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A History Of World War One


World War one was a very complex war that involved the whole of Europe and eventually spread to the rest of the world. This war led to the loss of millions of lives. It is considered the bloodiest war in human history and dubbed the Great War. Many historians have searched and discussed the causes of this war. This debate rages to date. This paper will look at the short and long-term causes of the war. Trace the cause of the war from early European history. What forces led to the war? Which country was to blame for the war?

Long term causes of the war

The existence of alliances in Europe is one of the reasons why the war took place. Countries made alliances and made agreements that in case one of the member countries was attacked the other members had to fight alongside the attacked country. Many alliances existed even before the war began. Some of those alliances were Britain and Japan, Russia and France, Germany and Austria Hungary, Serbia and Russia. For example, when Austria-Hungary went to war with Serbia Russia became involved to defend its ally Serbia. Germany declared war against Russia and France Austria Hungary was pulled into the war. The members had to fight alongside their allies for failure to do so would have resulted in retaliatory attacks (McKay, Hill, and Bennet).

Imperialism led to the war. Countries in Europe were competing to increase their wealth and power. They could increase wealth by controlling other countries which were rich with natural resources. Asian and African countries had these resources and the European countries fought to control them. For instance, Germany was not happy about the French dominance over Morocco, and this caused tensions between the two nations. The resulting tensions are said to have had a direct link to the war (McKay et al.)

Arms race led the countries to war. In the early twentieth century, Germany increased its military strength. Other countries like France, Britain, and Russia also increased their military strength. The military might of the countries had a major influence on policies. Therefore due to the increased militarism, the countries got pushed into the war (McKay et al.).

Nationalism contributed greatly to the onset of the war. Slaves in some of the countries for example Bosnia did not want to be under Austria-Hungary and preferred to be under Serbia. The slaves killed the duke of the Austrian Empire and this led to war. Other countries also got involved in the war to protect their territories as well as prove they were the dominant forces to be reckoned with. Thus the scale of war increased (McKay et al.).

Short term causes of world war one

The Serb slaves in Austria wanted to have their own country and this led them to demand land. Their request was not granted and they began to organize young men to fight by engaging in terrorist activities. They were trained to kill the political elite (McKay et al.).

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand the Archduke of Austria Hungary led directly to the war. He was assassinated in June 1914 by a Serbian together with his wife in Sarajevo. Sarajevo was in Bosnia which formed a part of Austria Hungary. He was killed in protest of Austria-Hungary controlling Bosnia. Therefore Austria Hungary went to war with Serbia. Its ally Russia joined the war and Germany spelled war on Russia. Consequently, the war expanded with the involvement of all countries in different alliances in defense of their allies (McKay et al.).

Historical traces of the war

The causes of world war I can be traced back to as far as the middle ages. During this time the Arabs dominated the Middle East and had gone up to Austria’s border. They also controlled North Africa. During Turkish Empire, they controlled Africa, major parts of Asia, and southern and eastern Europe with countries like Spain and Hungary respectively. By the end of the century, the empire was collapsing from attacks by the western nations. In addition, the empire had failed to modernize and family feuds were rampant among its rulers. Therefore there was the question as to what would happen in the east after the collapse of the Turkish Empire (McKay et al.).

Forces that operating in Europe led to war

England was interested and it began to help make the empire modern to avoid major problems in the collapse. On the other hand, freedom would bring along major problems because Britain wanted to have control of Turkey’s trade ports. Meanwhile, unification between Italy and Germany took place and they also wanted a stake in Turkey for trade. This led to a realignment of alliances by countries in the world (McKay et al.). Smaller countries were afraid of losing their identities and therefore made treaties with more powerful countries to ensure their survival. This led to the formation of blocs. Smaller countries made pacts the most influential countries at that time, for instance, Britain, Italy, France, and Germany.

In 1870 the Prussian Prime Minister Bismarck who later became the chancellor of Germany wanted to create the German empire. This desire led him to declare war against Austria and France. He defeated both countries and at this time the german population was increasing at a high tare compared to the French which was dwindling.

France tried to get Russia on its side but Bismarck beat them at it as he had already made a pact with Russia. They need to have a powerful ally because Germany was a threat to them. Therefore France had no option but to seek an alliance with Britain. Their efforts to woo Russia materialized in 1904 with the signing of a treaty. Later the Russian were beaten by the Japanese in war (McKay et al.).

The countries continued to form alliances and nationalism was on the rise. In the European countries and especially in Germany as well as Italy nationalism was about color and tradition. On the other hand, the in United States of America nationalism meant people of mixed races under the constitution. In the meantime, Europe had to deal with the issue of race versus race. The various ethnicities were dealing with the question of where to call home. This realignment led to South-Eastern Europe being labeled “the powder keg of Europe” because it was said to be “about to explode.” (McKay et al.).

Grabbing of land began for the different ethnicities. The battle over borders began and this made other countries in the world notice Europe. The other countries knew a war was on the way and they began preparing and eventually, the whole world was involved in the war (McKay et al.).

Antipathies existed between some European countries. These apathies caused them to join the war. The countries did not like each other and tried to outdo each other. For instance, Germany did not like most of the countries in Europe and especially Britain which was very dominant at that time leading to competition in arms.

Responsibility for the war

All the warring partners led to the outbreak of the war. We cannot pinpoint one country and say it was the root of the war. This is because each partner played a role in sparking the conflict that eventually culminated in the greatest war so far. Britain for example could be blamed for starting the war because it wanted to have the most powerful army and navy. This led to an arms race between her and Germany. Therefore destructive weapons were created and tensions rose. On the other hand, Britain only cared about winning. She had a policy about not getting involved in other countries’ wars. However, we see her joining hands with an old enemy Russia in the time of war.

Russia could also be given the blame. It was very hostile to Germany and this may have led to Germany’s antipathy. In addition, it was obsessed with having control over other countries it also mobilized for war and this encouraged the other countries to venture into war. When Serbia began the war with Austria Hungary Russia lent its support to Serbia and other countries joined in. In fact, this war is said to have been the immediate cause of the world war (McKay et al.).

France has its share of responsibility too. It was involved in the two Moroccan crises that also led to the war as Germany and France fought for dominance over Morocco. By being part of an alliance it entered the war first by fighting alongside Serbia when Germany declared war on Serbia.

McKay, Hill, and Buckler say that the guilt of the war was very hard to place on one particular country even though article 231 placed the blame squarely on Germany’s shoulders however scholars did studies about the war and they did not succeed (p. 912-914). From these examples, no one country can be said to have had the sole responsibility for the world war.


The war came to an end in 1918 with the signing of the Versailles treaty. Its effects were numerous and affected those who got involved out of their own free will and those who were coerced into it. The people were depressed from losing many of their family members in the war and they were disillusioned about the future. The countries experienced changes in their political and economical fronts. The war was very costly and some countries still bear the grudge of that day. War should be avoided as a famous saying puts it; the best way to win a war is not to start one.


McKay, P. John, Hill, D. Bennet and Bucker, John. A History of Western Society Volume II Ninth edition. From Absolutism to the Present

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