The First World War

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Last updated: April 4, 2019

The First World War which began in 1914 and ended in 1918 engaged more nations and produced greater destruction as compared to any other war in recorded history besides the Second World War (Roberts 265; Williamson 485).  An assassin’s bullet fired the battle and a system of military alliances drove the central European powers into the battlefront.  Each side anticipated immediate triumph.  However, it took four years for the war to finally draw to a close as it cost the lives of virtually 10 million troops (Roberts 265; BBC News; Williamson 485).Several developments directed to the cruel violence of the Great War, as the First World War was formerly known (Roberts 265; Williamson 485).

  War plants continued manufacturing large quantities of newly invented weaponries which can cause extraordinary destruction.  Military conscription created larger defense forces than ever before, and great patriotism made several men commit to a cause they were ready to risk their lives for.  Propaganda brought about support for the battle by making the opponent appear villainous.Origins of the First World WarThe assassination of Austria-Hungary Archduke Francis Ferdinand happened on the 28th day of June 1914 at the country’s Bosnia province capital (Roberts 265; BBC News; Williamson 485).  Gavrilo Princip, the assassin is associated with a terrorist group in Serbia, which is now part of the present Yugoslavia (Roberts 265).  Austria-Hungary accused the Serbian government as the mastermind of the assassination.  It took the opportunity to enter into conflict with Serbia and resolve an old dispute.

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The archduke’s assassination ignited the First World War.  However, it had can also draw its roots in the development of the 1800’s.  Its main causes were a system of military alliances, the race for colonies, the build-up of military power, and the rise of nationalism.

Role of ImperialismThe European countries shaped practically the entire Africa and much of Asia into colonies by the 1800’s until the earlier part of 1900’s (Roberts 266).  The competition for colonies was ignited by the rising industrialization of Europe.  Colonies provided European countries with opportunities for investment, markets for manufactured goods, and raw materials for factories. However, the race for colonies damaged relations between European nations.  Clashes between opposing powers broke out practically every year.

Role of MilitarismAn increase in military power took place among European nations prior to the start of the First World War.  Nationalism promoted public support for military upsurges as well as for a nation’s employment of force to attain its objectives.  Germany had the best-trained defense force the world has ever known during the latter part of the 1800’s (Duff).  It depended on a military conscription of all physically fit young men to improve the strength and expand the size of its peacetime defense force.

  Other European nations chased their lead and built-up their existing armed forces.Initially, Great Britain remained indifferent concerning the military upsurge being done by Germany.  As an island country, it depended on its naval forces for protection – and it had the strongest naval forces in the world at that time.  However, Germany started to form a naval force huge enough to challenge the British naval force in 1898 (Williamson 485).Role of NationalismA century prior to the outset of the First World War, Europe prevented major wars from happening. Even though small wars took place, only few nations were actually involved in the warfare.  However, a force came to the European continent in 1800’s and erupted into a war (Roberts 266; BBC News; Williamson 485).  Such force is otherwise known as nationalism.

  The principle behind nationalism is that loyalty to an individual’s country as well as to its economic and political ambitions is more important than any other public duty (Roberts 266; Strikwerda 1138).  The exaggerated manifestation of loyalty raised the chances of war since one country’s objectives unavoidably came into contact with that of the others.  Moreover, patriotism caused countries to blow up minor conflicts into major problems.  Consequently, it could lead to a threat of waging a war over nations in dispute.

Nationalism destabilized the empires of Ottoman Turkey, Russia, and Austria-Hungary in Eastern Europe.  These empires led many national groups who cried for independence.  Tensions between national groups were particularly tense in the Southern European peninsula in Balkan.  The Balkan Peninsula, otherwise known as the “Power Keg of Europe” is where conflicts which threatened to provoke a major warfare took place (Williamson 485).  The Ottoman Empire constituted the majority of the Balkans.  The nations who gained independence beginning in 1821 until 1913 were Greece, followed by Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania, respectively (Williamson 485).  Each nation argued with each other over the subject of borders.

  Russia and Austria-Hungary also capitalized on the Ottoman Empire’s failure to spread its influence in the Balkans.Competition for power over the Balkans augmented the conflicts which led to the eruption of the First World War.  Serbia headed a movement to unify the Slavs in the region.  It gained the support of the most powerful Slavic nation, Russia.  However, Austria-Hungary dreaded Slavic nationalism, which caused instability to its empire.  Austria-Hungary seriously provoked Serbia in 1908 when it added Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Balkan territory to its empire (Williamson 485).  Since many Serbs lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia wanted to gain control of the territory.

Role of Great Power PoliticsIn the span of weeks following Archduke Francis Ferdinand’s assassination, the major European powers were dragged into the First World War.  A few efforts were exerted to avert the warfare.  Great Britain, for instance, suggested an international conference to stop the conflict.  However, Germany turned down the proposal, arguing that the conflict concerned only Serbia and Austria-Hungary (BBC News).

  Yet, Germany attempted to prevent the conflict from spreading.  Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany advised his cousin, Russia’s Czar Nicholas II not to set off (Roberts 267; Williamson 486).Russia had originally withdrawn its support for its ally Serbia.  Austria-Hungary had provoked Serbia by attacking Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1908, and Russia had receded (Williamson 486).

  Russia pledged to support Serbia in 1914 Roberts 267).  Russia initially obtained a pledge of support from France.  In addition, at that time, the czar permitted plots to mobilize among the German boundary.  Russia declared on the 30th day of July 1914 that it would completely set off (Roberts 267; Williamson 485).On the 1st day of August 1914, Germany entered into conflict with Russia to counter the latter’s mobilization (Williamson 485).  Two days after, Germany waged war against France.  The defense forces of Germany invaded Belgium as it headed for France.

  The attack of neutral Belgium triggered Britain to enter into conflict with Germany on the 4th day of August (Roberts 265).  When the war finally drew to a close in November 1918, only a few portions of the world was kept neutral.Role of the Alliance SystemPrior to the outset of the First World War, a sense of security was provided to the European powers by the system of military alliances.  A nation attempted to prevent an assault from its opponents by engaging in a military alliance with one or more nations.  In the event of an assault, the aforementioned agreement assured that other members of the alliance would rescue the nation in danger or to the very least, not to take sides.

Even while military alliance granted protection for a nation, the system at the same time formed threats.  As a result of its alliance, a nation could possibly trust to chance its dealings with other nations, something that it would reluctantly engage in without the guarantee of support from its allies.  In times of war, the alliance system required that a number of countries would engage in a battle besides the two who are originally engaged in conflict.  Alliances could push a nation to enter into conflict against another country it had no disagreement with or on a matter it had not concern about at all.

  Moreover, the conditions of many alliances remained undisclosed.  The confidentiality increased the possibilities that a nation might mistakenly estimate the costs of the actions it takes.Major Players, Individuals, and EventsArchduke Francis Ferdinand’s assassination sparked the outbreak of the First World War.  However, historians take into account that the war had deep-seated roots.

  The war resulted primarily from the development of great national pride amongst diverse European peoples, the establishment of military alliances, a competition for colonies, and a huge expansion of the European defense forces.  At the outset of the war, Russia, Great Britain, and France – collectively known as the Allies supported Serbia (Williamson 485).  The Allies were in opposition with the Central Powers which constitutes Germany and Austria-Hungary (Roberts 265).  Other countries eventually form an alliance with either the Central Powers or the Allies.The War shaping Society, Technology, and WarfareThe First World War resulted in substantial transformation in society.  The loss of many young lives impacted France more than any other nation.

  Their population declined in 1920’s due to a low birth rate (Strikwerda 1138).  Millions of people were displaced because of the conflict.  There are those who left their homes laid waste by the war and soon discover their villages, farms, and houses similarly shattered.

  Some became refugees because of the changes in leaderships and national boundaries, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe (Strikwerda 1138).When Germany decided to become a major sea power, it turned out to be Great Britain’s bitter rival.  The British naval forces launched its maiden and modern battleship, Dreadnought in 1906 (Roberts 265).

  The heavily equipped battleship had superior military capability as compared to any other ship that ever existed during that time.  For this reason, Germany, on its end, hurriedly developed ships resembling the Dreadnought.Technological advances, particularly the techniques, materials, and tools for industrialization augmented the destructive power of the armed forces.  Machine guns as well as other newly developed weapons fired more swiftly and more accurately as compared to the previous military hardware.  Railways and steamships could accelerate the transfer of equipment and troops.  During the late 1800’s, technology has already made it possible for nations to wage longer battles as well as endure greater damages than they have ever done in the past (Duff).  In spite of that, military experts maintained that future conflicts would be shorter.

The First World War produced results that no one from the feuding nations had predicted.  It aided in overthrowing emperors from Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary.  The peace treaties following the war established new nations out of the overthrown powers.  It left Europe depleted, in no way able to reclaim its influential position in the world affairs as it previously had before the war began.  The peace settlement also produced situations which thrust the world into another major war. 


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