The ways societies define “we” and “they” can help to precipitate war. In turn, the violence and chaos of war can sharpen the differences people perceive between their nation and others, as well as between different groups within their own nation. This chapter focuses on how World War I shaped and was shaped by ideas of “we” and “they,” and it highlights aspects of the war that influenced the history of Nazi Germany in the following decades.

Essential Questions

  • How did World War I change the balance of power in Europe? How did it affect people's attitudes toward other nations as well as their own? How did it affect people's attitudes toward war?
  • How did World War I affect the way that people perceived the value of human life?
  • What happens to the way a society defines “we” and “they” in the midst of the chaos and violence caused by war?



Before exploring our readings on World War I, get familiar with their central themes and historical context.

Reading 1 of 17

1914: War or Peace?

Consider how nationalism and militarism in Europe in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries contributed to the outbreak of World War I.

Reading 3 of 17

A Last-Ditch Effort to Prevent a War

Read a telegram exchange between Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Tsar Nicholas of Russia in which the leaders attempt to prevent World War I.

Reading 4 of 17

War Fever in Vienna

Reading 5 of 17

Between Peace and War

Consider why some Europeans changed their anti-war stance when World War I officially began, and why others like conscientious objectors continued to oppose the war.

Reading 6 of 17

The Brutal Realities of World War I

Gain insight into the death and destruction of World War I with firsthand accounts from former soldiers.

Reading 7 of 17

Building Support on the Home Front

Explore the role of propaganda in World War I, and take a closer look at one of the most successful British propaganda campaigns featuring nurse Edith Cavell.

Reading 8 of 17

Western Front at the Cinema

Consider how British leaders used the war film Battle of the Somme to sway the public's opinion about World War I.

Reading 9 of 17

Hatred on the Home Front

Read about the violent response in one British neighborhood to Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania during World War I.

Reading 10 of 17
Genocide & Mass Violence

Genocide under the Cover of War

Consider how the Armenian Genocide was made possible by the staggering brutality of World War I.

Reading 11 of 17

Russia Quits the War

Learn about the relationship between World War I and Russia's Bolshevik Revolution.

Reading 12 of 17

Disillusion on the Battlefield

Get insight into the experiences of soldiers in World War I through poetry and literature excerpts.

Reading 13 of 17

Commemorating the War

View and analyze John Singer Sargent’s memorial to World War I, the painting Gassed.

Reading 14 of 17

Negotiating Peace

Learn about the concessions that the Treaty of Versailles required from Germany after its defeat in World War I (Spanish available).

Reading 15 of 17


Explore the concept of self-determination after World War I through excerpts from Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

Reading 16 of 17

The League of Nations

Analyze the goals and responsibilities of the League of Nations written into the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.

Reading 17 of 17

People without Papers

Learn about the refugee crisis that developed in the immediate aftermath of World War I.

Analysis & Reflection

Analysis & Reflection

Enhance your students’ understanding of our readings on World War I with these follow-up questions and prompts.

Get Our Companion Unit: Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior

Lead your middle and high school students through a thorough examination of the history of the Holocaust. Over the course of the unit, students will learn to:

  • Craft an argumentative essay
  • Explore primary sources, videos, and readings that lead them through an in-depth study of the Holocaust
  • Recognize the societal consequences of "we" and "they" thinking
  • Understand the historical context in which the Nazi party rose to power and committed genocide

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