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The Causes and Effects of World War I


World War I was a military conflict from 1914 to 1918. It
began as a local European war between Austria - Hungary and
Serbia on July 28, 1914. It was transformed into a general
European struggle by declaration of war against Russia on
August 1, 1914 and eventually became a global war involving
32 nations. Twenty - eight of these nations, known as the
Allies and the Associated Powers, and including Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States,
opposed the coalition known as the Central Powers,
consisting of Germany, Austria - Hungary, Turkey, and
Bulgaria. The immediate cause of the war between Austria -
Hungary and Serbia was the assassination of the Archduke
Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, at Sarajevo in Bosnia by
Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist. (Microsoft Encarta,
1996) On July 28 Austria declared war against Serbia,
either because it felt Russia would not actually fight for
Serbia, or because it was prepared to risk a general
European conflict in order to put an end to the Greater
Serbia movement. Russia responded by partially mobilizing
against Austria. Germany warned Russia that continued
mobilization would cause war with Germany, and it made
Austria agree to discuss with Russia a possible change of
the ultimatum to Serbia. Germany demanded, however, that
Russia demobilize. Russia refused to do so, and on August
1, Germany declared war on Russia. (Microsoft Encarta,
1996) The French began to mobilize on the same day. On
August 2, German troops invades Luxembourg and on August 3,
Germany declared war on France. On August 2, the German
government informed the government of Belgium of its
intention to march on France through Belgium in order, as
it claimed, to prevent an attack on Germany by French
troops marching through Belgium. The Belgian government
refused to allow the passage of German troops and called on
the witnesses of the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed the
justice of Belgium in case of a conflict in which Great
Britain, France, and Germany were involved, to observe
their guarantee. Great Britain, one of the witnesses, on
August 4, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding that
Belgian justice be respected. When Germany refused, Britain
declared war on it the same day. Italy remained uninvolved
until May 23, 1915, when, to satisfy its claims against
Austria, it broke with the Triple Alliance and declared war
on Austria - Hungary. In September 1914, Allied unity was
made stronger by the Pact of London, signed by France,
Great Britain, and Russia. As the war progressed, other
countries, including Turkey, Japan, the U.S., and other
nations of the western hemisphere, were drawn into the
conflict. Japan, which had made an alliance with the Great
Britain in 1902, declared war on Germany on August 23,
1914. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6,
1917. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996) The outbreak of war in
1914 set in motion forces more gigantic than any previous
war had seen. Two million Germans were on the march, the
greater part of them against France, and there were another
3,000,000 trained men to back them up. France had nearly
4,000,000 trained men at call, although they relied on only
1,000,000 active troops in the first clash. Russia had more
millions to draw upon than any, but their mobilization
process was slow, a large part of their forces were in Asia
and even their great potential strength was to a large
extent canceled out by lack of munitions. (Captain Sir
Basil Liddell Hart, 1984) The growth of these tremendous
forces had been due primarily to a military gospel of mass.
Known by Clausewitz, the Prussian military philosopher, who
drew his inspiration from Napoleon's example, the spread of
this gospel had been stimulated by the victories of the
Prussian conscript armies in 1866 against Austria and in
1870 against France. It had been assisted also by the
development of railways, which enabled far larger numbers
of men to be assembled, moved and supplied than had been
possible previously. Therefore the armies of 1914 - 1918
came to be counted in their millions compared with the
hundreds of thousands of half a century earlier. (Captain
Sir Basil Liddell Hart, 1984) The essential causes of
World War I were the attitude of intense nationalism that
permeated Europe throughout the 19th and into the 20th
century, the political and economic rivalry among the
nations, and the establishment and maintenance in Europe
after 1871 of large armaments and of two hostile military
alliances. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era
had spread throughout most of Europe the idea of political
democracy, with the resulting idea that the people of the
same ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the
right to independent states. The principle of national self
- determination, however, was largely ignored by the
dynastic and retrogressive forces that dominated in the
settlement of European affairs at the Congress of Vienna in
1815. Several peoples who desired national independence
were made subject to local dynasts or to other nations.
Notable examples were the German people, whom the Congress
of Vienna left divided into numerous duchies,
principalities, and kingdoms; Italy, also left divided into
many parts, some of which were under foreign control; and
the Flemish - and French - speaking Belgians of the
Austrian Netherlands, whom the congress placed under Dutch
rule. Revolutions and strong nationalistic movements during
the 19th century succeeded in canceling much of the
retrogressive and antinationalist work of the congress.
Belgium won its independence from the Netherlands in 1830,
the unification of Italy was accomplished in 1861, and that
of Germany in 1871. At the close of the century, however,
the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in other
areas of Europe, resulting in tensions both within the
regions involved and between various European nations. One
particularly noticeable nationalistic movement, Panslavism,
figured heavily in the events preceding the war. (Microsoft
Encarta, 1996) The attitude of nationalism was also
visible in economic conflict. The Industrial Revolution,
which took place in Great Britain at the end of the 18th
century, followed in France in the early 19th century, and
then in Germany after 1870, caused an immense increase in
the manufactures of each country and a consequent need for
foreign markets. The principal field for the European
policies of economic expansion was Africa, and on that
continent colonial interests frequently clashed. Several
times between Germany on one side and France and Great
Britain on the other, almost precipitated a European war.
(Microsoft Encarta, 1996) The dispute between the United
States and Germany was far more serious. In order to
prevent food, munitions, and other supplies from reaching
Great Britain, Germany in 1915 declared the waters
surrounding Great Britain and Ireland a war zone in which
German submarines would sink all enemy vessels without the
visit or search ordered by international law. To avoid the
possibility that uninvolved vessels might be sunk by
mistake, or that uninvolved might be killed, Germany warned
uninvolved ships not to enter the zone. They also advised
citizens of uninvolved nations not to travel on ships of
the Allied nations. Germany remained intolerant in the face
of U.S. protests against this declaration. In May 1915 a
German submarine torpedoed the British passenger liner
Lusitania off the Irish coast without warning, causing the
deaths of 1198 people, of whom 128 were U.S. citizens. The
Germans claimed that the Lusitania was carrying munitions
to Britain, and later research has proven this to be true.
But the American public was outraged by the sinking, and
strong protests by the U.S. State Department brought a
promise from Germany not to sink any passenger liners
without taking precautions to protect the lives of
civilians. (Alistair Horne, 1970) In March 1916, however,
a German submarine sank an unarmed French Channel steamer,
the Sussex, with the loss of two Americans. President
Wilson threatened to separate diplomatic relations with the
German government unless it abandoned "its present methods
of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying
vessels." In May, the German government pledged not to sink
merchant vessels without warning and without saving the
lives of those aboard. For nine months the pledge was kept
generally to the satisfaction of the United States.
Wilson's powerful diplomacy seemed to have averted war with
Germany, and as the Democratic candidate in the
presidential election of 1916, Wilson was elected over the
Republican nominee, Charles Evans Hughes, largely because
"he kept us out of war." The war, however, was near. At
the end of January 1917, Germany broke the so-called Sussex
Pledge by declaring unrestricted submarine warfare in a
zone even larger than the one it had proclaimed in 1915. On
February 3, Wilson replied by breaking off diplomatic
relations with Germany. Later in the month, at his request,
Congress passed a bill permitting U.S. merchant vessels to
arm. After new depredations by German submarines against
uninvolved shipping, and the discovery of a plan made by
the German Foreign Office to unite Germany, Mexico, and
Japan against the United States if it entered the war,
Wilson on April 2, 1917, requested Congress to declare war.
On April 6, Congress passed a resolution declaring a state
of war with Germany. (Alistair Horne, 1970) The early part
of 1918 did not look favorable for the Allied nations. On
March 3, Russia signed the Treaty of Brest - Litovsk, which
put a formal end to the war between that nation and the
Central Powers on terms more favorable to the latter; and
on May7, Romania made peace with the Central Powers,
signing the Treaty of Bucharest, by the terms of which it
ceded the Dobruja region to Bulgaria and the passes in the
Carpathian Mountains to Austria - Hungary, and gave Germany
a long - term lease on the Romanian oil wells. (Microsoft
Encarta, 1996) On November 6, the German delegates left
Berlin to apply for an armistice. Meanwhile, the Allied
advance in the west continued, and, on the American sector
at least, with fresh incentive. The Americans reached Sedan
on the same day that the German delegates reached General
Ferdinand Foch's rendezvous. (Alistair Horne, 1970) The
terms he laid down were severe - sufficient to cripple the
German forces more decisively than any battle. But the
collapse of the home front, even more than the military
menace in front and flank, ensured their acceptance. In any
event, the stranglehold of the blockade was stifling to
power of resistance, so the Germans had no choice but to
sign. And at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the
eleventh month of 1918 the war came to an end.
Hart, Captain Sir Basil Liddell. (1984). The Marshall
Cavendish illustrated encyclopedia
of World War I. New York: Marshall Cavendish.
Horne, Alistair. (1970). Death of a Generation. New York:
American Heritage Press.
Microsoft Encarta 96 (1996). [CD - ROM Disk]. Microsoft

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