Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m not really a World War I fan, nor am I a historian (yes, it is ‘a historian’, not ‘an historian’, I checked), but I did write a really good essay on this topic for History. It seemed like a waste to throw it away as homework so I thought of putting it up here on my blog. Also, for more ‘educational purposes’ it shall help those future students out there who need to write this essay and are lazy. So, without further ado, my essay on why World War I broke out in 1914:
On 28th July 1914, World War I (WWI) broke out involving all the world’s great powers who were assembled in two opposing alliances. There were both long-term and short-term causes for this war that would last for four years and kill more than 9 million people. This essay will discuss the significance of each cause in starting the war.
Nationalism was the biggest factor of WWI, making people become very warlike. Nationalism is the belief that one’s country is the best and that all people of the same nationality are one and the same. Before the 1800’s, nationalism was not adopted by most countries and therefore people were not interested in their country’s affairs. However, in the beginning of the 19th century, nationalism spread rapidly around Europe and people became more proud and involved in their country’s activities. Nationalism contributed to the outbreak of WWI in two important ways. Firstly, it provoked people to engage in war due to patriotism. In Britain and France, civilians actually celebrated when war was declared on Germany, claiming it was a matter of national pride. If the population had not been so intent on war, the countries may not have engaged in it in the first place. Secondly, two historically important ideas sprang from nationalism: imperialism and militarism. Many people believe that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was the most significant cause of WWI. However, without nationalism, the assassination would only have been a small, local incident—as people would not have been interested—and soon forgotten. Therefore, without this ideology, WWI would not have broken out.
Imperialism was directly stemmed from nationalism and a relatively major factor of WWI. Imperialism is the policy of expanding a country’s power by military force. The politician’s nationalistic ideas that their country was the best allowed countries to find justification in invading other smaller or weaker ones—mostly Africa—and colonizing those countries. Imperialism was an important factor in starting WWI in two ways. Firstly, European countries gained rising tension due to the competition to own most of Africa. Alliances were broken and hatred born when one country took over another country’s colony. Consequently, opposing countries were eager to enter the war to beat their opponents and regain their colonies. Secondly, colonies under a country’s rule were forced to go into war in the event that their ruler did so too. As a result, WWI involved more countries than the ones immediately involved. Therefore, without imperialism, a war might have broken out, but it would not have been on this large a scale.
Militarism was directly caused from nationalism and imperialism and was a minor but vital factor of WWI. Militarism is the desire to own a large army and use it aggressively to promote or defend the nation’s pride. In 1870, an arms race between most of the European countries—especially Britain, Germany and France—started. Britain’s navy was by far the best but Germany tried hard to make theirs the best, creating a fierce competition and rising tension in Europe. By 1914, Germany and France’s armies had doubled in size and all countries were eager to use their military to show off their strength and gain respect from other countries and loyalty from their own citizens. Also, Germany thought that through the war, they would be able to become a world power. Therefore, militarism made countries capable to go to war and created rising tension between countries. Militarism is also the root of two factors of the war: alliances and the Schlieffen plan. Hence, it is doubly important.
The Schlieffen plan was a major factor of WWI and one derived directly from militarism. It was a military plan for Germany to defend itself should the need arise for Germany to go to war with both France (on the west side) and Russia (on the east). The idea was to quickly defeat France and then concentrate all of its efforts on Russia, the slower of the two. Generals in Germany believed that the country that attacked first would win. However, this idea was common—but false, as proved later—knowledge. All countries thought that those who were not on the offence would lose in a war. As a result, when WWI started, all countries immediately engaged in the war, thinking that if they hesitated, they would be invaded and conquered. Without the Schlieffen plan (or rather, the knowledge that those who attacked first would win), countries would have taken their time to decide whether or not to engage in the war and might not have entered at all. Yet with this plan, countries made the hasty decision to enter in it when many countries may not have had to. Therefore, the Schlieffen plan is an important factor of WWI.
Alliances were a major factor of WWI and were directly stemmed from militarism. Alliances are, in this case, agreements between two or more countries to protect each other in times of danger. During WWI, there were many intertwining and complex alliances. The main two were the Triple Entente—consisting of Britain, France and Russia—and the Triple Alliance—consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. There were also smaller alliances such as the one with Russia and Serbia; the one with Britain, France and Belgium; and the one between Japan and Britain. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia got involved to defend Serbia. Germany then got in to help Austria-Hungary by declaring war on Russia. France was drawn in due to its alliance with Russia and declared war on Germany. Germany retaliated by attacking Belgium, pulling Britain into the war in the process. The war enlarged to such a scale that it became known as the ‘war to end all wars’ and the ‘Great War’. Without alliances, there would have been a war (between Serbia and Austria-Hungary), but it would have been another small European one and not on such an enormous scale. Therefore, alliances are a major and important factor of WWI.
Many consider the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to be the largest factor of WWI. However, it is actually the smallest factor. On June 28th 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian terrorist. Austria-Hungary was outraged at this and declared war on Serbia, starting WWI. However, rather than being the cause of the start of WWI, the assassination was rather an excuse to start the war. At that time, a war of this size was bound to happen, due to nationalism, imperialism, militarism and alliances. Countries used the assassination as a pretext to show off their military power, gain respect and obtain colonies. Therefore, though the assassination did spark off the whole war, it was not that important a factor.
In conclusion, there were many causes of WWI, some more significant than others. The largest factor of WWI was nationalism, as it provoked countries into engaging in war and, more importantly, was the root of three other causes of WWI.
Thanks for reading!