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Causes of the First World War Essay Sample

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Causes of the First World War Essay Sample

The First World War is generally accepted to be the first conflict to bring warfare to a global scale. The four years of worldwide hostilities were brought on by a synergism of both domestic and international issues. Although both factors played a significant role in the outbreak of war, the international issues contributed more to the eruption of conflict than did the domestic. The international landscape leading up to World War I was marked by imperialism, high economic competition, and the colonization of lands in Africa and South America. This competition for foreign lands, and the resources and strategic positioning accompanying them, created a tense international atmosphere. Rather than competing over regional borders, European nations intensely jockeyed for power around the globe. European borders, while not set in stone, were less disputed at this time than they had been in the past. However, the imperialistic attitudes of these nations seemed to rekindle old tensions as leaders vied to expand their economic and military power around the world. Central to the international causes for war was the series of European alliances that vaulted nations into war in the event that an ally was attacked. The Dual Alliance was formed in 1879 between Germany and Austria, with Italy joining in 1882.

France allied with Russia in 1894, effectively trapping Germany between two imposing powers twenty years before the outbreak of war. The Entente was formed in 1904 when Britain allied with France, and it soon became the Triple Entente when Russia joined in 1907. Additionally, Russia allied with the Slavs, whose effective eastward push against the Ottoman Turks created a power vacuum in the region and allowed for the rise of Serbian nationalism. The subsequent assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Bosnian-Serb Gavrilo Princip was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The series of alliances ensured that instead of a conflict between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia there would war on a global scale. Adding to the problems inherent in the system of European alliances were unresolved tensions between regional players.

The Franco-Prussian war from 1870-1871 left lasting tensions between France and Germany. Germany remained distrustful of France through the turn of the century and as a result a sense of militarism and nationalism emerged in the nations politics and culture. This helped fuel an arm’s race between Great Britain that further intensified international affairs. France’s own suspicions of Germany led to their construction of the Maginot Line in an attempt to protect themselves from a German invasion. A combination of domestic and international factors led to the outbreak of the First World War. However, domestic issues such as fervent nationalism owe themselves to what was occurring in the international setting. Nationalism was the effect, rather than the cause, of the increased international tensions in Europe. And while militaristic governments like Germany’s share some of the responsibility for the outbreak of war, it was the series of alliances that led the war to be conducted on a global scale. In the buildup to war, it is evident that domestic issues, while important, were not nearly as significant as the international factors.

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