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Web Video / The Great War

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The Great War is a Youtube channel, which follows World War I week by week, exactly one hundred years after the events depicted, as an ambitious four year project. In between the main episodes, the series looks at special topics like famous personalities, innovations, the role different countries played, and other things, as well as answering questions from viewers. It is presented in English by Stockholm-based American actor Indy Neidell, who is also the lead writer. Polish and German language versions were launched but discontinued due to lack of funding. The narration is illustrated with contemporary photographs and original footage courtesy of British Pathé.

The channel has five series so far:

  • This Week 100 Years Ago: The main series. Covers the events of WWI.
  • Special Episodes Covers a diverse range of topics, such as noteworthy events, technology and the state of particular nations.
  • Who Did What In WWI?: Spotlights certain personalities in the war and their actions.
  • Out of the Trenches: Devoted to answering viewer questions.
  • Out of the Ether: A spin-off of Out of the Trenches. Shares amusing or controversial comments from the viewers.

Has a sister channel called It's History, which looks at a wider range of topics, such as the Cold War, China, and the history of sex.

A sequel of sorts for The Great War that covers World War II started on September 1st, 2018 and their channel is going by the name World War II. Despite the "end of the war" in November 2018, the crew (sans-Indy) have elected to keep going in a new format of lengthier, more in-depth episodes with new host Jesse Alexander, which covers the aftermath of the war (and specifically, a few of the wars that sprang up in the immediate aftermath of the main conflict and are often argued to be continuations of the Great War). Indy also co-hosts the Sabaton History channel with Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström of Sabaton, which tells the history behind Sabaton's songs (some of which he's covered on The Great War or World War II). In 2019, the Great War team, Real Time History, announced they were crowdfunding a new documentary titled 16 Days in Berlin chronicling the Battle of Berlin in the final stages of World War II in Europe day by day, in collaboration with other historical youtubers and museums.


  • Arc Words: "Modern war". It primarily is said at the end of the main episodes. This emphasizes that World War I was truly the first modern war - where machines like the tank and plane, along with weapons like the flamethrower, poison gas, and machine gun were either invented or developed battlefield roles. This is also when the concepts of a modern "Total War" - nations mobilizing their entire populace for war efforts, unrestricted submarine warfare, the deliberate targeting of civilians to demoralize the enemy, using prisoners for forced labor, all fully took hold here.
  • Artifact Title: The show has very rarely covered any actual Great War material ever since Indy moved on to covering World War II, with, as mentioned above, the Jesse Alexander-era material moving on to post-war materials such as the various minor followup wars (such as the Russian Civil War, the Polish-Soviet War and the War of Turkish Independence, other major events of the era such as the Spanish Flu Epidemic, and even pre-war material such as the Italo-Turkish War and Russo-Japanese War. Downplayed, however, as all of this material does still very much tie into the Great War itself.
  • Berserk Button: Indy tends to reserve his harshest words for state and military leaders that are incompetent, shortsighted, bloodthirsty, or just out for glory. Mainly because their actions and plans invariably resulted in tens of thousands of deaths for no gain.
    • Blindly optimistic statements from said leaders also gets strong reactions out of him, because such words display a profound ignorance of the realities of the war.
  • Blatant Lies: Indy shared a ridiculous story about his desk's origins during one "Out of the Trenches" segment.
  • Big Bad: While Indy argues in his "Top 10 Misconceptions of World War I" video that there was no true ultimate villain in the war, he also states in his regular episodes that no man holds more blame for starting the war in the first place than the Austrian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf. Except perhaps the German Chief of Staff, Moltke the Younger.
  • Breather Episode: The special episode "Mimi, Toutou and Fifi: The Utterly Bizarre Battle for Lake Tanganyika" takes a break from the usual depictions of a horrible, pointless war to describe a relatively whimsical expedition.
    Indy: I talk every week of the horrors of the trenches, and the gas, and the death and destruction, but I thought this week I'd give some time to one of the perhaps lighter side stories of the war.
  • Britain Wins The War: Indy occasionally expresses annoyance with the prevalent idea that World War I was won solely on the Western Front due to the prevalence of British media about that front, pointing out that the Eastern Front, Italian Front, Balkan Theater, and Middle Eastern Theater were also important.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "I'm Indy Neidell, welcome to The Great War."
    • "This is modern war."
    • “And that’s the week.” before giving a brief run down of which theatres were covered in the episode.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Indy once introduced himself as "Macklemore's uncle".
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The channel has five series, each marked by a different colored stripe. They are:
    • This Week 100 Years Ago: Green.
    • Special Episodes: Red.
    • Who Did What In WWI?: Orange.
    • Out of the Trenches: Yellow.
    • Out of the Ether: Purple.
  • Cool Chair: Indy's impressively named "Chair of Wisdom" (really just a comfortable looking armchair), from which he answers questions from viewers.
  • Crossover:
  • Dehumanization: A major theme of the show involves discussion of this trope. Here's the different ways the trope gets played:
    • Propaganda efforts by the various belligerent nations, of course, played this trope straight.
    • Events like the Christmas truce provide Double Subversions—one would think opposing armies who subsist on a steady diet of propaganda dehumanizing their enemy would come to regard said foes as monsters. That soldiers of the Entente and Central Powers could come together amicably shows they still recognized their enemies as human. Then the war would continue, buddies in their respective units would die each passing day, and give individual soldiers personal stakes in a Cycle of Revenge ...
    • With respect to the casualties of the war—military and civilian—Indy and the team defy this trope as they take great care to emphasize just how many people suffered, and demonstrating that no matter where you lived on the planet, you were not safe from becoming a casualty.
    • Indy and the team, however, do play this trope straight in an interesting way. Early on in the series—especially in the beginning episodes—Indy very consistently refers to entities like nations and ships as female, personifying them. Not only is this in line with traditional ways of speaking about both (sailors especially have a long tradition of treating their ships as people) but it has a humanizing effect when listening to the politics or naval actions of the day.

      However, Indy begins referring to nations almost exclusively as "it," and does the same with ships in short order. This change coincides with the war's increasing bloodiness. Suddenly, nations and ships aren't collective representations of the humans that comprise them—they're merely things comprised of meaningless numbers. Intentional or not, this provides a very interesting commentary on the dehumanizing effects of the war.
  • Documentary: Is presented as such.
  • Enforced Plug: Many episodes are sponsored by outside parties, typically military history themed video games, and Indy gives them their requisite Shout-Out.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Care to guess what the Who Did What In WWI? videos are about?
  • Fate Worse than Death: An episode covering early plastic surgery on war victims is titled as such, stating that the horrible facial disfigurements caused by bullets and artillery were indeed worse for some than dying in the trenches. Many such victims found themselves rejected by society and were driven to early graves due to their disfigurements, and others died of surgical complications due to the nature of early medicine and plastic surgery techniques.
  • Foregone Conclusion: This being a show covering a war a 100 years old, most everyone knows which side will emerge victorious, this led to a meta Running Gag where watchers will comment about the inevitability of a central powers victory.
  • Four-Star Badass: They don't receive as much attention as their counterparts, but the show does point several of them out particularly in the "Who Did What in World War I" episodes. Examples include Ferdinand Foch, Paul Von-Lettow Vorbeck, Mustafa Kemal, and Svetozar Boroević.
  • General Failure: A fair number make an appearance, but Austria-Hungary's Oscar Potiorek stands out, with his bungled invasion of Serbia bringing humiliation to his country shortly after the war broke out. Conrad von Hötzendorf is somewhat more controversial, but Indy is baffled by the fact that he is still considered by some to be a military genius. Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna also gets a lot of flak thrown his way. For good reason.
  • General Ripper: Franz Conrad Graf von Hötzendorf, who is mentioned (as Indy puts it) "all the time" on the show, tends to be depicted this way. He constantly (read: more than 30 times) advocated for Austria-Hungary to go to war with various of its neighbours in the run-up to World War I.
  • Glory Hound: This mindset contributed to the start of the war. As Indy points out in an early episode, there were a lot of officers who had never seen combat before yet had romantic notions about wartime glory and fame and were eager to obtain some for themselves. Hötzendorf above is a fine example. He expresses particular amazement that Conrad von Hötzendorf went to war in the first place partly to impress a married woman he was infatuated with, hoping she'd leave her husband for him.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Indy comments in the Mata Hari episode that "Dutch Royal Cocaine Factory" would make a great name for a band.
    • Indy also had this to say about "The Russian Women's Battalion of Death".
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: Several armies issued brightly colored uniforms at the beginning of the war that were quickly found to be ill-suited for a war dominated by artillery and machine guns. The worst were the French, whose bright red and blue uniforms got them killed by the thousands before they replaced it with a pale blue one.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The episode on Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck discusses how he was idolized until relatively recently for his role in defending German East Africa against a much larger Entente force. It acknowledges his skill as a commander, stating that he was a major pioneer of guerrilla warfare in the 20th century. However, the show also mentions von Lettow-Vorbeck's role in the Herero genocide, his participation in the 1920 Kapp-Putsch (a far-right coup attempt, intending to depose the Weimar Republic), along with his racist imperialist views. It also discusses how his pillaging of British, Portuguese, and Belgian territory and forcible conscription of local Africans as porters indirectly led to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in East Africa.
  • Intentional Engrish for Funny: "Angel and Snake", the "most popular TV show", featured in the outtakes. Indy speaks in a ridiculous Japanese accent while waving around a snake statue and angel lamp.
  • Long List: In the special episode about Russian uniforms, Indy breathlessly rattles off the branches of the Imperial Russian armed services, stopping himself short saying, "And that's not the whole list! They each had distinct uniforms."
  • Mad Scientist: The episode on Fritz Haber is titled "A Genius and a Madman". Haber was a brilliant scientist and fiercely patriotic, but his role in weaponizing poison gas brought untold misery to the world. His "perversion of science" may have driven his own wife to suicide.
  • Manly Facial Hair: Extremely prevalent among high ranking officers during the war to the point that they had their own top 10 list. This trope was, however, mostly averted among enlisted ranks, since gas masks tended to be difficult and dangerous to wear with facial hair. The exception was the British, who actually required a mustache in their troops until 1916.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Defied and Discussed. Indy repeatedly points out that the sheer death toll of the war makes it easy to lose track of the suffering of the individuals behind the massive numbers, and Indy often quotes first-hand accounts of the misery and suffering of individuals throughout the war.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Nearly every episode ends with a suitably grim reminder that War Is Hell... immediately followed by a chipper recommendation of one of their other episodes on a similar topic, celebrating a Patreon supporter of the week, requests for likes and subscribes, and promotions of the channel. An understandable necessity for keeping a show with a significant support staff running, but jarring nonetheless.
    • Special note must be made of the one at the end of the final weekly episode. Indy finishes off the segment by mentioning that whatever joy was felt from the end of the war and the soldiers returning was quickly swallowed up by a feeling of grief for the soldiers that would never come home. Shortly after Indy notes that making the series was the most fun he's had in his entire life.
  • The Münchausen:
    • Given as an Alternative Character Interpretation to Lawrence of Arabia. As noted, it's impossible to tell the difference between what he exaggerated in his own tales and what is the truth, for example one of his supposedly "great victories" the Battle of Aqaba was just massive Curb Stomp Battles where he had an overwhelming superiority over his enemy in a scenario where his defeat was practically impossible.
    • The special episode about the battle for Lake Tanganyika describes Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson as "a serious braggart [who] invented fantastic lies about himself" and had been suspended twice for incompetence.
  • Never My Fault: A trait commonly displayed by the failed military commanders of the war is that they start blaming their own mistakes on other people who oftentimes weren't even involved in the events. Great example of this is French General Robert Nivelle who blamed General Joseph Micheler for his failures even though Micheler had opposed Nivelle's ideas to the point of insubordination. He had this to say about Nivelle's accusations:
    "What, you try to make me responsible for the mistake, when I never ceased to warn you? Do you know what such an action is called? It's called cowardice."
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Indy sometimes employs this disclaimer when something he presents is hard to believe.
    • In "Mimi, Toutou and Fifi - The Utterly Bizarre Battle for Lake Tanganyika":
      Indy: He also wanted to name the boats Cat and Dog, but the Navy wouldn't let him, so he christened them Mimi and Toutou. Really.
    • In part 2 of "The Adventures of Dunsterforce":
      Indy: So you now had a British General sailing on the Caspian Sea, aboard a ship named after a South African Boer President of partly German descent, sailing from a Persian Port, under a Serbian flag, to assist a body of Armenians in a revolutionary Russian town against the Turks. You genuinely cannot make this stuff up.
  • Now, Buy the Merchandise: The Great War has begun to produce some merchandise which they advertise. Of particular note are the "Hotzensocks" featuring Conrad von Hötzendorf on... socks.
  • Onrushing Army: World War I is described as "a new war with old generals". Despite the innovations in automatic weapons and artillery, the chief commanders at the beginning of the war were still stuck in the 1800s, sending out men en-masse to rush enemy formations.
  • Person as Verb: The viewers like using "Hötzendorfing"/"Hotzendorfing" to refer to being an incompetent in military tactics or being incompetent in general. Indy and Flo's replies suggested they will go with it, though Indy has yet to mention the term in a video.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Indy explicitly compares Conrad von Hötzendorf to the original PHB from Dilbert.
  • Real Time: The show is formatted as a week by week news coverage of the events of the war as they took place, exactly 100 years ago. It gives an appreciation of the length and scope of the war.
  • Record Needle Scratch: In Italy in World War 1, Indy seemingly abruptly ends the segment and "The End" is shown before the familiar sound effect is played and he continues talking about warmongering in Italy.
  • Road Trip Plot: Episodes recounting the trips to Przemsyl and Verdun..
  • Running Gag: Conrad von Hötzendorf in general. It gets to the point where when it's his turn on the "Top 11 Stupidest Moves of Early World War 1" list, Indy can only preface the entry with "now, for the man you've all been waiting for...". In the "Top 10 Mustaches of World War 1", Indy also has silly music playing in the background for Conrad's entry and Conrad's only, while everyone else has solemn music.
    Youtube Commenter: I love that goofy carnival music that pops up when it's Conrad's turn. The man has really solidified himself as the greatest meme of the first world war.
    Great War Channel: That he has.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Indy looks pretty dapper in his shirt and vest. Some of the historical officers and generals are this trope as well if they're in full regalia.
  • Shout-Out: In a June 2017 "Out of the Trenches":
    Indy: [narrating over a photo of soldiers with a tank, with Anakin Skywalker edited in] The tank engineers really didn't like sand. It was course, it was rough, it was irritating, it got everywhere, it clogged the exhaust outlets, and its abrasive effect quickly wore down the tank's machinery.
    • In another "Out of the Trenches" episode, he introduces himself as Italian Spiderman and encourages the viewers to check it out.
    • While entering a spooky cave that forms part of a fortification dug into the rock on the Italian front during an on location special, Indy briefly does an impression of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.
  • Stock Sound Effect: A few videos play the Wilhelm Scream among the background sounds.
  • Stylistic Suck: The skit that the channel released to advertise "Mackensocks" plays like a Kitschy Local Commercial. At the end, Flo and Indy can barely hold a straight face.
  • Talking Heads: The series is mostly Indy/Jesse sitting at a desk, narrating the history with cuts to Stock Footage and maps where appropriate.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Said word-for-word by Indy about Winston Churchill's disastrous invasion at Gallipoli, stating that while he would go on to do great things during this war and the next one, they do not absolve him of the needless waste of lives that resulted from the botched landings.
  • War Is Hell: The series constantly reminds viewers that there's nothing glorious or cool about World War I. Many firsthand accounts featured in the videos describe the soldiers' misery in detail.
  • War Is Glorious: Defied: whenever romantic notions of war rise up, Indy never forgets to remind the audience of just how awful the war was for all services of the military as well as civilians in every country.
  • Winter Warfare: Discussed in their coverage of the mountain combat on the Italian front and the 1919 anti-Bolshevik expedition to Russia. Men fought and died in freezing conditions without adequate winter preparations or gear, such as in the 1915 Austro-Hungarian offensive in the Carpathian Mountains.
  • The X of Y: Indy sits in the Chair of Wisdom while responding to viewer questions, though when the crew are on the move or when their studio was undergoing renovations, he sits in whatever chair is available, which he calls the Chair of Temporary Insanity.
    • Indy's personal chair at his home in Sweden is called the Chair of Madness.
  • Young Future Famous People: Occasionally, the "Who Did What in WWI?" segment will feature people who are better known for their actions in World War II, such as Erwin Rommel.

"I'm Indy Neidell, that was the Great War..."