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The Long Term Causes of World War I

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Militarism, nationalism, and internal strife had played a substantial role in World War I, however it was the decisions of the European Statesmen that that catapulted a crisis in the Balkans, into a full fledged war between all of the Europeans powers.

There’s a German proverb that says “A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.” This statement more than upsets that balance of power that the Europeans states were trying to maintain up until the early 20th century. Militarism, nationalism, and internal strife had played a substantial role in World War I, however it was the decisions of the European Statesmen  that catapulted a crisis in the Balkans, into a full fledged war between all of the Europeans powers.

At the end of the Franco-Prussian war, France was left angry over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and determined to regain their lost territory. The British Empire and France had control of large areas of Africa, and with the rise of industrialism, countries needed new markets. Germany had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa, therefore there was a great rivalry for colonial powers. This growing divide led to an arms race between the European states, resulting in larger armies in both Germany and France.

With an emphasis on militarism, Britain competed with Germany over the seas, creating new battleships in case of war. In Germany, the Alfred von Shlieffen Plan was devised as a plan of action that involved attacking France through Belgium if Russia made an attack on Germany. This plan was of course based on a military alliance made between Russia and France in 1894. The scene was set, meaning some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies declared war first.

The crisis between Austria Hungary and Russia for domination of new states created massive tension in the region. Serbia, supported by Russia, was determined to create an independent Slavic state in the Balkans, however Austria had set forth to prevent that from happening. Southeastern Europe was home to several nationalistic groups, all who sought freedom from Ottoman rule, however Austria and Russia were determined to dominate these states. The mutual distrust between Austria Hungary and Russia, and Austria Hungary and Serbia, laid the foundation for the events that were doomed to play out during the summer of 1914. It wasn’t until the assassination of Archduke Frances Ferdinand and wife, supposedly by a Serbian terrorist organization, that Austria saw an opportunity to “render Serbia impotent once and for all with a display of force”.

European leaders reacted to events instead of proactively managing the crisis. The French leaders had little choice: France was the object of a German invasion, along with Russia. England in turn entered the war because a successful German attack on France and Belgium would have made Germany too powerful. Furthermore, Germany violated Belgian neutrality. Both Germany and Russia mobilized their armies in haste, because each one feared defeat by powerful enemies if they delayed. Germany and Russia also rashly committed themselves to support Balkan clients -- Austria-Hungary and Serbia, respectively -- because Berlin and St. Petersburg feared that failure to do so would cost them the trust of important allies and leave them isolated.

In the end, political leaders had believed that the war involved too many risks including both economic and political. The nation’s leaders could have prevented the outbreak of war, however they choice to push forward with acceleration, based on their nationalistic ideals of glory. In the end, the war created a volatile society, filled with unsatisfied veterans, and even worse, new leaders that would change the face of history.

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Richard Wing
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Posted on May 11, 2010
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Lauren Axelrod
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Posted on Apr 26, 2010
William J. Felchner
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Lauren Axelrod

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