World War I was one of the greatest wars know to history, it became known to many as “The Great War because of the great impact felt thought out the world. It was the first globally destructive conflict that the Western Civilization constructed; it has been the focus of numerous analyses which produced different explanations, interpretations and reexaminations of the countless reasons that led to the start of the War.
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World War I transpired as a result of leaders’ aggression toward other countries that was supported by the rising nationalism of the European nations. Economic and imperial competition and fear of war prompted military alliances and an arms race, which would further escalated the tension contributing to the outbreak of war. (Maria Fogel, 1996) Originally, the blame was placed on Germany and its affiliates. In the end, historical analysis performed in years after the event, lead to transference from the guilt perception, to a bigger one of countless interacting factors. To provide a better explanation regarding the cause of WWI I will use a detailed analysis including a time line to explain the events that sparked WWI.
The Birth of the War
Much of the world believes that World War 1 started with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, on the contrary many other reasons led to WWI, many that transpired as far back as the 1800’s. Let’s begin with Nationalism, throughout the late nineteenth century leading up the twentieth; Nationalism was a noticeable movement that had stretched across Europe. All major leaders had keen feelings toward the thoughts of supporting their own nation. Nationalists thought that their particular nation’s needs should have been met before that of other nations. Having beliefs as strong as they did became obsessive as nationalists were so pleased with the nation that they strived for wanting it to become richer and more powerful than any other.
Militarism denoted a rise in military expenditure, an increase in military and naval forces, influence the military men upon the policies of the civilian government, and a preference for force as a solution to problems. Militarism was one of the main causes of the First World War. Increase in military control of the civilian government after 1907, there was an increase in military influence on policy making. This could be reflected particularly in Germany and Russia. The German Army at this period was called a “State within the State”. The parliament and the politicians had to follow the General Staff. They had no say in the army’s design to preserve the Fatherland. Even though the Schlieffen Plan would incur the anger of Great Britain and bring the latter into a war, it was accepted by the German civilian government as the war plan. In 1914, the Russian generals were also able to force the Czar to accept full mobilization. They threatened him with the danger of defeat if he acted contrarily.
Arms race after 1871, the war atmosphere engendered by the secret alliances led to an armaments race among the powers. The race was particularly serious between 1900 and 1914, as the international situation became much worse than before. There was a significant rise in the army and naval estimates of the European powers in these years. (Militarism, 2007)
From 1910 to 1914, France multiplied her defense disbursements by 10%, Britain increased theirs by 13%, Russia by 39%, and Germany was the most aggressive as hers increased by 73%. By increasing war cost it allowed all the powers to increase the numbers in their armies and make vast improvements on their battleships. (Militarism, 2007)
The entire Continental European powers had implemented the conscription system since 1870. France had conscription since the beginning of the Revolutionary Wars, Austria-Hungary since 1868, Germany since 1870, Italy since 1873 and Russia since 1874. Only Britain did not have conscription. After 1890, the deteriorating diplomatic relations among the powers accelerated their military expansion program. (Militarism, 2007)
By increasing military and naval rivalry it steered the nations to believe that a war was on the way. (The German ruling group believed that the only way Germany could become a world power was through war. And since the Military was preparing their troops it strengthened this belief.) The military then increased its control of the civilian government especially in Germany and Russia. When the First World War was fought, it was to be fought by all powers because they had made the military plan cooperatively. As a result of the armaments race, all the European powers were prepared for a war by 1914. (Militarism, 2007)
Great Britain, Germany and France needed foreign markets after the increase in manufacturing caused by the Industrial Revolution. These countries competed for economic expansion in Africa. Although Britain and France resolved their differences in Africa, several crises foreshadowing the war involved the clash of Germany against Britain and France in North Africa. In the Middle East, the crumbling Ottoman Empire was alluring to Austria-Hungary, the Balkans and Russia and the system of alliances were four main reasons that pushed the great powers of the world into this huge explosive war. All throughout the 1800’s many national groups that were pushed by nationalism tried to unite their countries by governments controlled by their own people, but this desire had overwhelming possibilities in Europe, where one government had often ruled many nationalities. This was a main basis for the start of The Great War. (Militarism, 2007)
During the late 1800’s the system of alliances was the fourth cause of the war. Otto Von Bismark, the powerful German chancellor, was troubled that France would seek revenge for its defeat to Germany in 1871. He then decided to keep France without allies & isolated from everyone else. He particularly wanted to keep France from becoming allies with Russia, just in case of war so that Germany wouldn’t have to defend both its east and west boundaries.
In 1881 Bismark set up the Three Emperors’ League, a secret agreement among the emperors of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. He considered Italy a weak link in the Alliance, but it isolated France. Meanwhile, France, had been trying to gain allies, their opportunity arose after William II, Germany’s new leader, allowed the Reinsurance Treaty to crumble. The French quickly loaned Russia money, and took several other steps to become acquaintances of Russia’s. This alliance between France and Russia was finally formed in 1894, and later in 1907 the triple Entente was formed, an alliance between Russia, France and Great Britain. This alliance became extremely dangerous, because if any two rival powers fought, all six countries would be dragged into war.
With all of these events coming together it begin to generate the chain of events that started the eruption that led to the war which was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. During their visit to Sarajevo Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie was, assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. Princip belonged to a secret society called Black Hand which was a small organization of Serbian nationalists who all resisted the Austro-Hungarian rule. The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand initiated a long struggle among Serbia and Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian government wanted to admonish the Serbs, but prior to making their final decision, they had to make sure Germany would still support them just in case Russia make an attempt to help Serbia.
On July 23, the Austro-Hungary gave Serbian Government an ultimatum. The ultimatum included the following demands made by Austro-Hungary: “The Royal Serbian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy territories that belong to it, and it most sincerely regrets the dreadful consequences of these criminal transactions. “The Royal Serbian Government regrets that Serbian officers and officials should have taken part in the above-mentioned propaganda and thus have endangered the friendly and neighborly relations, to the cultivation of which the Royal Government had most solemnly pledged itself by its declarations of March 31, 1909. “The Royal Government, which disapproves and repels every idea and every attempt to interfere in the destinies of the population of whatever portion of Austria-Hungary, regards it as its duty most expressly to call attention of the officers, officials, and the whole population of the kingdom to the fact that for the future it will proceed with the utmost rigor against any persons who shall become guilty of any such activities, activities to prevent and to suppress which, the Government will bend every effort.”
The war in Europe continued to expand greatly. While Russia prepared to defend Serbia Germany continued to support Austria-Hungary. Germany demanded that Russia cancel all mobilization or face war, Russia refused, and in turn Germany made the decision to go to war with Russia on August 1. Convinced that France was ready to side with Russia, Germany declared war again, this time with France. Italy remained neutral until May 23, 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, Britain, and Russia. As the war lingered on, other countries, including the Ottoman Empire,
Japan, the United States, and other nations of the western hemisphere, were drawn into the conflict. Japan, which had made an alliance with Britain in 1902, declared war on the Germans on August 23, 1914, & on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, as well.
On August 2, German government officials informed the government of Belgium of its intention to march on France through Belgium in order, as it claimed, to hinder an attack on Germany by French soldiers marching through Belgium. The Belgian government refused to permit this passage of German troops and called on the signatories of the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium in a controversy where France, Germany, and Britain were involved, to observe their guarantee. Britain, one of the signatories, on August 4 sent an ultimatum to Germany insisting that Belgium’s neutrality be respected; when Germany refused, Britain declared war later that day.
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After a long 10 months of serious fighting, the German army decided to abandon Fort Vaux to end the Battle of Verdun. The Battle of Verdun was the largest encounter of the World War, fought between German forces & forces from France. On the 21st of February Germans decided to launch an attack on the French town and fortress of Verdun. The attack began with a German artillery bombardment, unprecedented in the passion, of the outlying forts. The French fell back to prepared positions, and the German command, intensifying the onslaught, pushed ahead, disregarding the gigantic loss of lives. Fort Douaumont fell into
German control on February 25 that same day General Henri Philippe Petain was placed in control of the French forces at Verdun. With reserves from France continually arriving, Petain’s men met with escalating confidence the unceasing attacks by densely massed German formations. Harcourt, a nearby city, was forfeited to German troops on March 22, and another nearby city, Malan court a week later. Despite these losses the initial drive from the Germans was a failure. However, attacks from German forces continued with little interruption. The French air force was able to gained control of the skies over the battlefield, by April. This played a significant role in the successful defense of the region. By June a new drive by German forces succeeded in capturing the forts of Thurmont and Vaux. Now, the pressure began to slack up little by little. To scatter the strength of the German military and thus relieve the strain on the French, an attack on the Somme River was made by the British, which necessitated the shift of a ample amount of German troops. French forces planned for a swift and crushing blow north of Verdun, as the fighting became less fierce. On September 24, General Charles Mangin advanced French forces on a 4 mile front, recapturing the defeated cities of Douaumont and Thurmont. With this renewal of the offense of the French, the last prospect of the German troops to turn the Allied line at Verdun collapsed. The attacks by the French persisted throughout October, and Fort Vaux was evacuated. The casualties on both sides were extremely high, the French estimated at nearly 350,000 and the Germans to 330,000. The battle itself appeared totally inconclusive, gaining no strategic advances to either side.
Innovations in warfare made the war even more deadly than beforehand. Mass production was used by industries all over the war to produce more weapons than ever before. Various new and powerful weapons were invented throughout World War 1. The machine gun was perhaps the most significant invention of the new weapons created during World War I. It was hard to avoid a rapid spray of bullets, making it hard to make any advancement. To guard themselves from the swift fire, soldiers began to dig elaborate systems of trenches. Tanks, airplanes, submarines, and poisonous gas, were among some of the newer weapons that altered the strategies of war. This was also the first European war to be fought by civilians that were drafted to fight in the battles.
United States President Woodrow Wilson attempted to bring forth negotiations between the confrontational groups of powers that would in his own words bring “peace without victory.” As an outcome of his efforts, particularly of the conferences held in Europe by Wilson’s advisors and leading European statesmen, some headway was at first evidently attained towards ending the war. In November the German government informed the U.S. that the Central Powers were prepared to accept peace negotiations, but when the U.S. informed the Allies, Great Britain rejected the proposal made by the Germans for two reasons: Germany had not laid any definite terms for peace; and the situation of the military during that time was so promising to the Central Powers that no adequate terms could by reasonably be expected from them. So, the war lingered on.
April 6, 1917, the United States congress voted proclaimed war on the side of the Allies. On April 2, President Wilson had appeared before Congress and stated, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” (Wilson, 1917) He then asked congress to declare war on Germany. A declaration of war was the response from Congress. Citizens of the U.S. wondered why the U.S. decided to enter the World War. Many reasons were given to them, but possibly the most important was the interception of an important concealed telegram known as the Zimmerman telegram. It was sent in January, 1917, by the foreign minister of Germany, Alfred Zimmerman, to the German ambassador in Mexico, which happened to be a neutral country at the time. It’s intent was to draw Mexico into the war on Germany’s side, in return Germany promised to return It instructed the ambassador to draw Mexico into the war on Germany’s side, in return, Germany promised to return the parts of the southern U.S. that were lost in 1848. The British intercepted this telegram, interpreted it, and reported it to the U.S. When the news went public, it angered the President and Congress and brought the U.S. one step closer to war. An additional reason the U.S. entered the war, was the judgment of the Germans to resume open submarine warfare. After the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger ship, in 1915, German troops stopped using submarine warfare. Realizing that the Allies had taken the higher hand, Germany, as an act of hopelessness started unrestricted submarine warfare in February. Any ship that entered the German “war zone” was taking a tremendous risk of being sunk by German U-boats. These were just two reasons that led to Wilson’s decision to declare war on Germany.
President Wilson created his “fourteen points” to establish the foundation for a moral and lasting peace following the predictable Allies victory in World War 1. The 14 proposals were contained in an address made by Wilson to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on January 8; 1918.The 14 proposals were contained in Wilson’s address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress last week on January 8, 1918. Wilson was given a standing of moral leadership among the Allied leaders for the idealism expressed in them. Opposing viewpoints on various points by
the European Allies, developed at the conclusion of conflicts, and attempts at practical application of the 14 points exposed a many-sided system of secret agreements between the European victors. The 14 points, in review, were as follows: (1) the abolition of secret diplomacy by open agreements. (2) Freedom of the seas in peace and in difference, except as the seas may be closed in whole or fraction by international encounter for enforcement of international covenants. (3) International trade barriers were removed wherever possible and an equality of trade conditions were established among nations accepting to the peace. (4) Artillery use was reduced coherent with public safety. (5) Colonial disputes were adjusted with the interest of both the controlling government and the colonial population. (6) Russian territory was evacuated with the specifications of self-determination. (7) Restoration and evacuation of Belgium. (8) The French territory was to be evacuated and restored, including but not limited to Alsace-Lorraine. (9) Italian frontiers along clearly recognizable lines of nationality were to be readjusted. (10) The people of Austria-Hungary were to receive independence. (11) The territories of Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania, were to be evacuated and restored, seaports were granted to Serbia, and readjustment and international guarantee of the national ambitions of the Balkan nations. (12) Non-Turkish peoples under Turkish control were given self-determination and internationalization of the Dardanelles. (13) Poland was granted independence with access to the sea; and (14) a general association of nations under specific covenants to give mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity was created.
The Treaty of Versailles was negotiated during the Paris Peace Conference held in Versailles beginning January 18, 1919. The United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and the German Republic, which had replaced the imperial German government at the end of the war, were all represented. The first section of the treaty included the Covenant of the League of Nations, the world’s first peacekeeping body, which was given the responsibility for executing the terms of different treaties negotiated after World War 1. The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris. By the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was to abolish all compulsory military services; reduce its army to a mere 100,000; to demilitarize all the territory on the left bank of the Rhine River; to discontinue all importation, exportation, and nearly all production of war material; to limit its navy to only 24 ships, with no submarines; its navy personnel was not to exceed 15,000; and to abandon all naval and military aviation by no later than October 1, 1919. Germany also agreed to allow the trial of former emperor William II by an international court on the charge of “an extreme offense against international morality.” Germany was required to make extensive financial reparation for all damage incurred by the Allied powers during the war. In addition to money, ships, trains, livestock, and valuable natural resources, were additional types of payment made. Germany was to lose about 27,500 square miles of its territory, according to the treaty. Large portions of land were added to Poland, and the provinces of Posen and West Prussia. After defeating Germany in World War 1, the triumphant parties found it difficult to agree on the price that the Germans should pay in war reparations. American, British, French, and Italian leaders all met at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and drafted the Treaty of Versailles. Representatives at the conference included; British Prime Minister Lloyd George, Italian Foreign Minister Giorgio Sonnino, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
World War I did not completely end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, for its political, economic and psychological effects influenced the lives of people long after the last shot was fired. Two main political changes rocked the world after the war: a greater number of countries began to adopt more liberal forms of government, and an angered Germany tried to cope with the punitions doled out to them by the victors, as its hostilities rose to the point where it provoked the Second World War two decades later. Despite the advantages brought forth by developing technologies, the war mainly had a damaging effect on the economies of European countries. People’s hopes and spirits also floundered, as they grew distrustful of the government and tried to cope with the enormous death toll of the war. The turbulent period after World War I called for a major readjustment of politics, economic policies, and views on the world. (Maria Fogel, 1996)
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