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Causes of World War I Overview

Although the immediate cause of World War I was the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian man of Serbian nationality Gavrilo Princip, there were, in fact, many incidents that led to the Great War. Imperialism, militarism, and nationalism, Pan-Slavism, along with other factors having their roots deeper in the nineteenth century, were the principal reasons why the war began. Not all of the countries joined the war at the very start, and the analysis of their strategy is also an important issue while considering the course of the Great War.

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Nationalism as a Cause of War

Out of all the primary causes of World War I, nationalism occupied the chief position. It was especially intense in the Balkans. In 1898, Serbia became entirely independent from the Ottoman Empire. The same year, Austria-Hungary was allowed to take over Bosnia and Herzegovina despite them still being legitimately part of the Ottoman Empire (Keiger, 2012). While ethnic Serbians were the biggest national body in the occupied region, they were infuriated by the total annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria in 1908. When Serbia approached Russia for assistance, Austria asked help from Germany. The latter threatened Russia, and it refused to back up Serbia, which had no other choice but to acknowledge the annexation. However, these events lead to the new rise of the nationalistic movement in Serbia (Keiger, 2012).

France also had outbreaks of nationalism, provoked by anti-German disturbance after losing the provinces of Lorraine and Alsace to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. Serbians, Russians, Germans and French, as well as other countries of Eastern Europe where the nationalistic movement was popular, held the disapproval of war for one of their postulates. However, as later events testify, all of these countries joined the World War I to defend their people and beliefs (Keiger, 2012).

Imperialism in the European Countries

The second contributor to the outbreak of war was imperialism, which provoked hostility between some of the most influential European countries. There is a widespread opinion that the rivalries between the imperialists lead to the Great War. One of its first examples was the Moroccan crisis of 1905 (Joll & Martel, 2006). In 1904, Great Britain and France had an Entente Cordiale agreement in which Britain supported France’s control over Morocco. Next year, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II expressed his support to the Sultan of Morocco. The situation made France and Britain become closer and suggested an opinion that in the case of a war with Germany, they would be allies (Joll & Martel, 2006). Thus, the imperialistic movement, which gained popularity in some countries, was considered another cause of the beginning of the war.

Militarism as a Crucial Factor

The increase of the armaments and military forces by the European countries in the years preceding 1914 was another predecessor of the World War I. The amounts of the states’ budgets spent on weapons and the numbers of the men involved in the armies were increasing. Militarism was closely connected with masculinity (Grayzel, 2012). However, instead of raising the security of the countries, it led to developing suspicion and rivalry which had already existed between some of the nations (Grayzel, 2012).

Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe

The foreign Slavs tendency for the national sovereignty was the reason why Russia expanded its control in the international relations system (Grigorieva, 2009). This trend shaped out into a stereotyped idea of Russia as an evil power aiming at destroying the German-Romanic civilization, obtaining the assistance of the southern and western Slav tribesmen. The western European political and social activists gave this movement a name “Pan-Slavism” (Grigorieva, 2009, p. 13). In the course of time, Pan-Slavism gained a different cultural and political shade of meaning. It ranged from “literary mutuality” (cultural and religious aspects) to giving birth to political movements: “Illyrizm” (Great Illyria), Austro-Slavism (Slavonic Austria), and the so-called All-Slavic “Limited” Federation (a segment of Russian Empire) (Grigorieva, 2009, p. 13). However, Pan-Slavism lacked the paradigm of integrity. It was usually divided into two primary aspects – literary and political. The ideology of Pan-Slavism authorized Russia’s pre-eminence and social self-sufficiency and established its ties with the weaker Slavic states (Grigorieva, 2009). Thus, Pan-Slavism became one of the reasons driving to the beginning of war.

The United States in the First World War

Unlike Europe, which was engaged in the First World War since the very beginning, the USA waited for two and a half years with the decision of joining the war. The reason for such a late start was connected with considering the threat for America’s national safety and welfare in case of fighting in Europe. When the US finally entered the war in 1917, it was already clear that the conflict would have massive outcomes. The American President Woodrow Wilson postponed being involved in the conflict as long as possible. However, with the war spreading, the US people who were traveling by sea in Europe appeared under the influence of the fighting sides. When Wilson realized the danger presented to the country’s economics and territory by Germany, he unenthusiastically requested the Congress’ announcement of war (Keene, 2006).

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The official resolution to take part in the conflict had an instantaneous effect upon the American people. It was a total war which demanded soldiers in the battlefield as well as strong backing on the part of volunteers and workers who did their best to supply the troops while staying at home.

The resolutions made by the American political and military commanders, along with the faults in Western Front fighting, had a great impact on the soldiers’ lives. On the one hand, the American veterans were proud of their part in beating Germany. On the other hand, they were disappointed by the fiasco of the peace operation. To genuinely realize the circumstances which defined the soldiers’ ordeals it is necessary to comprehend the causes of the war, the American army’s strategy, and the weaknesses in the peace treaty (Keene, 2006).

The Treaty of Versailles, illustrating Wilson’s fourteen suggestions of how to bring the world peace, seemed a promising idea. However, it imposed too much pressure on Germany, which eventually led to its rebellion against it. One of Wilson’s main points – the proposal to create the League of Nations – also failed. The disagreements of the Senate members, as well as distrust to Wilson on the part of Republicans, were the key reasons for its failure. The ethnic groups, feeling for their native country and considering the conditions of the Treaty too harsh for Germany, also played their role in the Treaty’s collapse (Henig, 2011).

War, like any complex notion, has many constitutes which explain its beginning and the strategies that lead to its ending. In the case with the First World War, there were numerous factors leading to starting it. Every country’s decision to participate was dictated by some circumstances connected with its people, territory, economics, or politics. It would be wrong to say that the war began with Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. As we can see, its roots go far deeper than the twenty-eighth of June, 1914.

References

Grayzel, S. R. (2012). Women and men. In J. Horne (ed.), A Companion to World War I (pp. 263-278). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Grigorieva, A. (2009). Pan-Slavism in central and southeastern Europe. Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences, 3, 13-21.

Henig, R. (2011). Versailles and peacemaking. Web.

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Joll, J. & Martel, G. (2006). The origins of the First World War. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.

Keene, J. D. (2006). World War I. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Keiger, J. F. V. (2012). The War explained: 1914 to the present. In J. Horne (ed.), A Companion to World War I (pp. 19-32). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

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