Before World War II, the war was also known as The Great War, The World War, or The War in Europe .In France and Belgium, it was sometimes referred to as La Guerre du Droit (the War for Justice) or La Guerre Pour la Civilization / de Oorlog tot de Beschaving (the War to Preserve Civilisation), especially on medals and commemorative monuments. The term used by official histories of the war in Britain and Canada is First World War, while American histories generally use the term ‘World War’ I. The earliest known use of the term First World War appeared in September 1914 when German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel said, "there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared 'European War'" ... will become the first world war in the full sense of the word."The terms World War I and First World War both became standard (in the United States and Britain respectively) beginning in about 1940 to 1942; before that, it was most commonly called The Great War.
Map of the participants in World War I: Allied Powers in green, Central Powersin orange, and neutral countries in grey In the 19th Century, the major European powers had gone to great lengths to maintain a balance of power throughout Europe, resulting by 1900 in a complex network of political and military alliances throughout the continent.These had started in 1815, with the Holy Alliance between Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Then, in October 1873, German Chancellor Bismarck negotiated theLeague of the Three Emperors (German: Dreikaiserbund) between the monarchs of Austria–Hungary, Russia and Germany. This agreement failed because Austria–Hungary and Russia could not agree over Balkan policy, leaving Germany and Austria–Hungary in an alliance formed in 1879, called the Dual Alliance. This was seen as a method of countering Russian influence in the Balkans as theOttoman Empire continued to weaken.In 1882, this alliance was expanded to include Italy in what became the Triple Alliance. After 1870, European conflict was averted largely through a carefully planned network of treaties between the German Empire and the remainder of Europe orchestrated by Chancellor Bismarck. He especially worked to hold Russia at Germany's side to avoid a two-front war with France and Russia. When Wilhelm II ascended to the throne as German Emperor (Kaiser), Bismarck's alliances were gradually de-emphasised. For example, the Kaiser refused to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1890. Two years later, the Franco-Russian Alliance was signed to counteract the force of the Triple Alliance. In 1904, the United Kingdom sealed an alliance with France, the Entente cordiale and in 1907, the United Kingdom and Russia signed the Anglo-Russian Convention. This system of interlocking bilateral agreements formed the Triple Entente.
HMS Dreadnought. A naval arms raceexisted between the United Kingdom and Germany. German industrial and economic power had grown greatly after unification and the foundation of the Empire in 1870. From the mid-1890s on, the government of Wilhelm II used this base to devote significant economic resources to building up the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy), established by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, in rivalry with the British Royal Navy for world naval supremacy. As a result, both nations strove to out-build each other in terms of capital ships. With the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, the British Empire expanded on its significant advantage over its German rivals. The arms race between Britain and Germany eventually extended to the rest of Europe, with all the major powers devoting their industrial base to producing the equipment and weapons necessary for a pan-European conflict. Between 1908 and 1913, the military spending of the European powers increased by 50 percent. Austria-Hungary precipitated the Bosnian...