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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.

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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

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 sent to war. The total war started when Germans used
their first gas attack:
Gassing was the start of total war, because it broke all limits, the
social taboos, the gentleman’s etiquette of other wars. Sometimes the
shot would miss the mark and kill innocent civilians. Before the
introduction of gas bombing, soldiers found it easier to overlook the
fact that they were fighting on opposite sides of the field, because
they had no personal motivation to fight.

In 1916 there 139 British and French Divisions were fighting against
117 German Divisions. Two sides were facing each other across the “no
man’s land” of mud, shell holes and barbed wires. Sometimes the
distance between two fighting powers was so close that on first
Christmas both sides were singing carols to each other. One can find a
good description of trenches by reading Erich Remarque’s novel “All
Quite on the Western Front” were he gives the reader some insight and
a look at a group of young German friends who are also fighting in
World War I. It covers the horror of this war through the eyes of a
young German solider, Paul Baumer. This book is not like other books
and stories that glorify wars. It tells the horrors of war in detail.

The story recalls the bloody details of bombing, gunfire, gas,
hand-to-hand combat, barbed wire, trench warfare and etc. Remarque
tells the story in the first person that makes the reader feel as if
he or she is one of the soldiers, that makes the novel even more
dramatic for the reader:
We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run
with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps
into the next shell-hole; a lance-corporal crawls a mile and a half on
his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the
dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we
see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces …
The two biggest and horrifying battles of the World War I are the
Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. John Keegan, a military
historian in his interview tells about the Battle of Somme: “It was
the biggest barrage that had ever been. So, they were firing over
100,000 shells a day; relentless, relentless banging and booming of
this tremendous bombardment. So loud, you could hear it in England, if
the wind was in the right direction (60 or 70 miles away).

Over million soldiers were killed on both sides only in a single
battle of Somme during 1916. The second biggest battle of Verdun was
fought at the cost of the French Army, and it is often compared to a
sausage machine, because 315,000 Frenchman died. The human kind had
never sees such battles throughout the whole history, with so many
losses, which was quite shockfull experience for the soldiers who
fought the First World War. This war resulted shortages in practically
everything, and rising prices. By the end of 1916 America was still
not involved in the war.

Fateful year of 1917 marked the beginning of the modern world. Several
important events took place in 1917. First and the most important
event was the Russian Revolution and the rise of a Communist Power in
the World. The same year America enters the war against Germany. Two
great non-European leaders with two different ideas of what is good
for humanity emerge, and the European History becomes a World History.

Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who was hiding in Switzerland at that time, was
helped by some German agents to be able to go to Russia in a sealed
train. Germans helped Lenin, because they knew that if the Revolution
occurs, the war with Russia would eventually finish. As a matter of
fact Lenin and the Bolsheviks takes over the country on November 7,
1917. Everything that was planned by Germans came true and Russians
made peace with Germany. The Western front was the only ‘show in
town’, and Germans moved all their power from Eastern to a Western
Front to break through the line of the enemy.

In March of 1918 Russia signed a treaty in Brest-Litovsk which put a
formal end to the war and agreed to stop fighting. Russia was also
forced to give up some of its land to the enemy. The war that was
supposed to be over by Christmas seemed endless; however, in 1918,
after great Franco-American Offensive Germany gave up, and became a
liberal Republic. It happened at 11:00 am, on November 11, after 4
years and over 8 million military deaths on both sides. Germany agreed
to President Wilson’s 14 points, issued in January 1918 where Germany
agreed no to have secret treaties with other countries, most
importantly to end submarine warfare and to free the seas, to give up
their colonial claims and etc.

Germany also had to take the responsibility for the cause of the Great
War and accordingly pay reparations to Allies. By signing the treaty
Germany also agreed to disarm, and give up the colonies. The world war
one had tremendous consequences on the world. “World War I killed
fewer victims than World War II, destroyed fewer buildings, and
uprooted millions instead of tens of millions, but in many ways it
left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The
Old World never recovered from a shock.” According to many
historians, and in particular Edmond Tailor the trench warfare was the
cruelest among all wars since the Ice Age. The reason why historians
think that way is because the people of the XIX and early XX century
were not ready to this kind of war. People were very optimistic about
the future with all the great inventions. “The last twenty years of
the 19th Century, say 1880 to 1900, those years were characterized by
an immense optimism. It was thought that public health, invention, the
telegraph, the telephone, ultimately the wireless and the radio, were
going to civilize human life in a way that it had never been civilized
before. And, then, all of a sudden, what happens is ghastly war breaks
out and spoils everything.” The inventions that were supposed to
improve the standards of living for humanity in fact made the war more
tragic. “The age that died in 1914 was a brilliant one – so
extravagant in its intellectual and aesthetic endowments that we who
have come after can hardly believe in its reality.” In Eric
Remarque’s novel “All Quite on the Western Front” one can clearly see
what war had done to the people, especially to the young generation
who fought it. The soldiers who fought in the Great War often lost
their interest in life. The only significance in the lives of the
soldiers was comradeship. Eric Remarque also mentions in his novel
what was the opinion of the soldiers about the progress, “We are not
youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are
fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. … The first bomb, the
first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity,
from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we
believe in the war.” That was the mentality of the soldier of the
Great War. Nothing in the world meant anything to a soldier, other
than the “war”. Remarque also shows in his novel how meaningless was
the war for the soldier. There is a place in the novel were Paul kills
a French soldier, and feels very guilty about it. It shows one more
time how artificial was the cause of the war. There was no real cause
why German would hate a Frenchmen and voiceovers. Erik Remarque shows
that when Paul talks to a dead French soldier where he says, “Comrade,
to-day you to-morrow me. But if I come out of it, comrade, I will
fight against this, that has struck us both down; from you, taken
life-and from me-? Life also.” Despite being alive, Paul considers
his life without any meaning after all the horrible experiences of the
war. All people who came out of the First World War were either
physically or psychologically wounded.

The impact of the First World War is still with us. In many respects
the events of modern Europe are a direct result of what happened in
1914 -1919. “Had there be a World War I, of course have been no
Second…” Adolph Hitler himself was a product of the First World War.

World War I also gave Lenin an opportunity to overthrow the government
in Russia and proclaim communism.


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