The Schlieffen Plan in World War 1

The Schlieffen Plan in World War I

Nick Strain

The Schlieffen Plan was an offensive military strategy that contributed to Germany’s defeat in World War I. The purpose of this plan was for Germany to break up a two-front war between France and Russia. Germany produced the idea of the Schlieffen Plan due to Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen. Alfred Von Schlieffen was a former Chief and General Staff of the German Army. Schlieffen was successful as a Chief and General Staff. For example, before World War I began, Germany was successful in battles such as “smashing the Danes in 1864, the Austrians in 1866, and the French in 1870-71.” (Bolger, 1). Instead of continuing to run the same plan, Schlieffen was overconfident that he wanted to design a new plan for Germany. The Schlieffen plan according to Schlieffen took inspiration from “Hannibal Barca of Carthage during the Battle of Cannae.” (Bolger, 1). Hannibal during the Battle of Cannae inspired  Schlieffen that Hannibal was known for attacking such as “swinging in both of his flanking contingents, bagging the stunned Roman legionaries.” (Bolger, 1). Germany agreed to an alliance with Austria-Hungary, which led them to a two-front war between France and Russia.

Not only did Germany have to deal with France and Russia, but the plan also failed dramatically in World War I due to them entering through Belgium, not having enough resources, and underestimating France and Russia.

The Schlieffen Plan was designed for Germany to defeat France in six weeks before Russia could mobilize. The reason Schlieffen gave an estimated timeline of six weeks is that Russia suffered considerable damage to Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. While Schlieffen was planning to attack France, he had to think about where he had to send his troops to. Schlieffen decided to send his troops up North instead of South because the Swiss army was “ready for war and the passes through the Jura mountains.” (Foley, 226). So, they decided to enter through Luxembourg and Belgium. His reasoning behind this is that Luxembourg “possesses no army, and through Belgium, which will withdraw its relatively weak army into its fortress.” (Foley, 226). While the Schlieffen Plan initially seemed that it was going to be successful, when the Germans entered Belgium, it violated a treaty forcing Britain to declare World War I. The significance of the Schlieffen Plan was for Germany to “capture Paris before France’s allies could join the battle.” (Reid,1). Due to Britain declaring war, the plan was less likely to be successful because the purpose of the plan was for Germany to conquer Paris without one of their alliances joining them. Not only did Germany incite Britain to declare war by entering Belgium, but they also underestimated Russia and France throughout World War I. This led to the Schlieffen Plan being a failure in World War I. The failure of the Schlieffen Plan illustrates how a lack of planning and respect for the opposition had repercussions that led to the greater conflict of World War I.

The Schlieffen Plan was a failure in World War I due to Kaiser Wilhelm II being overconfident. For example, before World War I began, the French were not successful when it came to wars. Daniel Bolger, a writer for the Army Magazine, discussed “Schlieffen’s Perfect Plan” and “the war of 1870-71 indicated that France could not beat Germany.” (Bolger, 1). The purpose of the Schlieffen Plan was for Germany to “keep France isolated.” (Bolger, 1). Instead, what happened to Germany was that Kaiser Wilhelm II did not keep good relations with the Russians. The reason he did not keep good relations with Russia is that he believed that the Russians were not prepared for war after the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War. Not only did Wilhelm II believe that Russia was not prepared for war, but he was also overconfident and not afraid of a two-front war between France and Russia. Before Wilhelm II took office, Germans such as Chancellor Otto von Bismarck were trying to keep a good relationship with Russia. Since the goal of the Schlieffen Plan was to “isolate France,” “Bismarck wove elaborate diplomatic schemes to ensure good relations with Russia.” (Bolger, 1). Germany had a good relationship with Russia before Wilhelm II took office. The reason Wilhelm II was a major problem for Germany was that he did not agree with Bismarck’s idea of keeping an alliance with the Russians. When Wilhelm II took over, “he dumped Bismarck, while he watched Russia and France create an alliance.” (Bolger, 1). Not only did Wilhelm fire Chancellor Bismarck, but he was also overconfident in World War I, which gave Germany a huge disadvantage. For example, Daniel Bolger on page one emphasizes that “Wilhelm II didn’t fear a two-front war and was confident in Germany’s burgeoning strength, he intended to win it.” Not only was Kaiser Wilhelm II overconfident in World War I, but General Alfred Moltke was also guilty of being overconfident with the Schlieffen Plan.

Moltke’s overconfidence in the Schlieffen Plan resulted in its failure. Since Wilhelm II burned bridges with the Russians, Alfred Von Schlieffen had to produce a plan to defeat a two-front war between France and Russia. Before Wilhelm burned bridges with Russia, the Schlieffen Plan was designed for Germany so that they “must make our right-wing strong and extend it as far west as possible.” (Foley, 225). So, what Schlieffen did with the plan is that he attacked up North through Belgium and Luxembourg. The reason Schlieffen did this was due to the mountainous terrain of Switzerland, as well as their army. In addition, Schlieffen wanted to do this due to the flat terrain of Belgium and Luxembourg helping the Germans send their troops. Another reason Schlieffen attacked through Belgium instead of France was to avoid the strong defended French Border fortifications through the South.” (Reid, 10). On the other hand, the problem with Wilhelm II was that he made things complicated after not setting up good relationships with Russia. This led to General Moltke staying offensive in a two-front war between France and Russia. Due to the German’s overconfidence in World War I, they continued to use the Schlieffen Plan. General Moltke was overconfident in World War I because he continued to use the Schlieffen Plan in 1915 when it was proven to be a failure in 1905. The Schlieffen Plan was a failure since Alfred Von Schlieffen left his own plan. For example, “some surviving military leaders blamed the deceased Moltke, claiming he perversely ignored a plan for sure victory that Schlieffen supposedly left.” (O’Neil, 806). What Moltke did to the Schlieffen Plan is that he changed the plan, which made the plan a failure during World War I. Before World War I even began, General Moltke “weakened the Schlieffen Plan even before the start of World War by Tannenberg worries and had a nervous collapse before the two sides made their race to the Channel.” (Gadfly). The French were not good compared to the Germans but their leaders being incompetent, helped the French defeat the Germans.

Alfred Von Schlieffen was also to blame for the Schlieffen Plan. Even though the Schlieffen Plan was designed for Germany to beat France in six weeks and then defeat Russia, “Schlieffen did not give any instructions for adhering to a precise and imperative timetable; he even allowed for the whole advance to be brought to a temporary halt if it became necessary to deal with a British landing on the northern coast of France.” (Holmes, 514). For example, the reason Schlieffen said six weeks is that it was an estimate. According to Buchholz, “Russian forces were expected to cross the German border by the fortieth day after mobilization.” (Holmes, 514). This quote supports that Schlieffen estimated that it would take six weeks to beat France while Russia would take a long time to mobilize. Schlieffen’s switching to a new plan cost Germany from being successful during World War I. Even though Schlieffen took many years to prepare for the war, it was not successful due to the plan being reckless. For example, the Schlieffen Plan was not “a rational war plan but a reckless adventure: In Herwig’s words, “fourteen years of General Staff work came down to a gambler’s dice.” (Holmes, 514). The reason the Schlieffen Plan is described as a “gamblers dice” is that the plan did not give any timeline on when Russia would mobilize, how long it would take for them to defeat France and they underestimated Belgium, France, and Russia during World War I. For example, some “German commanders like Cluck and Bulow, as well as the royal commanders, were either too old (them) or not fully competent for general reasons (some of the royals).” (Gadfly). Another reason Schlieffen was overconfident about his own plan is that he was confident to switch things up. Historians believed that the Schlieffen Plan was “a sobering reminder of the high price of military arrogance.” (Bolger, 76). Since Schlieffen wanted the Germans to march through Belgium, the Schlieffen Plan became one of the causes of World War I.

Since the Germans were afraid of Switzerland due to its terrain as well as their army, the Germans decided to enter through Belgium. When the Germans marched through Belgium, they violated a treaty that England had with them in 1839. The treaty of London was to make Belgium neutral throughout World War I. The reason Great Britain wanted Belgium to stay neutral throughout World War I is that Great Britain was afraid of the expansion of Germany through Western Europe. Since Schlieffen decided to enter Belgium, Britain decided to join forces with France in World War I. The purpose of the Schlieffen Plan for Germany was for them to capture France without one of their allies joining them. Germany should have done a better job on “geopolitics such as not doing international law violations of Britain’s blockade by extension later in the war.” (Gadfly). Due to the Germans trying to expand through Western Europe through the Schlieffen Plan, caused the plan to fail drastically as well as it made Great Britain join forces with France. Not only did the Schlieffen Plan cause Great Britain to join World War I, but Germany also had a lack of resources that caused the plan to fail dramatically during World War I.

Germany’s lack of resources, including the number of railroads and troops, resulted in the plan’s failure. The Schlieffen Plan was a big project that needed several pieces of equipment. For example, what Schlieffen was trying to do was build a railroad through Luxembourg as well as Belgium. Building a railroad takes a long time and it was difficult for Germany to build one on Belgium territory. The reason it was difficult for the Germans to build a railroad in Belgium is that “Belgium refused Germany’s request to match troops through Belgian territory.” (Reid, 10). When the Germans tried to build railroads, Belgium destroyed them. Another reason General Moltke was overconfident during World War I is that the Germans did not have enough resources such as troops to be sent over to France. According to Schlieffen, “the German army would need at least 48.5 corps to succeed with an attack on France by way of Belgium.” (Holmes, 193). Instead, General Moltke switched up the plan by changing the original plan that Schlieffen had. The difference between what General Moltke did compared to Schlieffen is that Moltke “reduces the strength of the right-wing.” (Holmes, 193). What Holmes is referring to in his book is Moltke having fewer troops compared to Schlieffen. While Schlieffen said that the Germans need “48.5” troops for the plan to be successful, Moltke had different ideas. Instead, General Moltke had only, “34 corps at his disposal in the west.” (Holmes, 193). Not only did Moltke have fewer troops than Schlieffen intended to have, but he also had troops in a different location than Schlieffen such as being in the West rather than the North. Due to Moltke being overconfident, he believed that the Germans would be fine with a lack of troops. For example, Schlieffen believed that “the defensive is the stronger form of war.” (Holmes, 213). Moltke on the other hand believed that “the stronger form of combat lies in the offensive’ because it represents a striving after positive goals.” (Holmes, 213). Moltke later explains that the “offensive could make up for a lack of numbers.” (Holmes, 213). Terrence Holmes is not the only author that highlights Germany’s lack of troops during World War I. Since Germany was suffering from a lack of troops, it made it difficult for them to “invade Belgium, Germany’s advance was slow.” (Reid, 10). Not only did the Germans suffer from a lack of resources, but the Schlieffen Plan also failed due to aerial reconnaissance.

The Germans were superior on land rather than air. The Germans were successful due to aerial reconnaissance, which helped them win the Battle of Tannenberg. For example, “The combined result of German radio intelligence and aerial reconnaissance by both aircraft and Zeppelin dirigibles enabled General von Hindenburg to score a stunning victory over the Russian forces at Tannenberg.” (Hussain). Even though aerial reconnaissance helped the Germans win the Battle of Tannenberg, it gave France and England a huge advantage while the Germans tried to do the Schlieffen Plan. The importance of aerial reconnaissance for the British and French is that it helped them find “the change in orientation of von Kluck’s formation towards the new axis was spotted.” (Hussain). Since the British and French knew where the Germans were going due to aerial reconnaissance, it helped them win the Battle of Marne. For example, “Paris was saved, and the war shifted from the Schlieffen Plan to the bloody trench warfare.” (Hussain). Not only did aerial reconnaissance help the French and British understand where the Germans were, aerial reconnaissance actually “stalled the German offensive at Marne that ground the revolving door at a halt.” (Hussain). As Hussain later says in his article, the Germans were stuck in trench warfare rather than using the Schlieffen Plan. Aerial reconnaissance forced the Germans to stop being offensive as well as it helped stalled them during World War I. Although aerial reconnaissance was a key factor as to why the Schlieffen Plan failed, geography was also a key factor for them.

The geography made it difficult for Germany to deal with a two-front war between Russia and France. Since Kaiser Wilhelm II fired Otto von Bismarck, the Germans did not have good relations with Russia. This made the Schlieffen Plan difficult because the plan was originally designed for the Germans to just capture Paris before an alley joined them. The reason the Germans went through Luxembourg and Belgium was that they were both neutral and flat countries. In addition, the Germans did not go through France because the Germans wanted to “avoid the strongly defended French border fortifications through the South.” (Reid, 10). The reason the French improved their borders was that the French lost to the Germans in 1870- 71 and lost the “provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.” (Bolger, 10). Not only could the Germans not go through France due to their improved borders, but they would also have had a tough time if they had gone through Switzerland.

The reason Schlieffen did not consider Switzerland for the Schlieffen Plan to set his troops to mobilize into France was two things, their army as well as location. Even though Switzerland was neutral during World War I, it had a powerful army. For example, if Schlieffen decided to send his troops down to Switzerland, the Swiss would have been “ready for war.” (Foley, 226). Since the Germans did not want to attack a neutral country, they decided to go through Belgium and Luxembourg. Also, Switzerland is known for its elevation such as the Jura Mountains. The importance of Switzerland’s geography is that it would have been difficult for Germany to mobilize their troops due to the Swiss mountains. Not only would it have been difficult for Germany to mobilize their troops, but it would also have been difficult for them to build railroads on steep mountains.

The significance of the railroad is that it helped Germany mobilize their troops faster rather than taking a car, plane, or walking. For example, after Germany was faced with a two-front war, the railroad was designed in the Schlieffen Plan to help the Germans give them a huge advantage during the war “by rail to deal with the slower arriving Russians.” (Bolger, 10). Even though Germany did not expect Russia to mobilize faster than they expected, the Schlieffen Plan was a clever idea but due to their geographical location, it was difficult for the Schlieffen Plan to work during World War I due to France improving their borders as well as Switzerland’s army and geography. Germany instead had to send their troops through Luxembourg and Belgium. Since Germany sent their troops through Belgium, Great Britain declared World War I. Kaiser Wilhelm II burning bridges with the Russians made geography a disadvantage for Germany during World War I.

Kaiser Wilhelm II made it difficult for the Germans during World War I is that he destroyed the relationship that Germany had with Russia. The Schlieffen Plan was designed to be a one-front war instead of a two-front war. The purpose of the plan was to defeat France before an ally joined them. Things changed when the Germans entered Belgium and Luxembourg as Britain decided to join forces with the French. The reason Britain joined France is that the British had a deal with Belgium in the Treaty of London. The Treaty of London was a treaty that forced Belgium to be neutral during the war but since Germany went through Belgium, it violated the Treaty of London, which forced Great Britain to declare World War I. Not only did the Schlieffen Plan cause World War I, countries also such as Britain and France were afraid of Germany due to them creating an alliance with Austria- Hungary. Germany and Austria-Hungary formed an alliance, which led Britain, France, and Russia to create their own alliance before World War I even started. Wilhelm II, Moltke, and Schlieffen being overconfident in World War I, led the Schlieffen Plan to fail.

The reason Wilhelm II was overconfident is that he created a two-front war after firing Otto von Bismarck. The importance of Otto von Bismarck is that he set up good relationships with Russia so Schlieffen could use his original plan, a one-front war. Moltke throughout World War I was overconfident by “weakening the right flanks.” (Hussain). Not only did Moltke weaken the right flanks, but he also revised the Schlieffen Plan. For example, Schlieffen said that for the plan to work, the Germans needed “48.5 troops.” (Holmes, 193). Instead, General Moltke had different ideas. For example, the Germans only had “34 corps at his disposal in the west.” (Holmes, 193). Moltke continued to run the Schlieffen Plan even though the Germans did not have a lot of resources such as troops. During World War I, the Schlieffen Plan was a failure due to the founder, Alfred von Schlieffen leaving his own plan. The overconfidence from Moltke forced the Germans to continue to run the Schlieffen Plan during World War I. The reason Schlieffen was overconfident in the Schlieffen Plan is that he did not produce the plan. For example, Hannibal in the Battle of Carthage inspired the Schlieffen Plan.

Instead of producing his own plan as he did in battles before World War I, Germany might have been successful during World War I. Looking back at the Schlieffen Plan, historians believed that Schlieffen could have done a better job with the Schlieffen Plan during World War I. For example, the Schlieffen Plan was described as “a sobering reminder of the high price of military arrogance.” (Bolger, 76). The failure of the Schlieffen Plan illustrates how a lack of planning and respect for the opposition had repercussions that led to the greater conflict of World War I and contributed to Germany’s defeat.


Bolger, Daniel P. “Schlieffen’s Perfect Plan.” Army Magazine 64, no. 8 (August 2014): 74–76.

Foley, Robert T. “The Origins of the Schlieffen Plan.” War in History 10, no. 2 (2003): 222-32. Accessed April 9, 2021.

Gadfly. “World War I’s causes”. Socratic Gadfly. February 18, 2016, Thursday.

Holmes, Terence M. “Absolute Numbers: The Schlieffen Plan as a Critique of German Strategy in 1914.” War in History 21, no. 2 (April 2014): 193–213. doi:10.1177/0968344513505499. &AN=95564642&site=ehost-live&scope=site  

Holmes, Terence M. “”One Throw of the Gambler’s Dice”: A Comment on Holger Herwig’s View of the Schlieffen Plan.” The Journal of Military History 67, no. 2 (2003): 513-16. Accessed April 13, 2021.

Jamal Hussain. “Development of Air Power Strategy – A Historical Perspective”. Defense Journal. June 30, 2011, Thursday.

O’Neil, William D. 2016. “The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I.” Historian 78 (4): 805–7. doi:10.1111/hisn.12390. &AN=119881270&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Reid, Mark Collin. “A War of Attrition.” Canada’s History 98, no. 5 (October 2018): 10–11. &AN=131803385&site=ehost-live&scope=sit

Teaching the Movie “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Karen Snyder

OBJECTIVES: Students will judge if All Quiet on the Western Front accurately portrays the ways young men were influenced to join armies in World War I. They will view a section of the film, All Quiet on the Western Front, and judge whether it accurately portrays the costs of war and the attitude towards war. Students will be able to judge the physical and psychological pressures placed on the soldiers in the trenches. Through a gallery walk, they will be able to determine the effects of World War I and evaluate whether the war was worth the costs.

LESSON 1 AIM: How were young men influenced to join the war effort?

Activity 2: Segment from All
Quiet on the Western Front.
Answer the following questions as you view the video. (Beginning of him to shot of empty classroom –
eight minutes – 0:00 – 9:45)

1. What are some of the phrases
that the professor uses to urge to boys to enlist?

2. What are some of the images that the boys have of soldiers?

3. What are the boy’s feelings as
they throw their books around and march out of the room?

4. What does the empty classroom symbolize?

5. How does the speech by the
Professor reflect German

6. The Professor said, “I believe it will be a quick war, with few
losses.” How does this opinion
reflect the views of most Europeans about World War I?
Professor Kantorek’s speech:
“Now, my beloved class, this is
what we must do. Strike with all
our power. Give every ounce of
strength to win victory before the
end of the year. It is with
reluctance that I bring this subject up again. You are the life of the
fatherland, you boys. You are the
iron men of Germany. You are the gay heroes who will repulse the
enemy when you are called upon
to do so. It is not for me to suggest
that any of you should stand up
and offer to defend his country. But I wonder if such a thing is going
through your heads. I know that in one of the schools the boys have
risen up in the classroom and
enlisted in a mass. But, of course, if such a thing should happen here
you would not blame me for a
feeling of pride. Perhaps some will say that you should not be allowed to go yet that you are too young, –
that you have homes, mothers,
fathers – that you should not be
torn away. Are your fathers so
forgetful of their fatherland that
they would let it perish? Are your mothers so weak that they cannot
send a son to defend the land
which gave them birth? And after
all, is a little experience such a bad thing for a boy?

Is the honor of wearing a uniform something from which we should
run? And if our young ladies glory
in those who wear it is that
anything to be ashamed of? I know you have never desired the
adulation of heroes. That has not
been part of my teaching. We have sought to make ourselves worthy
and let a claim come when it
would. But to be foremost in battle is a virtue not to be despised.
I believe it will be a quick war that there will be few losses. But if
losses there must be then let us
remember the Latin phrase which must have come to the lips of many a Roman when he stood embattled in a foreign land: ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ ‘Sweet and
fitting it is to die for the
fatherland.’ Some of you may have ambitions. I know of one young
man who has great promise as a
writer and he has written the first act of a tragedy which would be a
credit to one of the masters. And he is dreaming, I suppose of following in the footsteps of Goethe and
Schiller, and I hope he will. But
now our country calls. The
fatherland needs leaders. Personal ambition must be thrown aside in
the one great sacrifice for our
country. Here is a glorious
beginning to your lives. The field of honor calls you. Why are we here? You, Kropp, what has kept you
back? You, Mueller, you know how much you are needed? Ah, I see
you look at your leader. And I, too,
look to you, Paul Baumer and I
wonder what you are going to
Activity 3: Joining the Army
Even before the United States
entered World War I, many young people were eager to become part
of the action. One was Alphonzo
Bulz, a teenager in Western Texas who later served in Europe with
the 36th (Texas) National Guard
Division. Here he tells about how
he learned about the war and
decided to join the army.  
1. Why did Alphonzo Bulz want to join the war?

2. In what ways did wartime
propaganda influence Bulz’s decision to join the army?

3. How is this propaganda similar
to the arguments used by the
Professor in the film, and in “A Call for Arms”?  
 “We didn’t have the radio and TV the way we do today. Why, we got
our information from what we
used to call the ‘drummers.’ These were the [salesmen] who’d go
through all the towns in places like West Texas selling all the
merchants their merchandise. They would paint such a dark picture
[of] what was going on there that
we all felt the Kaiser was going to
invade America. And all those awful things the Germans were doing to the Belgians. . . Then we’d hear
how they were riling up the
Mexicans so that they’d want to
fight us. I was only seventeen then, but I thought I better go over there and fight so that I wouldn’t be no
slave to any foreign country. Of c
ourse, my family wasn’t about to
let me go, so one day I stopped off
at the baker’s shop on my way to
high school. He was a good buddy
of mine, so I left my books at his
shop and told him to hold them for me because I was going to be gone a couple of days. A couple of days – that was a funny one. I was gone about two years. Now, I didn’t have any money, so I went down to the
railroad yard and hopped a freight train to Waco, then grabbed
another to [Fort] Worth. I told the
recruiting sergeant there that I was twenty-one. I lied you see; I had to get in. I told him I wanted to join
the infantry so I could fight those
Germans, and they said fine. Well, when my daddy found out where I was, he came down to get me to
come back home. ‘Al,’ he pleaded, ‘We need you at home. What do
you want to go over there to France for, get all shot full of holes? We
love you at home, boy.’ ‘No, Dad,’ I answered, ‘I don’t want to go back home. I want to go to war, show the Kaiser that he can’t fool around
with Americans.’ Poor Dad, he tried so hard for about an hour to get me to go home. But finally he gave
up. ‘Well, son, if that’s the way you feel,” he said, “remember one
thing: if you love God and your
country, and you do your duty,
you’ll come back safe.’ And he was right.” Source: Berry, H. (ed.) Make the Kaiser Dance: Living Memories of a Forgotten War: The American Experience in World War I, pp. 291-295

LESSON 2 AIM: How did the attitude of soldiers change after being in battle?

  Activity 1: Students read the
poem “The Soldier” silently
followed by the class reading the
poem aloud.
If I should die, think only this of
That there’s some corner of a
foreign field
That is ever England.
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust
A dust whom England bore,
shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing
English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no
Gives somewhere back the
thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams
happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness
In hearts at peace, under an
English heaven.

Source: Brooke, Rupert
The Complete Poems of Rupert
Brooke (1933)
Activity 2: Segment from All
Quiet on the Western Front.
Soldier: (shocked) Dead. He’s dead.

Katczinsky: Why did you risk your life bringing him in?

Soldier: But it’s Behm, my friend.

Katczinsky: (admonishing) It’s a
corpse, no matter whose it is.
1. What are the soldiers doing?
2. Why were the boys surprised at their friend’s death?
3. What does Katczinsky mean?
4. Who is right in the dialogue
when the boys bring back Behm’s
Activity 3:
“Dulce Et Decorum Est.”
A. Distribute the poem and have
students read it alone. Answer
any questions about the
vocabulary. When the students are ready, read the poem aloud as a

B. Read the questions first so that
it is clear what they are to look

C. Put students into pairs. Have
each group answer one of the
following questions, quoting the
lines that support their

1. Where is the poet going? Where has he come from? (To their
“distant rest.”
They have travelled from the
front line: “Till the haunting flares we turned our backs.”)

2. How did he and the other
soldiers feel? (Very tired – “Drunk with fatigue”)

3. How do the soldiers look?
(Like old beggars; weak and
malnourished; knock-kneed,
covered in blood:
“Blood-shod”, in bare feet and
barely able to walk “Many had lost their boots/ but limped on. . . all

4. What do the soldiers try to
do to protect themselves? (put on
their gas masks: “An ecstasy of
fumbling / Fitting the clumsy
helmets just in time”)

5. Does every man mange to fit his helmet in time? (No: “But someone still was yelling out and

6 What happens to the man? (He
dies in agony: “flound’ring like a
man in fire or lime”)

7 What lasting effect does this
incident have on Owen? (He still
sees the man in his dreams: In all my dreams, before my helpless
sight, / He plunges at me”)

8 What is Owen’s final message? (If you saw such a thing you would
never repeat the slogan, Dulce at
Delcorum Est – there is no glory in war)  
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”
Source: C. Day Lewis, ed., The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (1963)
Bent double, like old beggars
under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,
we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we
turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.

Many had lost their boots But
limped on, blood-shod. All went
lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, out stripped Five-Nines that dropped
behind. Gas! Gas! Quick boys! –An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the
clumsy helmets just in time; But
someone still was yelling out and
stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. . . Dim, through the misty panes and thick green
light, As under a green sea, I saw
him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He
plunges at me, guttering, choking,
drowning. If in some smothering
dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could
hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted
lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, — My friend,
you would not tell with such high
zest To children ardent for some
desperate glory, The Old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.* * (“It is fitting and proper to die for one’s country.”

Culminating Activity: Using their notes, the students will write several paragraphs explaining who they think was right.

LESSON 3 AIM: What were some of the emotional costs of the war?

Activity 1: Discuss the
psychological pressures that can
lead to insanity
1. Distribute the handout,
“Psychiatrists Case Study”

2. As students watch the film, they are to fill out the case study. They
are psychiatrists and are to write a clinical description of the conditions the soldiers are exposed to.

3. Show the film from the death of
their friend to the point where the soldiers are about to attack.
(Chapter Seven – 10 minutes – 26:35 – 36:35)

4. Have the students describe the
conditions in the trenches.

5. Start the film again, run it until the fade out. (Chapter Seven – seven minutes – 36:35 – 43:35) What
were the soldiers exposed to? How could this exposure lead to “shell shock?” Discussion.  
“A Psychiatrist’s Case Study” There has been an outbreak of
“shell-shock” in the German army. This is a situation where soldiers go insane. You have been called in to
complete a study of the conditions
that the soldiers face in the
trenches. Describe what you see the soldiers exhibiting as you watch
the film clip.
Physical Conditions:
Chance of injury:
Weather – it’s effect on the
Sleeping conditions and the effect
of these:
Privacy (or lack of) and its effect: Deaths and their effect:  
Summary: Each student will
pretend that they are a soldier in
World War I fighting in the
trenches, and are trying to describe this warfare to a loved one at
home. They may use any media
they want, e.g. letter, poetry, song, artwork.

LESSON 4 AIM: Was the war worth the costs?

Activity 1: Gallery Walk
1. Organize documents around the classroom: Texts should be displayed “gallery-style” – in a way that allows students to disperse themselves
around the room, with several students clustering around a particular
text. Texts can be hung on walls or placed on tables. The most important factor is that the texts are spread far enough apart to reduce significant crowding. Students should be given a definite time to be spent on each
prompt, e.g. two minutes. A timer can be used.

2. Instruct students on how to walk through the gallery: Students will
take the gallery walk on their own. They should fill out the question sheet as they rotate around the room. One direction that should be emphasized is that students are supposed to disperse themselves around the room. Be ready to break up clumps of students.

3. Assess: As the teacher, it is important to make sure that the students
understand each prompt, thus, it is important that you monitor the
stations while the students participate. Ask some students to explain
what they see. You may need to clarify or provide a hint if students don’t understand or misinterpret what is posted at their station. Read the
students’ writing (Specific problems may be that, in “Parade to War,
Allegory” the soldiers faces resemble skulls or in John Singer Sargent’s
painting some of the soldiers have their hands on other’s shoulders – this is because they have been blinded. They should also be aware of the
figures in the foreground and background of Sargent’s painting).

4. Reflect: Have students break into small groups to discuss what they
have seen. They should discuss how each document reflects an aspect of
the costs of World War I. As a group they should decide which document is the most important, explaining why.

5. Class Reflection: A representative from each group will explain to the
class which document their group decided was the most important. They will give reasons to defend their choice.
Station 1: How was Ypres affected by the war?
Station 2: How were participating countries affected by World War I?  
Station 3: What was the result of “A Call for Arms”?

Station 3: What was the result of “A Call for Arms”? “Untrained though they were (the conscription laws exempted them from service until their studies were complete), they volunteered almost to a complete body to form the new XXII and XXIII corps, which in October 1914, after two months of drill, were thrown into action against the regulars of the British army near Ypres in Belgium. The result was a massacre of the innocents (known in Germany as the kindermord bei Ypern), of which a ghastly memorial can be seen to his day. In the Langemarck cemetery, overlooked by a shrine
decorated by the insignia of Germany’s universities, lie the bodies of 36,000 young men interred in a common grave, all killed in three weeks of fighting; the number almost equals hat of the UnitedStates’ battle casualties in seven years of war in Vietnam. Source: Keegan, J. A History of Warfare, pp. 358-359

Station 4: What was the affect of poison gas?

Station 4: What was the affect of poison gas?
The aftermath of a mustard gas attack in August 1918 witnessed by the artist John Singer Sargent. Poison gas was probably the most feared of all weapons in World War One. Poison gas was indiscriminate and could be used on the trenches even when no attack was going on. “What we saw
was total death,” wrote a young German soldier named Willi Siebert in a
letter to his son. “Nothing was alive. All of the animals had come out of
their holes to die. … You could see where men had clawed at their faces,
and throats, trying to get breath. Some had shot themselves.”
Source: Everts, Sara “When Chemicals Became Weapons of War.”

 Refugees from Belgium flood into Holland.

Station 5: How did the war affect civilians? The magnitude of the wartime refugee crisis is difficult to establish with precision. It was characterized by multiple flows of human beings, and therefore an imaginary census at a given point in time would underestimate the real total of those who were displaced. Nevertheless, data from different countries suggest that at least 10 million people were displaced either internally or as a result of fleeing across an international frontier. Source: Gatrell, Peter Refugees | International Encyclopedia of the First World War (WW1)

Shell Shock

Station 6: How did the losses of World War I affect the soldiers? By 1917 the French army had lost nearly 1,000,000 dead, and after another disastrous offensive in Champagne in April, one half of its fighting divisions refused to obey further orders to attack. The episode, loosely described as mutiny, is better represented as a large-scale military strike against the operation of an unbearable probability; four out of nine Frenchmen enlisted in the fighting-units suffered wounds or death by the war’s close. At the end of that year, the Italian army, which its government had committed to war against Austria in May 1915, went the same way; it collapsed in the face of an Austro-German counteroffensive and was effectively immobilized until the armistice. The Russian army, its casualties, uncounted, had by then begun to ‘vote for peace with its feet,’ in Lenin’s phrase. Lenin’s political victory in the Petrograd Revolution of October 1917 could not have occurred but for the military catastrophes the army had undergone in East Prussia, Poland, and the Ukraine, which dissolved the units on which the constitutional government counted for support. Source: Keegan, J. A History of Warfare, pp. 359-362


All Quiet on the Western Front. Directed by Lewis Milestone.  Universal Studios, 1930.

Berry, H. (1978, ed.).  Make the Kaiser dance: Living memories of a forgotten war—The American experience in World War I.  Doubleday: New York.

Brooke, R (1933). The complete poems of Rupert Brooke. London: Sidwich & Jackson.

Eksteins, M.  (1989). Rites of spring: The great war and the birth of the modern age.  New York. A Peter Davison Book/Houghton Mifflin Company.

Everts, S. (2015). “When chemicals became weapons of war.” Retrieved from 

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Keegan, J. (1993).  A history of warfare.  New York, Random7). House.

Kostval, K.M.  (2017). Joining the fight: The United States enters World War I. National Geographic History, March/April 2017, 78-87.

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