Causes Of The World War I

Causes Of The World War I

The assassination of the Austrian Prince Archduke Francis Ferdinand sparked the outbreak of the World War I. But historians believe that the war had deeper causes. Its causes are to be understood only by a consideration of the history of the continent since the establishment of the German Empire. The World War I resulted chiefly due to the secret military alliances, the growth of extreme national pride among various European people, an enormous increase in European armed forces and development of a military cult, a race for colonies and imperial rivalries and lack of an effective machinery to settle mutual disputes among the European nations which led to a number of armed conflicts.

Rise of Nationalism: Nationalism was the belief that loyalty to a person‘s nation and its political and economic goals comes
before any other public loyalty. That exaggerated form of patriotism increased the possibility of war because a nation‘s goals inevitably came into conflict with the goals of one or more other nations. In addition, nationalistic pride caused nations to magnify small disputes into major issues. A minor dispute could thus quickly lead to the threat of war.

Nationalism in Germany became egoistic and aggressive. It was based on the theory of ‗my country, right or wrong‘. The Germans felt superior to others and believed in a manifest destiny to rule over Europe. German egoistic and aggressive nationalism was reflected through the war machine built up by Bismarck, industrial progress and German attitude towards other neighbouring states, especially France. France on the other hand, nursed the wounds of the humiliating defeat she had suffered in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The wounded and outraged nationalism of France demanded revenge on Germany.

There was suppressed and submerged nationalism in the eastern European empires of Austria-Hungary, Russia and Ottoman
Turkey. Those empires ruled many national groups that clamoured for independence. Conflicts among national groups were especially explosive in the Balkans. The Balkan Peninsula in southern Europe was known as the Powder Keg of Europe‘ because tensions there  threatened to ignite a major war. Most of the Balkans had been part of the Ottoman Empire. First Greece and then Montenegro, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria and Albania won independence in the period from 1812 to 1913. Each state quarrelled with neighbours over boundaries. Austro-Hungary and Russia also took advantage of the Ottoman Empire‘s weakness to increase their influence in the Balkans.

Rivalry for control of the Balkans added to the tensions that erupted into the World War I. Serbia led a movement to unite the Slavs of the regions. Russia, the most powerful Slavic country, supported the Serbian move. But Austria-Hungary feared Slavic nationalism, which stirred unrest in its empire. Millions of Slavs were the subjects of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. In 1908 Austria-Hungary greatly angered Serbia by annexing the Balkan territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia wanted control of those lands as many Serbs inhabited those territories.

System of Military Alliances: Bismarck, the architect of the unification of Germany and the Chancellor of the German
Empire was chiefly responsible for the division of Europe into two rival alliance system. In his attempt to isolate France, Bismarck entered into a number of alliances and agreements. The first of these agreements was the League of Three Emperors (Germany, Austria and Russia). Following the withdrawal of Russia from the League of Three Emperors (1878), Bismarck brought about the Dual Alliance (Germany and Austria) in 1879. When Italy joined the Dual Alliance in 1881, the Dual Alliance was converted into the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy). Later Bulgaria and Turkey also joined the Triple alliance. Members of the Triple Alliance were known as the Central Powers‘. In order to keep Russia in the orbit of the Triple Alliance and prevent a possible Alliance between Russia and France, Bismarck managed to strike an understanding with Russia through the Re-insurance Treaty (1887) whose terms were to be renewed periodically.

The accession of Kaiser William II and the resignation of Bismarck in 1890 brought about drastic changes in the foreign policy of Germany. Kaiser William‘s refusal to renew the Re-insurance Treaty with Russia liberated the later from the orbit of the Triple
Alliance and brought her closer to France into an alliance in 1895. England and Japan concluded an alliance in 1902. After resolving their mutual colonial differences, England and France entered into an alliance in 1904, which came to be known as the Entente Cordiale. In the same manner, England and Russia also came to an understanding in 1907. Thus, the mutual agreements and alliances between England, France and Russia led to the emergence of the Triple Entente. The members of the Triple Entente were also known as the Allies.

Militarism and Race for Armaments: Military Alliances divided Europe into two rival armed camps. The vast majority of
Europeans hoped that disputes between these camps would be settled by negotiations. But the anxiety of the governments to
negotiate from strength led them to increase their armed forces. No government was prepared to renounce war as an instrument of policy. The competition in armaments involved a very heavy financial burden on the great powers.
By the beginning of the twentieth century except England all European powers had adopted compulsory military service. As a result the continental powers possessed not only substantial peacetime armies, but they had also vast reserves of men with
military training. The powers also had equally formidable stocks of weapons, both of small arms and of artillery. The killing power of these weapons grew steadily with technological improvement.

The destructive power of the twentieth century weapons was particularly evident at sea. The navy which Tirpitz constructed for
Germany was led by vast steel dreadnoughts, armed with twelveinch guns of great power. England, so far had been a superior
naval power. Furious competition followed between Germany and England, as each sought to build more dreadnoughts and lighter warships. Even other European nations did not lag behind. The arms race between the members of the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente was a source of ill-will and of tension. It excited public opinion, and it inflamed national passions. The camps were armed to the teeth and popular nationalism, stirred by the cheap press and inflamed by economic rivalry, was beginning to focus hatred on emotional issues like Alsace and Lorraine in France, the naval race in England and Germany and the Slav problem in Austria-Hungary. When war came in 1914 a German poet helped to focus nationalism and hatred still more sharply. Hate by water and hate by land; Hate of the heart and hate of the hand; we love as one; we hate as one; we have but one foe – England’.

Leave a Reply