Causes of the Great War

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World War I and its beginnings

Scholars today still discuss what led all of the five major powers in Europe to fight in the early 20th century. Some claim the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the reason while others claim it is due to the creation of Germany that led to the war. The truth is, the question of what really led to one of the most horrific wars up to its time is much more complex. There are numerous factors that led to the Great War such as Nationalism, Social Darwinism, the creation of Germany, Imperialism and the complete hatred between France and Germany. While all of these factors helped contribute to the beginning of the war, the ideology of nationalism was the strongest factor that led to the Great War because the other factors are correlated with the ideology itself.

On June 28, 1914, a major event occurred that would shape the beginning of one of the most horrific wars that our world has known, World War I. On that day, Archduke France Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated. At the time, Austria-Hungary was technically one nation yet “it was a racial mélange of at least a dozen minorities”. Within this nation, there were various radical groups who did not agree with the ideas that the heir wanted. One of the ideas was that Ferdinand wanted to advance the “Trialism”. This would allow Slavs to share power within the empire. Because the heir to the throne was assassinated, Austria-Hungary was going to be in a state of chaos as their current ruler was nearing his death and their new ruler was too young to run one empire, much less two empires. The assassin, a Serbian man who belonged to a radical Serbian group, killed the heir not only because he did not agree with Ferdinand’s ideas but also because the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary had a growing population of Serbian people and these people wanted to be united as one. This unification would have been possible but Austria blocked Serbian expansion in 1908 by taking over the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because of the assassination, there was much tension between the major powers of the world. Austria-Hungary believed that Serbia should be punished because of the assassination and declared war on Serbia. Because there were alliances created beforehand, Russia then declared war on Austria-Hungary and the domino effect happened, throwing all of the major European powers into the war. A variety of factors led to the war we now know as World War I but in order to truly understand why this war affected so many people all around the world, one must first understand why this war happened and the factors behind it.

Nationalism is the idea that people should draw their identity from their country. People believed that nations were groups of people who shared common ethnic identities, common values, common languages and shared ideas. The complicated problem with the concept of nationalism is that in many different countries, there were many people who did not fit into their “common” ethnic identity or share the same values as others in the country. Aside from this, many different countries wanted to be independent of the country that was ruling them. In Austria-Hungary, there were two separate kingdoms that were unified by two royal families. Each country wanted to be independent of one another, as they wanted to draw their identity from their specific country and be known for that.

Nationalism was prevalent before the war; however, it became more relevant to the major empires in the few years right before the war. As mentioned before, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a man from a radical Serbian group because the group did not like the ideas that Ferdinand would implement when he would become king. The group also wanted to help Serbians unite. Nationalism is Serbia has been something that has been hard to maintain despite the country’s beginnings some 600...
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