The First World War, also referred to as the Great War or WWI, broke out in 1914-1918. The opposite sides were presented by two alliances known as the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany and the Allies represented by Russia, France, and Great Britain. Although the event that triggered the war was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his spouse in Austria, the causes of the global war were much deeper and complicated (Mulligan, 2014). Therefore, it is crucial to examine the forces that led to WWI, as well as the role of the US and its contribution to the peace treaty.
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The Forces that Caused the First World War
It is a generally reputed that WWI was caused by the growth of imperialism, nationalism, and militarism in Europe. Although the 19th century was mostly peaceful for this part of the world, the beginning of the 20th century was marked by the increase of tension between the strongest countries in the region. By this time, Germany emerged into a growing empire whose goals were to achieve military power and further expansion. In order to protect the territories from the possible enemies, Germany stepped into the alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy.
From the other side, racism and nationalism were popular in Germany. Some researchers state that “Germany alone played Great Power politics with all the unfulfilled ambitions and romantic expectations of a movement for national awakening” (Hewitson, 2014, p. 39). Therefore, radical nationalists were reported to have become more active in the period before the war. The fight against internal and external enemies such as Jews, “Slavs,” and Anglo-Saxons was conducted both abroad and within the country’s borders. It is possible to say that Germany sought power which could be reached through the army and war alliances as it lacked the navy and the colonies that the other countries possessed.
On the other hand, the rise of Pan-Slavism, which was characterized by the growth of unity and integrity of Slavonic nations in Eastern Europe, caused strong rejection of Russia by German nationalists. In Germany, Russia was described as the potential enemy while its people were depicted as barbaric. In fact, Pan-Slavism had the same origins as the nationalism in Germany and caused tension in some countries of Eastern Europe, such as Czech lands and Slovakia, which were a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is believed that Pan-Slavism was a root cause of Balkan conflict as these territories were mainly populated with Slavic people who supported the development of the great Russian Empire. Serbia was supported by Russia and searched expansion of its territories to include Serbs who lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, Austro-Hungarian Empire invaded these territories, which caused a certain alarm of Serbia’s allies and led to the strong opposition to Austria-Hungary and its supporters.
Thus, the alliances played a vital role in the outbreak of the Great War as they assisted in sustaining the balance of power in Europe. From the other side, the confrontation between the alliances contributed to the beginning of WWI as well. The experience of previous short conflict in early 20th century showed that technological development caused new dynamics of violence and a large-scale war would lead to humanitarian catastrophe (Mulligan, 2014). Still, the attempts of Germany and Austria-Hungary to expand their territories led to the murder in Sarajevo and the outbreak of war between the alliances formed by that period.
The Events That Caused the Involvement of the US in the War
At the beginning of WWI, the United States and President Wilson preferred to stay neutral in the conflict. This neutrality was partly caused by problems in the Caribbean and in Latin America where further invasion might have brought negative results. The eruption of war in Europe resulted in the decrease of America’s export, but in a year, the demands of supply and food by the Allies caused an economic boom (Tindall & Shi, 2016). Therefore, many Americans supported the neutral policy of the government. The ethnicity played a great role in this decision because many Americans had European origin, and a big number of immigrants in the country might have caused an internal tension.
Nevertheless, when the British liner Lusitania sank after having been attacked by the German submarine, it had spoiled the diplomatic relations with Germany as many Americans died on that ship. The denial of Germany to stop unannounced warfare resulted in the start of America’s military actions against Germany. After that, some Americans joined the war as members of French Foreign Legion and volunteered for other troops of the Allies. Germany also threatened America by proposing an alliance with Mexico in the Zimmerman telegram, which resulted in greater support of military actions by American people. Therefore, the Senate voted to declare war on Germany.
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America’s Contribution to War Effort and the End of WWI
It should be noticed that the US did not join the alliances and represented itself in the Great War as an independent power. Still, American government and troops collaborated with the Allies. It is a general opinion that US entering into WWI had a great impact on the war outcomes and the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In addition to the war efforts against Germany, the United States greatly contributed to the outcome by supplying food, raw materials, and giving money to the Allies.
When the war was about to end, President Wilson presented his peace plane which outlined his vision of the safer world. Some researchers state that the First World War “involved conflicts with and within many nations and it appeared that the entire world had uncontrollably slipped into total chaos” (O’Brien, 2016, p. 55). Therefore, Wilson wanted to secure prevention of further large-scale conflicts and stop the war.
The initial conditions of the peace treaty between the opposite sides were discussed by the Big Four at the Paris Conference in 1919. The leaders of the Allies initially disagreed with Wilson’s vision of peace without victory. Still, the discussion of peace conditions resulted in the Treaty of Versailles (Hewitson, 2014). According to the treaty, the territories of Germany were restricted in favor of other countries, and its military forces were limited. Wilson also proposed his vision of the League of Nations to prevent future wars. Still, the Senate rejected the US entering into the League of Nations as it was thought that the country might be bounded by it. Therefore, the United States neither ratified the Treaty of Versailles nor joined the League of Nations. It is a generally considered that these events had negative consequences for the United States. Many German Americans felt that their fatherland was treated badly. And the weak health of Wilson prevented him from establishing strong leadership, and his hastiness in bringing about peace had severe consequences and caused further depression in the United States.
The problems that were unresolved during the First World War led to further development of nationalism in Germany which sought ways to restore its territories. Therefore, the analysis of the causes of the First World War and the role of the United States and President Wilson in the peace treaty is significant to understanding the causes of the Second World War. Still, the attempt to establish the League of Nations had a great impact on the further formation of the UNO.
Hewitson, M. (2014). Germany and the causes of the First World War. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Mulligan, W. (2014). The trial continues: New directions in the study of the origins of the First World War. The English Historical Review, 129(538), 639–666. Web.
O’Brien, T. P. (2016). Woodrow Wilson: A failure of leadership – a broken Middle East. Liberty University Faculty Publications and Presentations, 448(1), 52-63.
Tindall, G. B., & Shi, D. E. (2016). America: A narrative history. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.