Many historians believe strongly that the Great War was an unforgettable event that changed global relationships forever. Although the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the year 1914 is what triggered the global upheaval, the agreeable fact is that several forces and events experienced throughout the 19th century led to the development of the war (Hart, 2013). The purpose of this essay is to analyze the unique issues surrounding the Great War.
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Militarism, Nationalism, and Imperialism
The wave of militarism experienced in Europe is believed to have catalyzed this global conflict. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, many European powers were acquiring numerous resources to strengthen their navies and armies. In countries such as Germany, Hungary, and Britain, more people were recruited to become servicemen (Carlyon, 2014). Colonialism became a catalyst for this arms race experienced in Europe. The second wave was that of nationalism. During the same period, many people wanted to develop ideas that resonated with their nations. Most of the countries wanted to dominate and acquire plentiful resources and colonies across the world. The French people, for instance, wanted to assert power across the continent. These developments redefined the idea of nationalism.
The Great War cannot be understood clearly without analyzing the nature of imperialism throughout the 19th century. Countries such as Italy, France, Britain, and German were struggling for resources in order to emerge successfully. New colonies appeared to address this problem (Hart, 2013). Consequently, a new race emerged as the nations worked hard to acquire more colonies in Africa and Asia. Consequently, the race intensified the level of rivalry in the continent.
The Pan-Slavism concept has also been put forward to analyze the origin of the infamous war. The ideologies experienced “in the Balkans led to new tensions across Europe” (Hart, 2013, p. 48). Pan-Slavism emerged as a political ideology whereby the Slavic people wanted to become united and prosperous. The movement created the best environment for nationalism in Europe. Unfortunately, Pan-Slavism resulted in new tensions between East and West Europe. New alignments emerged whereby the nations united against their common enemies (Lowe, 2012). The wave of Pan-Slavism encouraged France and Russia to collaborate in order to defeat Germany. This discussion shows conclusively that the history of World War I cannot be clearly understood without analyzing the Pan-Slavism movement.
The Alliance System
Europe had been characterized by numerous conflicts and wars before 1914 (Hynes, 2014). The nature of unrest experienced in the continent had encouraged many countries to sign agreements with their allies. Such agreements were mainly aimed at supporting one another. Lowe (2012) indicates that most of the alliances and ententes were top secrets. Consequently, most of the nations remained suspicious than ever before. One of these ententes was the Dual Alliance signed in the year 1879 between Germany and Austria-Hungary (Hynes, 2014). These nations signed the agreement in order to be prepared against Russia.
In 1882, the Triple Alliance emerged as an expansion of the Dual Alliance. This was achieved by accommodating Italy. A new entente known as the Franco-Russian Alliance was signed in 1894 (Hart, 2013). The Entente Cordiale would later be signed France and Britain in the year 1904. The purpose of these agreements was to strengthen the countries against a common enemy. The agreements signed before 1914 united Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. These nations would eventually enter the war as allies.
The United States and the War
The above discussion indicates clearly that the Alliance System dictated how different nations in Europe approached the Great War. The United States had not signed any of the existing ententes. That being the case, it was necessary to remain neutral throughout the war period. The sinking of a British vessel carrying American citizens, Lusitania, led to peace agreements between the United States and Germany (Lowe, 2012).
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America’s Neutrality and Ethnicity
The history of the United States is defined by immigration and diversity. Many American citizens came from different countries in Europe. Technically, the war in Europe was being fought by American relatives. The citizens in the United States could “not support a given country and not the other” (Hynes, 2014, p. 98). Consequently, America’s neutrality prevailed for the better part of the conflict.
America Joins the War
Many historians believe strongly that the United States never wanted to be involved in the Great War. However, numerous disputes between the U.S. and Germany emerged during the period. This was the case because Germany’s infamous U-boats (Unterseeboot boats) continued to sink American ships. The attacks encouraged the country to join the war. The other event that can be used to explain why America chose to change its decision was the Zimmerman Telegram. Germany had devised a plan to encourage Mexico to join the war. The ultimate goal was to discourage the United States from fighting in Europe. Additionally, Germany had promised to return every lost territory to Mexico (Hynes, 2014). The telegram, therefore, changed America’s perception of the war.
After joining the war, the Americans presented new tactics, war machines, and vessels that overturned the tables. Transportation was made easier than ever before. The soldiers increased the morale of their European counterparts. Numerous resources and supplies were presented (Carlyon, 2014). These contributions would eventfully make it easier for the Allied Powers to defeat Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles
After the defeat of Germany, the American president (Woodrow Wilson) came up with fourteen points to ensure the world remained peaceful. He proposed a new organization that could prevent global conflicts in the future. Unfortunately, the points were ignored because the European powers had already devised their plan. The country also failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles because of the existing differences between Henry Lodge and the American president (Carlyon, 2014). This move made it impossible for the United States to become part of the League of Nations.
During the same time, Wilson’s health deteriorated thereby making it hard for him to focus on the Treaty of Versailles. Most of the people in the country were unhappy with the idea because it appeared to punish Germany. Many Americans whose ancestral roots were in Germany and Ireland could not support the treaty (Carlyon, 2014). These mixed reactions forced the president to abandon the Treaty of Versailles.
History indicates clearly that the United States had no option but to accept the inappropriate League of Nations. The Treaty of Versailles prevailed after “bringing the turmoil between Germany and the Allied Powers to an end” (Carlyon, 2014, p. 56). Unfortunately, the unfair document created a new ground for bloodier conflict that shocked the world from 1939 to 1945.
Carlyon, L. (2014). The Great War: Centenary edition. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Hart, P. (2013). The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hynes, S. (2014). The unsubstantial air: American fliers in the First World War. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Lowe, J. (2012). The Great Powers, imperialism and the German problem 1865-1925. New York, NY: Rutledge.