Modern World History

World War I

World War I: History, Causes and Timeline

Causes of World War I

Any kind of conflict, fight or rivalry has an impact on humanity. If this conflict is in the shape of a war, it has far reaching consequences. It is impossible to understand twenty first century world politics and the dynamics between the various countries, if we do not study the impact of world wars which have been witnessed by the humanity. The effect, impact and causes of World War I are the factors that have also shaped today’s world. All the reasons that are responsible for the world war are important in their own ways and they all are connected to each other. There are several reasons and factors that lead to the World War I.

Nationalism in First World War

Nationalism refers to the sentiments, when a country promotes themselves and ranks them above all and its citizens love their country and are patriotic about it. In the 19 century, there was a sudden upswing in the nationalistic feelings in various European countries. Most of the civilians were extremely patriotic about their country and also felt strongly about loosing their mother land. People wanted to fight for their land. The people of each country were really enthusiastic about the war therefore, they didn’t really plan as to how will they tackle the problem when it arrives. Nobody had any idea what kind of situation they will be in? What it would be like and what consequences will this war lead them into?

There were reasons as to why people were so enthusiastic about the war. One, they were indoctrinated by their teachers that they should have a strong trust in their country and their leader and secondly, they thought that the war is going to finish in 4 months thus, the victory wasn’t far away. Plus, they wanted to win because they didn’t want to loose their country (land). On the other hand, many European countries were being ruled by multi-racial empires.

That means empires inhabited by people of different races. E.g. Russian empire contained more non-Russians than Russians. The Austro-Hungarian Empire included Serbs, Croats, Poles, Czechs and many others. All these people didn’t feel patriotic about their country as they were ruled by other empires. The nationalist movement in these empires caused lots of conflicts before 1914. These conflicts lead to the war due to strong sense of nationalism.

Militarism in World War I

Militarism in simple words means preparing for the war. Most of the European countries after becoming economically strong started improving and developing their armed forces. As the people were very enthusiastic about the war the leaders motivated young men to become soldiers so that there would be no space left for a fault.

World War I Naval Arms Race

Another major inclusion in the armed forces was the strengthening of the Navy. The naval race was a race where all the world empires were building up their own versions of the dreadnought which was the most powerful ship ever designed. The naval race was between Britain and Germany. After Germany launched the dreadnought into the naval race, they started building 41 battleships and 60 cruisers. The British also started to take more interest in the navy and ordered to build more battleships. Germany also built a second version of the dreadnought called Rhineland. Then the British made another battleship called HMS Neptune which was a super dreadnought compared to the British.

In 1914, when the war started the British won the naval race which lead to the Germans wanting to take revenge. Secondly, the Germans introduced a ‘Schliffen plan’ which is a war plan. Their Schliffen plan was to quickly defeat France and then slowly approach on defeating Russia. They assumed that it would be easy to defeat France as they thought that they were very slow in mobilizing or get ready for action). The fact that this plan didn’t work out the way they imagined really frustrated the Germans which is why they fought the war which great enthusiasm. It is said that if the schliffen plan had been succeeded, then the war would be over in matter of weeks because once they defeated France, they didn’t have to fear as Russia wasn’t that developed. Plus, the British didn’t have big troops. They lacked troops so it would be easy to defeat Britain.

Imperialism in First World War

Imperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries to expand their empire overseas and make colonies and makes them follow their own laws. By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. The amount of lands ‘owned’ by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany. When Germany emerged as fastest growing economy, it caused considerable anxiety in Britain. New trade markets were made in order to improve the economy and higher salaries were offered to motivate the workers which lead to increase productivity. Later in late nineteenth century Germany acquired a number of overseas colonies giving serious completion to British. These economic and colonial rivalries also lead to lot of mistrust between these countries. These rivalries were not a direct cause of war as most of the colonial conflicts had been settled well before 1914.

Kaiser (German ruler) made new policy called ‘weltpolitik’ which means world policy in English. The Germans wanted to rule the world and they were sure they will win, so they already prepared laws and regulations for the whole world but this didn’t happen which disappointed the Germans. Secondly, German wanted to expand their army into the Ottoman Empire.

Alliance System in First World War

When countries join hands and agree to help each other in the war in order to gain victory is called alliances. Many alliances were made in order to reach their target. The first alliance was the Austro-Serbian alliance. The austro-serbian alliance was made in the 1881 in which Austro-Hungarian made an alliance with Serbia to stop Russia from gaining control in order to expand their empire. The second alliance was the Dual alliance which was established in the 1879. This alliance was made between Germany and Austria in order to get protection from Russia. The third alliance was the triple alliance between Germany, Italy and Austria 1882. This alliance was made so that Italy would stop taking the Russian side. In this alliance the main countries were Germany and Austria-Hungary and Italy was just at the background.

The current state was 2 on 3 but if Italy joined Russia then, they will have more people thus, greater chances of wining. Franco-Russian alliance war the fourth alliance which was agreed in 1892 between France and Russia in order to protect themselves from Germany and Austria-Hungary. Agreement number five was the entente cordiale which was between Britain and France. This alliance was made is 1904. This alliance wasn’t a formal alliance between France and Britain. This meant Britain was no longer isolated. In 1907 Britain made a similar agreement with Russia who already had made an alliance with France.

Significance of Triple Alliance

There were six alliance systems in total. At the start, there were six alliances which resulted two in the end. On the one hand were Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy in the Triple Alliance. On the other hand were France, Russia and Britain in the Triple Ententes. Triple entente is a bit stronger term. It means that no matter what, all of these countries are going to stick together and fight for each other. Triple alliance was, all the three countries were friends and they will work together but there was no guarantee that they will always fight for each other. They can separate as well. So, there was a lot of backstabbing and making small groups within the large group and everybody made deals in order to get the best of what they could achieve.

Effects of Alliance System in First World War

The Alliance system had two important effects-

a) It might encourage powers to act rashly in the knowledge that they would receive support. E.g. the Austrian government’s actions in provoking a war with Serbia in 1914 can be partly explained by the knowledge that Germany was likely to back them up.

b) It meant that if war broke out between any two powers all other powers in the two sets of alliances were likely to be dragged in as well. This is what happened in 1914.

Assassination in First World War

All these countries were involved in the fight because Austria-Hungary’s demands against Serbia activated a sequence of alliances. Within weeks the major European powers were at war; their global empires meant that the conflict soon spread worldwide. At first, when the Austrian/ Hungarian prince, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife got assassinated on the 28th June, 1914. Hungary and Austria wanted independence but at the same time the other European countries wanted to rule those two countries therefore they tried to conquer Austria and Hungary. As a result there was a fight between most of the European countries.

The European countries had a lack of troops, thus they made alliances with other European countries but they all had their own demands. In this way many other countries got involved. Then the countries started making plans and tricking their partners. For example: Japan was helping Italy and Italy didn’t want to give half of the land to Japan, so Italy partnered with Greece, Serbia and Montenegro and conquered Albania.

Causes of Assassination

The Italy tricked Japan by telling Greece to kill all the Japanese troops after the captured Albania. Like this the other countries made plans and distributed the small groups into allies and enemies. Allies: ENTENTIES and enemies: CENTRAL powers. The entities won the victory and Hungary and Austria got independence from each other. Another reason which could be one of the roots to the problem because the prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand was Austro-Hungarian but many Serbs lived in Austria –Hungary. So, the government predicted that this assassination was planed by the Serbs as they didn’t like the fact that they were being rules by Austria-Hungary. This was true because later it was proved that the assassin was Serbian nationalist.

Balkan in First World War

Siberia was the most powerful state in Balkans. Siberia was looked upon as threat because Austria-Hungary wanted Siberia to be dealt with. Thus, they came up with a logical excuse to get rid of Siberia. This didn’t work as there were more Serbs than Austro-Hungarian. If Serbia was removed then there wouldn’t have a large population.

Balkan Causes of World War I

Nationalism, imperialism, militarism, assassination, alliance system and the Balkan problem caused this tragic event (war). The rivalry between the various European empires and their nationalistic movement lead to competition between each empire. This also led to the development of industrial, economic and social factors. This caused the invention of the new warfare which brought wealth. With the use of wealth, the empires developed their armed forces which is militarization. Militarization led to the war. Militarization is also the reason how the leaders started colonizing (imperialism) and increasing their empire. Through this, they gained power. This tells us how all these world causes are related to each other. In summary, nationalism is connected to militarism because with the help of weapons the empires protected themselves and their land from getting captured. Secondly, Militarism is connected to imperialism because all the empires used new weapons to conquer each land and expand their empire.

Rival Sovereign States

Rival sovereign states: Europe was divided into different sovereign states. Often there was a lot of competition among them for power, influence and domination within the continent. When they did not achieve this by peaceful means, they had to often go to war. E.g. the French government’s desire to avenge its defeat at the hands of the Germans in 1870-71. Austria’s conflict with Russia over, which of them should have the greatest influence in the Balkans. Germany’s challenge to the naval and economic power of Britain, all these rivalries resulted in to a major war. This all are the causes which lead to the world war one.

Course of the World War I

As soon as Austria threatened Serbia a state of war gripped the world. Germany attacked Belgium and France. Italy broke from the Triple Alliance and joined allies for sake of territorial gains in 1915.Japan joined Allies while Turkey came to side of Central Powers. Even US was drawn into conflict on side of Allies in 1917.There was a tremendous attack of Germany on Paris and an invasion of East Prussia by Russians. Power of defensive developed and there was a rapid elaboration of trench warfare with enormous losses. The third phase was of military deadlock which passed slowly into one of aggression upon combatant population behind fronts by destruction of food supplies and by attacks through air.

Actual warfare ceased in November 1918 when an armistice was signed by both parties. As part of Peace of Paris (1919), separate treaties were drafted and imposed on defeated powers such as Treaty of Versaillies on Germany,treaty of St Germain on Austria,Treaty of Sevres with Turkey etc.The 1919 also saw the foundation of the League of Nations.

Consequences of World War I

  • Cessation of nearly every sort of productive activity that contributed to military operations.

  • Destruction of industry and rising inflation.

  • Fall in production of food throughput world due to calling up of peasantry to fronts.

  • There was a permanent change in realm of finance with transferring of wealth from Europe to America.

  • Education and scientific work was restricted or diverted to fulfil the military needs of the nations.

  • Wide spread resentments and disillusionment with the compromises in treaties and continued violence in certain part of the world and mutual distrust between the victor nations.

  • Emergence of different kinds of movements such as an increasingly strong pacifist movement, violent nihilist movement.

  • Tremendous loss of human lives in the nations. Total causalities were 27 million out of which 8 million actually died in war.

  • Birth of number of independent European states and reorganization of boundaries of many old states.

  • Adoption of new set of ideologies by nations such as Marxism, Fascism and socialism.

Significance of World War I

The significance of World War I from a global perspective is that it began the undermining of Europe’ supremacy- a process that was completed after World War II.During World War I Britain lost a quarter of its foreign investments, France a third and Germany lost all. The reverse of this trend was seen in new financial strength of US. In 1914 the US owed about $ 4 billion to European investors but by 1919 the US had become a creditor nation to the tune of $3.7 billion by 1930 this had risen to $ 8.8 billion. Many European industrial areas were devastated while American factories grew manifold under the wartime demand. By 929 US was responsible for 42.2% of the world industrial output.

Ideas of Wilson and Lenin

In all parts of the continent the old order was being questioned and challenged. Many Europeans were looking up to Wilson and Lenin. Wilson’s 14 points had started up a ferment of democratic hope and expectancy. The millions of dead and wounded, ruins of cities and villages made large masses receptive to the call for revolution. Demonstrations were staged in the streets of London, Paris and Rome.

Europe After World War I

Finally European domination was undermined by World War I because of the repercussions in the overseas colonies. The spectacle of one bloc of European powers fighting another to the bitter end damaged the prestige of the nations .No longer they were regarded as divinely ordained to rule over the colored. Many soldiers from the colonies fought in the war. The colonials who returned home after such experiences were not likely to be as obedient to European masters as before.

Revolutionary ideas in the colonies were also spread by propaganda spread with the conduct of the war. The revoluntary phases of self-determination of people left its imprint on the colonial world as well as upon Euope.Equally influential were the ideologies of socialism and communism. The War gave hope to the colonies of getting freedom from slavery. 

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