There is a German proverb that says “A great war leaves the country with three armies – an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.” It’s hard to find better words for describing the First World War. The twentieth century started with an event that caused colossal effect on further faith of the humanity. World War I took millions of lives, destroyed thousands of families and crippled enormous amount of human souls. And, of course, it affected economical and territorial state of each country involved. The consequences concerned everyone and everything. Every nation has its own unforgettable memories of that war. But what caused the war itself? What made this horrible international conflict happen?
There are four major factors that led to the war: nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the alliance system. All these factors created a strong tension between major European powers and the assassination of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 was enough reason to start a war. Even though the alliance system was the primary cause that triggered the war there were many other issues that led to the situation when the war was unavoidable.
By 1900 there was a large network of political and military alliances all over the Europe that could become a precondition for starting a new large war in order to regroup the balance of powers on the continent. It had started in 1815, with the Holy Alliance between Russia, Prussia and Austria. In October 1873 the League of Three Emperors was negotiated between the monarchs of Austria-Hungary, Russia and Germany. Unfortunately, this alliance failed because Russia and Austria-Hungary weren’t able to come to agreement over Balkan policy, so Germany and Austria-Hungary formed another alliance in 1879 that has been called the Dual Alliance. It aimed to counter Russian influence in the Balkans, while the Ottoman Empire continued to weaken. In 1882 Italy entered the union, which became Triple Alliance. At the same time the Franco-Russian Alliance was signed in order to counteract the force of the Triple Alliance. In 1904 the United Kingdom sealed an alliance with France, the Entente Cordiale, and in 1907, the United Kingdom and Russia signed the Anglo-Russian Convention, which formed the Triple Entente. To be brief, it is possible to say that during around thirty last years of nineteenth century major European countries have tried numerous combinations for coalitions, which inevitably led to long-term political issues.
The second major reason that caused the First World War was the arms race. German industrial and economic power had grown greatly after unification and the foundation of the Empire in 1870. Britain and Germany strove to out-build each other in terms of capital ships. The arms race between Britain and Germany eventually extended to the rest of Europe, with all the major powers devoting their industrial base to producing the equipment and weapons necessary for a pan-European conflict. In November 1912 Russia, humiliated by its inability to support Serbia during the Bosnian crisis of 1908 or the First Balkan War, announced a major reconstruction of its military. Major armies were also modernized and now used telephone, wireless communication, armored tanks, aircraft, tanks, chemical warfare, submarines and many modernized weapon, such as flamethrower, submachine gun, railway gun, and wide range of automatic weapons.
Nationalism was also a contributing factor to the alliance system. In the conditions of oncoming war, no nation wanted to fight alone. In this situation alliances were a comfortable way to make participation in war easier for countries involved.
Imperialism has played an important role in starting of the war. Some countries such as the United Kingdom and France wanted to keep their control of trade in foreign resources, markets, territories, and people. On the other hand, other empires, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia all hoped to do so as well in economic advantage. It has led to the scramble for colonies in the 1880s, which brought much of Africa and Asia under European rule and created great Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian tensions and crises.
European states in the beginning of twentieth century were divided and pressure between them was too intense. A single incident was enough to start catastrophic events in 1914 that led to massive world war. A great number of researches and studies was made to learn the reasons of this tragedy. But none of these causes is worth consequences that this war brought to the world. Legacy of the First World War is enormous and there is no doubt that it’s worth trying to prevent such conflict in the future.
Perry, Marvin et al. Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. Wadsworth, 2008. Print.