The Main Causes of World War 1

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The Great War, or The First World War, occurred from 1914 to 1918 and led to notable progress in war strategies and weaponry. It included a greater number of nations than any prior conflict.

World War I was characterized by the mobilization of entire nations, transforming it into a “total war” (Clare 6). Despite ongoing debates among historians, the major cause of the war is thought to be one of four long-term factors: Militarism, Alliance, Imperialism, and Nationalism. In my viewpoint, Alliance and Nationalism emerge as the two primary causes.

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Alliance is the formation of an association between multiple countries through various treaties, aiming for mutual benefits, whereas Nationalism refers to the emotions and principles of patriotism. By 1914, Europe had split into two distinct powers. The first was the Triple Entente, comprising France, Russia, and Britain. The second was the Triple Alliance, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

(Pope 2) Each country in Europe was linked through various treaties. The unstable political climate and the looming threat of war were prevalent. To safeguard themselves from attacks, many countries formed alliances with other governments. As Germany emerged as the focal point of the conflict, Europe became entangled in a complex web of alliances, ultimately dividing most countries into two opposing powers.

(Hamilton 16) In the late nineteenth century, Europe witnessed the unexpected emergence of the united state of Germany, led by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck implemented a system of alliances aimed at attaining peace in Europe. By 1890, Bismarck effectively brought every major power into his alliance system, with the exception of France. His motive was to deter any potential reprisal by France and regain the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, which Germany had lost in 1871.

According to Stewart, Fitzgerald, and Pickard (12), Bismarck achieved peace among European countries through his alliance system. The alliance system commenced with a treaty between Germany and Austria-Hungary, one of Europe’s five major powers. In 1879, the Dual Alliance was signed, serving as a defensive military alliance. The governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary pledged to provide assistance or maintain neutrality in the event of an attack by other influential countries like Russia or France.

(Stewart, Fitzgerald, Pickard 13) Italy became the second allied country to join Bismarck’s alliance system. In 1882, Bismarck expanded the Dual Alliance to become the Triple Alliance by inviting Italy to join. Despite not being a strong military nation, Italy’s close friendship with Great Britain made it a significant member of the Alliance. Additionally, Great Britain and Germany were engaged in a conflict in North Africa due to their respective colonial aspirations.

Thus, it was an opportune moment to form an alliance with Great Britain in order to isolate France (Stewart, Fitzgerald, Pickard 14). Having Great Britain as a strong ally was advantageous for Germany. Bismarck’s subsequent objective to isolate France was Russia. In 1881, the Dreikaiserbund treaty was established as an agreement among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, pledging not to assist France, the fourth power.

However, in 1884, Russia refused to renew her membership in Dreikaiserbund, prompting the renewal of a treaty. Bismarck then engaged in discussions with Russia and entered into the Reinsurance Treaty, promising to maintain neutrality if a third party were to attack. Through this alliance and the completion of Bismarck’s alliance system, Germany ensured its position in the face of potential aggression from France. Bismarck adhered to his principle of being one of three.

In his statement, he expresses that no one desires to be in the minority. According to him, all politics can be simplified to the goal of being one of three, especially in a world governed by an unstable balance of five Powers. These five Powers consist of Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and France. If Germany were one of two powers instead, it opens up the possibility for at least two other powers to form an alliance.

Bismarck achieved the dual role of second and third in command. His alliance system ensured Germany’s safety and dominant position in European politics (Pope 3). Nonetheless, in March 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck from his position as Chancellor. The crucial error made by Wilhelm was terminating the Reinsurance treaty with Russia.

When the treaty ended, Russia sought assistance from French financiers, presenting an excellent opportunity for France to break free from isolation. Both countries had financial and military needs, leading them to sign a military treaty in 1894. This treaty formed a Dual Alliance against the Triple Alliance.

According to Pope 7, J. F. V. Keiger stated that General de Boisdeffre was sent to Russia to engage in discussions with General Obruchev, who is the Chief of the Russian General Staff.

Despite facing various challenges, a resolution was achieved in anticipation of a conflict with the Triple Alliance. France’s objective was for Russia to prioritize Germany, whereas Russia viewed Austria-Hungary as their primary opponent. In the end, on 17 August 1892, the confidential military accord between France and Russia was officially ratified.

According to Pope, Bismarck stated in his book “France and the Origins of the First World War” that the Triple Entente was supposed to have the same duration as the Triple Alliance (7). Additionally, Bismarck’s foreign policy saw another alteration with the establishment of the Entente Cordiale between Great Britain and France. Germany also isolated Great Britain.

In order to protect the autonomy of Morocco, Britain made a secret commitment to assist France, while France recognized British control over Egypt. A similar agreement was also made between France, Great Britain, and Russia in 1907. As a result of their military alliance with Japan, Japan became part of the Entente alliance. Eventually, this led to the formation of the Triple Entente consisting of France, Russia, Great Britain, and Japan.

Brendon (6) argues that the establishment of alliances between countries sparked fear and ultimately led to war. The primary factor behind this conflict can be traced back to the European alliance system prior to the Great War. Additionally, Pope (8) asserts that Germany, through its alliance with other European nations, bore significant responsibility for initiating the Great War. In 1891, Germany formed a powerful coalition with two separate initiatives aimed at fostering patriotism.

The Pan-German League, an influential group, engaged in propaganda within industrial and government circles and oversaw various organizations amongst Germans residing abroad. Their sole objective was to foster a sense of patriotism within their nation. By instilling nationalism in the hearts of the people, the German government successfully persuaded them to participate in the war. Additionally, they relied on lectures delivered in universities to sway the opinion of students.

Germany’s top generals, Moltke and Tirpitz, were heavily influenced by Treitschke, who held significant power in Germany. Treitschke’s lecture at the University of Berlin played a crucial role in transforming Germany’s image into that of a formidable military nation, alongside Prussia. He asserted that Germany possessed robust and well-prepared armies and that it was their destiny to engage in warfare (Stewart, Fitzgerald, Pickard 60). Another influential figure was General Friedrich Bernhardi.

In his best-selling book, he expressed the belief that war symbolizes the power and vitality of civilized societies. The author asserted Germany’s imperative to attain global dominance. As noted by Stewart, Fitzgerald, and Pickard (61), the German government employed various means to recruit numerous young soldiers who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their nation. Nevertheless, Germany was not solely comprised of individuals driven by patriotism.

In the late 19th century, nationalist power in Austria-Hungary was growing. Serbia, a colony of Austria-Hungary located in the Balkan Peninsula, had nationalists who wanted independence for their nation. When they heard that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina which was under Austrian rule, they saw a chance to remove imperial control from the region. So, they made a plan to assassinate the archduke.

(Hamilton 19) The Great War started on June 28, 1914 due to a crisis caused by the formation of a secret organization called the Black Hands within the Serbian government. This group worked together with seven young Serbian nationalist students, resulting in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and causing different alliances to respond, ultimately leading to war (Stewart, Fitzgerald, Pickard 23).

One hundred years later, the citizens of the nations embroiled in World War I will forever honor the bravery and heroism displayed by the soldiers who fought for their country’s independence and sovereignty. This was made possible through the strategic collaboration of the Alliance and Nationalism within their government, which led to the achievement of their goals and the establishment of a deserving government and leadership for their people.

Works Cited

Hamilton John. Events Leading to World War I. United States: ABDO Publishing Company, 2004.

Print.Clare John D. First World War. Great Britain: Riverswift Random House, 1994.

Print.Brendon Vyvyen. The First World War 1914-18. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 2000.

Print. Stewart David, Fitzgerald James, Pickard Alf. The Great Wars: Sources and Evidence. Australia: an International Thomson Publishing company, 1987.

The book “How The First World War Began: The Triple Entente and the Coming of the Great War of 1914-1918” by Edward E. McCullough provides an analysis of the events leading up to the Great War. It was published by Black Rose Books in North America in 1999.

Print.Martel Gordon. The Origins of the First World War. Malaysia: Pearson Education Limited, 2003.

Print.Pope Giles. The Origins of the First World War: International Baccalaureate. Victoria, Australia: IBID Press, 2002.


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