World War One
World War One was a global war that emanated in Europe. The war lasted for four years from 1914 to 1918. More than seven million civilians and 9.5 million military fighters died during the war. The war resulted in a political shift in the nations that were involved. The war left the world’s strongest countries polarized into two camps, the Allies and the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Causes of World War One
Several reasons have been given for the start of the First World War and historians are still debating these reasons today. However, it is evident to historians that the trigger of the war was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife in June 1914 (Duffy, 2009). Before the assassination, Ferdinand was the Austrian archduke and heir to the Austrian throne. Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian citizen and revolutionary, assassinated the couple. The assassination was carried out as a Serbian retaliation for Austria’s control of Bosnia and Herzegovinia, territories that the Serbians believed were rightfully theirs. The assassination resulted in the July Crisis of 1914 that eventually led to the First World War. The assassination was merely a trigger while the following are some of the reasons that have been attributed to the start of the war.
Years before the war eventually started, the European powers had already begun making alliances amongst themselves. The alliances were crucial because they meant that countries would need to engage in war if one of their allies declared war on another country. The countries began to form alliances in 1879 and this trend continued until 1914 when the war began. The formation of these alliances resulted in friction between the different factions that eventually culminated in the outbreak of the war. The alliances include:
· 1879- Germany and Austria-Hungary formed the Dual Alliance. The duo arranged to protect each other militarily against Russian advances. The alliance between the two nations was natural as both spoke the German language and historically, they both had been part of the Holy Roman Empire. Austria also needed Germany’s support in the Balkans because her power was being threatened by the Balkan states.
· 1881- Serbia and Austria-Hungary made an alliance known as the Austro-Serbian Alliance to protect Serbia from Russian invasion.
· 1882- Germany and Austria-Hungary expanded their Dual Alliance to include Italy. The new alliance was named The Triple Alliance and its main aspiration was to deter Italy from joining sides with Russia in case a war broke out. Italy joined this side of the alliance because she felt threatened by the duo’s power on the northern part of Europe.
· 1894-France was threatened by the Germany and Austria-Hungary alliance. France had a strong army but a poor navy making her very suspicious of Germany’s growing naval power in the North Sea. To counter the imminent threat, the French made an alliance with the Russians as a means to protect herself from the Dual Alliance. The alliance between the French and the Russians was known as the Franco-Russian Alliance.
· 1904- The Entente Cordiale was a less formal alliance or agreement made by the French and the British. The French were angered by the Germans hostile takeover of the provinces of Lorraine and Alsace.
· 1907- Britain viewed Russia as a formidable partner against Germany and other European countries. Thus, the two nations agreed to partner together through the Anglo-Russian Entente. Although the alliance seemed less than obvious due to the distance between the two nations, the two countries shared a deep relationship. The Romanovs, the Russian royal family, was related to the British Royal Family. Furthermore, Russia had a huge army. Thus, Britain saw it very pragmatic to have Russian support in the West and French support in the East. At the time, France also had a very strong army. With such an alliance, Germany would feel sandwiched on both sides of her borders deterring her from causing any trouble in the region.
· 1907- Germany was becoming a real threat in Europe especially due to its speedy industrialization. The British, the French, and the Russians signed the Triple Entente to guarantee that Germany did not become the regional superpower.
· 1914- The stipulations of the Triple Entente were expanded to include that the three countries, namely, Britain, France, and Russia, were not allowed to sign for peace separately.
Thus, by 1914, there were two main camps in Europe, the Triple Alliance that consisted of Italy, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, and the Triple Entente that consisted of Russia, Britain, and France.
The 1900s saw the rise of the imperialism in Europe. Most European countries were eager to explore new lands hoping to find resources that could support their home economies. Each of these countries was also eager to spread their influence all over the world and to prove that they were the world leaders. Britain and France led the path in taking over large regions across the world. The British Empire had colonies all over the world. In fact, almost a quarter of the world was under British control (Morrow, 2005; Tucker, 2002). The power that came with having so many colonies made Britain a status symbol for imperial power making other nations especially Germany very envious. Germany moved swiftly to occupy as many territories as possible in order to prove its superiority in the region. The Scramble for Africa by mainly Germany, France, and Britain led to a lot of friction between the three superpowers and the entire Europe (Morrow, 2005). Due to the alliances formed earlier on, the divide between European nations continued to grow.
Nationalism refers to the belief that one’s country is better than all the other countries. The rise in nationalism across Europe meant that the countries were constantly trying to outdo each other. In Germany, the desire to gain world super power status or Weltpolitik was indoctrinated in majority of the citizens (Tucker, 2002). This desire propelled the country’s military strength. On the other hand, France felt embarrassed and insulted over Germany’s control over Alsace and Lorraine. The French viewed Germany’s actions as a threat to their nationality. To protect their national pride, most European citizens were more than willing to engage in war with their neighbors.
The European countries embarked on mass militarization processes in a bid to oust each other as the military superpower of the region. It was believed that a stronger army scared off potential enemies. For instance, Germany and France more than doubled their army sizes between 1870 and the start of the war. For years, Germany and Britain competed over control over the seas using innovative battleships. The battle over the seas started because the European countries saw strategic power in controlling the surrounding seas (Halpern, 2012; Scheer, 2014). Sea control meant that a country could attack surrounding regions easier through the waterways. In 1906, the British introduced the Dreadnought while the Germans introduced battleships that are more sophisticated a few years later (Halpern, 2012). Britain understood that Germany was a large country that needed a large land army. However, friction between the two nations increased when the Germans started increasing their naval power, purposefully threatening Britain’s naval mastery (Scheer, 2014).
The Moroccan and Bosnian crises also contributed to the start of the First World War. Britain had given Morocco to its main ally, France, in 1904. However, the people of Morocco wanted their independence from the colonial powers. Germany sought to capitalize on the mayhem by declaring her support for the infant country against its colonial master. In 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Morocco and criticized French occupation of parts of the country, thereby causing an international crisis. A conference, the Algeciras Conference, had to be called in order to avoid a war between the three countries. After the conference in 1906, France was allowed to maintain control over the country. The result of the international crisis was the strengthening of the bond between France and Britain and the weakening of diplomatic relations between Germany and the two Allied nations.
However, in 1911, Germany again began calling for the independence of the African nation. Germany sent the ‘Panther’, a gunboat to Agadir, a port in Morocco under the guise that the French had broken the agreement made during the Algeciras Conference. The German government claimed that the French had failed to protect the German citizens that were located in the African country. This new confrontation led to a major war scare and Germany only backed down when she was given a section of the French Congo.
The Bosnian crisis began because of Serbian protest against Austria-Hungary’s possession of Bosnia. Bosnia-Herzegovina was a former province of Turkey and the Serbs believed that the region should have been theirs (Wawro, 2014). However, Austria had been left to administer the two provinces since the Congress of Berlin took place. Serbia did not like the arrangement since there were many of her citizens in Bosnia. Serbia threatened to wage war against Austria-Hungary, which was an ally to Germany. Serbia was allied to Russia and the declaration of war meant that Russia had to join the conflict. War was avoided when Russia agreed to back down, but the tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia continued. This tension culminated in the Balkan wars between 1911 and 1912.
The July Crisis and the Results of World War One
The July Crisis was a series of events in July 1914 that eventually led to the outbreak of the First World War.
§ On 28 June, Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated along with his wife. The assassination culminated into conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary.
§ On 5 July, Kaiser Wilhelm II convinced Austria of Germany’s support regardless of the former’s actions against Serbia following the assassination.
§ Austria presented Serbia with an ultimatum on 23 July (Duffy, 2009). Serbia was given 48 hours to reply to the new ultimatums. Surprisingly, Serbia agreed to all the demands that the Austrians had presented to them.
§ On 28 July, negotiations between the two nations broke down and Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia subsequently ordered partial mobilization of its troops against Austria in support of Serbia. A few days later, Russia declared general mobilization of its military against Austria and the crisis continued. Any mediation attempts by Britain failed miserably.
§ On 31 July, Germany demanded Russia to halt her troop mobilization within half a day.
§ On 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia while France mobilized her troops against Germany.
§ On 2 August, Belgium refused to allow German troops through her country.
§ Because of the refusal, Germany declared war on the French and forcefully entered her troops into Belgium. The British called for the immediate evacuation of German troops from Belgium, which was aptly ignored.
§ On 4 August, Britain went to war with Germany and the conflict was now a full-scale global war.
When war eventually broke out in 1914, many people had anticipated that it would be a short war. However, no one could have predicted that this would have been one of the bloodiest wars in the history of humankind. In fact, many of the British citizens believed that it would be over within Christmas of the same year. The war resulted in:
ü The Fall of the Turkish Empire
ü Commencement of the Communist Revolution in Russia
ü The End of Kaiser rule in Germany
ü The Downfall of Austria-Hungary
Duffy, M. (2009, Aug 22). The Causes of World War 1. Retrieved on 21/9/2016 from http://www.firstworldwar.com/origins/causes.htm
Halpern, P. (2012). A naval history of World War I. Naval Institute Press.
Morrow, J. H. (2005). The Great War: An Imperial History. Psychology Press.
Scheer, A. R. (2014). Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War. Frontline Books.
Tucker, S. (2002). The Great War, 1914-1918. Routledge.
Wawro, G. (2014). A mad catastrophe: the outbreak of World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. Basic books.