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Causes of World War One

By evesleaves Feb 18, 2013 965 Words
World War One was a turning point in history. Many scholars study this event and what caused this huge conflict. Germany used to be the sole one responsible for this war, but many controversial debates later, the blame was gradually put on the other great powers of Europe as well. In this essay, I will be analyzing the main causes of WWI, especially targeting the long-term causes. Most of these causes and events may be classified into 4 main themes: imperialism, the alliance system, militarism & nationalism.

Imperialism contributed greatly to the outbreak of WWI. Imperialism is when a country takes over other lands and subjects them to their rule to extend their power and influence. In the pre-WWI era, the great powers of Europe strove to expand their empires. Germany, who only became an united nation in 1871, desired a large empire like Britain’s, who at the time had an empire that stretched out over 5 continents and colonized about 1/3 of the world. However, Germany only had a few pieces of Africa. Soon, though, they decided they wanted more. In 1896, Admiral Muller said to Prince Henry of Germany, “...either we harness the total strength of the nation ruthlessly, even if it means accepting the risk of a major war, or we limit ourselves to continental power alone.” This shows how much Germany would do for more land and power. It clearly shows they prioritized developing their empire over suppressing war if it arose. In 1897, Prince von Bulow of Germany said, “We don’t want to put anyone else in the shade but we too demand a place in the sun.” It is suggested that Germany wanted more of Africa and Asia. The fierce competition over lands caused incredible tension between the great powers. Each country wanted to dominate more lands to increase their trades and power. This can also be seen in the First Moroccan Crisis. France and Germany had begun to motion towards war over the colonization of Morocco. France, assisted by Britain and Russia, wanted to colonize Morocco, whilst Germany, who was weakly supported by Austria-Hungary wanted to annoy France and create strain in the Entente Cordiale’s friendship, as well as keep Morocco independent so it would be easier to conquer and keep trading with them. This shows how easily countries may begin to consider war and attack to take over new lands. Another event that shows clear intent of imperialism is the Bosnian Crisis in 1908, when Austria-Hungary took over Bosnia, tension grew so thick between Austria-Hungary and Serbia that with one tiny trigger, war would be a possible threat.

Another main cause of WWI was militarism. Britain, who had the strongest navy at that time, felt threatened when Germany decided they wanted to build their navy power as well. The Anglo-German naval race of 1906-12 started when Kaiser William II of Germany released the Tirpitz Plan, which was a plan to increase Germany’s naval size. The British brought out the HMS Dreadnought, a deadly battleship, in 1906. Though Britain eventually won, it was clear Germany posed a serious threat. There was also an increase of armed forces which created the mood and atmosphere for war. By 1900, Russia had the biggest army of 1.1 million, though the number had decreased to 0.8 million by 1914. The armies of Germany and France had more than doubled from 1870, though England’s army had not increased much as they prioritized the naval race over building their army. With this attitude to building their military power, it was inevitable that these thoughts would eventually lead to putting them to use.

The alliance system also contributed greatly to the war. An alliance is when 2 or more countries form a type of ‘friendship’ where if one country is in trouble, the other/others would step in and help. The two main alliances were the Triple Entente, which consisted of France, Britain and Russia, and the Triple Alliance of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary. The Triple Entente, formed in 1907, remained strong as ever even when Germany tried to sever their bonds in an argument with France over Morocco. Additionally, Russia and Germany signed unofficial secret ‘reassurance treaties’ though it was not renewed in 1890 when William II of Germany took over. This led Russia to search for a new ally. In the end, France and Russia formed an alliance in 1894. This was exactly what Germany had hoped to avoid as now they were sandwiched between the 2 countries, leaving them extremely vulnerable in the case of an attack. However, William II was young and felt no need to have Russia on their side. It should be taken into account that if there wasn’t an alliance system, WII might not have been a ‘world war’, just one between Austria-Hungary and Serbia after an immediate cause- the trigger event of the assassination of the heir of the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Bosnia on 28th, June 1914.

The assassination of the Archduke was committed by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist. He was part of the ‘Black Hand’, a secret Serbian nationalist society. This links to nationalism as the Serbs were tired of being ruled by the Austro-Hungarians, and in return, murdered Austro-Hungary’s heir. This shows how much they were wiling to do to make their point. This also links back to the alliance system. France, bound by treaty to Russia, found themselves at war against Germany, and by extension, war against Austria Hungary. Meanwhile, Britain who was allied to France, declared war on Germany. Once again, it should be mentioned that if it were not for the alliance system, perhaps not as many countries would’ve been involved in the war.

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