What was the Main Reason for the Outbreak of WW1

World War I lasted for 4 years between 1914 and 1918. The total number of military and civilian casualties was over 37 million. It seems that the main reason for the start of this war was militarism, though both imperialism and nationalism played a part as well and without all three, war may not have happened.

Nationalism and patriotism were significant factors in causing World War I. If a person is nationalistic, then they have a strong support of the rights and interests of their country.Each of Europe’s Great Powers developed a firm belief in its own cultural, economic and military supremacy, creating a fatal misconception that any war would produce a victory within a matter of months. This arrogance and over-confidence was fuelled by the press in each country promoting extreme nationalism. Various forms of propaganda, including newspapers and banners, were packed with nationalist rhetoric and ‘sabre-rattling’. It could also be found in other cultural expressions, such as literature, music and theatre. For example, even well-known songs made the people of countries like Britain, Germany and France more bellicose – the British sang ‘Rule Britannia’ declaring Britons ‘will never be slaves’ and the Germans sang ‘Deutschland uberalles’, portraying Germany ‘above all, over everything in the world’ . Songs like this produced nationalistic spirit and were almost catalysts for promoting nationalism in some countries. As each nation became more convinced of the integrity of its position and the prospects for victory, the likelihood of war increased. Politicians, royals and diplomats did little to deflate the public appetite for war, and some actively contributed to it by making provocative remarks themselves.

In an age where countries were becoming more nationalistic, all nations wanted to assert their power and independence. This led to colonies and similarly countries under foreign rule aiming for independence, and this was ultimately a reason for World War I as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was fuelled by nationalism and the Slavs wanting to break free from Austrian rule. On 28th June Ferdinand visited Sarajevo, capital of modern day Bosnia, which had just been taken under Austrian rule. The Black Hand gang were a group of nationalistic terrorists who wanted independence. After failed bomb attempts in the morning, Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and subsequently killed him. Austria then blamed Serbia for ‘supporting’ the terrorists. They, supported by Germany, send Serbia an ultimatum which included taking full responsibility for the assassination. Serbia failed to accept all of the points, which led to Russia mobilising its troops to protect Serbia. Germany then declared war on Russia and this led to the alliances coming into action, World War I had begun. Ultimately, the new found nationalistic beliefs of countries under foreign rule were always going to lead to attempts to claim independence. This is what led to the actions of the Black Hand gang and also tested the strength of the alliance for the first time. For these reasons nationalism must be considered as a factor for the start of World War I

Imperialism is when a country increases their power and wealth by bringing additional territories under their control, frequently in order to maintain or start an empire, or a collection of colonies. The imperialist nation – sometimes benignly called the ‘mother country’ – acquires these new territories by military conquest, political pressure or infiltration. This often requires skirmishes, or even a fully-fledged war against the local population. The British, for instance, had to seize control of South Africa away from hostile native tribes like the Zulus, and then the Boers (white farmers of Dutch extraction). Both conflicts were more difficult than they had envisaged. Nevertheless, the strategic and economic benefits of new colonies usually outweighed the risks. Once control was established, the region became a colony, the primary purpose of which was to benefit the imperial power. Usually this involved the supply of precious metals or other resources, cheap labour or agricultural land. The British Empire, for example, was largely based on trade, particularly the importation of raw materials and the commercial sale of manufactured goods. Military advantages also arrive when obtaining a colony, such as strategic locations for naval bases or troops. By 1914 there were relatively few parts of the world still open to imperial conquest. The ‘scramble for Africa’ saw much of that continent already claimed by European powers. Imperial competition, layered atop intense nationalism, contributed to the tension and rivalry of the pre-war generation.

The increased sense of imperialism led to two ‘crises’, both based in Morocco. In 1905 Morocco was one of the few African states not occupied by a European ruler. France hoped to conquer Morocco and add it to their ever growing list of colonies. In an agreement lasting four years to finalise in 1904, the French Foreign Minister at the time, Théophile Delcassé, it was concluded that Morocco would come under French control. Originally in November 1901 an agreement of this was signed with Italy, but Spain was unsure and insisted on informing the British government. Originally the British refused to support Delcassé but changed their minds in April 1904 and in October 1904 France got the agreement of the Spanish. However, France hadn’t asked Germany, and on 31st March 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm visited Morocco and promised them protection against anyone who threatened them. The French were outraged and Britain saw it as yet another attempt by Germany to build a German Empire to rival Britain’s empire.A Conference was held at Algeciras starting on 16th January 1906 to settle the dispute. Of the 13 nations present, the German representatives found that their only supporter was Austria-Hungary, while then others including Britain and Russia supported France. Germany was forced to promise to stay out of Morocco and France agreed to yield control of the Moroccan police, but otherwise retained effective control of Moroccan political and financial affairs. The Agadir Crisis, or Second Moroccan Crisis took place in 1911. At the start of 1911 a rebellion broke out in Morocco and subsequently France sent in an army to quash it. On 1st July, a German gunboat ‘Panther’ was sent to the port of Agadir under the pretext of preserving German trade interest. In the middle of the crisis, Germany was hit by financial turmoil. The stock market plunged by 30 percent in a single day, the public started cashing in currency notes for gold and there was a run on the banks. Faced with the potential of being driven off the gold standard, the Kaiser backed down and let the French take over most of Morocco. France and Germany underwent negotiations on 9th July and ended with Germany accepting France’s position in Morocco in return for territory in the French Equatorial African colony of Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo). The crisis led to Britain and France making a naval agreement where the Royal Navy promised to protect the northern coast of France from German attack, while France concentrated her fleet in the western Mediterranean and agreed to protect British interests there. The ultimate outcome of these two crises was the strengthening of the alliance between Britain and France and German embarrassment, increasing the likelihood of them wanting to bounce back stronger and the pathway for war was almost set.

Another factor in the developing mood for war was militarism, the attempt to build up a strong army and navy in order to give a nation the means and will to make war, and its incipient arms race. Powerful new weapons were produced in the decades before 1914, capable of killing on an industrial scale. Utilising new mass-production techniques, the Western nations could churn out these weapons and munitions in great quantities and at a rapid pace. But the descent into war was not only driven by new weapons; it was also fueled by militaristic cultures and attitudes. Military elites strongly influenced, and in some cases, dominated the governments and aristocracies of the Great Powers. The government became plagued with admirals and generals whose only focus was to expand the country’s military force by demanding increases in defence spending and promoting military solutions to political and diplomatic problems. War plans were also drawn up and so corrupted governments like this made war even more likely. As the former German army officer Alfred Vagts would later write, militarism was “a domination of the military man over the civilian, an undue preponderance of military demands (and) an emphasis on military considerations.”

It’s natural for military leaders to be obsessed with modernising their forces and equipping them with new technology, and the decades prior to 1914 saw no shortage of this. One of the most significant examples of weapon development was the heavy artillery. Marked improvements were made in the calibre, range, accuracy and portability areas of this powerful, but previously slightly unreliable weapon. The changes meant that artillery shelling and bombardments would become standard practice, particularly after the emergence of trench warfare. Millions of metres of barbed wire, an invention of the 1860s, would be mass produced and installed around trenches to halt charging infantry. Various types of poison gas including chlorine, phosgene and mustard were developed. In the naval areas, the development of the dreadnought – a large battleship, the first of which was launched in 1906 – prompted a flurry of ship-building and naval rearmament.European military expenditure catapulted between 1900 and 1914. In 1870 the combined military spending of the six great powers (Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy) totalled £94 million. By 1914 this had quadrupled to £398 million. German defence spending during this period increased by a colossal 73%, dwarfing the increases in France (10%) and Britain (13%). Russian’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 seemed to be a catalyst for their defence spending to rise by more than a third after the loss prompted the Tsar to order a massive rearmament program. By the 1910s, 45% of Russian government spending was allocated to the armed forces, while just 5% went on education, which shows the great effect militarism can cause.

As previously mentioned, it wasn’t just the amount and quality of weapons that was improving. Of the Great Powers, all of them except Britain had conscription. By 1914, Europe’s powers had increased their armed forces dramatically. Germany, France and Russia had over 1,000,000 soldiers while Britain, Italy and Austria-Hungary had between 710,000 and 810,000 men. In order to keep the amount the amount of soldiers increasing, the main countries of Europe started to train their young men as backup, so that if there a war broke out they could call, not only on the standing army, but on huge numbers of trained reservists. It was once estimated that the total number of men (including reservists) that the countries could thus call upon totalled as high as 8.5 million for Germany and 3-4 million for the other powers. This is an example of the ‘knock-on effect’ of militarism and why the countries were so eager to get the largest army as possible. As one country increased its armies, the others felt obliged to increase their armed forces as well in order to not fall behind and to keep the ‘balance of power’. Overall militarism was important in starting WWI as it not only made countries strengthen their armies, but it also increased suspicion and hatred between nations as well as giving nations the wherewithal to wage war.

Overall nationalism, imperialism and militarism all played a key role in starting WWI. Militarism made nations switch their focus to military needs, they all wanted to have the strongest army, and so gave the resources for war in 1914. Imperialism created the early tensions between the main European powers. France’s imperialistic aims led to them trying to invade Morocco and in doing so, created the early sparks between them and Germany and fortifying the alliance with Britain. Finally, nationalism formed the ‘last piece of the puzzle’. Though it could be said that war was always likely, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was fuelled by nationalism and ultimately that it was lead to Germany declaring war. Overall, it would seem that militarism was the main reason for the outbreak of World War One. Without the strong sense of militarism, my nations wouldn’t have had the resources to spark a world war. However as each nation got stronger, they wanted to expand their territory and ‘prove their strength’, which is what led to imperialism and the invasion of independent countries. Though nationalism did set off the war, without militarism, which led to imperialism, there would be no beliefs to become independent and eventually with the high amount of resources the great powers had, war would’ve been inevitable without the actions of the Black Hand gang.

Contributed by Freddie Carty

One thought on “What was the Main Reason for the Outbreak of WW1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *