The Causes of World War I


The First World War had many causes; the historians probably have not 
yet discovered and discussed all of them so there might be more causes 
than what we know now. The spark of the Great War was the 
assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of 
Austria-Hungary, and his wife by a Serbian nationalist on the morning 
of June 28, 1914, while traveling in a motorcade through Sarajevo, the 
capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Archduke was chosen as a 
target because Serbians feared that after his ascension to the throne, 
he would continue the persecution of Serbs living within the 
Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Serbian terrorist organization, the Black 
Hand, had trained a small group of teenage operatives to infiltrate 
Bosnia and carry out the assassination of the Archduke. It is unclear 
how officially active the Serbian government was in the plot. However, 
it was uncovered years later that the leader of the Black Hand was 
also the head of Serbian military intelligence. In order to understand 
the complexity of the causes of the war, it is very helpful to know 
what was the opinion of the contemporaries about the causes of the 
Great War. In the reprint of the article "What Started the War", from 
August 17, 1915 issue of The Clock magazine published on the Internet 
the author writes: "It is thought that this war that is been ongoing 
for over a year, began with the assassination of the Archduke Francis 
Ferdinand. However, many other reasons led to this war, some occurring 
as far back the late 1800's. Nationalism, militarism, imperialism, and 
the system of alliances were four main factors that pressed the great 
powers towards this explosive war." 

According to the article above, the author stresses that the 
nationalism was one of the primary causes of the war. In the ninetieth 
and twentieth centuries, especially after the French Revolution 
nationalism was becoming a powerful force in Europe so people that had 
the same culture, language wanted their own country. And that was the 
problem for the government of Austria-Hungary that did not want to 
lose their power and control. The Slavs in the southern part of the 
empire were their main concern since they wanted to join up to Serbia.
Militarism is the second cause according to the article above, which 
comes after the nationalism. To understand what the author means by 
militarism one should be familiar with the situation of the world in 
the beginning of the century, which was the result of both industrial 
and democratic revolutions. Britain at that time was the largest 
empire in the world, and it also had the largest navy. The navy was so 
big and strong because the Britons needed to protect their empire and 
maintain the sea routes between the different colonies. The Kaiser 
William II of Germany hated and envied Britain for having a stronger 
navy than his. He increased the German navy and built many warships. 
Britain responded with building more ships and increasing its navy 
too. This started a race for building more and better warships and it 
created tension and competition between those two countries. 
Imperialism and the system of alliances are the last two major causes 
of the War. There was a quarrel between France and Germany about 
controlling the colonies, and especially Morocco, which leads to a 
greater conflict, the Great War. Europe at that time was divided into 
two rival alliance systems: Triple Entente that included Great 
Britain, France, and Russia and the Triple Alliance, which included 
the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and eventually the 
Ottoman Turkish Empire. 

Austria-Hungary must take a large proportion of any blame for the 
outbreak of war in 1914. The reason for Germany's part in the causes 
involves Germany's "blank Check" policy. Before sending its ultimatum 
to Serbia, Austria needed to be sure of the support of its ally, 
Germany. Such support was forthcoming in the form of a telegram to the 
Emperor Franz Joseph on 6 July 1914. The telegram has become known to 
history as the "Blank Check". In order to balance the power, France 
and Russia signed an alliance. Russia saw itself as the 'protector of 
Slavs' in the war, and immediately mobilized. When the war began, the 
German decision that if they were going to have to fight Russia and 
France, they would strike at France first according to its Schlieffen 
Plan, and then turn West to Russia. Germans believed that Russia at 
the time was unprepared for war, and that it will take a long time for 
Russia to mobilize its army. 

On July 28, 1914 Austria declared war against Serbia. Russia responded 
by partially mobilizing against Austria as a 'protector of Slavs', 
and Germany insisted that Russia immediately demobilize. Russia 
refused to do so, and on August 1 and 3 declared war on Russia and 
France. When war was declared in August people involved on all sides 
felt that it would be a short war, and will be over by Christmas.
In order for Germany to accomplish its Schlieffen Plan, Germany 
occupied Belgium. By August most of Belgium was under German 
occupation and the Schlieffen Plan appeared to be going well, but it 
brought Britain into the war because they had made a treaty with 
Belgium before, and Schlieffen Plan involved the invasion of neutral 

One of the problems during the Great War that military staffs and 
thinking were far behind new weapons and logistics. In other words 
military commanders like General Haig or Marshall Joffre were not 
quite ready to the war with it's modern weapons and new technologies 
such as machine guns, bunkers and railroad systems that allowed to 
bring troops quicker into defensive positions. This was the first war 
in the human history where the weapons of defense were superior to 
offensive. The First World War is also known as a war of attrition. In 
order to protect themselves from modern weapons, men dug in along the 
whole of the Western Front. They built networks of trenches that ran 
500 miles. The First Battle of the Marne was the war's first major 
turning point. German army has almost reached its objective Paris in 
accordance with the Schlieffen Plan, but the Battle of the Marne 
stopped the movement of Germans in the west. Unfortunately for the 
Germans, the plan did not work as expected. The result was a partial 
success, which failed in its ultimate goal of knocking the French army 
out of the war early. The Battle of the Marne marked the end of the 
Schlieffen Plan, the end of movement in the war and the start of 
Trench Warfare. Eventually the trenches were stretching 25,000 miles, 
from Switzerland to the North Sea. On the other hand, Germans were 
much successful on the Eastern Front and had a series of quick 
victories over Russia. Only in a single Battle of Tannenberg 92,000 
Russian prisoners were taken. After the failure of the German 
offensive, both sides made various local attempts at achieving 
breakthroughs. Most of these attempts failed due to the effects of 
modern weapons.

The First World War was the first war to use poison gas as a military 
weapon. Germans also had the first submarines and used them to 
blockade Britain by sinking British ships. The sinking of Lusitania is 
the famous example of the submarine warfare during the World War I. 
The Lusitania had civilians on board, where 100 passengers were 
American citizens. After sinking Lusitania a letter was sent to the 
German Government by President Wilson to warn the German government 
against killing Americans citizens.

In October 1915 Ottoman Turkish Empire enters war on German side. 
Turkish army began invasion of Russia and was very successful until 
Great Britain attacked Turkey. British, French, Australian and New 
Zealand were unsuccessful in invading Turkey. The action was confined 
to the Dardanelles Strait and the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula near 
Istanbul. The same year, Italy had withdrawn from the Triple Alliances 
when war started, and on the Eastern Front Russians were loosing their 
lands and over 750,000 soldiers were taken as prisoners. By the end of 
1915 the whole society of Europe mobilized for war. This was to be the 
world's first Total War. Women were taking on the jobs, and most male 
population was sent to war. The total war started when Germans used 
their first gas attack:

Gassing was the start of total war, because it broke all limits, the 
social taboos, the gentleman's etiquette of other wars. Sometimes the 
shot would miss the mark and kill innocent civilians. Before the 
introduction of gas bombing, soldiers found it easier to overlook the 
fact that they were fighting on opposite sides of the field, because 
they had no personal motivation to fight. 

In 1916 there 139 British and French Divisions were fighting against 
117 German Divisions. Two sides were facing each other across the "no 
man's land" of mud, shell holes and barbed wires. Sometimes the 
distance between two fighting powers was so close that on first 
Christmas both sides were singing carols to each other. One can find a 
good description of trenches by reading Erich Remarque's novel "All 
Quite on the Western Front" were he gives the reader some insight and 
a look at a group of young German friends who are also fighting in 
World War I. It covers the horror of this war through the eyes of a 
young German solider, Paul Baumer. This book is not like other books 
and stories that glorify wars. It tells the horrors of war in detail. 
The story recalls the bloody details of bombing, gunfire, gas, 
hand-to-hand combat, barbed wire, trench warfare and etc. Remarque 
tells the story in the first person that makes the reader feel as if 
he or she is one of the soldiers, that makes the novel even more 
dramatic for the reader:

We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run 
with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps 
into the next shell-hole; a lance-corporal crawls a mile and a half on 
his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the 
dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we 
see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces . 

The two biggest and horrifying battles of the World War I are the 
Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. John Keegan, a military 
historian in his interview tells about the Battle of Somme: "It was 
the biggest barrage that had ever been. So, they were firing over 
100,000 shells a day; relentless, relentless banging and booming of 
this tremendous bombardment. So loud, you could hear it in England, if 
the wind was in the right direction (60 or 70 miles away). 
Over million soldiers were killed on both sides only in a single 
battle of Somme during 1916. The second biggest battle of Verdun was 
fought at the cost of the French Army, and it is often compared to a 
sausage machine, because 315,000 Frenchman died. The human kind had 
never sees such battles throughout the whole history, with so many 
losses, which was quite shockfull experience for the soldiers who 
fought the First World War. This war resulted shortages in practically 
everything, and rising prices. By the end of 1916 America was still 
not involved in the war. 

Fateful year of 1917 marked the beginning of the modern world. Several 
important events took place in 1917. First and the most important 
event was the Russian Revolution and the rise of a Communist Power in 
the World. The same year America enters the war against Germany. Two 
great non-European leaders with two different ideas of what is good 
for humanity emerge, and the European History becomes a World History. 
Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who was hiding in Switzerland at that time, was 
helped by some German agents to be able to go to Russia in a sealed 
train. Germans helped Lenin, because they knew that if the Revolution 
occurs, the war with Russia would eventually finish. As a matter of 
fact Lenin and the Bolsheviks takes over the country on November 7, 
1917. Everything that was planned by Germans came true and Russians 
made peace with Germany. The Western front was the only 'show in 
town', and Germans moved all their power from Eastern to a Western 
Front to break through the line of the enemy.

In March of 1918 Russia signed a treaty in Brest-Litovsk which put a 
formal end to the war and agreed to stop fighting. Russia was also 
forced to give up some of its land to the enemy. The war that was 
supposed to be over by Christmas seemed endless; however, in 1918, 
after great Franco-American Offensive Germany gave up, and became a 
liberal Republic. It happened at 11:00 am, on November 11, after 4 
years and over 8 million military deaths on both sides. Germany agreed 
to President Wilson's 14 points, issued in January 1918 where Germany 
agreed no to have secret treaties with other countries, most 
importantly to end submarine warfare and to free the seas, to give up 
their colonial claims and etc. 

Germany also had to take the responsibility for the cause of the Great 
War and accordingly pay reparations to Allies. By signing the treaty 
Germany also agreed to disarm, and give up the colonies. The world war 
one had tremendous consequences on the world. "World War I killed 
fewer victims than World War II, destroyed fewer buildings, and 
uprooted millions instead of tens of millions, but in many ways it 
left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The 
Old World never recovered from a shock." According to many 
historians, and in particular Edmond Tailor the trench warfare was the 
cruelest among all wars since the Ice Age. The reason why historians 
think that way is because the people of the XIX and early XX century 
were not ready to this kind of war. People were very optimistic about 
the future with all the great inventions. "The last twenty years of 
the 19th Century, say 1880 to 1900, those years were characterized by 
an immense optimism. It was thought that public health, invention, the 
telegraph, the telephone, ultimately the wireless and the radio, were 
going to civilize human life in a way that it had never been civilized 
before. And, then, all of a sudden, what happens is ghastly war breaks 
out and spoils everything." The inventions that were supposed to 
improve the standards of living for humanity in fact made the war more 
tragic. "The age that died in 1914 was a brilliant one - so 
extravagant in its intellectual and aesthetic endowments that we who 
have come after can hardly believe in its reality." In Eric 
Remarque's novel "All Quite on the Western Front" one can clearly see 
what war had done to the people, especially to the young generation 
who fought it. The soldiers who fought in the Great War often lost 
their interest in life. The only significance in the lives of the 
soldiers was comradeship. Eric Remarque also mentions in his novel 
what was the opinion of the soldiers about the progress, "We are not 
youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are 
fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. . The first bomb, the 
first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, 
from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we 
believe in the war." That was the mentality of the soldier of the 
Great War. Nothing in the world meant anything to a soldier, other 
than the "war". Remarque also shows in his novel how meaningless was 
the war for the soldier. There is a place in the novel were Paul kills 
a French soldier, and feels very guilty about it. It shows one more 
time how artificial was the cause of the war. There was no real cause 
why German would hate a Frenchmen and voiceovers. Erik Remarque shows 
that when Paul talks to a dead French soldier where he says, "Comrade, 
to-day you to-morrow me. But if I come out of it, comrade, I will 
fight against this, that has struck us both down; from you, taken 
life-and from me-? Life also." Despite being alive, Paul considers 
his life without any meaning after all the horrible experiences of the 
war. All people who came out of the First World War were either 
physically or psychologically wounded. 

The impact of the First World War is still with us. In many respects 
the events of modern Europe are a direct result of what happened in 
1914 -1919. "Had there be a World War I, of course have been no 
Second." Adolph Hitler himself was a product of the First World War. 
World War I also gave Lenin an opportunity to overthrow the government 
in Russia and proclaim communism.


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