World War I: Nationalism, Imperialism, Militarism

Introduction

World War I occurred during the period of mid-1914 following the shooting of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria. However, historical records present the war as a culmination of numerous factors, some of which could be traced to the nineteenth century, including the rise of nationalism, imperialism, and the heightened militarization by various nations. Nationalist efforts entailed the spread of Pan-Slavic beliefs around Eastern Europe and the rise of nationalism in German-speaking states. These strategies created room for the aggregation of like-minded individuals who exhibited mistrust of non-Germans. Eventually, the United States would join in the war after remaining neutral for nearly three years.

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Major Forces That Led to WWI

Nationalism contributed considerably to raising tensions that later culminated in WWI. States formed alliances with other like-minded countries against their perceived enemies. As a result, two major alliances emerged consisting of nations that opposed their rivals’ ideologies. Xenophobia also emerged as a leading cause whereby people joined hands to attack other countries (Burgess, 2013). Foreigners were perceived to be accomplishing spying missions for their countries. For example, in Britain, particular laws had been enacted limiting the rights of aliens following years of intense naval rivalry with Germany.

The rising of nationalism in German-speaking countries contributed to the outbreak of WWI. Since his ascension to power, Wilhelm II had been displeased by Britain’s apparent dominance of Western Europe (Burgess, 2013). The aggregation of all German-speaking countries enforced the nation’s political position in the region. Consequently, the Pan-Slavism doctrine emerged. It brought together nearly 30 German-speaking countries. Under this philosophy, a single powerful nation, Greater Serbia, would be formed in the eastern part of Europe. This alliance system led to the outbreak of WWI because it continued to increase suspicion among rival countries.

In particular, the coming together of various allied countries painted a picture of their engagement in secret diplomatic agendas that were aimed at attacking opposing nations. In response, Britain and its allies positioned themselves to counter this move through military struggle. Consequently, following the piling confusion, Franz-Ferdinand was shot, an occurrence that brought to fruition war tensions that had been building up for years.

In the years leading to WWI, European nations increased their spending on military weapons. Particularly, Germany and Britain were locked in a competition where each side wanted to be viewed as powerful based on the number and strength of weapons it possessed (Kelly, 2018). With time, mistrust between nations increased because they feared military attacks from their neighbors. Furthermore, being in the custody of weapons brought a need to try them in the actual battle (Burgess, 2013). At the same time, the use of diplomacy to solve disputes became increasingly popular in the period before 1914. This attitude was fueled by the rising number of powerful and military-minded leaders such as Wilhelm II and Ferdinand I of Bulgaria.

Accompanying the growing sense of nationalism was imperialism, where nations wanted to prove their territorial superiority. In particular, western European nations viewed the issue of having numerous overseas colonies as a show of might (Kelly, 2018). For European superpowers, such colonies not only provided a sense of pre-eminence but were also a source of raw materials for overseas factories. Additionally, powerful nations were seeking markets to export surplus goods produced by local factories. When it seemed to Germany that Britain and France had won in this contest, Wilhelm II resorted to building arms in anticipation of an attack from both countries. Britain and France also responded by expanding their military stock, thus further escalating the already existing tension.

The Entry of America into WWI

The United States maintained an attitude of neutrality between 1914 and 1917 due to its foreign policy that seeks to avoid any entangling alliances. After President Wilson announced the neutrality agenda, most Americans welcomed the move since the rest of the country’s policies would not be subjected to any risk (Neiberg, 2014). It was crucial for the stable American economy to be maintained, despite the raging war among various countries. The president chose the policy since it was important to offer security to diverse populations in the U.S. (Neiberg, 2014).

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In an address to Congress, President Wilson asserted that the allegiance of ethnic minorities to their countries of origin was against the neutrality policy. Hence, media platforms were supposed to report positive information from the public and politicians because capturing ethnic differences would result in tensions and, consequently, combat. As a culturally diverse nation, immigrants contributed hugely to the economy of the U.S. (Neiberg, 2014). However, they still practiced the traditions and customs of their countries of origin.

News regarding Germans’ atrocities in Belgium fuelled the move by America to join the war after media agencies ran stories of the killing of unarmed civilians while others were left with life-threatening injuries. As a result, most Americans of German origin flocked to the country’s (German) embassy to be allowed to go back home to join the war. In addition, the United States’ businesspersons supported the “Preparedness Movement,” which campaigned for military strengthening to engage in the war. J. P. Morgan, an American banker, and financier, funded French and British armed forces to a tune of $3 billion (Bowman, 2014).

In 1915, a passenger ship, Lusitania, sunk off the coast of Ireland with over 1000 passengers on board. This accident, which was blamed on a German submarine, further triggered the conflict between Germans and Americans. After the decision to join the war was reached, America contributed hugely by providing financial and military support to allied troops in Europe. This input threatened the participation of the already exhausted German and Russian soldiers. Hence, the U.S. contributed to the conclusion of WWI, especially through its supply of excess weapons and armed forces that forced German and Russian troops to surrender, thus leading to the end of the combat in 1918.

Conclusion: The Treaty of Versailles

The defeat of the Treaty of Versailles is primarily linked to President Wilson’s inability to advance his “Fourteen Points” to the designated European forces. This situation led to a unanimous disproval of the proposed ideas that did not emphasize the expected justice. Wilson’s proposal was met with stiff opposition since it was seen as an effort to stifle diplomatic relations (Bowman, 2014).

Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican leader of the Senate, vehemently opposed the treaty since the interests of the U.S. were not well represented. Wilson’s failing health made him unable to rally support for his ideas, thus resulting in the defeat of the Treaty of Versailles. Before the end of the war, President Wilson outlined his plan labeled “just peace,” which was meant to conclude the war that had breached countries’ international relations. Woodrow explained the need for having a safer world that included a reduction in trade barriers, an end to increased secret diplomacy, and transportation freedom in various seas.

Following the defeat of the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, America continued to hold a strategic position in the period between 1920 and 1930 (Bowman, 2014). It steered the formation of an international organization, the League of Nations (LN), which aimed at preventing such conflicts in the future. This intergovernmental agency sought to offer a platform where countries could address global conflicts. Although the U.S. declined to be part of the LN, the organization helped in healing the world after WWI.

References

Bowman, J. (2014). The forgotten honor of World War I. New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, 42, 25-33.

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Burgess, E. (2013). The First World War. Library Journal, 138(18), 52.

Kelly, M. (2018). Top five causes of World War I. Web.

Neiberg, M. (2014). Blinking eyes began to open: Legacies from America’s road to the Great War, 1914–1917. Diplomatic History, 38(4), 801-812.

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