By 1917, European societies were cracking under the strain of war. Casualties on the fronts and shortages at home sapped morale. The stalemate dragged on, seemingly without end. Soon, however, the departure of one country from the war and the entry of another would tip the balance and end the stalemate.
Delegates gathered in Paris in 1919 to discuss peace terms. The treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed in June in the Hall of Mirrors, shown here, at the palace of Versailles.
As the struggle wore on, nations realized that a modern, mechanized war required the channeling of a nation's entire resources into the war effort, or total war. To achieve total war, governments began to take a stronger role in directing the economic and cultural lives of their people.
Early on, both sides set up systems to recruit, arm, transport, and supply armies that numbered in the millions. All of the warring nations except Britain immediately imposed universal military conscription, or “the draft,” which required all young men to be ready for military or other service. Britain, too, instituted conscription in 1916. Germany set up a system of forced civilian labor as well.
Governments raised taxes and borrowed huge amounts of money to pay the costs of war. They rationed food and other products, from boots to gasoline. In addition, they introduced other economic controls, such as setting prices and forbidding strikes.
At the start of the war, Britain's navy formed a blockade in the North Sea to keep ships from carrying supplies into and out of Germany. International law allowed wartime blockades to confiscate contraband, or military supplies and raw materials needed to make military supplies.