The untimely assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 triggered WWI. However, this war had its roots in the 19th century when prevailing issues such as imperialism, militarism, nationalism, particularly the then-emerging Pan-Slavic philosophy in Eastern Europe and the rising patriotism in German-speaking countries, played a huge role in this assassination and, consequently, the onset of WWI. America joined the war later to support its allies, although it had initially entered as a neutral party.
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Events Leading to WWI
The issue of nationalism was a part of the major forces that caused the First World War. In this case, people and states that supported the philosophies of their countries could further join hands to fight rival nations, for instance, Germany, and vice versa. This hostile xenophobia created an environment that was conducive to bloody combat involving several countries (Roper & Duffett, 2018). The witnessed rise of nationalism in German-speaking nations threatened Britain’s supremacy following the announcement by Kaiser William II that Germany was strategizing to become a global power in a move it termed as a “place in the sun” (Wu, 2015, p. 148).
The rivalry would arise because attaining such levels implied taking Britain’s position as then it was recognized as, international giant. Germany’s nationalism emerged in the form of a federation of 30 German-speaking states that led to the Pan-Slavism doctrine. This philosophy held that all Slavic citizens occupying eastern parts of the European continent were to establish a single powerful country, namely, Greater Serbia. The strategy would be met by war from Britain and its allies. Such alliances increased to the extent of triggering WWI. In particular, the nationalist move to establish Serbia was accompanied by chaos from radical individuals who triggered the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, an event that marked the beginning of the First World War.
Militarism also contributed largely to the inception of WWI. The arms race in Europe had been rising since 1870. However, although such armaments were meant to help during national defense events, they paved the way for global distrust, apprehension, and abhorrence among different countries (Roper & Duffett, 2018). In particular, rivals such as Germany and Britain tried to win out over each other by making investments into marine fleets. Moreover, Germany could not be at peace when France had a larger military base.
The fact that such competition was furtively done in the respective nations’ camps resulted in the need for intelligence that, consequently, heightened levels of apprehension and enmity (Samokhin, 2017). The race for having dominant paraphernalia such as Germany’s huge and powerful sea vessels under the directorship of Wilhelm II resulted in a corresponding production of Britain’s “Dreadnought,” an advanced version of what its rival had developed. The piling pressure between these competing countries’ military prowess triggered the emergence of WWI.
Imperialism was also one of the causes of the First World War because rivals continued to ensure that they outweighed each other in terms of the territories they controlled. For instance, Britain struggled to ensure it had the biggest territory.
On the other hand, through the leadership of Wilhelm II, Germany wanted to establish an empire bigger compared to that of France or Britain. Issues such as the demand for raw materials, commercial bases, supremacy, and unoccupied lands fueled imperialism. Many countries from Europe started invading African and Asian regions (Roper & Duffett, 2018). Conflicts emerged because of this competition for new regions. For instance, France and Italy began to fight because each wanted to isolate Tunis. It also engaged in war with Germany when the two intended to capture Morocco.
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The Entry of the U.S. into the First World War
Following the continued fight that consisted of many countries, for instance, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and Italy, just to name a few, America held an impartial position outside the war zone with the sole purpose of utilizing such an opportunity to spearhead peace talks among all participating countries (Hodgson, 2017). It held this neutral position from the onset of the war until 1917.
During this time, the country’s then-president, Woodrow Wilson, confirmed that indeed America was to retain its unbiased stance since its involvement in the war would possibly culminate in even more disastrous results because it was also heavily equipped with lethal arms. Ethnicity was apparent in this case because Wilson’s announcement regarding the country’s impartial position was rooted in Thomas Jefferson’s earlier message that he delivered in 1801 urging all U.S. citizens to shun engaging in counterproductive political affairs with other national groups particularly from Europe. Any interactions that could tamper with America’s ethnic tranquility and economic progress were intolerable.
Nonetheless, the United States’ impartial position was short-lived, lasting only for three years. Persistent clashes and tensions steered by Germany forced the U.S. to join the war (Hodgson, 2017). In particular, Germany provoked America by intentionally attacking and sinking its sea vessels that were destined for Britain. In addition, Germany had sounded a warning that it would maliciously invade all ships that passed by the battlefield near Britain, regardless of whether they were from neutral parties or not.
In particular, in 1917, mutual links that prevailed between Washington and Berlin were cut, a situation that further triggered the aggressive move by Germany to attack at least four American merchant sea vessels. President Wilson could not tolerate such intentional atrocities. In April 1917, he announced the country’s official joining of the war, particularly to invade its then-rival, Germany, although it later expanded its scope of war to include all nations that supported its key enemy.
The U.S. contributed heavily to this war. For instance, its entry was accompanied by the deployment of a huge number of experienced and fully armed troops ready to join Britain and France to fight Germany and its almost exhausting allies (Frandsen, 2017). It also allocated substantial financial resources and industrial forces, including the use of tanks, at the expense of Germany. Massive killings of Germans forced the country to surrender. America played a crucial role in ending WWI. For instance, its entry in 1917 with fresh troops to fight the already worn-out Russians and Germans triggered the former to quit, thus leaving Germany almost alone. The continuous provision of energetic U.S. soldiers forced Germany to surrender. Hence, the war was no longer on at the end of 1918.
Conclusion: The Treaty of Versailles
The closure of WWI was followed by peace agreements such as the Treaty of Versailles. However, this particular treaty failed because of President Woodrow Wilson’s political unawareness, rigidity, and incapacity to establish practical, mutual, and universal peace ideas. In particular, despite the arrangement to steer the Paris Peace Conference in 1918 equipped with critical ideas, including the League of Nations (LN), interested parties from Europe rejected the proposed “Fourteen Points” because they needed justice, as opposed to peace.
The U.S., too, was never to join the LN. Nonetheless, in the post-war period, particularly 1920-1930, the U.S. continued to hold a key position in healing the world, despite the exit of Woodrow Wilson in 1921 (Frandsen, 2017). Wilson’s LN was the foundation of future peace agendas because it encouraged countries to terminate not only furtive diplomatic missions but also allow uninterrupted marine transportation. For instance, the Washington Conference (1921-1922), the Dawes Plan, and the Young Plan were implemented to restore global peace.
Frandsen, B. (2017). The birth of American airpower in World War I: Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the US entry into the “Great War”. Air & Space Power Journal, 31(3), 60-73.
Hodgson, J. (2017). North Texas in WWI: Mobilization for “The Great War”. Fort Worth Business Press, 30(20), 10-13.
Roper, M., & Duffett, R. (2018). Family legacies in the centenary: Motives for First World War commemoration among British and German descendants. History & Memory, 30(1), 76-115.
Samokhin, K. (2017). The Tambov peasantry during the First World War (1914–February 1917). Russian Studies in History, 56(2), 115-125.
Wu, S. (2015). Empires of coal: Fueling China’s entry into the modern world order, 1860-1920 (1st ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.