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Did Germany cause World War 1?
Although in the Treaty of Versailles Germany was to accept full responsibility for World War 1 this in not necessarily the case. Many factors have to be taken into account when considering the cause of World War 1. Germany may have been primarily responsible for the war but the other major powers must accept some of the blame for failing to prevent it. The conflict resulting from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinard should have been local and confined but due to a series of factors, militarism, the alliance system, nationalism, this one incident led to the greatest war Europe had ever seen. As a result of underlying hostilities the assassination led to a chain of events that ensured war on a wide scale.
The alliance system developed by Bismarck for defensive purposes was one of the major causes of the war. These alliances however took a more aggressive tone in the hands of Bismarck?s successors. Also Bismarck?s alliance system was too intricate for anybody other than himself to maintain. While he was alive the alliances preserved peace but in the hands of William the 2nd these alliance were destroyed. Bismarck?s policy was to keep France isolated however with William refusing to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia. France now had an ally thus resulting in the signing of the Franco-Russian Entente in 1891. In 1904 Britain and France formed a non-military alliance called the Entente Cordial. As a result at the outbreak of war Europe was divided into two armed camps, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungry and Italy and the Triple Entente was made up of Britain, France, and Russia. These alliances facilitated a political assassination sparking a World War.
Along with the hostile divisions in Europe came the expansion of armies and navies thus leading to an arms race. This arms race was also precipitated by the increase in war budgets after 1900. Attempts to restrict the arms race, like The Hague conference in 1899 and 1907 failed due to mutual suspicion. The great powers also elaborated plans for mass mobilisation. It was thought that a war would be decided in the opening phases and therefore who ever got into the field first and assembled the largest army in the shortest time would have the advantage over it?s rival. When World War 1 began Germany ultimately mobilised eleven million troops, France mobilised twenty percent of her population or 7,800,000 and Russia mobilised sixteen million men (White Heat 7). By 1914 the general staffs in Germany, France, Russia and Austria favoured war. Germany and Britain were involved in a naval race, which caused antagonism between the two powers due to Britain?s pride in her naval fleet and the necessity of it to maintain her Empire. She saw Germany?s continued expansion as a threat. Sir John Fisher of the British navy suggested that the navy should ?Copenhagen the German Fleet? before it was too late (Europe Since 1870 105). Admiral Tirpitz of Germany opposed any plans for naval disarmament. Von Hotzendorf, the Austrian Chief of Staff, had been pushing for a preventative war against Serbia since 1906.
Before World War 1 Europe was in the mind set for war, as I have described above, countries were expanding their armies and making plans for war. One of the most famous plans of war was the Schlieffen plan. This plan devised by General Von Schlieffen was based on mass mobilisation. It was believed that in the event of a war it would take Germany thirty-six hours to mobilise, France forty-eight hours and Russia three weeks (Europe Since 1870 105). The Germans would thus attack France first and then after defeating France go on to attack Russia. From these plans we can see that the Chiefs of Staff in Europe were expecting and planning for a war. The military leaders in Europe played a large role in influencing their governments to go to war.
Jingoism also played a major role in the outbreak of war. Jingoism is extreme or excessive patriotism. The public was prepared for a war they wanted to show how powerful and glorious their country was. By 1914 there was nearly one hundred and eighty books written on the subject of major war in various different languages: Der Weltkreig (1904), depicted a German conflict with Britain. Le Queux?s The Invasion (1910) sold over a million copies (Reasons for War 2). These books prepared the public for the fears and the excitement of war. There was a sense of pure nationalism running through society, that never again would Europe display this kind of patriotic fervour, the conflict to come would destroy it (The Origins of War 5).
Nationalism was also a cause of World War1. Austria?s unfair treatment of the minorities in her Empire caused the spread of Balkan nationalism. Serbia had been forced to hand over Bosnia and Herzegovina to Austria to obtain her independence and due to Serbia flourishing as a nation the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina became restless under Austrian rule. Serbia encouraged anti-Austrian feeling which antagonised Austria and led her to annex Bosnia in 1908 breaking an agreement with Russia leading to the Bosnian Crisis. Russia?s policy of Pan-slavism also caused friction with Austria. Pan-slavism was the idea that all Slav peoples should be ?freed? from Ottoman and Hapsberg control. These antagonisms led to an alliance between Russia and Serbia. There were also wars in the Balkans during the period 1912-13. Austria saw the assassination of the Archduke as the pretext to go to war with Serbia (1914 8). Alliances were formed during this period that would be still evident during World War 1.
It is also thought that the system of government at the time also contributed to war. Capitalists saw the war as an opportunity to make enormous profits, thus leading them to put pressure on governments to go to war. At this time the arms industry was flourishing, there were Krupps in Germany, Armstrong and Withworth in Britain, Nobel in Sweden and Seinder in France. The war was also seen as a way to distract people from industrial strife that was evident at the time such as working conditions. ?The intensive industrialisation which occurred in Britain and Germany in the thirty years before 1914 put the tools of war into the hands of men who were prepared to use them? (Europe Since 1870 105).
It the days after the Archdukes assassination Austria must take some of the blame for the onset of war. Austria would not act unless she was sure of the support of Germany. The reason for Germanys part in the outbreak of war was due to a telegram sent to Franz Joseph guaranteeing Austria Germany?s support in the event of a war. This has become known as the ?Blank Cheque?. Austria sent an ultimatum to Serbia, which contained unrealistic terms. However Serbia managed to meet all terms except one which would have allowed Austrian army to occupy Serbian territory. At this stage Austria could have prevented war but she chose not to. July 28th, 1914 Austria declares war on Serbia and as a result of the alliance system Europe goes to war. With Britain being the last to enter on the war on August 5th, 1914.
By 1914 the system of diplomacy in Europe had broken down. Statesmen were thinking of war as a preventative measure rather than a last resort. Lloyd George remarked that Europe ?stumbled and staggered into war? (Reasons for War 3). World War 1 was a result of aggression and tension in Europe; all of Europe played a part in the outbreak of war not just Germany. World War 1 had many complex causes rather than one main one.
Delap, S. The Reasons for War. Dublin: The Institute, 1996.
Gardner, D. The Origins of War. New York: YTM Archive, 1998.
MacDonald, L. 1914. London: Michael Joseph, 1987.
Tierney, M. Europe Since 1870. Dublin: CJ Fallon, 1993.
Terraine, J. The First World War 1914-18. London: Secker & Warburg, 1965.
Terraine, J. White Heat. London: Lee Cooper, 1992.
Wohl, R. The Generation of 1914. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980.
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