This conflict is one that involves whole populations. In previous wars civilians feared armies arriving on their doorstep to kill, rape and pillage. Now the war affects those far away from the frontline. Although bombing from aircraft and zeppelins has attracted much attention, the real fear for the civilian on the home front is hunger.
Germany’s U-boat campaign is a transparent attempt to starve Britain into submission. However, the Allies have been attempting to starve the Germans and Austro-Hungarians since the start of the war, with the British naval blockade blocking food imports from overseas. When added to the general dislocation of war the blockade is making it ever more difficult for people in central Europe to feed themselves.
In Germany the effects of malnutrition are starting to be seen. Doctors report that children are shorter than their pre-war equivalents. It appears to be the case that Germany is not facing actual starvation, but the reduced diet is leaving people malnourished and vulnerable to disease. Civilian mortality rates are soaring above their pre-war levels.
The situation is worse in Austria-Hungary. The situation is bad across the whole empire, thanks to poor infrastructure and the divided nature of the administration, but the situation in the urban centres of Austria is particularly grim. There is actual starvation or something very close to it in Vienna, with doctors estimating that food shortages are directly causing 10% of civilian deaths and contributing to another 20% to 30%. Children and teenagers are assuming a stunted appearance thanks to lack of adequate food.
The situation is probably worse again in the German occupied territories in Poland and the east. Meanwhile in the Levant the situation is worse again. In Syria an Allied naval blockade and the requisitioning of food by the army have led to outright famine, with shocking levels of mortality among the unfortunate civilians of the region, with Lebanon particularly affected.
In Germany at least the deprivation is still being borne with a certain stoicism. As bad as things are, civilians remain confident that the U-boat campaign means that the war will soon be coming to an end. The fear of the authorities is that if these hopes prove unfounded the result could be a social explosion.
Queuing for food in Berlin (SWR2)