World War I (initially named the Great War) changed the course of global warfare forever. The war had significant implications on global relationships, imperialism, and nationalism. The end of the war precipitated new disputes that would play a major role in the development of another global conflict. The “assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 was the immediate cause of World War I” (Hamilton & Herwig, 2003, p. 12). However, historians agree that numerous forces played a role in initiating this war. This essay gives a detailed analysis of the major causes of the war and its aftermath.
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Forces that led to the First World War
The first notable cause of the Great War was imperialism (Nwauwa, 2012). Throughout the 19th century, the major powers in Europe such as Britain, Germany, Spain, and France were increasing their territories in different parts of the world. During the period, some “parts of Asia and Africa were points of disputation” (Hamilton & Herwig, 2003, p. 25). Moreover, these European powers continued to compete in an attempt to have more territories. This move led to new enmities and confrontations.
The other major cause of the conflict was militarism. The beginning of the 20th century was characterized by “an arms race” (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011, p. 19). Countries such as France and Britain had superior naval systems. Germany began to reinforce its military power. The ongoing “military establishment in Europe continued to influence different policies in Europe” (Nwauwa, 2012, p. 22). As well, the concept of nationalism played a decisive role during the period. Every country in the continent wanted to prove its supremacy (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011). The Russians also wanted to prove its superiority to the other nations in the region. The countries’ desire to portray their powers reshaped the course of the conflict in Bosnia. Before the war, the Slavic people in Herzegovina and Bosnia desired to be part of Serbia (Hamilton & Herwig, 2003).
The concept of Pan-Slavism was another force that catalyzed the First World War. Nwauwa (2012) indicates that “all Slavic people believed that they had a common culture and ethnicity” (p. 61). The Russians were ready to support the Slavs because of this kind of notion. The idea of nationalism forced Russia to support the Slavs in Balkan. During the infamous Bosnian Crisis of 1908, Russia had failed to support the Slavs. Consequently, the country had lost its international prestige. Russia chose to support the Slavs during the crisis of 1914 in Bosnia (Nwauwa, 2012). The wave of Pan-Slavism, therefore, encouraged more countries to join the war. During the same time, a new wave of nationalism was taking shape in every German-speaking nation. These nations decided to join hands thus resulting in a new conflict in 1914. As a result, Germany chose to support Austria thus spreading the Balkan conflict across the globe (Nwauwa, 2012).
Before 1914, many European countries had formed new alliance systems. Any form of “conflict between two nations belonging to different blocs meant war for the other members of the alliances” (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011, p. 39). Such alliances were used to exclude rivals and bring more nations together. Some of the alliances included “the Dual Alliance, the Three Emperor’s League, the Triple Alliance, and the Triple Entente” (Hamilton & Herwig, 2003, p. 65). The First World War was therefore reshaped by these alliance systems.
The United States and World War I
Throughout the first three years of the conflict, the United States chose to remain neutral. The nation also encouraged its citizens to be impartial (Zieger, 2001). The geographical distance between America and Europe made it easier for the nation to be neutral. The history of the country’s people also led to this neutrality. Many Americans had relatives and family members in different European nations. These American citizens were shocked to see their relatives fighting in Europe. That being the case, it would be wrong for the U.S. to join one alliance and ignore another (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011, p. 126). It was, therefore, necessary for the Americans to remain neutral and rejoice because they were not part of the warfare.
However, America’s neutrality would be tested throughout the course of the conflict. Britain and Germany engaged in various illegal acts such as seizing U.S. ships and goods. Britain was ready to disorient any form of trade between Germany and the United States. Germany went ahead to produce its famous U-boats. These boats attacked and destroyed many ships from 1914 to 1915. The sinking of the Lusitania killed around 128 American citizens. President Woodrow Wilson chose to remain neutral throughout the period. He even “ignored all actions that could bring the country into the battle” (Zieger, 2001, p. 12).
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In 1917, German sank many American ships. As well, German wanted to become an international power (Zieger, 2001). Basically, the dishonor of the Monroe Doctrine and insult to America’s independence forced the nation to join the war. Congress declared war against Germany in April 1917 (Zieger, 2001). It would later declare war on Austria-Hungary in December.
The strength and power of the U.S. troops dictated the future of the war. The American army was growing stronger every single day. The Meuse-Argonne offensive proved catastrophic in 1918. The new chancellor of Germany, Max von Baden, telegraphed Woodrow Wilson asking for peace talks (Zieger, 2001). This move played a decisive role in bringing the Great War to an end.
The Defeat of the Treaty of Versailles
In America, many policymakers believed that the Treaty of Versailles was inappropriate and wrong. For instance, German Americans argued that their motherland was treated unfairly. The American president advised his party to reject the treaty (Zieger, 2001). Woodrow Wilson’s worsening health condition made it impossible for him to support the treaty.
Historians have argued that the rejection of the treaty reshaped the future of global conflicts. America had become a new global superpower after the end of the Great War (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011). However, the League of Nations remained ineffective because it failed to address the major issues affecting different European nations (Zieger, 2001). The United States was no longer interested in any conflict involving these European nations.
The implementation of the League of Nations proved ineffective and unsuccessful. For instance, most of “the powerful nations that would have strengthened the league were not invited” (Bloxham & Gerwarth, 2011, p. 92). The treaty also penalized Germany thus promoting new conflicts. As well, new concepts of imperialism emerged after the First World War. The League of Nations was therefore poorly designed and executed. The United States would have to be involved in another global conflict in the late 1930s (Zieger, 2001).
Bloxham, D., & Gerwarth, R. (2011). Political Violence in Twentieth-Century Europe. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hamilton, R., & Herwig, H. (2003). The Origins of World War I. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Nwauwa, A. (2012). Imperialism, Academe and Nationalism. New York, NY: Routledge.
Zieger, R. (2001). America’s Great War: World War I and the American Experience. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.