World War I was fought between influential and populated countries at multiple zones. It was the first war after industrialization and engulfed almost the whole world between 1914-1918, causing great havoc and destruction.
The leading causes for the 1st World War include;
- Rivalries and conflicts between Imperialist countries
- The industrial growth of Germany and the pan-German movement
- Rise of Italy as a regional power and its claims on certain regions under Austria-Hungary.
- The Russo-Japanese war of 1904 witnessed Japan imposing a surprising defeat on Russia.
- The rise of the USA and annexation of the Philippines
- Conflicts within Europe and emergence of new powers like Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy.
- The desire of the Balkan peninsula for independence after the fall of the Ottoman empire.
- Russian encouragement to Pan-Slav movement in Serbia.
- The desire of France to recover Alsace-Lorraine lost to Germany in 1817 and to wreak vengeance for its defeat.
- Formation of Triple Alliance (1882) by Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy.
- The establishment of Entente Cordiale between Britain and France in 1904.
Apart from the causes discussed above, there were significant incidents preceding the war and contributed to its development.
Events leading to war
In 1904, Britain and France agreed to coordinate their position over certain dividing issues. An Entente Cordiale was established and was a significant concern for Germany, which saw the move as directed towards containing its rise.
The formation of the entente represented the willingness of both Britain and France to resolve their conflict over colonial positions in North Africa. Britain agreed to restrict itself to the eastern parts (Egypt, Libya etc.) while France would limit itself to the west (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia etc.). This arrangement left little room to accommodate the colonial ambitions of Germany in North Africa.
1906 1st Moroccan Crisis
Keeping with its colonial ambitions, France aimed to capture Morocco, an independent kingdom. Germany, on the other hand, professed support for Moroccan independence. As the standoff worsened, Britain declared support for the French position over the Moroccan question.
This event confirmed Germany’s fears over the Entente Cordiale (France-Britain alliance formed in 1904). Germany was forced to back down over the Moroccan question. A compromise was arrived, which largely favoured France. It was granted policing powers, whereas Germany was given limited trading rights in Morocco. The Moroccan King was retained.
1907 witnessed further the formation of a Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia. Britain and France also entered a Friendship treaty.
1908 1st Bosnian Crisis.
In 1908 Austria completed the annexation of Bosnia. Despite having strong support for Serbia over the Bosnian question, Russia failed to intervene on Serbia’s behalf due to its own military weakness and domestic troubles. The Bosnian crisis turned out to be major humiliation for Russia.
1912 2nd Moroccan Crisis
The French influence in Morocco increased further with the 2nd Moroccan crisis, aka the Agadir crisis. The event witnessed France asserting its intention to colonize Morocco completely.
Germany once again supported the Moroccan independence and even dispatched a naval fleet. However, it was forced to back down following Britain’s support of France. France completed the colonization of Morocco, Germany was forced to withdraw, and it was a deep humiliation for Germany.
Thus the 1st and 2nd Moroccan crisis represented the unwillingness of Britain and France to accommodate the colonial ambitions of Germany. This discrimination, coupled with the formation of the Triple Entente (1907), largely contributed to the outbreak of WW1.
1912 – Balkan wars
Four Balkan countries Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece, started wars against Turks. Turkey lost all possessions in Europe. Austria also succeeded in making Albania independent.
1914 – 2nd Bosnian crisis and the Outbreak of War
On June 28 1914, the Austrian Crown Prince Archduke Frank Ferdinand was assassinated in Bosnia. The act was done by a group of Serbian extremists based in Bosnia. Austria blamed Serbia for these attacks, which denied any involvement in the assassination. Austria gave one month for Serbia to accept responsibility for the assassination. Serbia refused to comply with Austrian demands.
On July 28, 1914, Austria declared an attack on Serbia. Very soon, Germany declared an attack on France and Russia, leading to the outbreak of WW 1.
Russia supported Serbia. On August 3 1914, German troops marched into Belgium. On August 4, Britain declared war on Germany. Japan intended to capture German colonies in the far East, Turkey, Bulgaria, etc. and declared war on Germany.
Despite the Triple Alliance, Italy joined the war against Germany and Austria – Hungary.
Course of the war
Germany adopted Schlieffen Plan, a strategy to fight on two fronts. Simultaneously it opened the war on Russia and France. The German plan was to quickly defeat France on the western side and then mobilize the troops using railways to fight Russia.
Germany rapidly defeated Belgium and entered France. However, when German troops were nearing Paris, the French adopted trench warfare, a defensive strategy. It helped to halt rapid advances and spoil the German plan.
During the war, ‘naval blockades ‘ were imposed by Britain and Germany on each other. It led to food and fuel shortage and high prices in Europe, affecting the lives of civil population.
By 1918, Germany captured major territories in western Russia. German naval blockades were also badly hurting Russia. As a result, Russia surrendered the captured areas to Germany by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Ottoman empire joined hand with Germany.
Role of the USA
The USA played only a spectator role in the beginning. It provided loans, food and arms to Britain, France and Russia. However, it jumped the war efforts in 1917.
Zimmerman’s plan of Germany gave offer and assistance to Mexico to attack the USA. This German intervention became the cause for the USA’s participation. After 1917, USA supported 50,000 troops in the war on Western front.
French, USA and Italian troops fought on the western side and entered Germany. German King fled and took shelter in Norway.
WW 1 came to an end in 1918 when the German Govt. signed an armistice. Paris Peace Conference was called to discuss the fate of post-war Europe. The defeated powers – Germany, Austro-Hungary and Ottoman empire signed the Treaty of Versailles, Treaty of St. Germane and Treaty of Sevres. The big four victorious powers were Britain, France, the USA and Italy.
Britain – Its objective was to limit Germany’s strength militarily so that it does not pose a challenge to British superiority over Europe.
France – it wanted revenge for the 1871 treaty, economic compensation for WW1, and to militarily limit Germany’s capabilities to launch an offensive against France in future.
USA – Woodrow Wilson was president at the time. With his 14-point program, he argued for the need to establish institutions and implement principles that could prevent the outbreak of another World War.
Italy – It aimed for significant territorial gains in return for its troop contribution to WW 1.
Consequences of World War 1
France took back control of the Alsace Lorraine (al-zas luh-rein). Germany was prohibited from maintaining troops in the Rhineland region. Treaty of Versailles created an independent Poland, and a Polish corridor was carved out to grant dedicated access to the sea to Poland. It ended up dividing Germany into West Germany and East Prussia, disrupting territorial integrity.
Belgium became independent. Togo and Cameroon were divided and shared between Britain and France. In southwest Africa, German colonies were given to Britain, Belgium, South Africa, and Portugal. The colonies in the Pacific were handed to Japan. The ruling dynasties Rahmonov (Russia), Hohenzollern (Germany), Habsburg (Austria-Hungary) were destroyed after the end of war.
By the Treaty of Saint Germain, the Austro-Hungarian empire was divided into two – Austria and Hungary. Any further unification of Germany with Austria was checked.
Complete disarmament of the Ottoman empire was done. Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) were given to Britain. Syria and other Turkish states were taken by France. Turkey was made into a small state and later turned into a republic under Mustapha Kemal Pasha.
A League of Nations was created to bind its members not to resort to war. To improve social and labour conditions International Labour Organization (ILO) was set up.
Treaty held Germany solely responsible for the outbreak of war. Huge war indemnity (approximately 6600 million pounds – $400bn in present value) was imposed on Germany. Despite the unjust terms of the treaty, Germany had to sign it under the threat of invasion.
With the war, the European economy was shattered and gave rise to huge unemployment, price rise and shortages.
Public opinion shifted against warmongering and emphasized the futility of war as a destructive enterprise. As the young male population was engaged in the battlefield, restrictions on labour force participation of women were lifted.
Moreover, women demanded political (voting) rights and initiated the Suffragette movements. In 1918 women were granted voting rights in Britain and eventually in other countries.
However, in spite of all the deadly consequences, imperialistic powers continued to expand their territories. The Soviet Union emerged as an apprehensive danger after the war. This war didn’t stand as a war to end all wars and ultimately lead to another world war in a time of just 20 years.