Imperialism, Nationalism, Militarism
Imperialism, the rise of nationalism, and the rapid militaristic expansion of European countries can all be considered contributors to the outbreak of World War I. When it comes to nationalism, governmental leaders pushed the narrative that love for one’s country demanded hatred for another. Prior to WWI’s beginning, relationships between Germany and England, Germany and Russia, and Germany and France became more aggressive and complex (Mulligan, 2017). Imperialism acted as a contributor because Germany as the main aggressor wanted to expand its borders to build its power and wealth. Up until 1905, the country reached the climax of its imperialistic expansion and made relations with European countries even more heated (Mulligan, 2017). As both Italy and German engaged in a colonial rivalry with France and Britain in Africa, it was hard to de-escalate the conflict and avoid subsequent war.
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Apart from imperialism and nationalism, World War I also was a result of ever-rising militaristic power. Countries engaged in a race for armament after the 1870s not only for national defense purposes but also for making others afraid of the power that came with it. By rapidly building up military resources, European nations created an environment of hostility and secrecy, which was also reinforced by training the intelligence to spy on the actions of other governments.
Pan-Slavism was a strong force in Eastern Europe and was particularly powerful in Serbia where it rapidly developed in the course of the “late nineteenth and early twentieth century” (Southey & Thompson, 2017, para. 1). Pan-Slavism was particularly opposed to Austro-Hungarian ideologies and even inspired the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo (Southey & Thompson, 2017). Since this event was a direct contributor to World War I, it can be suggested that Pan-Slavism was a nationalistic ideology that not only demanded the love for one’s own country but also inspired hatred for others. It is also important to mention that ideologies of nationalism led to the creation of alliances between countries because governments thought that protecting against a potential threat could only be managed with the support of other countries.
Role of Alliances
By 1910, the existing alliances between European countries were merely defensive. However, after the Bosnian crisis, Germany engaged in a military dialogue with Austria-Hungary and promised to give it military support if the latter agreed to invade Serbia (“Bosnian crisis of 1908,” 2017). Additionally, Germany felt threatened by the creation of the Triple Entente (agreement between the Russian Empire, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the French Third Republic). To disrupt the unification of the countries’ powers, Germany attempted to adopt an aggressive foreign policy, which led to the escalation of the international crisis and subsequently WWI. Overall, the strengthening of the alliance system was another source of conflicts between powerful European countries due to its contribution to turning localized misunderstandings into a large multinational war.
The United States and WWI
On April 6th, 1917, the United States of America decided to enter the First World War after maintaining its neutrality for three years since the conflict’s beginning. However, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson urged citizens to “be impartial in thought, as well as action” to avoid “passionately taking sides” (as cited in Keene, 2014, p. 266). Apart from the ideas of impartiality, the US did not engage in war because it was not involved in any alliances with European countries and thus had no obligation to fight against any government. Also, ethnicity played a role in the maintenance of neutrality because such groups as Eastern European and Irish immigrants expressed their grievances against the members of the Triple Entente. Farmers who lived in the west of the US did not feel any attachment to the citizens of Europe.
Decision to Participate
While it is hard to clearly identify events that directly led to the decision to join the war, several aspects should be mentioned. As WWI unfolded, the United States started feeling more and more pressure to join. First, the American public opinion was shocked by Germany’s invasion into neutral Belgium, which contributed to the development of anti-German sentiment (“5 reasons for the US entry into World War I,” 2016). Second, American businesses saw economic potential in winning the war through the alliance with Britain and France. Third, the sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania near the Irish coast infuriated the public even more. Fourth, the interception of the Zimmerman telegram, which encouraged Mexico to declare war on the US if the latter had declared war on Germany, set the mobilization of the American people.
Contribution to Victory
There is no doubt that the United States played a role in ending WWI. The large supply of American soldiers countered the abilities of Germany to proceed with its occupational efforts. Apart from supporting allies on the battlefield, the United States used its resources to plant crops to feed soldiers, keep the furnace on, as well as ensure the high spirits of the army. In addition, the anti-German propaganda in which the US government engaged contributed to the rise of troops as well as the financial support of the military efforts of the allies.
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Consequences of Peace
The treaty of Versailles marked the end of World War I on June 28, 1919. While the treaty was initially created to eliminate any reasons for a future military conflict, it failed in the context of the United States. Woodrow Wilson’s political ignorance and the lack of governmental flexibility were the likely contributors to the failure. When bargaining at Versailles to establish a policy that will benefit all parties, the president gave up all of his Fourteen Points while insisting that all countries had to belong to the League of Nations. On the other hand, US senators did not want the country to become a member of the League of Nations to avoid helping other nations when they were attached. This contributed to the US getting somewhat alienated from the European world and subsequently led to another war that had even more devastating consequences.
The United States had to deal with a period of isolationism in foreign policies. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930s, the country tried to engage with its partners on such issues as disarmament, the maintenance of international peace, receiving reparations and debt from France and Great Britain, and so on. However, European countries could not maintain peace, especially in terms of Germany being divided. Thus, the inability to come to terms on how international relations should be managed led to Europe engaging in the Second World War, which also prompted the participation of United States soldiers.
Bosnian crisis of 1908. (2017). Encyclopedia Britannica. Web.
5 reasons for the US entry into World War I. (2016). Web.
Keene, J. (2014). Americans respond. Perspectives on the Global War, 1914-1917. Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 40, 266-286.
Mulligan, W. (2017). The origins of the First World War (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Southey, J., & Thompson, S. (2017). Nationalism as a cause of World War I. Web.