The Great War was one of the most large-scale military conflicts, which surpassed all the preceding wars in the history of mankind. Parties to the conflict were two opposing state alliances, the Entente (comprising of Russia, Great Britain, and France) and the Quadruple Alliance (including Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria).
The immediate reason for the war was the Sarajevo assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the nineteen-year-old Serb gymnasium student Gavrilo Princip, who was a member of a terrorist organization “Young Bosnia,” which fought for the unification of the South Slavic peoples into a single state under the Panslavism. Was it not for the political environment of the time?
The incident could have been settled through diplomatic channels. However, the German imperialists used the Sarajevo murder as a convenient pretext for war. It is due to the European authorities’ obsession with colonial conquests that the First World War is also known as the Imperial War. According to Raymond Aron, the following was at stake in World War I: the provinces, such as Alsace and Galicia, the strategic positions (the Black Sea straits, the coast of Flanders), and the religious symbols (Constantinople) (p. 128).
When the German imperialism was formed and became stronger, the world had already been divided. It aspired to the repartition of the divided world while completely disregarding the sacrifices, to which it inevitably doomed its people and the peoples of other countries. The German imperialism’s competing ideology, the cultural and political movement known as Panslavism, was growing popular in the states inhabited by Slavic peoples.
The Panslavism rested upon the idea of the political association on the basis of the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic community. For the Russian Empire as one of the main parties to the conflict, the goal of Panslavism was to create a confederation (as a minimum) or a federation (as a maximum) of the Slavic peoples under the protectorate of the Russian Empire.
The capture of Constantinople and the Straits (given the fact that the Ottoman Empire was falling into a decline) was an integral part of this plan. Given that a great number of the Slavic peoples resided in the territories that were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Independent States, the passionary idea of Panslavism could be implemented only by means of war between Russia and the Austria-Hungary and Turkey.
Due to the fact that “the Military Convention promised French military help to Russia” (Grenville, Wasserstein, Grenville & Grenville, 2001), and Germany promised the same to Austria-Hungary, the war was inevitably developing into a European war, drawing the Benelux countries as well as the Great Britain that was bound to assist Belgium.
At the beginning of the war, the United States was supportive of the Entente, but was not willing to enter the conflict and remained neutral. Dismayed by the hostilities and having assessed the possible negative consequences for the United States, the American President Woodrow Wilson acted as an intermediary. His ultimate goal was to achieve “peace without victory” (Tucker, 2007); however, his attempts to reconcile peace proved to be unsuccessful.
The United States’ decision to preserve the neutrality up to 1917 was also influenced by the various Ethnic groups residing in the US. According to the 1910 census, almost a third of the ninety million of the American population accounted for people who were either born abroad or were the children of immigrants. The Americans of German descent and the Americans of Irish descent were the most active.
They both stood for neutrality: “while German Americans did not want to fight against their ‘brothers,’ Irish Americans resolved not to help Great Britain, the longtime oppressor of the Irish people” (Ford, 2008). However, once the United States entered the war, many other immigrants (such as the leaders of the Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Jewish American communities) encouraged the members of their ethnic groups to serve in the U.S. Army (Ford, 2002).
But let us first focus on the events that drew the United States into World War I. As Great Britain held the sway in the World Ocean, allowing the neutral countries to trade and blocking the German ports, Germany tried to break the blockade by using a new weapon, the submarines. In 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania with over a hundred Americans aboard the ship, was sunk as a result of a German torpedo attack.
Following the incident, in 1916, Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain was interrupted and resumed only a year later. However, the actual reason for the U.S. joining the war was the so-called Zimmermann Telegram, which set out a detailed plan of the German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman on involving Mexico in the war in the event of the United States’ participation. The Congress proclaimed war on April 6, 1917.
The largest battle between the German and the Anglo-French-American troops took place in July and August 1918 near the French River Marne. It was the last general offensive of the German forces in World War I, which ended in failure and was the prelude to the final defeat of Germany. In January 1918, Woodrow Wilson introduced his Fourteen Points to the US Congress, stating the US objectives in the war.
The declaration was a draft peace treaty to end the First World War; it also provided for the creation of the international organization known as the League of Nations. In many respects, the program was at odds with the military goals of the Allies. After Germany had agreed to conclude peace on the conditions of Wilson’s program, the President sent Colonel Edward M. House to Europe in order to obtain the consent of the Allies. The ceasefire agreement was signed on November 11, 1918.
After World War, I there was significant shifts in the balance of forces between the countries. Once a debtor, the U.S. became an international lender. Due to the ingenious actions of Woodrow Wilson, the country was able to achieve some of the goals set prior to military involvement. The economic barriers in the world trade were eliminated, and the world countries began to reduce their weapon stocks.
A number of European states such as Belgium, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro were freed. The League of Nations was created, which led to the emergence of the “collective security” concept, a new approach to the resolution of disputes among nations that sought to foster delay, debate, and accommodation while obviating the need for military alliances and secret understandings (Zieger, 2000).
However, the U.S. did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles signed in the Hall of Mirrors on June 28, 1919. The treaty later proved to be unable to fulfill its immediate task, which is keeping a tight rein on the defeated countries. Instead, the Entente contributed to their unity, and this eventually resulted in World War II.
Aron, R. (2003). Peace & War. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Ford, N. (2002). Issues of War And Peace. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Ford, N. (2008). The Great War and America. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.
Tucker, R. (2007). Woodrow Wilson and the Great War. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
Zieger, R. (2000). America’s Great War. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.