Causes Of World War I

Causes Of World War I On June 28, a Serbian student, Gavrilo Princip, spurred Europe into the most catastrophic event of modern history, assassinating Austrian Archduke, Francis Ferdinand. Yet, somewhere behind this simple act lies a much deeper and complex origin to a war unlike any had ever seen or even imagined. Profound improvements in war technology, growing tensions between neighboring European ethnic groups, and a comprehensive system of alliances and treaties, which all defined The First World War, resulted in the essential annihilation of an entire generation of European men and led to an equally devastating War twenty-five years later. The causes of such, and the appointment of blame, have been tenaciously argued and re-argued by historians from all perspectives and biases. This paper will also examine the question of who is to blame for World War I. The initial conclusion to the question of responsibility was handed down at the treaty of Versailles following Germany’s signing of the armistice on November 11, of 1918, ending the War. The treaty placed the blame of the war solely on Germany’s shoulders, dealing her tremendously harsh punishments that ensured severe detriment to Germany’s economy, military and general prestige.

This would also lead a shamed Germany into a decade of despair and finger pointing that would see a radical Adolf Hitler lead his downtrodden masses into the Second World War. The Versailles treaty, plainly drafted by avaricious victors seeking exorbitant reparations on the basis of renewed sentiments of hate, prejudice and blind fury, in no way reflects the true picture of responsibility for World War I. Though Germany deserves an allotment of the blame, and possibly a greater portion than any other participant in the war does, certainly there were factors outside of Germany’s control that led to the war. These factors, which find their roots dispersed throughout a half century’s time leading up to the war, include: the establishment of alliances among the leading powers of Europe, following a history of wars seeking to maintain a balance of power among these nations; nationalist ideals of unity and ethnic supremacy; and an inability by the leading statesmen of the time to work out an efficient and compromising solution to the problem at hand. Ultimately, every major power involved in the War, and the representatives of those countries, without exception, can be justly apportioned, to a greater or lesser degree, based on the aforementioned criteria, a part of the blame. The calculated system of alliances that determined the sides for World War I were carefully established in the mid-19th Century to sustain an even balance of power throughout Europe.

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Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck established these alliances in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. France, soundly defeated, lost territories in Alsace and Lorraine, as well as being handed heavy war debts, and Bismarck predicted an eventual attempt by the French to regain their land and integrity. The politically savvy Bismarck, to prevent any French aggression, organized a triumvirate of leading European powers, Germany, Austria and Italy, and formed the Triple Alliance in 1891, effectively isolating France within Europe. This, the most significant of a number of alliances established by Bismarck with other eastern powers including Russia, also allowed Germany to mediate and ease tensions as Russia and Austria continually jockeyed for dominance in the Balkans. Therefore, of the countries that made up the Triple Alliance, clearly Germany had the greatest influence on the outcome of the events leading up to World War I. Opposing Bismarck’s Triple Alliance was France, Russia and Great Britain’s Triple Entente.

France, who had obvious agitation with Germany, sought to counter the Central Power’s with an alliance of its own. France immediately looked to Russia whom they knew had a fierce conflict of interest with Austria, Germany’s most powerful ally. Russia, who was experiencing intense domesticate volatility, did not hesitate to join forces with a reliable French nation. Lacking from the dyad was a third power that could counter Germany’s well-established military forces. England initially remained neutral, as it sought no defense or expanse of European territories. However, as the late 19th Century dragged on and Germany continued a frenetic expanse of their navy and began to challenge Britain’s military and economic prowess, England had no choice but to join France and Russia for England’s best interest at home and abroad.

Thus, the Triple Entente was formally established in 1914 and the opposing sides of World War I had taken shape. So, what blame if any can be handed down with respect to the establishment of alliances? For Germany this question is complicated. When one examines the initial intentions of Bismarck in creating Germany’s allies it is clear that Bismarck was solely devoted to the interest of peace and balance of power. He had the means and support to increase an already large German Empire but opted for a more tranquil Europe at the expense of land and economic gains. However, Bismarck’s greedy successors, namely Kaiser Wilhelm, according to most contemporary sources saw the Triple Alliance as a tool to expand the German Empire.

Just prior to the War Germany and the Kaiser maintained its status as a non-aggressor, saying that Germany, Is ostensibly making every effort to preserve peace and that Germany is, Ready to mediate for peace with Austria(480). The other side of the argument of German motive is presented by German historian Immanuel Geiss, who shows that the Triple Alliance was a German attempt to become a world power, not a world peacekeeper. Geiss’s essential argument is that the Triple Alliance, Was a result of the German desire to raise the Reich from the status of a continental power to that of a world power(501). Geiss is quick to note that Germany’s ambitious naval program, as well as its ever-increasing influence in European affairs, as indicators of aggression. Donald Kagan, another historian, reinforces the points made by Geiss: From the late 1890’s imperial Germany was fundamentally dissatisfied power, eager to disrupt the status quo and to achieve its expansive goals, by bullying if possible, by war if necessary (520).

The ultimate proof of Germany’s ambitious plans are spelled out in the September Program which was released immediately following the outbreak of war. German historian Fritz Fischer claims that the September Program had been established well in advance of the war and that, Germany unleashed the war precisely to achieve its purposes (518). The provisions of the plan, set in motion by the forming of the Triple Alliance, would establish Germany as the unequivocal dominant force in European economy and politics. Germany would seize lands and forge its influence over, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria, Poland, and perhaps Italy, Sweden and Norway (519), as stated directly by the September Program. However, Germany was not the only country who saw the alliances as a means to advance an empire. France too was possibly guilty of having intentions other than peace in mind when forming its alliances.

Max Monteglas, defending Germany’s innocence, notes that France, Aimed at recovering Alsace Lorraine and also hoped to annex the Saar Basin (449). He also shows that France, in an aggressive move, Compelled England to abandon her neutrality before Belgium’s neutrality was violated (452). Though Monteglas’s arguments are intriguing, one could easily look at France’s ambition to re-take Alsace Lorraine as justifiable and her eagerness to join with England as a simple matter of defense against a much stronger Germany. Like France, the nations of Austria, Russia, England and Italy all could justify their attachment to a particular alliance as a matter of self-defense against a greater force. Only for Germany did the Triple Alliance offer the potential to increase an empire and disrupt the stability of European affairs. Adding to the brewing chaos in the European situation was the ever-powerful feelings of ubiquitous nationalism among the competing powers.

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