The Causes of World War One

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‘World War One was the result of a series of unintended and disconnected events.’ Does this opinion adequately explain the causes of World War One?

It is understandable that historians ponder on what exactly caused a war that destroyed Europe’s economy, cost the lives of 37 million men and involved a country from every region of the world (from the Americas to Asia). The opinion this essay will discuss implies that the events that led to this major conflict were unintended and disconnected; and in order to emit a judgement that would agree or disagree with this view it is important to first identify the causes of world war one. Therefore this essay will first discuss the different types of causes (long, mid and short terms), respectively nationalism, imperialism/militarism and the ‘blank cheque’. Hence this essay will evaluate whether these were ‘disconnected and unintended events’ or if there is a connection between the causes. The main sources used in this essay are Coles’ general notes on world history and historian Martin Gilbert’s book entitled ‘First World War’. The long term causes prepared the ground for the war. Nationalism can be categorized into the long term causes because it had influenced Europe prior to 1914, and as French writer Guy de Maupassant argues, ‘it is the eldest cause of any war’. Quite a popular phenomenon in the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th, nationalism produced pride in one’s country’s achievements. The world war one themes paper observed that this ‘led to xenophobia and ideas of racial superiority’; but what it fails to mention is that as much as nationalism could provide feelings of superiority it could also provide feelings of equality. For example, minorities that previously were dominated by larger powers were now swept with waves of nationalism. This could be observed in the Balkans in the prelude of the world war; where small states were experimenting Pan-Slavism, ‘a nationalistic movement for political and cultural solidity of all Slavic people’ thus a threat to the Austrian Empire who dominated the South Slavs. One could argue that this form of nationalism led to Franz Ferdinand’s assassination by an extreme Serb nationalist group, or that it was the Austrian’s nationalism (their pride in their achievement of an empire) that pressured them into keeping all minorities within the empire at all costs; this leading to the Austro-Hungarian ‘impossible’ ultimatum to Serbia on the 23rd of July 1914. Nationalist mood in Europe could also be seen in France; more than 30 years after the French were defeated in the Franco-Prussian war a black cloth still veiled the statue of Strasbourg in the Place de la Concorde and it was a symbol, a constant reminder of the loss of the two eastern provinces, Alsace and Lorraine. The French still remembered the defeat and often spoke of ‘La Revanche’ (the revenge). As historian Gilbert argues, ‘War, if it came, would be an irresistible opportunity to fulfil long harboured desires or to avenge long-nurtured hatreds’. Historian Martin Kelly also argues that ‘it was nationalism, that manifested itself in the pan-Slav feeling of the Russian population, that tied Russia and Serbia together whilst Austria declared war, and thereby triggering what would have been a limited local conflict into world war’. When the Russian tsar signed the order commanding full mobilisation of Russian troops because ‘Russia could not remain indifferent to a declaration of war on Serbia’ and as the ultimate proof of the stimulating effects of Nationalism, editor Alex Bein remembered that ‘the Russian popular sentiment applauded the fullest possible solidarity with the beleaguered fellow Slavs of Serbia’. In this particular case it is difficult to determine whether these events occurred under the ‘Nationalism’ potential cause or the ‘Alliances’. Without dropping into philosophical or anthropological arguments, this essay will assume that alliances themselves were...
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