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The 1914-1918 War, the Great War, or the First World War as it was variously recognized, was in its day the supreme disaster Europe had come across. Some 61 million troops of 16 nations were directly involved and suffered 7.8 million killed outright or died of wounds, 19.6 million wounded, treated and survived, and 7 million missing or prisoners of war. In the approach to the outbreak of the First World War, four factors were crucial.
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First, the ambitions and strategies of the great powers and second, the system of alliances, the danger of which was less to drag allies into the abyss as to make them concerned lest their opposite numbers renege on their commitments at the last moment. Third, the balance of power in the decision-making process between military men and civilian politicians and last, the pressure of both nationalist and socialist, antimilitarist opinion, and the opportunity offered by the war to achieve the ultimate in national integration.
Perhaps the most important factual information that should be studied in order to analyze the causes of the First World War is the events leading up to the War. To provide a deeper understanding of this event, one must critically delve into the events that transpired prior to the First World War. The direct answer of what caused the war, of course, can never be accurately ascertained because of the numerous simultaneous events that occurred during that era. There were so many events and causes leading up to World War I.
After the political assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, possibly backed by Serbian groups according to certain historians, the atmosphere of the Austro-Serbian War grew intense. This struggle was greatly escalated by this event and eventually brought all the great powers of Europe into the conflict.
There were many factors that had to be considered by the countries involved in the conflict during this time such as the danger of Russia entering the war on the Serbian side which led many countries to realize the importance of limiting the Austro-Serbian War, due to the fact that only the Germans could counter and neutralize the Russians.
The greatest fears of these countries were realized when Austria went to Germany for help. The Germans had previously helped restrain Austria, however this time was different. German leaders knew the Russians might intervene. The confidence of the Germans however was bolstered by the fact that France would not get involved ever with the Franco-Russian alliance.
As part of the agreement for Germany’s aid in the struggle, Germany is said to have given Austria a “blank check” on July 5, 1914. After that a provoking ultimatum was issued by Austria to Serbia and in events the following, Austria declared War. Upon learning of Austria’s declaration of war, Russia immediately mobilized its forces and rushed to arms.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to mention that the French role in Russia’s decision to mobilize is uncertain. Being Russia’s only continental ally it is not certain if they encouraged Russia’s involvement. However, fearing German intervention, the French mobilized in July 30, 1914.
Following the mobilization of Russia and France, Germany declared a state of military emergency. After reviewing strategic pathways and assuming the Franco-Russian alliance was stable, Germany sent out an ultimatum to France to declare neutrality on July 31, 1914. After French code breakers learned of Germany’s plan to demand the fortress of Toul and Verdun as security for France remaining neutral, the French mobilized their own armed forces.
The inevitable had finally occurred and the focus had now shifted to the issue of Britain’s involvement in the war. Britain and France had join military planning together and had eliminated any quarrels with Russia. However, Britain and Germany were also in agreement and monetarily bound by the construction of the Berlin to Baghdad railway. King George V assured Austria and the world that England wished to remain neutral. However, after careful contemplation, Britain decided that if France were drawn into the war it could not remain neutral. There had never been any real possibility of British neutrality if Germany went to war with France. Thus, the Great War had begun among the Great Powers of the World.
For many of the Powers, to be sure, a European War might seem to hold out the possibility of achieving various desired advantages: for Serbia, the achievement of national unity for all Serbs; for Austria, the revival of her waning prestige as a Great Power, and the checking of nationalistic tendencies which threatened her very existence; for Russia, the accomplishment of its historic mission of controlling Constantinople and the Straits; for Germany, new economic advantages and the restoration of the European balance which had changed with the weakening of the Triple Alliance and the tightening of the Triple Entente; for France, the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine and the ending of the German menace; and for England, the destruction of the German naval danger and of Prussian militarism.
Bloch, Camille. The Causes of the World War: An Historical Summary. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1935.
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