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World War I: History and Causes

Introduction

World War I was one of the most important events in the history of the world and globalization. According to Roe (2015), The First World War was in many senses an “apocalypse for the world that existed before 1914” (p. 1). It was truly the Great War, which involved more than thirty-two nations. Two powerful military blocks were created: Allies (the British and Russian Empires, France, and the United States), and the Central Powers (Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Austro-Hungary). The global conflict that lasted four years resulted in millions of human deaths and changed the map of Europe and the Middle East.

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Causes of World War I

The origins and causes of World War I were complex. It is said that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the main reason for World War I. Still, the roots of its beginning lay in the political fears, and the clash of interests of the forces of imperialism, nationalism, and militarism.

It is difficult to say whether only imperialism, nationalism, or militarism led to the war, but certainly, imperialism was one of the main causes. The exacerbation of the unequal development of the capitalist countries, the contradictions between them, and a desperate fight for the world’s repartition between the two military-political groupings led to the war (Hewitson, 2014). Nationalism and militarism appeared in Germany, and later in other German-speaking countries, in response to the power of other imperialist countries. Germany sought a way to strengthen its position in continental Europe and achieve the world-power status like those of Britain and Russia. Germany rapidly increased the size of its military forces (Roe, 2015).

During that time, nationalism also picked up momentum. This was particularly evident in the case of Austria, which was afraid of Pan-Slavism proclaimed by Tsarist Russia. It affected such peoples as the Finns, Armenians, Latvians, Estonians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, and Serbians. Pan-Slavism was the threat to Austria’s sovereignty and its people that led Austria to defensive nationalism. Nevertheless, what might be determined as defensive nationalism could transform into powerful, aggressive nationalism (Beckett, 2014).

Moreover, the current alliance system was also the prerequisite of war. This system assured that the European countries would receive military support in case of war. It led to the conclusion that in the case of any quarrel between the Entente and the Central Powers all members of two camps would be involved in this war (Beckett, 2014). This system directly led to World War I when after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand Austria and Serbia run into a huge conflict.

The US during World War I

The United States was a member of a military block named Allies, or the Entente. Still, firstly, America tried to maintain neutrality. US President Woodrow Wilson tried to do his best to keep America out of the conflict when in 1914 Europe started to “erupt” (“The inflammatory telegram,” 2017, para. 5). He remembered the days of the Civil War, which influenced him a lot. Troubled with that life experience, he wanted America to keep neutral. Besides, the causes of the war were obscure and not clear; in President’s opinion, the participation in this war would not promote American foreign policy. Neutrality was Wilson’s watchword. Besides, in the last decades of the 19th century, America accepted more than 23 million immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe (Laskin, 2014, para. 2). When the war began, its influence on America’s immigrant population was complex and immediate. The American government had concerns that if America entered the war, the country might “fissure on ethnic fault lines,” since most of the immigrants carried their ancestry from the warring nations (Laskin, 2014, para. 2).

Nevertheless, America was pushed to enter the war. The first provocation was in May 1915 when nearly 128 Americans were killed when the passenger liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat (“The inflammatory telegram,” 2017, para. 8). Eventually, Wilson received a retreat from Germany, and Germany even promised not to sink passenger ships without warning. Nevertheless, on 31 January German ambassador declared that Germany was about to “resume its policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare” (“The inflammatory telegram,” 2017, para. 13). Moreover, Germany promised Mexico to provide them with financial support to reconquer its lost territories in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. It became obvious that the policy of “armed neutrality” failed. On 6 April 1917, after the official President’s declaration, America joined the war (“The inflammatory telegram,” 2017, para. 20).

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America’s contribution to the war and its end was tangible. American troops, called “doughboys,” were engaged in several serious combats. America’s decision to enter the war “altered the fortunes of the war and the course of the 20th century” (Kazin, 2017, para. 4). Moreover, during the First World War, the largest humanitarian help came from the US. American humanitarians managed to protect small countries like Belgium (Little, 2014). Moreover, American humanitarianism helped to establish America’s position as a world power, and after that, the US was seen as the world’s policeman.

The end of World War I

After signing the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919 in Paris, the First World War officially ended (McKee, 2015, para. 11). One of the parts of this Treaty was the creation of the League of Nations. According to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was imposed with different conditions, which affected its territory, currency, and economy (“The treaty of Versailles,” 2017). The US was in charge of the economic recovery of Germany. The US in order to balance the German economy and stabilize the currency undertook several actions, including the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan. Through all these processes, during the 1920s and 1930s, the US kept control over European war debt that gave America influence over the global economy (Tyler, 2015). Still, the Americans’ reactions toward the Treaty were in most cases negative. Many Americans considered that the Treaty was unfair to Germany and that France and Britain were trying to make a profit out of this. Moreover, in America, President Wilson was not supported by the Senate. He led the Democratic Party, while his competitors in the Republican Party were in the majority in Congress. They used the Treaty as the opportunity to criticize Wilson. Moreover, Congress was also concerned about the creation of the League of Nations. They supposed that the League could entangle America into other possible military conflicts (“The treaty of Versailles,” 2017). As a result, the Great Depression and the Americans’ negative attitude caused the defeat of the Treaty and the League of Nations.

Conclusion

World War I was the first global military conflict, which consequences were indeed catastrophic. It is difficult to explain the real reasons that led to its beginning. The US played an important role in the war development. The country made a huge contribution to the end of the war. Still, the consequences of the First World War led to the beginning of World War II.

References

Beckett, I. F. W. (2014). The Great War: 1914 –1918. Modern wars in perspective. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Hewitson, M. (2014). Germany and the causes of the First World War. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Kazin, M. (2017). Should America have entered World War I? The New York Times. Web.

Laskin, D. (2014). Ethnic minorities at war (USA). Web.

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Little, B. (2014). An explosion of new endeavours: Global humanitarian responses to industrialized warfare in the First World War era. First World War Studies, 5(1), 1-16.

McKee, T.S. (2015). American influence on post-World War I recovery of Germany. Web.

Roe, J. (2015). Into the abyss: The origins of the First World War. Web.

The inflammatory telegram that pushed the US into World War One. (2017) Web.

The Treaty of Versailles. (2017). Web.

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