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World War I was the great armed conflict of 1914-18. Until World War II, it was often called the Great War because it was the most destructive and widespread war the world had ever seen. Wold War I began as a local conflict over a minor issue. Eventually it engulfed much of Europe and drew in, directly or indirectly, the entire major powers of the world. The first declaration of war was made by Austria-Hungary against Serbia (now part pf Yugoslavia) on July 28, 1914. Before the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, 28 nations (counting the British Empire as one nation) were directly engaged in the conflict (Roth, pp.

216-218/ 2003). On one side were France, Belgium, the British Empire, Russia, and Serbia; and, later, Japan, Italy, the United States, and 16 other countries. They were called the Allied and Associated Powers, or the Allies. The opposing side consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, and Bulgaria. They were known as the Central Powers. After the war, there were reduced to small separate states and Czechoslovakia was created from Austro-Hungarian territory in Central Europe.


The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (which became Yugoslavia in 1929) was established, comprising Austro-Hungarian lands in the Balkans and the kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro. Poland, which had been partitioned among the Germans, Austrians, and Russians in the 18th century was re-established along its historical borders (Brook-Shepard, pp. 64-67/ 2002). Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were freed from Russian domination. In the Middle East, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Hejaz, (a territory within modern Saudi Arabia), Transjordan (modern Jordan), and Palestine were carved out of the Ottoman Empire.

France’s quick defeat in World War II has been attributed, at least in part, to the devastation it suffered in World War I. The vast system of overseas holdings of Great Britain began to change from an empire to a commonwealth. The war was at least partly responsible for the success of the Russian revolution and the rise of Communism. The United States, after the war, its first experience of being involved in European affairs, declined to take a role as a world leader and retreated into isolationism, refusing to join the League of Nations (Robbins, pp. 161-164/ 2004).

Many people thought of World War I as “the war to end all wars,” fought “to make the world safe for democracy. ” Because of an overly harsh peace treaty, the weakness of the League of Nations, a worldwide economic depression, and the rise of fascism, the war had the opposite effect. It made the Second World War almost inevitable. Thesis Statement: This study scrutinizes and gives deeper understanding of Europe before World War I; thus, this investigates the condition of Europe after World War I. II. Background The history of Europe is the story of many different peoples and cultures.

Some peoples lagged behind, while others surged far ahead in the development of social, intellectual, and political institutions and ideas. Some regions, because of location, became influenced by cultures far removed from those affecting the rest of the continent. Many wars and treaties have changed Europe’s political boundaries throughout its history. Some European nations, such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, were created only after World War I. II. Discussion A. Historical Evidence Conditions in Europe in 1914 made it virtually inevitable that war would break out sooner or later.

Intense nationalism, militarism, a precarious balance of power resulting from the division of the major powers into two rival alliances—all played a part in creating a situation in which war could occur at almost any time. Nationalism. Throughout the 19th century, nationalism (a strong patriotic feeling of loyalty to one’s people or country) flourished. By the 20th century, it had become chauvinism: national pride had been exaggerated to such a degree that it meant not only love for the peoples of other nations (Cruttwell, pp.

109-113/ 2003). Militarism. Though there had not been a major war in Europe since 1815, all the Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Russia) had amassed huge arsenals, far beyond the needs of national defense, prior to World War I. The sense of power derived from military strength helped swell national pride. However, in time of international crisis, these arsenals tended to make European leaders think in terms of military rather than diplomatic solutions (Cruttwell, pp.

109-113/ 2003). Alliances. The Great Powers had arranged themselves into two rival alliances, producing a balance of power that, it was hoped, would prevent war. Actually the alliances led to a state in which the slightest disturbance of the existing political order or military situation caused a crisis, and each crisis increased the tension that would eventually lead to war. The alliances also made it certain that war, once it began, would involve all the Great Powers (Marshall, pp. 223-229/ 2001).

The alliance system that existed at the outbreak of World War I was developed after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany, knew that France would someday seek to avenge its humiliating defeat in that war. To reduce this threat, Bismarck entered into various alliances with the goal of isolating France from the other countries of Europe. In 1879, Bismarck concluded the Dual Alliance, a mutual defense pact with Austria-Hungary. He expanded this agreement in 1882 to include Italy, forming the Triple Alliance (Marshall, pp.

223-229/ 2001). Bismarck realized that an alliance between France and Russia would be a fundamental threat to German security because in the event of war with either power to Germany would be forced to fight on two fronts. Bismarck arranged the Emperors’ Alliance (1881) and the Renaissance neutrality in the event of a Franco-German conflict. In 1890, Bismarck was dismissed by the new German Kaiser (emperor), William II. William thought that Germany should not be allied with both Austria and Russia because of their rivalry for dominance in the Balkans.

Though he wanted to remain on friendly terms, William allowed the agreements with Russia to lapse (Marshall, pp. 223-229/ 2001). To offset the threat to the triple Alliance, France and Russia formed their own Dual Alliance in 1894. Franco also improved relations with Great Britain by entering into an informal understanding with the British known as the Entente Cordiale (1904). This was expanded into the Triple Entente in 1907 with the inclusion of Russia. The picture below illustrates the political situation which depicts the snarled web of the European coalitions.. Imperialism.

The most impressive display of the power of the European states in the 19th and early 20th centuries was the expansion of their political and economic influence to areas outside Europe. Imperial expansion provided new sources of raw materials, new markets for goods produced in the mother country, and national prestige (Everett, pp. 23-24/ 2000). Several times in the decades preceding the war, conflicting colonial ambitions in Africa threatened to lead European powers to war. Britain and France, in the Entente Cordiale, ended years of rivalry by pledging to cooperate in the colonization of Africa.

Germany, which was the newest imperial power, tried to compete with the more established imperial nations (Britain and France). Twice, in 1905 and 1911, Germany attempted to undermine French authority in Morocco (Everett, pp. 23-24/ 2000). Both times Germany’s gains were negligible, but the German actions caused French leaders to consider war to defend their imperial interests. The situation in the Balkans was even more explosive; it was fact, the competition there between Russia and Austria-Hungary that eventually triggered World War I.

Austria wanted to incorporate some of the smaller Balkan states into its empire. Russia’s Balkan policy was based on Pan-Slavism, a movement to achieve cultural and political unity in a confederation of Slavic states dominated by Russia. The situation was further complicated by the rival territorial claims of various ethnic groups in the Balkans (Everett, pp. 23-24/ 2000). In the Balkan Wars (1912-13), the Turks were pushed out of most the Balkans by Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece.

When disputes arose among the victors over how the former Turkish territories were to be divided, Austria and Russia proposed conflicting settlements. Only mediation by the other European powers prevented a general war in southern Europe. These countries also had other territorial ambitions. Serbia was seeking an outlet on the Adriatic. France and Great Britain wanted to extend their influence in the Middle East. Also, German, French, and British business interests were seeking concessions and markets in various countries, and each success brought an envious outcry from competing nation (Liddell Hart, pp.

46-47/ 2004). British industrialists were particularly worried by German competition in their home market. B. The Assassination of the Archduke On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne, was assassinated by a 19-year-old student, Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo (in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Hercegovina), Princip, a Serb living in Bosnia, was assisted in the preparations for assassination by a Serbian revolutionary society that was trying to overthrow Austrian rule in Bosnia (Ferrell, pp. 174-178/ 2005).

All of Europe awaited Austria-Hungary’s response to the assassination. The chief of the Austrian general staff, General Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, and the foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, both wanted to use the assassination as a pretext to absorb Serbia into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before any action could be taken against Serbia, however, they had to secure German support, to deter Russian intervention. The Kaiser promised to support the Austrian government in any action it took because he did not believe that Russian would intervene (Ferrell, pp.

174-178/ 2005). C. Ultimatums and Declaration Hotzendorf and Berchtold could now act. Berchtold drew up an ultimatum with terms that he knew would be unacceptable to Serbia. He also set a 49-hour time limit for Serbia’s response. In a carefully worded reply, Serbia greed to all of the conditions of the ultimatum, except for the Austrian demand to conduct an investigation and trial in Serbia. The Serbians proposed that if this reply was unsatisfactory, the question of Serbia’s guilt in the assassination should be submitted to the Hague Tribunal for arbitration.

Austria-Hungary, declaring that Serbia’s reply was unacceptable, severed diplomatic relations with Serbia and ordered mobilization (Greiss, pp. 65-66 (Avery). Russia pledged full support for Serbia and ordered mobilization on July 25. The next day, Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign minister, proposed a conference of the Great Powers to resolve the crisis, but Austria-Hungary was unwilling to attend. On July 27 France ordered mobilization in support of Russia.

On July 31 Germany gave Russia an ultimatum that threatened mobilization if Russia did not rescind its mobilization orders within 12 hours. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28 and then began shelling Belgrade (the capital of Serbia). Russia did not respond to Germany’s ultimatum. Germany declared war on Russia on August 1 and on France on August 3. France and Britain declared war on Germany on August 3 and 4, respectively. Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on August 6 (Greiss, pp. 65-66 (Avery).

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