The Great War caused the death of at least 8.5 million soldiers and 7 million civilians (Erlanger 1). The Great War maimed and injured 20 million people. Aside from the horrific casualties, significant economic losses deprived many people the chance to acquire a decent livelihood. In the aftermath of World War I, empires were eviscerated. Governments were weakened by the loss of life and the negative impact of depleted national coffers. It is important to determine the three major causes of war in order to prevent global conflicts in the near future.
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Major Causes of War
An assassin’s bullet fired from the handgun of Gavrilo Princip ignited the outbreak of The Great War. The Serbian nationalist aimed his weapon at Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He was a member of the royal family, and one of the heirs to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (History.com 1). Princip’s murderous rage that resulted in the death of Franz Ferdinand was the first major cause of World War I.
The assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungary Empire started a chain-reaction of events that compelled at least 100 nations to participate in the conflict (History.com 1). The motivation to assassinate the archduke was rooted at a desire for the manifestation of Serbian nationalism. Thus, it can be argued that the first major cause of the war was nationalism.
The second major cause of the war was the alliances that were signed by major military powers between 1879 and 1914 (HistoryOnTheNet.com 1). These alliances forced nations to honor the covenants made earlier, and the participants were drawn to war when their respective allies were under attack. There were seven major alliances that were forged prior to the onset of The Great War. The first one was signed in the year 1879 when Germany signed a pact with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The second major alliance was signed in the year 1881, and it solidified the commitment of Austria-Hungary to help Serbia stop the advances of Russian forces in Serbian territories.
The third major alliance was signed in the year 1882. This covenant formalized the alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The fourth major alliance was signed in the year 1894. It was an agreement between Russia and France. The said alliance was an assurance against the military advances of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The fifth alliance was signed in the year 1907. Great Britain and Russia formalized an agreement to support each other in the event of war.
The sixth major alliance was signed in the year 1907. The covenant was signed to strengthen the alliance of Russia, France, and Great Britain. The purpose of the alliance was to create a powerful deterrent against Germany’s military buildup. The seventh major alliance was signed in the year 1914. This alliance strengthened the commitment of Great Britain, France, and Russia to help each other.
Germany’s Quest for Superpower Status
The third major cause of The Great War was Germany’s quest for superpower status. In order to accomplish this goal, Germany had to defeat Russia and France in the battlefield (The Real Interest 1). The aggressive military stance of Germany prompted France and Russia to create alliances with other nations. The alliances that were created before 1914 made it easier to declare war.
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The Austro-Hungarian Empire was forced to make a stand. However, it recognized its weak power to confront a Serbian nation that enjoyed support from Russia. In order to assert its authority, Austria-Hungary sought the assistance of Germany using the alliances that were created beforehand. When Germany expressed support, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was emboldened to impose sanctions against Serbia. The Serbian government sought the assistance of Russia.
The Russian government expressed unequivocal support towards Serbia in the belief that Germany used the death of Franz Ferdinand to declare war against her enemies. When Germany learned about the mobilization of Russian forces, the German Kaiser declared war on Russia (History.com 1). Germany made its intentions known when it attacked France, because the French were allied to the Russians.
Nationalism was the first major cause of the war. The creation of alliances was the second major cause of the war. Germany’s desire to acquire superpower status was the third major cause of the war. The three major causes of World War I did not play out in isolation. These three factors interacted with each other, and the interaction culminated in The Great War. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand became a handy excuse for Imperial Germany to strengthen its dominance over Europe.
At the same time, the assassination of the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne compelled the Austro-Hungarian Empire to seek the help of Germany through the utilization of the alliances that were made in the past. The quest of the German Kaiser to seek superpower status for Imperial Germany prompted Russia to help Serbia. The mobilization of Russian forces compelled Germany to attack Russian allies as a form of a preemptive action to limit the buildup of enemy forces. An overview of the three major causes of World War I encourages present day leaders to use diplomatic solutions to reduce tension and prevent the outbreak of war.
Erlanger, Steve. The War to End all Wars? 2014.
History.com. World War I. 2015.
HistoryOnTheNet. World War One – Causes. 2014.
The Real Interest. Germany’s Superpower Quest Caused World War I. 2014.