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The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand occurred on 28th June 1914. It can be argued that the Archduke’s assassination has led to the idea that the outbreak of World War One (WWI) was an accident, an event that led to the greatest war the world had ever seen at that point. However, no single event can be solely responsible for causing such devastating consequences. There were other factors that led to the Great War, tensions that had been building for some time, a result of issues derived mainly from the past centuries imperialism and the rapid industrialisation that was changing the face of the world.
Alliances between countries had been leading to and causing friction between European countries for quite a period of time, namely between the years 1879 and 1914. These alliances were key in factoring towards the outbreak of World War One. Furthermore, a complicated web of alliances across Europe was in place in 1914. The main alliances on either side were; The Triple Alliance (1882), which was an alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, which stopped Italy from taking sides with Russia and The Triple Entente that, was made between Britain, Russia, and France to counter the increasing threat from Germany. At the point of the outbreak of war, it was extremely clear who would be allied with one another. The building tensions between countries factored towards the outbreak of WWI, whilst the alliances in place throughout Europe contributed towards the size and scale of the First World War.
Another key factor that contributed towards the outbreak of WWI was militarism. Countries competed were competing with one another in terms of military prowess. The period preceding WWI has been called ‘The Arms Race’. In essence, the big four powers of Europe; Britain, France. Germany and Italy were competing to build the most effective battleship. ‘If Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated in 1904 or even in 1911, Herrmann speculates there might have been no war; it was the armaments race and the speculation about imminent or preventative wars which made his death in 1914 the trigger for war’. Furthermore, the German naval build up is seen by some historians as the principal cause of deteriorating Anglo-German relations.
The outbreak of the First World War occurred at a time of empires and imperialism. Furthermore, many of the economic causes of WWI can be attributed to a growing material dependency of advancing European nations on nationalism. France and Great Britain, for example maintained domestic economies and accumulated great wealth in the late 19th Century through trade, and their control of foreign resources, markets, territories and people. Moreover, Germany being a late arrival on the world stage, had a very modest empire compared to that of Britain or France. It was also locked out of the most valuable colonial regions in Africa and the Far East. There was also an upset in the trade balance with the rapid exhaustion of natural resources in many European nations. This exhaustion of natural resources made many nations eager to seek new territories rich in such resources. Out of this resentment intense rivalries developed between the emerging economic powers and the ‘great’ powers.
Nationalism was another deep rooted factor that contributed to the outbreak of WWI. In Germany for example, Foreign Minister Bernhard Von Bulow adopted a policy called Weltpolitik in 1897. This policy aimed to seek ‘Germany’s place in the sun’ commensurate with its rising industrial strength, namely by the creation of a colonial power to rival those of other powers. Furthermore, Germany’s Weltpolitik policy contributed towards the arms race, another key factor in the outbreak of the First World War. When Wilhelm II became the new Kaiser in 1888 he had very different intentions for German diplomacy. Weltpolitik was essentially a plan that aimed to make Germany a large, strong and unbeatable empire in every possible way. The Agadir crisis was the international tension sparked by the deployment of a German gunboat to the Moroccan port of Agadir on July 1, 1911. The Agadir crisis occurred as a result of both imperialism and nationalism. The Triple Entente came into play during this crisis with Britain at France’s aid as it had been in the first Moroccan crisis. Furthermore, on 21st July David Lloyd George delivered the Mansion House speech in which he declared that national honour was more precious than peace;
‘If Britain is treated badly where her interests are vitally affected, as if she is of no account in the cabinet of nations, then I say emphatically that peace at that price would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure’
The speech was interpreted by Germany as a warning that she could not impose an unreasonable settlement on France. Moreover the Balkan wars are commonly seen as an important precursor to WWI, to the extent that ‘Austria-Hungary took alarm at the great increase in Serbia’s territory and regional status’. Germany also shared this concern, which saw Serbia as a ‘satellite of Russia’. These events factored towards the outbreak of the First World War in the sense that Serbia’s rise in power contributed to the two central powers willingness to declare war following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
However, in terms of a counter-argument it can be argued that the outbreak of WWI was an accident, as from surface value it appears to have been sparked by a relatively small event in comparison to the devastation and turmoil that occurred afterwards. On 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. The assassin’s ultimate goal was the separation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and possibly other provinces from Austria-Hungary and attachment to Serbia to form a greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia. This event essentially led to a chain reaction influenced by the alliances between the main European powers. The alliances made prior to the assassination of the Archduke meant that countries were obliged to go to war. Thus, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in retaliation for the assassination; Russia intervened to help the Serbians. Germany joined forces with Austria-Hungary, and France and Britain were bought in as a result of The Triple Entente an alliance between Britain, France and Russia.
So in conclusion, I personally believe that the outbreak of WWI was not an accident to any extent. It was a result of deep-rooted factors that had been building tensions for some time, sparked off by a single event (the assassination of the Archduke) If other factors such as imperialism, nationalism, etc, did not come into play then World War One would almost certainly never have occurred. The nature of the period itself, very much a period about incredible power and wealth, a result of rapid colonisation and industrialisation would have also been a leading factor towards the outbreak of World War One.
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes
Bond, The First World War and British Military History
History on the net – The causes of WWI
Wikipedia – The origins of WWI
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