World War 1, also known as the “ Great War ”, was one of the deadliest wars in world history with over 38 million deaths and was also important because it was the first global war. It started on June 28th 1914 and ended in November 11th 1918. The Great War mainly took place in Europe in the Western Front (England,Belgium, France, and west Germany), the Eastern Front (Russia, Austria-Hungary and the east of Germany) and finally the Italian Front (Italy and Austria). The first world war was between two different alliances: The Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.
The Triple Entente included Russia, France and Britain while the Triple Alliance included Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The murder of Franz Ferdinand, the soon to be successor of the Austrian-Hungarian empire,by a Serbian nationalist is often considered to be the main cause of World War 1 but isn’t. In fact, this death was very responsible for the start of the war but it was just what triggered European countries, that had previously built tensions between each other, to go to war. Three of the most important long term causes of the war were : Militarism, Imperialism and finally Nationalism.
Imperialism was one of the biggest causes of World War1. Imperialism is when a strong country gains direct territory through economic and political control of a weaker area. This practice started in the 1870s until 1914, when the first world war started. The countries mostly involved in Imperialism were the European ones, the most important one being Britain. The European colonies were extremely important because they provided natural resources, economic power and international prestige to the colonizing nations.
From the 1880s to 1914, thanks to a development in communication ( trains, boats…) and in weapons, European powers, the United States and Japan, were now able to occupy new territories in Africa and Asia. Britain and France were the European nations with the strongest colonial empire. This caused tensions with other countries, like the new unified Germany, that were less powerful. It’s during this period that a strong rivalry started to appear in Europe which was responsible for the prewar tension .
The Scramble for Africa, when European countries met to divide the continent into colonies for themselves, was also very involved in the start of tensions and disagreements between the countries. There were two major crisis in Morocco, in North- Africa, that caused problems between Germany and France. During the Scramble for Africa, France made its interest for Morocco clear. In 1905, when France was ready to colonize, the German emperor Wilhem II went to Tangier, a city in Morocco. There, he gave a speech in which he motivated the people to sought for their independence.
This action made the French Government very angry and started tensions between the two countries. The second crisis was in 1911. In this year Morocco was having a rebellion that France was attempting to stop. While in the process of suppressing this rebellion, the Germans debarked a gunship. This landing was made without any permission and there was no reason behind it. This triggered an even stronger tension between Germany and France. Germany’s purpose behind these actions were not to invade Morocco, it was just an attempt to put France and Britain against each other, which did not work.
In fact, France and Britain came out of these crises with an even stronger alliance. Militarism was another very important cause for the start of World War 1. As previously mentioned, during the early nineteen hundreds there was a lot of tension between European powers. One of the reasons being military competition. For instance, in 1906 Britain started using their new invention called dreadnoughts. These were fast, big and strong battleships with 12 inch guns that were much more efficient than previous ones. Germany started producing dreadnoughts only in 1908 after Britain started increasing its own production.
This competition between Britain and Germany, also known as the “Arms Race”, caused a lot of tension and is also considered one of the short term causes of the war. Militarism did not only change the quality of the weapons, but also the quantity. In fact, the military expenditure of European countries increased significantly before the war in particular in Russia, Germany and Britain. Russia went from spending 291. 6 million of dollars in 1908 to 435 million of dollars in 1913, Britain went from 286. 7 million to 374. 2 million and Germany from 286. 7 million to 463. 3 million of dollars.
Militarism did not only involve the creation of new dangerous weapons like dreadnoughts, but also changed people’s perceptions on war by making them glorify their military power and having larger and stronger armies of patriotic people. Just as General Treitschke, the commander of Germany’s army, said : “ War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind. War is the father of all things. ” Nationalism was also one of the main causes of the start of this war. The definition of nationalism is : “ the strong belief that the interests of a particular nation-state are of primary importance.
Also, the belief that people who share a common language, history, and culture should constitute an independent nation, free of foreign domination” . Nationalism in the 1900s led to a strong competition between European nations. The most important powers were Germany, Russia, Italy, France, England and Austria-Hungary. Each nation had the desire to be the most powerful country and to be so it had to be the best both militarily and economically. Nationalism wasn’t just about resources and militarism but especially about getting new territories.
The Balkans for instance were trying to be controlled by Austria-Hungary and Russia which created strong tensions between those countries. The territory of the Balkans included Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians and other ethnic groups that all wanted to be independent. Serbia and Russia were very nationalist in a sense that they wanted to reunite all Slavic people in one united nation. This idea was called Pan-Slavism and it progressed mostly in the late 1800s. Austria-Hungary on the other hand, didn’t want to let Serbia extend its power and so was completely against this idea.
Austria then tried to take control over Bosnia and Herzegovina, two extended areas in the Balkans, the same areas that Serbia wanted to expand their territory with. This caused a strong reaction of anger and brought Serbia and Austria-Hungary to hate each other. Serbia then attempted to take over the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina but Austria-Hungary would not let them. This led to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and eventually the creation of alliances such as the one between Russia and Serbia which both had an important role in the start of the first world war.
In conclusion, the murder of Franz Ferdinand was not the main cause of the start of World War 1 but was only what triggered it. The larger and long term causes were indeed imperialism, militarism and nationalism. These caused many tensions between European countries and made each nation want to be the best both militarily and economically and gain control over the continent. The continuous competition and rivalry led to the different powers to hate each other and eventually start one of the greatest and deadliest wars in history, the first World War.