.

Deak explained that the prism of World War I usually is associated with how it served as a precursor to World War II. Deak said he wanted to “get beyond the metrics” of the number of lives lost, weapons used or shells fired.

His goal was to examine how warfare changed.

The origins of the conflict began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Deak said. One country’s treaty with another brought in the different European nations into conflict with, essentially, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the center fighting wars on fronts all over the globe.

On the Western Front, Germany would attack Italy near the Isonzo River, Deak said.

The generals running the Italian Army decided to go for speed and efficient troop movement. The soldiers were not given to heavier armaments. Deak showed how soldiers in the army were given cloth hats.

“The soldiers would be protected by the enthusiasm,” Deak said.

He also showed how many of the soldiers would beat their tin cans into crude maces, brass knuckles and armor in order to better protect themselves in hand-to-hand combat. Fighting with a bolt-action rifle was difficult in close quarters.

While Italian soldiers were using weapons of a “retro nature,” he said more modern items, like airplanes, were being used for surveillance. However, American and British forces were in the process of developing chemical weapons to be dropped on civilian centers making mass amounts of weapons for the German Empire.

“The civilians were working in factories to support the war effort,” Deak said.

Although World War I stood alone in its horrors, Deak said it did lead into World War II. The gas, first used by the Germans, later would be used to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

Deak admitted he was ending on a bit of a down note, but pointed to a photograph, he took, of Isonzo today, which is green, beautiful and peaceful.