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Four Main Causes of World War I

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 4043 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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World war 1 was caused by four main reasons which are Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism, and Nationalism. Militarism was the best type of force to use in few of the European nations in years leading up to World War 1. Militarism affected not only the policy but the culture, media, and the opinion of the public. Alliances was used both for defense and political device, an alliance would usually be formed by the kings and princes, but they would only do that so that they can advance their own interests or so that they can isolate their rivals. Imperialism was a cause as well because it was a system in which a powerful nation would exploit one or more colonies. Nationalism caused the war because it gave their citizens a bit more than what they needed of confidence in their nation, government, and military strength. Another important part of the war is the total war which is “a war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded”[1]. “World war I was a total war that involved the governments, economies, and populations of participating nations to an extent never seen before in history”[2]. In this total war the entire nation was called into service and not just the military.

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World war 1 had begun in 1914 and lasted all the way until 1918. The war was between the central powers which included Germany, Austria – Hungary, Bulgaria and the ottoman Empire and they fought the allied powers which included Great britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and the United States. Because of new military technology and the horrors of trench warfare, World War I saw unequaled levels of carnage and destruction. By the time the war was over and the Allied Powers declared victory, more than 16 million people which were soldiers and citizens were dead.

Before World War I had actually begun there had already been tension in southeastern Europe. The way that World War I had began was because they were convinced that Austria- Hungary was readying for war, the Serbian government ordered the Serbian army to prepare and organize (troops) to go out for service. The serbian government also appealed to Russia for assistance. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the weak peace between Europe’s great powers quickly collapsed. In just a week Belgium,Russia, France, Great Britain, and Serbia had lined up against Austria- Hungary and Germany, and from then on World War I had begun. Germany began fighting World War I “on two fronts”[3]. They started to invade France “through neutral Belgium in the West and confronting Russia in the East”[4]. German troops decided to then cross the border to Belgium on August 4, 1914.

In the first battle of World War I the Germans assaulted the “heavily fortified city of Liege[5]” using their most powerful weapon in their weaponry which were enormous blockade cannons to capture the city on August 15. This left death and destruction, by the time the people woke up it included the shooting of their own citizens and the execution of a Belgian priest. The reason why they had executed the priest was because they had accused him of encouraging civilian resistance, the Germans then advanced from Belgium and towards France. After that they began the battle of Marne which was fought in September 6-9 in the year of 1914.

 In this battle the French and the Russians confronted the invading German army which by that time they had already invaded deep into Northeastern France, they were only within 20 miles from Paris. The allied troops checked the German advance and mounted a successful counterattack, which then drove back the Germans back to the north of the Aisne River.  The defeat meant the end of German plans and the great victory of France. Both sides dug the trenches straight into the ground, and the Western Front was the setting for an infernal war of erosion that would last more than three years. The majority of the fighting in the war took place in Europe along two fronts: the West and the Eastern front. The western front was a long line of trenches that ran from the coast of Belgium to Switzerland. A lot of the fighting along this front took place in France and Belgium. The eastern front was between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria on one side and Russia and Romania on the other.

The way this war had started was because that although there may have had been a lot of assassinations and killings during this war, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the main reason for why the war was starting. After the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria declared war on Serbia. Then Russia decided to get prepared to defend its ally Serbia. Next, Germany declared war on Russia in order to protect Austria. This caused France to declare war on Germany in order to protect its ally Russia. Germany then decided to  invaded Belgium to get to France which caused Britain to want to declare war on Germany. This all happened in just a few days. During this war there was a lot of battles that had occured the majority of the war was fought using trench warfare along the western front. The armies barely ever moved which caused a lot tension. They just bombed and shot at each other from across the dugged up ditch they had made in order to protect themselves. Some of the major battles during the war included the First Battle of the Marne, Battle of the Somme, Battle of Tannenberg, Battle of Gallipoli, as well as the Battle of Verdun. This war had ended on November 11,1918 when a general armistice was agreed to by both sides. The war officially ended between Germany and the Allied powers with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Some important facts to know about the war was that more than 65 million men fought in it, which is a lot of men killed in a 4 year period. Also something else to know is that dogs had been used as trenches to carry out messages. A well trained messenger dog was considered a very fast and reliable way to carry out messages. World war one as you can see by its name, was the very first war that they were able to use tanks and airplanes. “Another fun fact to know is that 90% of the 7.8 million soldiers who fought from Austria were either injured or killed”[6].

So as we talk about War World I we have to know that one of the main causes of World War was militarism. “Militarism is a philosophy or system that places great importance on military power.”[7] “Alfred Vagts, a German historian who served in World War I, defined militarism as the “domination of the military man over the civilian, an undue preponderance of military demands, an emphasis on military considerations”.[8]” Militarism was a significant force used by several European nations in time leading to World War one. Their governments were strongly, if not even dominated by military leaders that knew what their interest and priorities were. Militarism is the embodiment of military personnel and ideas into civilian government and the belief that military power is essential for national strength, it was also the strongest in Germany where the “Kaiser relied heavily on his military commanders and the civilian legislature exerted little or no control over the military.” Militarists were also drive by experiences and failures in previous wars, such as the Crimean War, Boer War and Russo-Japanese War. Militarism, combined with new weapons, emerging technologies and developments in industrial production, fuelled a European arms race in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Something else to note about militarism is that they were influenced by nationalism and advice from military commanders, European governments ramped up military spending, purchasing new weaponry and increasing the size of armies and navies. Something that was  interesting when reading about militarism is that it “fathered” a dangerous child, the arms race, which gave rise to new military technologies and increased defence spending.

Militarism affected more than policy; it also shaped culture, the media and public opinion. The press would make military leaders seem as if they were heroes, the press would also tend to paint rival nations as aggressive and regularly bring up the topic of War. “Militarism alone did not start World War I – that first required a flashpoint and a political crisis – but it created an environment where war, rather than negotiation or diplomacy, was considered the best way of resolving international disputes.” Militarism, nationalism, and imperialism were all connected to each other in the 19th and early 20th centuries military power which was considered a measure of national and imperial strength. A powerful state needed a powerful military to protect its interests and also to support its policies. After 1907, there was an increase of the military influencing policy making. Something that’s good to know is that before War World 1 militarism caused an arms race between countries that “industrial resources to mass produce the latest military technology, such as breech loading rifles, artillery, and machine guns.” The Prussian army easily defeated Denmark, France, and also Austria-Hungary and by 1871 they were said to have world power militarily.  A German general believed that they had won their power by the way they fought and not by their mental strategies.

 Militarism had a rise in military and naval forces which helped in influencing the men in joining the army. Not only was the war being put out in the land but later it turned into a war at sea. During this time it was when Britain and Germany were one of the biggest rivals and decided to take this war out into the sea. Germany had to pass two laws in order to get twelve battleships. Britain had produced their first dreadnoughts which were these large armed battle ships with twelve inch guns which made this naval force race even more intense than before. During the time of 1909 to 1911 Germany had finished building nine dreadnoughts while Britain had eighteen dreadnoughts in total when germany only had nine. So because of this Germany decided to widen the Kiel Canal so that they can fit more of their dreadnoughts so that it can create and easier passage for them. While Germany did this Britain built new naval bases in Northern Scotland so that they can fit more of their dreadnoughts. So in the end Militarism caused an increase in military and naval which led people to believe that there was a war coming. It also caused a control in military by the civilian government.

The military influenced our military that we have today because not only did it make it stronger but as well as more powerful. So as we know World War I did not just happen all on its own but what we do know is that there were four main causes that started World War I and one of those reasons was imperialism. Imperialism means “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force”[9]. The blame that was made for the cause of World War I was the difference in policies, even though the immediate cause was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. So to make this easier to understand the war started mainly because of Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. The reason this is , is because armies became a possible threat to the other countries and because of this the other countries started forcing alliances in order to keep their land safe and secure.

 Imperialism was one of the four main reasons for what caused World War I. Imperialism is a system in which a powerful nation or state takes control of other territories outside of its borders. These borders that is being talked about are claimed and governed as colonies. Imperialism and imperial rivalry were considered the major cause of World War I. European imperialism was the biggest cause of World War I. The three biggest countries involved in European imperialism were Germany, France. With many countries such as Britain, Germany, and France colonizing and expanding tensions began to build between the countries over the land they had each wanted. The main effects of the European imperialism is that it had created tensions between alliances. The european imperialism also influenced european nationalism, and militarism and the arms race. All of the effects of European imperialism lead to the outbreak of World War I. It has been said that Germany was motivated by imperial ambitions to invade Belgium and France. Other countries such as russia Wanted to create their own vast Empires. this caused competition and conflict between many of the countries throughout the world.

  When talking about alliances we see that in the Years leading up to the war the nations of Europe were constantly jockeying  for power and making alliances. In 1881 Germany made an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy. All of these countries agreed to protect one another when it came to the event France attacking them. however Italy decided to go ahead and make a secret alliance with France and the way that they made that happen because Italy told France they would not aide Germany. In order to respond to Germany’s alliances France and Russia decided to establish an alliance in 1892.  In the year 1904  Britain and France signed an agreement.  the triple entente decided to get formed between France Britain and Russia in 1907.  Because of this powerful Alliance that was surrounding Germany it made Germany feel as if this powerful Alliance was a real threat to their existence as well as their power in the region. Because of the triple entente it made the word very dangerous it also caused the war a lot of tension the reason this is, is because if a member from one Alliance declared war on a member from the other Alliance then it will start conflict that would soon end up quickly escalating.  Germany was always on alert and that was because it was surrounded two opposing allied powers,  these two Allied Powers were France and Russia.  Germany Allied itself with the Ottoman Empire in order to possibly be able to threaten British interest in India.  Germany also Allied itself with Austria-Hungary Empire only because the empire had many German speaking people. Because of these alliances it made what should have been a regional War, explode into a war that would involve  Europe and the world. An alliance is a political military or also it could be an economic agreement that is tough true as well as signed by two or more Nations. A military alliance usually involves promises that have been made and that’s a that when a war happens or aggression each military frog support their allies no matter what. These terms have been highlighted or outlined in the alliance document.

 Nationalism was another reason for why World War I was started. Nationalism gave the citizens a great amount of confidence in their nation, government and military strength. It convinced them that their country was fair, righteous, and without blame. Nationalism can be defined as a great sense of wanting patriotism. Those who are nationalist tend to hold their country in high regard and place its interest above other nations. Pre- war nationalism, was started by imperialism. British nationalism was characterised by a century of relative peace and prosperity. The British was increasing which cause it to quickly to expand its territories in Africa and Asia and mainly because of its naval strength.  Britain was also Known for colonial wars. Nationalism was also experienced in some parts of southern europe where some ethnic minorities wanted autonomy. “Nationalism was a prevalent force during the early twentieth century Europe. Nationalism was also a significant cause of World War I. Many of the Europeans believed in the cultural, economic, and military supremacy.[10]” Nationalists tend to exaggerate the importance or value of their country, they also place its interest above those of other countries. Those with nationalist tendencies celebrated the culture and achievements of their own country and placed its interests above those of other nations. Rising nationalism was also a factor in the Balkans, where slavic serbs  and others saw independence and autonomy from the political domination of Austria- Hungary. Before the war, most europeans believed in having some kind of cultural, economic and military supremacy and dominance over other nations. This was fueled by provocative speeches, utterances or press reports. The front pages of the newspapers were very often headlined by nationalist rhetoric and exaggerated stories, these headlines often included rumors live rival nations and their horrible intentions. Nationalism was also significantly present in pop culture as it influenced literature, theatre and music. Leaders in power made no attempt to stop this trend and some even actively contributed to it.

As a conclusion some might argue that World War I never had an effective ending, but the battles just stopped. World War II never would have happened if not for World War I, because had the Germans not been beaten down so badly by the demands of The Treaty of Versailles, Adolf Hitler may not have risen to power in the 1930s and convinced the Germans to fight regain their dignity and place in the world. Also just as an overall view of world war I, World War I began in 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and lasted until 1918. During the conflict, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers) fought against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States (the Allied Powers). When talking about militarism the way it caused World War I was because in the late nineteenth century was an era of military competition, particularly between the major European powers. The policy of building a stronger military was judged relative to neighbours, creating a culture of paranoia that heightened the search for alliances. It was fed by the cultural belief that war is good for nations. Alliances caused World War I because a web of alliances had grown in Europe between 1870 and 1914, which had ended up creating two camps bound by commitments to maintain sovereignty or intervene militarily – the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. Imperialism caused World War I because A web of alliances developed in Europe between 1870 and 1914, effectively creating two camps bound by commitments to maintain sovereignty or intervene militarily – the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. Finally, Nationalism caused World War I because Nationalism was also a new and powerful source of tension in Europe. It was tied to militarism, and clashed with the interests of the imperial powers in Europe. Nationalism created new areas of interest over which nations could compete.

Cite Page

Topic: World War I

  1. World War 1.” History.com. Accessed September 14, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/world-war-i-history.
  2. “Militarism as a Cause of World War I.” Nazi Germany. January 22, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2018. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/militarism/.
  3. “Alliances.” Nazi Germany. April 30, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2018. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/alliances/.
  4. “Imperialism as a Cause of World War I.” Nazi Germany. March 20, 2018. Accessed October 03, 2018. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/imperialism/.
  5. “Nationalism as a Cause of World War I.” Nazi Germany. August 25, 2018. Accessed October 03, 2018. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/nationalism/.
  6. “Total War.” Nazi Germany. February 07, 2019. Accessed March 04, 2019. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/total-war/.
  7. “Nationalism as a Cause of World War I | Facts & Information.” School History. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://schoolhistory.co.uk/notes/nationalism-as-a-cause-of-world-war-i/.
  8. “The 4 M-A-I-N Causes Of World War One.” History Hit. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.historyhit.com/the-4-m-a-i-n-causes-of-world-war-one/.
  9. Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “What We Learned from WWI, the First “total War” — That Changed Everything.” CNN. November 09, 2018. Accessed May 09, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/08/opinions/world-war-one-first-total-war-ben-ghiat/index.html.


[1] “Total War.” Nazi Germany. February 07, 2019. Accessed March 04, 2019. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/total-war/.

[2] Ibid

[3] “World War 1.” History.com. Accessed September 14, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/world-war-i-history.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Arshad, Muhammad Umar. “A Short But Deep And Squeezing Information About World War I-II | History | Facts And Causes.” WebPressPK. October 18, 2018. Accessed March 18, 2019. https://www.webpresspk.com/world-war/.

[7] “Militarism as a Cause of World War I.” Nazi Germany. January 22, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2018. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/militarism/.

[8] Ibid

[9] Google Search. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.google.com/search?q=definition of imperialism &rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS727US727&oq=definition of imperia&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.7077j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

[10] “Nationalism as a Cause of World War I.” Nazi Germany. August 25, 2018. Accessed October 03, 2018. https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/nationalism/.


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