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PinkMonkey Online Study Guide-World History

11.2 Causes of World War I

Various factors contributed to the outbreak of World War I:

  1. 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.

  2. "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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 Cordiale.’

  8. 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."

  9. 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 a war.

  10. 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.

Exhibit 11.1
German troops at the beginning of the war

[next page]


11.0 Introduction
11.1 Novel Features of World War I
11.2 Causes of World War I
11.3 The Course of World War I
11.4 Consequences of World War I
11.5 Dates & Events
11.6 Points to Remember

Chapter 12


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