While it is a well-known fact that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1914, is considered to be a direct cause of World War I, its roots are deeper and go back to the 19th century. Many scholars agree that such issues developing on the edge of the 19th and 20th centuries as nationalism, imperialism, and militarism contributed to the beginning of the war (Sanders, 2014).
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While European countries were involved in World War I since its start, the United Stated managed to stay neutral. Nevertheless, the country joined military actions and participated in the post-war events as well. Thus, this paper is dedicated to revealing the causes of World War I as well as defining the role of the United States during the war and after its end.
Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism and their Role at the beginning of World War I
Apart from the well-known fact of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, such concepts as nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the establishment of alliances are regarded as the reasons for the beginning of World War I (Proctor, 2018). Speaking about imperialism, it should be mentioned that the need for the development of powerful empires demanded the creation of a powerful army as well as navy force to protect the existing colonies and conquer new ones. As a response to imperialistic countries and their military forces, other states started forming alliances to protect themselves from imperialistic intentions and preserve the security of their lands (Sanders, 2014). Both facts led to a situation that any local conflict could break into war.
Nationalism was also one of the primary causes of World War I. Every state was making attempts to maintain its positions, both political and economical, and there was no place for productive negotiations due to the nationalistic desires of states to be somehow better than their neighbors (Proctor, 2018). Ideas of independence led to the growth of Slav nationalism, also known as Pan-Slavism (Levine, 1914). It inevitably caused an increase in tension in that region and, probably, became another stimulus for Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. Moreover, Slav nationalism spread throughout the continent. Ideas that started in Balkans reached Russia, where a national commitment was also strong. Still, the military intentions of Russia provoked the rise of nationalism in Germany and other German-speaking states.
The role of alliances can be considered crucial at the beginning of World War I. As of 1914, the most powerful states of Europe formed two alliances. The first one, the Triple Alliance, included Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary, which was formed more than 30 years earlier. The second one, the Triple Entente, comprised Britain, France, and Russia, which united in 1907. Every member of both alliances had powerful armies and did not trust its neighbors.
This fact implies another aspect that contributed to the outbreak of World War I, which was militarism (Sanders, 2014). As a response to Britain’s biggest navy in Europe, Germany intended to build an even more powerful force. It was a threat to Britain because its navy forces were distributed among colonies while the German navy force was concentrated in one place and was very well trained.
Generally, by 1914, the tension among the European countries was high. The development of imperialism, militarism, nationalism, and alliances created a ground for the conflict. After all, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand became a catalyst for military actions, which were inevitable.
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Factors Leading the United States into World War I
After the beginning of World War I, Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States, announced that their country remains neutral and does not support any of the alliances. The decision not to interfere found support among American citizens because it allowed avoiding a negative impact of war on the economy of the country. Another reason for staying neutral was the multi-national character of the American population due to active immigration.
The President was concerned about the possibility of immigrants taking the side of their native country becoming active partisans in case of conflict and thus preferred staying neutral. Nevertheless, the situation changed after a German U-boat sunk a British ocean liner in 1915. About 2,000 people died, 128 American citizens among them (Proctor, 2018). Thus, Wilson addresses Congress to get the approval of war against Germany, and in April 1917, the United States entered World War I.
The majority of investigators agree that the United States made a significant contribution to the war effort and, to a certain extent, influenced the end of the war. Although the United States did not have a big army at the time, they entered the war, but the country had significant human potential and developed industry. Thus, by November 1918, there were 1.5 million people in American troops located at the Western Front in Europe (Proctor, 2018). Moreover, the United States contributed to the end of World War I.
The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 is considered a document, which officially put an end to World War I. However, the treaty failed because of its attempt to punish Germany as the only initiator of World War I. Therefore, little attention was given to the domestic problems and consequences of war in the Allies. The League of Nations, which was created in the post-war period, was expected to maintain peace and protect the territorial integrity of the states, but there were certain obstacles to this task.
Despite the need for a long-lasting agreement that was supposed to prevent a new war, the Allies did not have enough power. Moreover, due to certain legal limitations and the desire of some states to dominate in the League, it was not successful.
Thus, the Treaty of Versailles did not succeed due to severe treatment of Germany and the lack of attention to post-war problems of every country involved in the military actions. Also, the intentions to make Germany weaker had an adverse effect because its citizens united in a desire to return the power. A solution to the post-war problems and was suggested in “Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points” (2014).
This speech of the President became a set of American goals to preserve peace and a contribution to managing the post-war crisis. In fact, the Treaty of Versailles is a repetition of some concepts mentioned by Wilson, for example, those of the freedom of seas, global armaments shortage, independence of states, and creation of the association of nations. Still, while Europe was trying to find someone to blame for the war, the United States concentrated on the inner policy. Post-war conflicts among the Allies and the fact that European states were weakened by the war made the United Stated in the 20s and 30s the most powerful and economically stable country in the world.
To summarizing, it should be mentioned that World War I was caused by a complex of factors. Imperialism, militarism, nationalism, and alliances were weakening the relations among the countries and strengthening their military power. The situation was so tense that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand became the last drop in the conflict, which became a global war.
Levine, L. (1914). Pan-Slavism and European politics. Political Science Quarterly, 29(4), 664-686.
Proctor, T. M. (2018). World War I: A short history. Hoboken, NJ: John Willey & Sons.
Sanders, T. (2014). The world in the twentieth century: From empires to nations (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points. (2014). Web.