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World War I was far more brutal than World War II

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/31/2013 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 11,937 times Debate No: 37208
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (15)
Votes (1)




First Acceptance. Looking forward to debating this topic.


Well, comparing the relative brutality of the two largest conflicts in history is a bit like comparing paralysis to amputation. They both suck, is one more brutal than the other?

Nevertheless, the numbers demonstrate that WW2 was by any measure of scale or human suffering the more brutal event. I'll accept that challenge. I'll be interested to see how Pro's line of reasoning might contradict the numbers.
Debate Round No. 1


I would first of all like to thank my opponent, for giving me this great opportunity to debate this topic.

These are the points I'm going to make about World War I.
1. History-How it started
2. What type of fighting tools they used.
3. New machinery came out that made it an unfair play. (Cost many lives)

So my first point;

World War I started over a little issue. When the "Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia." [1] This started the war that was never forgotten and that has changed the way we live and fight for centuries. This action led to threatening of other countries, latter it was announced that there is going to be World War I.

My second point;

Now, World War I had very few things they had to fight with. They had very little to protect themselves, unlike World War II. So I'm going to list the things they used for fighting and what they used to defend themselves.
1. This magnificent gas created during this war. It was called mustard gas. This was a very poisonous gas that killed everybody in trenches, It took 12 hours to take effect, but after it did it was sometimes a slow painful death. (Latter was outlawed by Syria) You suffocate. Many died from this weapon used by the Germans.
2. They used a bolt action rifle that can hold 15 rounds. (made in Britain)
3. Machine guns, they had to have 4-6 people operating them in the trenches. (Fire power 100 guns)
4. Zeppelin, these were used as aircraft carriers, (carried bombs) they soon were abandoned because they were easy to shoot out of the sky.
5. Planes, were first introduced as spy planes and carriers, but soon were made as fighter planes.
6. Torpedoes, were used by German subs to sink ships.
This was many of the things they used. Unlike World War II, which had many more advanced weapons and better protection from the attacks. Now, lets look at what the people used to defend themselves.

1. In World War I the only thing they had to defend themselves were trenches, they had to dig all day to stay safe and away from the enemy line. Since the trenches were in the ground, whenever the machines fired at the trenches it blew out everybody in that hit area out of the trenches, and killed every single person in there. World War II had better protection and fighting styles.

My third point;

New machinery that was introduce in World War I that changed the way of fighting.
The tanks were introduced in World War I. Now I will say right now, these tanks are not like the tanks we have now, they were able to be blown up by machine guns. So in other words they were not built as well. This changed the whole rules of the game. Now there was a disadvantage. A machine against people who had no protection, they might as well have come out of the trenches with a sign on them saying "Shoot me I'm an open target". The tanks were a nightmare to the soldiers, millions were killed in World War I.

These are my points in this round.


This [1], means that in the beginning I used out of text from that website.



Let's begin by defining brutal. Miriam-Webster offers the following:

1 : archaic : typical of beasts : animal

2 : befitting a brute:

a : grossly ruthless or unfeeling

b : cruel, cold-blooded

c : harsh, severe

d : unpleasantly accurate and incisive

e : very bad or unpleasant[1]

Let's also agree that both wars represent low points in human history, episodes so violent that the global census numbers dip, leaving societal scars that can still be touched today.


How do we measure brutality? The numbers of the dead is certainly one measure. The First World War ranks as the sixth deadliest conflict in human history at rough 9.8 million dead, 7.7 MIA, and 21 million wounded. This puts it behind the Mongol conquests and three major Chinese civil wars. The deadliest conflict in history is, of course, the Second World War with 26 million military deaths and roughly 46.5 million civilian dead.[2] By this method, WW2 must certainly be counted as the more brutal conflict.

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My opponent will argue that WW1 was the more brutal event, not because of the number of the dead, but because of the way they died- death
by flamethrower, slow death by mustard gas. Comparing the relative horror of death is difficult, but I think we can safely say that death by nuclear explosion entails horrors comparable to death by flamethrower. When one considers that 100,000 soldiers died from poison gas attacks in WW1 (tear gas, phosgene, chlorine, and mustard gas), but between 2 and 3 million died from cyanide gas in the German gas chambers, we must conclude that impact of chemical warfare in the Second World War was the more profound.


Furthermore, there is a distinction to be made in the general conduct of war. WW1 was in many ways a war of choice. Except in France and Serbia and those places that suffered invasion, the men left their homes and families behind to conduct war abroad. Although they fought and killed their enemies, they generally considered the war a conflict of equals, with rules of engagement and fair play (even if those rules were often violated). Men warred with a sense of national purpose, expanding a political point with military force. When the war was over, the survivors expected to return to comfort and admiration of home. WW2, except in the US, was more generally a war for survival. Families and home were as much at peril from bombs and invaders as the soldier. Women and children were often victims and sometimes combatants. Men fought because if they did not win, their nation would be crushed, their homes destroyed. If we apply the definition of brutal as "typical of beasts or brutes," we see that killing for survival, killing to defend territory is more animal in nature than killing to make a political
point. So by this definition, WW2 was clearly the more brutal, kill or be killed.


The First World War was a fraternity in conflict. The men on either side of the conflict shared relatively the same judeo-christian values, the same bourgeoisie ambitions, the same classical, secular educations. There is little doubt that combatants in WW1 viewed their enemies as humans. This is certainly less true of the Second World War. On a larger scale than at any other time since the Emancipation Proclamation, humans were devalued according to ethnicity and religion. The Germans enslaved and murdered millions of Jews and Roma. The Japanese enslaved and raped millions of Koreans and Chinese. The Russians murdered Jews and ethnic Germans en masse. The Americans incarcerated tens of thousands of ethnic Japanese.


WW1 may be accurately depicted as crueler than most wars, but WW2 was crueler. Millions were incarcerated and enslaved. Many were forced to work in the production of their own demise. Jews supplied much of the labor that built their own concentration camps, and gas houses, and ovens. Jews dug the mass graves in which they would bury their own families. As Hannah Arendt wrote in Eichmann in Jerusalem, the Nazis made you the executioner of your own children, which is perhaps the ultimate form of evil. Both Japan and Germany used prisoners and slaves as subjects in the testing of every manner of excruciating surgical procedure and weapons test. People were amputated and sewn back together wrong, to see what would happen. People were tested with new killing gases and plagues and poxes. Is there any correlation in World War One to this level of cold-blooded dehumanization? No.


WW2 was also the more brutal because it was the more removed. Strategic bombers often never visited the cities they burned to ground. Snipers, tanks, artillery, torpedoes were all designed for death at a distance. WW1 had distance, too, but the distances were much shorter. Much of WW1 was fought within shouting distance of the enemy: 50 yards, 100 yards. By WW2 the distances had grown much further: bombing raids and V2 rockets across 30 and 40 miles of Channel, the battle of Midway was fought without the fleets ever coming in sight of one another, the Enola Gay killed 70,000 with a single bomb dropped from 6 miles up.

A view of the devastation in Hiroshima after an atomic bomb was dropped on the city during World War II on August 6 1945


The Christmas Truce was an unofficial ceasefire that took place on the Western Front in 1914. For the week before Christmas, British and German combatants began to celebrate in fraternity with one another. There was caroling and gift exchanges and both sides brought foodstuffs for the enemy to try. While hardly a typical week, this event demonstrates the ways in which the violence of World War One was tempered with common feeling and even occasional charity toward the enemy.

For contrast, Christmas in Stalingrad, 1942. By November 20, the Germans fielded just over 1 million men defending against 2.5 million men, women, and children in much colder than average temperature (-22F daytime). The average life expectancy of a newly arriving Russian conscript was 24 hrs, the average life expectancy of an officer was 72 hrs. When the German army was surrounded in January, few terms were offered or given. German casualties were 850,000 KIA/WIA/MIA. Of the 107,000 Germans captured, only 6,000 ever made it home. The Russians lost 1,150,000 KIA/MIA, 651,000 WIA or sick. Total war has never been quite so total or desperate or cold or destructive or, well, in a word, BRUTAL, before or since.


First Point-
thanks for the background

Second Point -

We agree that combatants in WW1 had less in the way of effective armor and fortress defenses.

Mustard Gas- Tear Gas came first. Followed by Chlorine, 85% of gas deaths were caused by phosgene gas. Mustard gas came about in 1917. In all, about 100,000 deaths were attributed gas (a little less than 1% of total deaths). [3]

You forgot to mention artillery on your list, which was devastating. Most devastating of all, however, was barbed wire. WW1 was the first war in which barbed wire was put into effect. It broke up forces concentrated for effect in the face of machine guns, which was critical in turning the war into a defensive struggle.

I think we can agree that WW1, coming after a long period of peace and technological innovation, introduced many unpredictable variables into the war for which the generals were unprepared and by which the troops were terrorized.

Definitely brutal, just not as brutal as the Second World War.



Debate Round No. 2


First of all I would like to point out that my opponent here did not use valuable sources. In my debates I do not tolerate Wikipedia. It"s an unreliable source. It"s a good start but not what to use as your back up information.
So as I forgot to add, (Which I added in the comments), this is from a soldiers view of the war. My opponent had a good argument indeed. But still haven"t convinced me that WWII is more brutal.
Just because of the death rates does not make it more brutal. We got to see this at a smaller picture. Pay attention to smaller detail. People mostly miss the littlest details in the picture, and those little details make the picture what it is, so what I"m getting at is that WWI is the little details in the big picture of World Wars.
WWI Was known as the Great War.

Shaping of the 21st Century;
a.WWI brought terrorism to other countries. Indeed there were terror attacks before WWI, but WWI established it to go further.

b.WWI made America a great world power.

c.The road to WWII started from WWI, because Hitler gathered all the blamed Germans and made them turn against the Jews and other races.

d.Even though WWI being resolved, there were issues leading to WWII.

e.WWI got the theme as the Brutal War

So back to having WWI being the most brutal. Since this is my last argument post, I shall do my best to convince the readers to lean on my side.

They had permanent ones and not permanent one, anyways from both they were horrible to be in.

The majority of graves in WWI were not buried as well as WWII, So you would still see body parts sticking out of the ground.
The shelling was unbearable for the soldiers, with every shot many bodies were exploded and body parts flew everywhere. It was a bloody mass.

They didn't have such great hospitals back then in WWI. You got shot they cut that body part off so you may survive. Their medication was also not that good, making the survivor levels drop. Soldiers were in the hospitals with burned faces from the gas and the flame throwers. Everything was devastating.

WWII they did not use flame throwers, or mustard gas, because it was outlawed. Which, these weapons that were cut out of the WWII had made it a lot less brutal for soldiers.
I give all my honor to those who survived and died bravely for our country in WWI.
This concludes my debate. Please vote fairly. Thank you for taking the time to read and vote on this debate.

Some pictures of WWI; (Conditions in Trenches) (Hospitals) (Mustard gas effect)



a). If Pro wishes to disqualify specific source material, particularly the single largest and most popularly referenced resource in the world, Pro needs to establish that rule as part of the challenge.

b). Wikipedia's reliability as a general reference resource is well established. The most cited study was published in Nature in 2005.

"In 2005, the peer-reviewed journal Nature asked scientists to compare Wikipedia's scientific articles to those in Encyclopaedia Britannica—"the most scholarly of encyclopedias," according to its own Wiki page. The comparison resulted in a tie; both references contained four serious errors among the 42 articles analyzed by experts.

And last year, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that Wikipedia had the same level of accuracy and depth in its articles about 10 types of cancer as the Physician Data Query, a professionally edited database maintained by the National Cancer Institute.

The self-described "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" has fared similarly well in most other studies comparing its accuracy to conventional encyclopedias, including studies by The Guardian, PC Pro, Library Journal, the Canadian Library Association, and several peer-reviewed academic studies."

Although Wikipedia may not always rank as highly as the most reliable encyclopedia, Britannica, it offers multiple advantages in terms of timeliness, number of articles (nine times as many articles as Britannica), and democratic processes.

Although there are legitimate concerns about inaccuracies, vandalism, etc., there are few online resources that are not similarly vulnerable. The advantage of Wikipedia is that it is restlessly monitored by 72,000 administrators and editors (I'm one of them). Wikipedia offers the distinct advantage of reflecting common consensus on controversial points, rather than relying on the always biases of a few.

So, for example, Pro relied on the expertise of a single author, Heather Wheeler, to supply a list of WW1 weaponry. Since Heather identified the use of zeppelins in WW1, Pro also provided this information even though Pro herself recognizes that airships were fairly ineffective as a weapon of war. Since Heather neglected to mention the important roles of artillery and barbed wire in WW1, Pro made the same omission. Wikipedia, on the other hand, notes the limitations of Zeppelins in warfare and remembers to discuss barbed wire and artillery. Wikipedia, as a competitive marketplace of expertise, sometimes proves superior to the unchallenged expertise of a few or a single author.

Although no single source is guaranteed reliable, Con would match the reliability of Wikipedia against the majority of online sources which are more likely to be unedited and unchallenged.


Another rule Pro neglected to document up front. Since the astonishing number of civilians killed in the Second World War may be that conflict's most distinguishing characteristic, Con considers this new rule a significant and counter-historical handicap. Nevertheless, even only considering the experience of soldiers, the Second World War remains more brutal.


On the contrary, death rates are probably the single most referenced statistic when assessing the magnitude of any conflict. So Pro does not find casualty rates convincing, how does she respond to the remainder of Con's arguments?


Comparing the relative brutality of world wars is a big picture analysis. The details are less helpful here. Can you find specific soldiers' stories in the First World War that are more brutal than soldiers' stories in the Second? Sure, but focusing on anecdote would distort history. Making sweeping generalizations based on little details inevitably leads to inaccuracy. We're talking about trends and statistics here, bug picture stuff.


In Britain, the Napoleanic Wars were called the Great War until 1915, when it became clear that the magnitude of the current conflict would eclipse Waterloo. Similarly, after the fall of Paris in 1940, usage of the term Great War fell out of use to prevent confusion with a war of lesser magnitude. After 1940, Britains referred to the earlier event as the First World War. In America, the earlier event was typically referred to as the European War until 1940, after which World War 1 was more commonly used.


There were plenty of features of WW1 that might be perceived as acts of terrorism. Assassination, for example, or blowing up trains. The line between terrorism and warfare is fuzzy at best. In order for this argument to support the notion that WW1 was the more brutal, there would have to be some indication that terrorism was present by some measure in excess of terrorism in WW2. Con can find no general trend in terrorism during the WW1 that was not matched or exceeded by WW2.


The rise of the US as a great power was not so much an event as it was a trend. The supremacy of the US economy was undeniable by 1890. Europeans tend to date the emergence of the US as a great military power from the Battle of Manilla Bay in 1898 when Dewey's small fleet destroyed the much larger Pacific Spanish Fleet in 90 minutes. Certainly, by the advent of WW1, the Triple Alliance considered America a sufficient threat that they were willing to make important concessions after Lusitania to prevent America's entry into the war.


No doubt the resolution of WW1 was a principle cause of WW2. Precedence, however, does not make the earlier war more brutal.


I can't find evidence of this moniker, but if WW1 was called the Brutal War, the name was justly deserved. That label doesn't make it more brutal than WW2.


By WW2 trenches had evolved into more shallow and less permanent foxholes. Considering that a soldier might be trapped under fire for days or weeks in either, which was better equipped to serve as dining room and toilet- shallow foxhole or deep trench? Foxholes were at least as bad as trenches.


Con can't find any documentation to support Pro's assertion.


Yes, and in no way exceeded WW2 bombardment by artillery and plane in quantity of tonnage or quality of destruction. In terms of tonnage of high explosive, WW2 dropped 180 times more explosives than WW1 in terms of tonnage of high explosive.


Medicine advanced some, but not tremendously between the wars. The main difference is that because WW1 was relatively static, and because of the more civilized nature of WW1 minimized assaults on medical facilities, hospitals were often available. In WW2, hospitals were targets. In the early days of the Invasion of Poland, Hospital rooftops were painted with crosses to deter bombings until it became clear that the Wehrmacht were targeting hospitals. Russia estimated it lost 40,000 hospitals to the German Invasion. Dresden, Cologne, and many German cities lost most of their major hospitals to strategic bombing. Shima Hospital in Hiroshima was the hypocenter for the atomic bomb there.


Flamethrowers were not banned in WW2. All major combatants used manpowered flamethrowers. Some used flamethrowers mounted on tanks.


By WW2, cyanide gas and carbon monoxide were the popular chemical weapons, used mostly in the Holocaust. The number of gas victims in WW2 were 20-30 times the number in WW1.

Please note that Pro made no reply to the majority of my arguments, including:

More brutal because WW2 was a war for survival.
More brutal because of the dehumanization of the enemy.
More brutal because prisoners were made to labor in the murder of their own.
More brutal because the WW2 was fought are greater distance, sometimes never seeing the enemy.



Debate Round No. 3
15 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by makhdoom5 3 years ago
see in Wikipedia pages there are always references.
just u put reference here they also put reference there.
so its gonna be double reference.
like u are posting material from Wikipedia than the Wikipedia is position from other sources.
yet there are many points there where they say citation needed which means that part could be wrong.
but majority of part is with reference some time to book some time to video some time to other website.
Posted by leojm 3 years ago
Why is everything double?
Posted by makhdoom5 3 years ago
so its double check or citation.
but of u put some link from other websites those articles are also written by some peoples i found them also wrong many times.
or contradictory.
on internet info could be wrong or right.
u have to check.
Posted by makhdoom5 3 years ago
who told wikipedia is not reliable.
its double check.
peoples thre also put references.
if u dont believe click the reference and see is that right or not.
where there is blunder than its written that citation needed.
Posted by wrichcirw 3 years ago
Hmmm...I skimmed this debate...if you look at WWII from the war in the Pacific, I think you could make an argument that WWII was far more brutal...
Posted by leojm 3 years ago
I don't think I had to read that. I know we didn't.
Posted by henryajevans 3 years ago
Beevor's Stalingrad?
Posted by leojm 3 years ago
I read that book, when I was in High School
Posted by henryajevans 3 years ago
WWI has the reputation because it threw off the perception of war as a gentlemanly pursuit. This had been the attitude towards war until it happened, although from the soldiers' points of view, WWII was far more brutal. Read any German soldier's account of life on the Eastern Front, and you will understand why.
Posted by leojm 3 years ago
This debate is from a soldiers point of view, not civilians, because WWI the civilians were untouched, during WWII the civilians were destroyed in millions. That's why there is a huge amount that died in WWII . Because of the count of the civilians and the Jews. Unlike WWI which they only counted the soldiers.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Mikal 3 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:--Vote Checkmark3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:02 
Reasons for voting decision: Really both of these votes should be reported. One is a blatant votebomb and the other is lack of rfd. Both did a great job of showing why the war they were defending was brutal. Pro refuted some of cons arguments, but all in all the only thing I can base this off is sources. Con had more reliable sources and even graphs and stats to support the main points that he built up. Pro had reliable sources but Cons went as far to provide strength to his case. For that reason I award sources to con. I also reported the other two votes because of no rfds and a votebomb.