Was the Assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand That Important?

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Matteo Bellani 3H

History Common Assessment: the Assassination of the Archduke Was the Most Important Cause of WW1. Do you agree?

Two bullets fired in a Sarajevo back-street on the morning of the 28th June in 1914 set in motion a series of events that have shaped the world we live in today: World War One, World War Two, the Cold War and their conclusions all trace their causes to the gunshots that shook that summer day. But why was this so important? Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife were the victims, the heirs to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Tensions had been building up in the years before hand, but were their deaths really that important as an individual event?  

To begin with, one would have to look at the various factors that led to souring in relations between countries, for example, “Weltpolitik”. Germany was a new country, and had industrialized pretty quickly. Its nationalism was growing which led its imperialistic attitude. Thus it had ditched “realpolitik” and cast its eyes on the rest of the world. Germany did not “want to place anyone in the shadow,” but still have “a place under the sun.” Britain and other leading powers did not want Germany to have an empire, because they were scared it would make Germany even more powerful. Germany accused them of double standards and led to it feeling resentful to the other countries.  

In order to achieve Weltpolitik, Germany had to develop a formidable navy.  Britain had the strongest navy since the Battle of Trafalgar, and needed one in order to maintain its empire and import vital supplies. Thus, it saw Germany’s naval ambitions as a threat. When Britain built the first Dreadnought, it brought the naval race to a new level. The Germans developed the “Risk Theory”: that Britain would stay in port, rather than risk severely damaging its navy in a battle. On the other hand, Britain developed the “Two Power Standard”: that Britain should have a navy stronger than the other two leading navies put together. Eventually Britain won the race. This caused tensions between both countries to be extremely high, meaning any infraction could be used as a trigger for war.  Distrust was at its highest in a long time, thus any chances of cooperation or negotiation were slim, leading to a worse bond between the two countries.  

The military plans increased the likelihood of a war taking place because each country had made the assumption there would be a war, for various different reasons, like imperial gains (Austria over the Balkans and France reclaiming Alsace and Lorraine) or diplomatic superiority (Germany, who was surrounded by enemies). Most of the countries were vying to have the best militaries, which had led to arms races (Britain and Germany’s naval race). The nationalist “vox populis” in certain countries led to faster development of armies and navies, a famous slogan in Lloyd George’s Britain was “we want eight [dreadnoughts] and we won’t wait!”  

The first Moroccan crisis happened in 1905, when France wanted to make Morocco one of its colonies. Germany hadn’t been consulted, unlike the other countries of Europe; therefore the Kaiser pretended to be upset. He decided to go personally to Tangiers and deliver a message to the Sultan of Morocco, stating that he would stop France from taking over. The Kaiser actually had no real interest in helping Morocco, although it is possible that he wanted it for himself due to Germany’s imperialistic desires; instead he set up this fiasco in order to test Britain and France’s newly formed “Entente Cordiale”. France and Britain anxiously negotiated, but eventually decided against war. Instead, they held a conference at Algeciras. The results disappointed the Kaiser; France could not have possession of Morocco, but still had “special rights” in it. But the Kaiser found out what he wanted to know; that Britain and France would stand together at the conference table, but would not join forces to fight Germany. In the...
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