It’s probably the single many pondered concern in history – what caused the unbound, senseless slaughter which was World War One? It wasn’t, like in World War Two, an instance of one belligerent pushing others to simply take a military stand. It didn’t have actually the ethical vindication of a resisting a tyrant.

Instead, a delicate but toxic stability of structural forces created a dry tinder which was lit by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. That event precipitated the July Crisis, which saw the major European powers hurtle toward available conflict.


The M-A-I-N acronym is frequently accustomed analyse the war – militarism, alliances, imperialism and nationalism. It’s simplistic but provides a good framework.


The late nineteenth century was a time of armed forces competition, particularly between the major European abilities. The insurance policy of building a stronger military ended up being judged relative to neighbors, creating a culture of paranoia that heightened the search for alliances. It absolutely was given by the social belief that war is perfect for countries.

an Uk dreadnought – the building of the vessels had been a supply of stress between Great Britain and Germany.

Germany in particular looked to expand its navy. However, the ‘naval race’ had been never an actual competition – the British regularly s maintained naval superiority. Nevertheless the Uk obsession with naval dominance had been strong. Government rhetoric exaggerated military expansionism. A simple naivety inside potential scale and bloodshed of a European war prevented a few governments from checking their aggression.

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A web of alliances developed in European countries between 1870 and 1914, effectively creating two camps limited by commitments to steadfastly keep up sovereignty or intervene militarily – the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.

  • The Triple Alliance of 1882 linked Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.
  • The Triple Entente of 1907 connected France, Britain and Russia.

A historic point of conflict between Austria Hungary and Russia had been over their incompatible Balkan passions, and France had a deep suspicion of Germany rooted within their defeat inside 1870 war.

an Uk cartoon of Europe in 1914.

The alliance system mainly came to exist because after 1870 Germany, under Bismarck, set a precedent by playing its neighbours’ imperial endeavours off the other person, to keep a stability of energy within European countries


Imperial competition also forced the nations towards adopting alliances. Colonies were devices of change that may be bargained without considerably impacting the metro-pole. Additionally they brought nations who otherwise maybe not communicate into conflict and contract. Including, the Russo-Japanese War (1905) over aspirations in China, helped bring the Triple Entente into being.

It has been recommended that Germany had been inspired by imperial aspirations to invade Belgium and France. Definitely the expansion associated with the Uk and French empires, fired by the increase of industrialism therefore the quest for brand new markets, caused some resentment in Germany, and also the search for a quick, aborted imperial policy inside belated nineteenth century.

However the recommendation that Germany desired to produce a European empire in 1914 isn't supported by the pre-war rhetoric and strategy.


Nationalism was additionally a brand new and powerful way to obtain stress in Europe. It was linked with militarism, and clashed because of the passions regarding the imperial abilities in European countries. Nationalism created brand new areas of interest over which countries could compete.

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As an example, The Habsburg empire was tottering agglomeration of 11 different nationalities, with large slavic populations in Galicia and the Balkans whose nationalist aspirations went counter to imperial cohesion. Nationalism inside Balkan’s additionally piqued Russia’s historic desire for the spot.

Certainly, Serbian nationalism created the trigger reason for the conflict – the assassination regarding the heir towards the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The spark: the assassination

Ferdinand and their wife were murdered in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a part for the Bosnian Serbian nationalist terrorist organization the ‘Black Hand Gang.’ Ferdinand’s death, that was interpreted as an item of official Serbian policy, created the July Crisis – monthly of diplomatic and government miscalculations that saw a domino aftereffect of war declarations initiated.

The historic discussion with this problem is vast and distorted by substantial biases. Vague and undefined schemes of reckless expansion were imputed toward German leadership in instant aftermath of war with the ‘war-guilt’ clause. The idea that Germany ended up being bursting with newfound strength, proud of her abilities and wanting to showcase them, ended up being overplayed.

The very nearly laughable rationalization of British imperial power as ‘necessary’ or ‘civilizing’ didn’t translate to German imperialism, that was ‘aggressive’ and ‘expansionist.’ There is certainly an on-going historic discussion on who if anybody ended up being most culpable.

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Blame happens to be fond of every combatant at one point or another, and some have stated that all the major governments considered a golden window of opportunity for increasing appeal at home.

The Schlieffen plan could be blamed for bringing Britain into the war, the scale of this war could possibly be blamed on Russia whilst the very first big country to mobilise, inherent rivalries between imperialism and capitalism could be blamed for polarising the combatants. AJP Taylor’s ‘timetable theory’ emphasises the delicate, highly complex plans taking part in mobilization which prompted fundamentally aggressive armed forces preparations.

The German Schlieffen Plan required Germany to beat France quickly in order to avoid a two front war.

Every point has some merit, in the end what proved many devastating was the mixture of an alliance system because of the widespread, misguided belief that war will work for nations, which how to fight today's war would be to attack. That the war was inescapable is questionable, but truly the notion of glorious war, of war as a great for nation-building, had been strong pre-1914. By the conclusion associated with the war, it had been dead.

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