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Essay/Term paper: The causes and effects of world war i

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World War

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World War I was a military conflict from 1914 to 1918. It began as a local

European war between Austria - Hungary and Serbia on July 28, 1914. It was

transformed into a general European struggle by declaration of war against Russia on

August 1, 1914 and eventually became a global war involving 32 nations. Twenty - eight

of these nations, known as the Allies and the Associated Powers, and including Great

Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States, opposed the coalition known as the

Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria - Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria. The

immediate cause of the war between Austria - Hungary and Serbia was the assassination

of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, at Sarajevo in Bosnia by Gavrilo

Princip, a Serb nationalist. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

On July 28 Austria declared war against Serbia, either because it felt Russia would

not actually fight for Serbia, or because it was prepared to risk a general European conflict

in order to put an end to the Greater Serbia movement. Russia responded by partially

mobilizing against Austria. Germany warned Russia that continued mobilization would

cause war with Germany, and it made Austria agree to discuss with Russia a possible

change of the ultimatum to Serbia. Germany demanded, however, that Russia demobilize.

Russia refused to do so, and on August 1, Germany declared war on Russia. (Microsoft

Encarta, 1996)

The French began to mobilize on the same day. On August 2, German troops

invades Luxembourg and on August 3, Germany declared war on France. On August 2,

the German government informed the government of Belgium of its intention to march on

France through Belgium in order, as it claimed, to prevent an attack on Germany by

French troops marching through Belgium. The Belgian government refused to allow the

passage of German troops and called on the witnesses of the Treaty of 1839, which

guaranteed the justice of Belgium in case of a conflict in which Great Britain, France, and

Germany were involved, to observe their guarantee. Great Britain, one of the witnesses,

on August 4, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding that Belgian justice be respected.

When Germany refused, Britain declared war on it the same day. Italy remained

uninvolved until May 23, 1915, when, to satisfy its claims against Austria, it broke with

the Triple Alliance and declared war on Austria - Hungary. In September 1914, Allied

unity was made stronger by the Pact of London, signed by France, Great Britain, and

Russia. As the war progressed, other countries, including Turkey, Japan, the U.S., and

other nations of the western hemisphere, were drawn into the conflict. Japan, which had

made an alliance with the Great Britain in 1902, declared war on Germany on August 23,

1914. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. (Microsoft Encarta,


The outbreak of war in 1914 set in motion forces more gigantic than any previous

war had seen. Two million Germans were on the march, the greater part of them against

France, and there were another 3,000,000 trained men to back them up. France had

nearly 4,000,000 trained men at call, although they relied on only 1,000,000 active troops

in the first clash. Russia had more millions to draw upon than any, but their mobilization

process was slow, a large part of their forces were in Asia and even their great potential

strength was to a large extent canceled out by lack of munitions. (Captain Sir Basil Liddell

Hart, 1984)

The growth of these tremendous forces had been due primarily to a military gospel

of mass. Known by Clausewitz, the Prussian military philosopher, who drew his

inspiration from Napoleon"s example, the spread of this gospel had been stimulated by the

victories of the Prussian conscript armies in 1866 against Austria and in 1870 against

France. It had been assisted also by the development of railways, which enabled far larger

numbers of men to be assembled, moved and supplied than had been possible previously.

Therefore the armies of 1914 - 1918 came to be counted in their millions compared with

the hundreds of thousands of half a century earlier. (Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart, 1984)

The essential causes of World War I were the attitude of intense nationalism that

permeated Europe throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, the political and

economic rivalry among the nations, and the establishment and maintenance in Europe

after 1871 of large armaments and of two hostile military alliances.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era had spread throughout most of

Europe the idea of political democracy, with the resulting idea that the people of the same

ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the right to independent states. The

principle of national self - determination, however, was largely ignored by the dynastic and

retrogressive forces that dominated in the settlement of European affairs at the Congress

of Vienna in 1815. Several peoples who desired national independence were made subject

to local dynasts or to other nations. Notable examples were the German people, whom

the Congress of Vienna left divided into numerous duchies, principalities, and kingdoms;

Italy, also left divided into many parts, some of which were under foreign control; and the

Flemish - and French - speaking Belgians of the Austrian Netherlands, whom the congress

placed under Dutch rule. Revolutions and strong nationalistic movements during the 19th

century succeeded in canceling much of the retrogressive and antinationalist work of the

congress. Belgium won its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, the unification of

Italy was accomplished in 1861, and that of Germany in 1871. At the close of the century,

however, the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in other areas of Europe,

resulting in tensions both within the regions involved and between various European

nations. One particularly noticeable nationalistic movement, Panslavism, figured heavily in

the events preceding the war. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

The attitude of nationalism was also visible in economic conflict. The Industrial

Revolution, which took place in Great Britain at the end of the 18th century, followed in

France in the early 19th century, and then in Germany after 1870, caused an immense

increase in the manufactures of each country and a consequent need for foreign markets.

The principal field for the European policies of economic expansion was Africa, and on

that continent colonial interests frequently clashed. Several times between Germany on

one side and France and Great Britain on the other, almost precipitated a European war.

(Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

The dispute between the United States and Germany was far more serious. In

order to prevent food, munitions, and other supplies from reaching Great Britain,

Germany in 1915 declared the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland a war zone

in which German submarines would sink all enemy vessels without the visit or search

ordered by international law. To avoid the possibility that uninvolved vessels might be

sunk by mistake, or that uninvolved might be killed, Germany warned uninvolved ships

not to enter the zone. They also advised citizens of uninvolved nations not to travel on

ships of the Allied nations. Germany remained intolerant in the face of U.S. protests

against this declaration. In May 1915 a German submarine torpedoed the British

passenger liner Lusitania off the Irish coast without warning, causing the deaths of 1198

people, of whom 128 were U.S. citizens. The Germans claimed that the Lusitania was

carrying munitions to Britain, and later research has proven this to be true. But the

American public was outraged by the sinking, and strong protests by the U.S. State

Department brought a promise from Germany not to sink any passenger liners without

taking precautions to protect the lives of civilians. (Alistair Horne, 1970)

In March 1916, however, a German submarine sank an unarmed French Channel

steamer, the Sussex, with the loss of two Americans. President Wilson threatened to

separate diplomatic relations with the German government unless it abandoned "its present

methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels." In May,

the German government pledged not to sink merchant vessels without warning and

without saving the lives of those aboard. For nine months the pledge was kept generally

to the satisfaction of the United States. Wilson's powerful diplomacy seemed to have

averted war with Germany, and as the Democratic candidate in the presidential election of

1916, Wilson was elected over the Republican nominee, Charles Evans Hughes, largely

because "he kept us out of war." The war, however, was near.

At the end of January 1917, Germany broke the so-called Sussex Pledge by

declaring unrestricted submarine warfare in a zone even larger than the one it had

proclaimed in 1915. On February 3, Wilson replied by breaking off diplomatic relations

with Germany. Later in the month, at his request, Congress passed a bill permitting U.S.

merchant vessels to arm. After new depredations by German submarines against

uninvolved shipping, and the discovery of a plan made by the German Foreign Office to

unite Germany, Mexico, and Japan against the United States if it entered the war,

Wilson on April 2, 1917, requested Congress to declare war. On April 6, Congress

passed a resolution declaring a state of war with Germany. (Alistair Horne, 1970)

The early part of 1918 did not look favorable for the Allied nations. On March

3, Russia signed the Treaty of Brest - Litovsk, which put a formal end to the war

between that nation and the Central Powers on terms more favorable to the latter; and

on May7, Romania made peace with the Central Powers, signing the Treaty of

Bucharest, by the terms of which it ceded the Dobruja region to Bulgaria and the passes

in the Carpathian Mountains to Austria - Hungary, and gave Germany a long - term

lease on the Romanian oil wells. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

On November 6, the German delegates left Berlin to apply for an armistice.

Meanwhile, the Allied advance in the west continued, and, on the American sector at least,

with fresh incentive. The Americans reached Sedan on the same day that the German

delegates reached General Ferdinand Foch"s rendezvous. (Alistair Horne, 1970)

The terms he laid down were severe - sufficient to cripple the German forces more

decisively than any battle. But the collapse of the home front, even more than the military

menace in front and flank, ensured their acceptance. In any event, the stranglehold of the

blockade was stifling to power of resistance, so the Germans had no choice but to sign.

And at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the war came

to an end.


Hart, Captain Sir Basil Liddell. (1984). The Marshall Cavendish illustrated encyclopedia

of World War I. New York: Marshall Cavendish.

Horne, Alistair. (1970). Death of a Generation. New York: American Heritage Press.

Microsoft Encarta 96 (1996). [CD - ROM Disk]. Microsoft Corporation.


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