World War One: Why Did it Happen?

by , Sunday July 9, 2017

World War One: arguably the darkest period in modern history, World War One has shaped the world we live in today. Battles raging in France killed over eleven million military personnel, while over seven million citizens died as a direct result of the war. We all know what happened, of course. But why?

There are many different factors which contributed to the beginning of the First World War. Possibly the most 'famous' of these is the tale that it started over a sandwich. This is - kind of - correct. 


Of course, the deadliest conflict in history wasn't fought over a sandwich. Indeed, the events that 'started' WW1 barely came into play or into soldiers' thoughts on the front lines in France. It is, however, the case that WW1 happened because of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (not to be confused with the band of same name) and a man named Gavrilo Princip. 
The assassination of the archduke, heir to Austro-Hungarian Empire had been planned for months by the so-called 'Black Hand Gang' based in Serbia. They decided that the best time to assassinate the archduke was on June 28th 1914, while he and his wife were visiting the city of Sarajevo. Initially, the plan was for members of the black hand gang to try and shoot the archduke while he drove past in a motorcade, in an open top car which would be an easy target. However, they missed. 
But the Black Hand Gang still had a plan B. Select members of the assassination team had bombs, which they tried to detonate under the Archduke's car or in his path. However, this also did not work and the Archduke and his wife were safe. However, many civilians were injured.
Disheartened, the Black Hand Gang dispersed. Gavrilo Princip went to a sandwich shop. Little did he know that at that very moment, the Archduke decided that rather than hiding in the town hall, he would make his way to the hospital to visit victims of the bombing. However, the driver took a wrong turn, leading down an alley towards the very sandwich shop where Gavrilo Princip was standing outside.
Recognising the car, Princip realised he still had his gun on him, and shot the Archduke.
But why was this so important?
It was believed by the Austro-Hungarians that the Serbian government had assisted in the assassination plot, and so Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. 
This may not have been so consequential and disastrous, had it not been for many other factors: militarism, imperialism, nationalism, and finally, the alliance system.
During the 19th century, Europe was becoming increasingly industrialised and empires were spreading across the world, with Britain having the most colonies, followed by France, and Germany. 
Because of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Britain's naval power grew massively, vastly overshadowing Germany's, its most dangerous military rival. German citizens livin in an increasingly militarised state, wanted desperately to be the best country, prove that they were a better country than Britain. This was a view held especially by the government and the German Kaiser, who shared a grandmother with the king of Britain and the ruler of Russia. This grandmother was perhaps one of Britain's most famous monarchs: Queen Victoria. 
Of course, this sense of nationalism was prevalent in both Britain and Russia, too, and was perhaps the reason why so many British men joined up for the army in August and September of 1914. With countries in a silent war with one another for land, military power, and influence, war was never far from the minds of those in power.
But perhaps the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia wouldn't have grown so large had it not been for the Alliance Systems
This is where it gets complicated.
The main alliances were the Central Powers - Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary; and the Allies - Britain, France, and Russia. It may also be worthy o not that this is different from the alliances of WW2, and also that Italy did change over to the Allied forces during the First World War. However, Russia was also allied with Serbia. 
When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28th 1914, a month after the Archduke's assassination, Russia sprang to Serbia's aid, declaring war on Austria-Hungary and Germany on August 1st 1914. 
Because of Germany's alliance with Austria-Hungary, it declared war, too. Not on Serbia, or explicitly on Russia either. Germany invaded France. As France was allied with Russia and Britain, this effectively declared war on both of these countries. Germany also invaded via Belgium, who Britain also had an alliance with in order to maintain access to sea ports and trade routes.
Britain initially tried to solve the conflict with diplomacy, offering Germany an ultimatum asking Germany to withdraw troops from Belgium, which she rejected.
So to sum that up:
Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated, June 28th.
Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, July 28th.
Russia is allied with Serbia, declares war on Austria-Hungary and Germany, 1st August.
Germany invaded France via Belgium, 1st August.
Britain offers Germany ultimatum which is rejected, 3rd August.
Britain declared war on Germany, 4th August. 

And so, Europe was at war with each other, killing seventeen million people and wounding many others, not because of a sandwich, but because of five main reasons: Alliance Systems, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
 So now I ask the question: do you think war was inevitable, even if this assassination didn't happen? Or do you think it could have been avoided if that one event hadn't happened? 
Leave your thoughts below. 

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