The First World War had many causes; the historians probably have not yet discovered and discussed all of them so there might be more causes than what we know now. The spark of the Great War was the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife by a Serbian nationalist on the morning of June 28, 1914, while traveling in a motorcade through Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Archduke was chosen as a target because Serbians feared that after his ascension to the throne, he would continue the persecution of Serbs living within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Serbian terrorist organization, the Black Hand, had trained a small group of teenage operatives to infiltrate Bosnia and carry out the assassination of the Archduke. It is unclear how officially active the Serbian government was in the plot. However, it was uncovered years later that the leader of the Black Hand was also the head of Serbian military intelligence.
In order to understand the complexity of the causes of the war, it is very helpful to know what was the opinion of the contemporaries about the causes of the Great War. In the reprint of the article “What Started the War”, from August 17, 1915 issue of The Clock magazine published on the Internet the author writes: “It is thought that this war that is been ongoing for over a year, began with the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand. However, many other reasons led to this war, some occurring as far back the late 1800’s. Nationalism, militarism, imperialism, and the system of alliances were four main factors that pressed the great powers towards this explosive war.” According to the article above, the author stresses that the nationalism was one of the primary causes of the war. In the ninetieth and twentieth centuries, especially after the French Revolution nationalism was becoming a powerful force in Europe so people that had the same culture, language wanted their own country. And that was the problem for the government of Austria-Hungary that did not want to lose their power and control. The Slavs in the southern part of the empire were their main concern since they wanted to join up to Serbia.
Militarism is the second cause according to the article above, which comes after the nationalism. To understand what the author means by militarism one should be familiar with the situation of the world in the beginning of the century, which was the result of both industrial and democratic revolutions. Britain at that time was the largest empire in the world, and it also had the largest navy. The navy was so big and strong because the Britons needed to protect their empire and maintain the sea routes between the different colonies. The Kaiser William II of Germany hated and envied Britain for having a stronger navy than his. He increased the German navy and built many warships.
Britain responded with building more ships and increasing its navy too. This started a race for building more and better warships and it created tension and competition between those two countries. Imperialism and the system of alliances are the last two major causes of the War. There was a quarrel between France and Germany about controlling the colonies, and especially Morocco, which leads to a greater conflict, the Great War. Europe at that time was divided into two rival alliance systems: Triple Entente that included Great Britain, France, and Russia and the Triple Alliance, which included the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and eventually the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Austria-Hungary must take a large proportion of any blame for the outbreak of war in 1914. The reason for Germany’s part in the causes involves Germany’s “blank Check” policy.
Before sending its ultimatum to Serbia, Austria needed to be sure of the support of its ally, Germany. Such support was forthcoming in the form of a telegram to the Emperor Franz Joseph on 6 July 1914. The telegram has become known to history as the “Blank Check”. In order to balance the power, France and Russia signed an alliance. Russia saw itself as the ‘protector of Slavs’ in the war, and immediately mobilized. When the war began, the German decision that if they were going to have to fight Russia and France, they would strike at France first according to its Schlieffen Plan, and then turn West to Russia.
Germans believed that Russia at the time was unprepared for war, and that it will take a long time for Russia to mobilize its army. On July 28, 1914 Austria declared war against Serbia. Russia responded by partially mobilizing against Austria as a ‘protector of Slavs’, and Germany insisted that Russia immediately demobilize. Russia refused to do so, and on August 1 and 3 declared war on Russia and France. When war was declared in August people involved on all sides felt that it would be a short war, and will be over by Christmas.
In order for Germany to accomplish its Schlieffen Plan, Germany occupied Belgium. By August most of Belgium was under German occupation and the Schlieffen Plan appeared to be going well, but it brought Britain into the war because they had made a treaty with Belgium before, and Schlieffen Plan involved the invasion of neutral Belgium. One of the problems during the Great War that military staffs and thinking were far behind new weapons and logistics. In other words military commanders like General Haig or Marshall Joffre were not quite ready to the war with it’s modern weapons and new technologies such as machine guns, bunkers and railroad systems that allowed to bring troops quicker into defensive positions. This was the first war in the human history where the weapons of defense were superior to offensive.
The First World War is also known as a war of attrition. In order to protect themselves from modern weapons, men dug in along the whole of the Western Front. They built networks of trenches that ran 500 miles. The First Battle of the Marne was the war’s first major turning point. German army has almost reached its objective Paris in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan, but the Battle of the Marne stopped the movement of Germans in the west. Unfortunately for the Germans, the plan did not work as expected. The result was a partial success, which failed in its ultimate goal of knocking the French army out of the war early.
The Battle of the Marne marked the end of the Schlieffen Plan, the end of movement in the war and the start of Trench Warfare. Eventually the trenches were stretching 25,000 miles, from Switzerland to the North Sea. On the other hand, Germans were much successful on the Eastern Front and had a series of quick victories over Russia. Only in a single Battle of Tannenberg 92,000 Russian prisoners were taken. After the failure of the German offensive, both sides made various local attempts at achieving breakthroughs. Most of these attempts failed due to the effects of modern weapons.
The First World War was the first war to use poison gas as a military weapon. Germans also had the first submarines and used them to blockade Britain by sinking British ships. The sinking of Lusitania is the famous example of the submarine warfare during the World War I. The Lusitania had civilians on board, where 100 passengers were American citizens. After sinking Lusitania a letter was sent to the German Government by President Wilson to warn the German government against killing Americans citizens.
In October 1915 Ottoman Turkish Empire enters war on German side. Turkish army began invasion of Russia and was very successful until Great Britain attacked Turkey. British, French, Australian and New Zealand were unsuccessful in invading Turkey. The action was confined to the Dardanelles Strait and the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula near Istanbul. The same year, Italy had withdrawn from the Triple Alliances when war started, and on the Eastern Front Russians were loosing their lands and over 750,000 soldiers were taken as prisoners. By the end of 1915 the whole society of Europe mobilized for war.
This was to be the world’s first Total War. Women were taking on the jobs, and most male population was …