In the First World War propaganda as a means of psychological warfare came to be exploited on an unprecedented scale. The fight for explanations, sympathy and legitimation was contested with striking images and emotionally exploitative words. Rabble-rousing messages radicalised the arguments, exposed hostilities and made an alternative to war seem unacceptable.
Apart from the American Civil War (1861-1865), the First World War was the first war in which economic superiority (and here above all the ability to completely mobilise the economy) was crucial for victory or defeat. Lasting more than four years, the war had both major political and serious social, economic and financial effects. The strain on the national product was greater in the countries on the losing side than in the victorious powers. In some countries of central Europe, attempts were made to change the social structure following the Russian October Revolution in 1917.
By the fourth year of the war the Habsburg Monarchy had reached the end of its tether and was in a state of complete military and economic exhaustion, which naturally inflicted a massive loss of authority on the traditional elites. In broad sectors of the population the longing for peace was accompanied by the desire for a comprehensive reordering of society and by an increasing feeling that the state structures of the Habsburg Monarchy were an impediment to progress.
After the defeats by Italy (at Solferino and Magenta in 1859) and by Prussia (at Königgrätz in 1866), thoughts of prestige in Viennese court and government circles were linked to efforts to try to expand the Danube Monarchy’s sphere of influence in the Balkans. Focusing on that particular goal, the Habsburg Empire was prepared to disregard the international consequences of this policy. In the end, a war with Serbia was inevitable, bringing with it the risk of conflagration.