Outbreak of World War I
The Great War leaves one burning question in the mind of us survivors. "Why?"
Ask this of a thousand men, and a thousand different answers you will receive. Better a question to be pondered in the cathedral rather than the academy. Yet, "How?"
Now this is a question which I can try my hand at answering. To kill a man in war is not a task for the individual, for every casualty there is a massive chain of men and metal that drives bullet and blade into the tender flesh of the enemy. This chain has always existed inseparable from war, only now it's fully automatic, water cooled and plated with two inches of Krupp steel. Don't blame Pandora, blame the sick fools who devised her gift. So we must ask, "What now?"
To these men of our new Italy, the answer is clear: Revolution.
-Chiavoni, Luca (1920). The Chain.
After the assassination of an Austrian noble by a Serbian nationalist, the resulting diplomatic meltdown between the great powers of Europe ruptures hair-trigger tensions and deep seated enmities into a four year conflict that takes 17 million lives. An unforgiving crucible for those who experienced it, the Great War caused an entire generation to question everything they thought they knew; and like the war that birthed them, these questions would linger in the politics and culture of the century to come.
I was only a child of ten, but with my view from underfoot I saw it all with a ragamuffins quick wit. For half a decade they had worked day and night in those factories, to feed a war that had taken their brothers and sons—and now revolution had broken out in the capital, a revolution that promised to them a new order without war and servitude. They took up the arms they had built and marched on the factories they claimed as their right. They met little resistance, and set about fortifying and stockpiling to secure their claim.
They were always kind to me, and whenever I came scampering by set aside a portion of bread and cheese from what little they had. Each day of their occupation those vast metal skeletons of the factories would echo with music as they assembled the barricades. But the Freicorps cared not for their generosity and spirit, and there would be no music heard as their replacements scrubbed the blood from the walls.
-Weiss, Alena (1939). Letters from Exile.
The war took its toll on the working class of all involved nations, and after the cessation of hostilities in November 1918 many took to the streets in outrage against the states and systems that they saw as the cause of such misery. Inspired by the February and October Revolutions in Russia, the industrial heartland of Germany—the Ruhr—rose in revolt.