The First World War, considered as one of the deadliest confrontations in the world’s history, started on July 28, 1914, and finished on November 11, 1918. Almost all the major players on the political scene of that time were involved in this confrontation. The War took place all over Europe, in Asia and Africa. Sixteen million people, including 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians were killed during that time. The War resulted in the drastic changes in the world map and created the conditions that led to another massive confrontation of the 20th century, the Second World War. The causes and reasons for the First World War are to be discussed in the present essay.
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The situation in Europe before 1914 was characterized in recombining of major political powers and groups; shifting priorities and influences. One of the major issues was losing the industrial hegemony by Great Britain, as the industrialization of Germany was rising rapidly. German had a strong alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy, which replaced the Russian Empire, as it had contradictions with Austro-Hungary in the Balkan region. The weakening of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans also played its role. The alliances between Britain, Russia, and France with which Germany had territorial rivalries over Alsace and Lorraine were only sharpening the situation, leaving the great War only the question of time. In addition, the USA and Japan were developing their influence and were just about raising up to the level of great political players.
The fast industrial development together with taking over the superiority from Great Britain as well as the internal policy of Wilhelm II, caused the drastic rise of nationalistic moods within Germany of the first decade of the 20th century. The majority of books for young and adults, saturating the market by August 1914 were about War. As Donson claims: “Like teachers and school reformers, the vast majority of authors of youth literature in 1914 wanted to mobilize German youth for the war” (Donson 582). The German’s reasonable assumption was that the “first strike” in the War in case of success would result in its hegemony in Europe (Ferguson 734).
The military industry race started by Germany and Britain, involving all Europe, resulted in increasing European military powers by 50 percent by 1914 (Fromkin 94). Therefore, when the Serbian terrorist shot Archduke Francis Ferdinand, who was the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the unstoppable chain of catastrophic consequences started. Austria made demands to Serbia, Serbia neglected. Serbian Regent Prince, in his letter to Russian tsar Nicolay II asked “Holy Slavic Russia” for help (Jelavich 262). Russia started mobilizing its army. Germany, who was an Austrian ally, also started mobilization. France and Britain, being Russian allies, started mobilization too. In the attempts to knock France out of the war scene, Germany unsuccessfully attacks it on the northeastern border.
The Americans expressed a highly negative attitude after the beginning of WWI, “anti-German sentiment reached into all parts of the United States” (Manning 16). The United States had just provided homes for immigrants from both the Allied and Central Power nations. That resulted in tensions in both rural and industrial sectors that sometimes ended up in deadly conflicts (Keene 266). The further torpedoing of British ship RMS Lusitania in 1915 by the German U-boat, that caused massive life loss, including 124 Americans, and the following Zimmerman Telegram in 1917 that asked Mexicans to start War against the U.S. only made the situation worse.
Many reasons and tendencies resulted in the catastrophe of World War I. The majority of them had a long-time background and tensions that burst in the second decade of the 20th century leading involving twenty-seven countries into the military conflict. Moreover, it seems that there was a lack of alternative then.
Donson, Andrew. “Models for young nationalists and militarists: German youth literature in the First World War.” German Studies Review (2004): 579-598.Print.
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Ferguson, Nial. “Germany and the Origins of the First World War: New Perspectives.” The Historical Journal (1992): 725-752. Print.
Fromkin, David. Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Print.
Jelavich, Barbara. Russia’s Balkan Entanglements, 1806-1914. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
Keene, Jennifer D. “Americans Respond: Perspectives on the Global War, 1914-1917.” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 40.2 (2014): 266-286. Print.
Manning, Mary J. “Being German, Being American.” Prologue-Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 46.2 (2014): 15-22. Print.