The Relationship Between Modernity and the First World War

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The First World War, also known as the Great War of 1914-1918, is not an event that manifested overnight; it was the result of ever growing tension among European nations. This conflict was brought about by factors such as, nationalism, militarism, and the Alliance system. An upheaval such as the First World War was witness to the emergence of the glorification of war, struggle, despair, destruction and immense loss of life. The First World War brought about a defining moment in the history of the modern consciousness. The modern world was born anew with a self-conscious awareness of plight and modern society. This awareness has been characterized by a profound sense of the differences between past and present. The process of modernity has proven to be inevitable in both the contemporary world, and throughout the course of history, especially since the outbreak of the Industrial Revolution and the First World War. Modernity is the “transition from traditional folk society to urban industrial societies,” a transition that inevitably affects all factions of society. The term modernity encompasses many cause and effect reactions, with industrialization as a centre point. The changes brought about by such processes are felt across a large spectrum of interactions and experiences including, education, politics, religion and ones conception of the self and the world in which they live. With this process class structure becomes mobile, and identity and connection to local community deteriorates, indicating a shift from gemeinschaft to gesellschaft, the creation of a mass society. As Gesellschaft, or society, overwhelmed the sense of Gemeinschaft, or community, as speed and bigness became the dominant facts of life, work and social questions, ambition and job enjoyment became abstract notions, beyond the individual and his scale of personal reference, a matter of theory and intuition rather than experience and knowledge. With the rapid change in politics, economics and technology, many struggled to embrace the future when advancements brought such drastic transformations from traditional society. The challenge posed by modernity is the struggle to hold on to tradition. The ability to embrace the advancement but never overlook past achievements that have, without doubt, allowed for future advancements to take place, is a defining moment in the continuing process of modernity.

Throughout the course of history, nations have made numerous attempts to gain sovereignty from one another. Strong competition had developed among various European nations, such as, France, Britain, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany, especially after the unification of Germany in 1871 under Bismarckian rule, largely due to nationalism. There were many factors present during 1914, which placed Europe on the precipice of war. Nationalism, militarism, imperialism, Social Darwinism and the development of the Alliance system all contributed to the push towards war. Each of these elements threatened the balance of power and relationships among numerous of European nations. Nationalism, the desire for a country’s sovereignty and breaking free from antiquated empires, caused hostility between governments and citizens alike. “Nationalist passions, overheated by the popular press and expansionist societies, poisoned international relationships.” Europe was witness to many shifts in power in the years leading up to the First World War; this is attributed to the growing militarism of nations. The thought that ones country’s power was reflected in the strength of their army, led to armed conflict among neighbouring nations. Imperialism and the desire for acquiring more land was another driving force towards war in Europe, attempts to colonize nations would result in armed conflict and growing tension among governments and the people. Social Darwinism is another ideology that led to the outbreak of war in 1914, “nationalist thinkers propagated pseudoscientific...
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