Root causes of World War I.
The “First World War” alternatively known as “World War One” or the “Great War” broke out in Europe in the year 1914. The military encounters subsided in 1918 after lasting for an approximate four year period. The fighting included all the powerful nations of Europe and later expanded in to oriental countries such as Japan, and later America joined the war at it last moments. All these world powerful nations grouped into two powerful alliances namely the “central powers” and the “allies”. The allies were grouped on the basis of the “Triple Entete”, an alliance that was built between the Russians, Britons and the French. The allies on the other hand constituted of the “Ottoman Empire”, Germany, the BulgarianKingdom, and the “Austria-Hungarian Empire”. The war experienced the largest mobilization of forces with at a least 70 million people involved in the military front, with approximately 60 million of them being from Europe. An approximated 90 million people died at the war front. These large numbers of death could be attributed to the advances in technology and fire power and with little mobility. The war was one of the deadliest combat experiences in history-ranking second after the Second World War (Collins, 46).
The First World War has been attributed to various reasons, some of them being immediate causes, whilst others; may be declared as the root causes or long term causative factors that led up to the actual war. Therefore, the immediate causes seem to only have been catalysts that caused the actual outbreak of the war. The multiplicity of these reasons has led to debates on what may actually have caused the onset of the First World War. Whilst the immediate causes are well known the others are speculated reasons that bear significance, and actually seem to be actual reasons, because the magnitude of the war and subsequent mobilizations could not have been possibly elicited by the primary and immediate sources that were cited as the initiators of the war.
The immediate and primary reason for the onset of this war was the assassination of the Austrian Arch-duke. Franz Ferdinand was murdered in the month of June in the same year that the war began by a nationalist from Serbia. The crisis that followed in the subsequent month led to a justification of engagement in war-“casus belli”-made by the generals and statesmen of the nations that went into the first engagement. The Serbian Princip Gavrillo murdered both the Arch-Duke and his wife at Sarajevo. Sarajevo was actually a part of Austria-Hungary within its Bosnian territory. The Serb nationalist did the act as a protest against Austria-Hungary’s occupation of the Sarajevo region. The interests of Serbia to have Herzegovina and Bosnia did not augur well with Austria-Hungary and therefore, they declared war. As a result, Russia decided to mobilize its forces because within the same alliance with Serbia (Collins, 26). This led to a chain of subsequent events where more and more allied forces joined to fight alongside their alliance members. After Russia’s declaration, Germany decided to join the war and fight to protect the ally-Austria-Hungary. As the mobilization intensified more and more allied nations joined the war thus expanding the war wider and wider within Europe.
Apparently, this offers the immediate cause and onset of the war, but it does not explain how these alliances had been formed initially, and their purpose as well as why they were so quick to take sides and go into direct engagement without seeking alternatives. The whole “boil over” seemed like a reaction that had been awaiting a trigger or catalyst to set off the subsequent series of activities of combat that were witnessed. It is for this reason that historical analysis has traced various underlying reasons that may have caused the war (Lowry, 51). However, amidst all the cited causes there is none that has singly been labeled as the main cause, and they all seem to have made significant contributions to the onset and occurrence of the approximately four year combat. Amongst the cited reasons include antagonistic relations and non-military conflicts that had existed prior to the war as well as imperialism, militarism, nationalism and the formation of alliances.
The mutual creation and entry of nations into defense alliances was a precursor to the war as well as road map of the war’s direction. Nations all over Europe got into mutual agreements to defend each other in cases of war, and therefore; the attack of one nation would lead to the engagement of more than just one nation as the whole alliance would come in to defend their members. Prior to this war the following alliances existed and they defined the actual shape and sequence of the war: Britain and Japan, Russia and France, Serbia and Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany as well as Belgium, France and Britain. These alliances actually created the sequence for the war evidenced by how each of these nations joined the war.
Imperialism and its subsequent expansionist policies led conflict as nations went on a scramble for territories beyond their nation in search of raw materials. This could be exemplified by the scrambling and partitioning of the African continent by European nations. The scrambling witnessed in Asia and Africa did not turn violent, but it contributed to the creation of friction between European nations (Kelly, 1).
The onset of the arms race in the twentieth century led to the pile up of massive stocks of arms and this led to great military power consolidation in nations such as Germany. The Britons and Germans also increased the naval war capacity greatly prior to this period in what seemed as a match up competition. The spread of militarism in nations such as Russia and Germany was so profound that the influence of the military soon began shaping the policies of the public life and thus creating an environment where war was an easy thing to start (Lowry, 73).
As part of these causes, nationalism can also be cited; for example Slavs under Herzegovina and Bosnia desired to be part of the Serbian nation rather than the Austria-Hungary territory. This is partly the reason why the Arch-duke was murdered- a clear trigger of the actual war. On the other hand, the urge for each nation to prove its strength and power as a nation led to further worsening of the conflict and as such can be cited as a contributing factor to the “First World War” (Kelly, 1).
Conclusively, the “First World War” was caused by a mixture of factors among them imperialism, militarism, nationalism as well as the formation of alliances besides the actual immediate cause. The immediate cause-the murder of the Austrian Arch-duke-only acted as a trigger to the onset of the war.
Collins, F. Ross, World War One, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008. Print
Lowry, Bullit, The causes and consequences of World War One, TamkangUniversity, 1996 Print
Kelly, Martin, Top five causes of world war one, retrieved on 16th December, 2010. Web, 2010 <http://americanhistory.about.com/od/worldwari/tp/causes-of-world-war-1.htm>