The main cause of World War I was the ever-rising
tide of militarism in Europe. There was a terrible race
for armaments after 1870, throughout Europe. Though these armaments
were meant for national defense, they created universal suspicion,
fear and hatred among nations.
"Further, in every country there were influential
military officers who believed that war was inevitable."
They persuaded their governments towards mobilization of the armed
forces. This increased military and naval rivalries among nations.
Finally most militarists believed in "preventive"
war, that is declaring war upon the enemy, while he was weak and
crushing him, before he could become strong. Thus Germany wanted
to wage war against Russia, before the latter could reorganize
its armed forces. Similarly, England desired to crush the growing
German navy, before it could become a greater menace to England.
Thus, by 1914, all European countries were completely
armed and ready meet each other in combat.
Aggressive nationalism was partly responsible
for World War I. The love of one’s country demanded the hatred
of another country. Thus the love of France demanded the hatred
of Germany, while the love of Germany demanded the hatred of
England and vice versa. The chief principle for every patriot
was "my country right or wrong." This aggressive nationalism
created a favorable atmosphere for war.
There were national rivalries between
Germany and Britain, between Japan and America and also between
Germany and Russia. This led to World War I. The German Kaiser
William II declared that Germany was determined to become a
world power and this would arouse rivalry with Britain. Owing
to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, France lost Alsace and Lorraine
to Prussia. It had to recover these provinces. There was also
a crisis in the Balkans, leading to the two Balkan wars of 1912
and 1913, because of the rivalry between Germany and Russia.
There was great colonial imperialism
owing to the need for raw materials, overseas markets for surplus
manufacturers and for colonies for investing surplus capital.
This led to colonial conflicts and national rivalries.
There was a poisoning of public opinion
by the press in all the countries. Newspapers would take up
some point of dispute and exaggerate it. They made attacks and
counter-attacks, engendering a regular newspaper war. Professor
Sidney B. Fay comments that they "so offered a fertile
soil in which the seeds of real war might easily be germinated."
This was especially true in Austria, Serbia, Germany and France,
where there were misrepresentations, suppression of truth and
tossing of insults thus creating an atmosphere of mutual hatred
and suspicion, which eventually led to the Great War.
The system of secret alliances was one
of the factors that contributed to World War I. In 1879, Germany
entered into a defensive alliance with Austria-Hungary. It was
known as the ‘Dual Alliance’ against Russia and France.
In 1882, Italy joined the Dual Alliance and thus brought into
existence the Triple Alliance. Russia entered into a
defensive alliance with France in 1890. In 1904, France entered
into a defensive alliance with England known as the ‘Entente
In 1907, Russia joined the ‘Entente Cordiale’,
thus bringing into existence the Triple Entente, which pitted
itself against the Triple Alliance. Later Japan joined the Triple
Entente, while Romania and Turkey joined the Triple Alliance.
Professor Fay rightly mentions that "the system of secret
alliances made it inevitable that if war did come, it would involve
all the great powers of Europe. The members of each group felt
bound to support each other."
The Great War of 1914 was partly caused by
the existence of international anarchy. Professors Hayes,
Moon and Wayland observe that "Every nation could do what
it pleased, or what it dared, because there was no international
government to make laws for the nations and to compel all nations
to respect such laws." No state was ready to submit its
dispute with another to any arbitration, or to seek any method
of peaceful settlement. Thus the situation was favorable for
The murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand
of Austria and his wife, on June 28, 1914, by a twenty-four
year old fanatical Serbian student in Sarajevo (Bosnia) was
the spark that set the World War off.