World War I

Causes of the War

  • Europe at Its Peak: In 1914 Western European nation-states were the most technologically advanced, wealthiest societies on earth. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, Western European nation-states built enormous industrial sectors, which dominated the world economy. Between 1831 and 1915, crude steel in germany increased by 10 times, coal production in Britain by 12 times, and railway length in France by 20 times. All aspects of daily life were affected by modernization. Transportation, medicine, food production, education, housing and heating, to name a few, were all areas in which European societies experienced rapid growth and sophisticated improvement. Standards of living rose, which increased life expectancy and decreased infant mortality; by 1914 Europeans comprised 25% of the world's population, the highest percentage of Europeans of any time in history. Modernization created a feeling of superiority in Europe, and many Europeans considered their industrialized way of life to be the peak of world civilization.

  • Imperial Tensions: To maintain strong economies, European nations competed for colonies. European nations carved out overseas empires, which served as sourrces of inexpensive raw materials, pools of cheap labor, and outlets for finished products. In this way, European nations were able to amass vast fortunes at th eexpense of American, African, and Asian cultures and environments. In the late 1800s, a race for overseas conlonies and economic domminance developed, which in several cases nearly led to war between European countries. In 1898 Britain and France argued over control of the Upper Nile in a dispute called the Fashoda Incident. Eventually, the French backed down and Britain claimed a part of Africa known as the Sudan. A more serious event took place in 1905, when Germany declared the right to trade freely with Morocco, which was nominally a French colony. Before France and Germany came to war, an international conference was held in Spain, and France increased its control over Morocco.

  • Militarism: European nations adopted a militaristic stance in the late 1800s in order to acquire and protect colonies, as well as dissuade aggression by rivals. Militarism, the glorification of armed strnegth and the ideals of war, was a fashionable political theory at the turn of rht twentieth century in Europe. Militarism led to the rise of large, sophiciasted armies and nav ies as various European countries attempted to maintain militaristic parity with their rivals. Britain's enormous colonial empire - in 1914 it was 140 times the size of Britain - was maintained and protected by a huge navy. Britain felt that its navy had to be as big as the next two biggest navies on the continent - a strategy known as the "two-power rule." When Germany decided to increase the size of its navy considerably in the 1890s, Britain considered it a threat and began an arms race intended to insure its naval superiority. In 1906 Britain introduced the first dreadnought, a battleship fitted with enormous cannons and protected by thick armor. Germany began immediate production of its own dreadnoughts. By 1914, Russia was able to mobilize over six million troops. The German military chose to counter this perceived threat by doubling the size of its army between 1892 and 1913.

  • Nationalism: European populations wholeheartedly supported their nations' militarism largely because of the popularity of nationalism. Nationalism in this context is the devotion to the interests of one's nation. Great feelings of national pride characterized Germany and Italy in the late 19th century because both countries had only recently become united, independent countries: Italy in 1870, Germany in 1871. The competition of colonialism also inspired nationalistic feelings in the hearts of patriotic citizens. Many Europeans kept maps of the world in their houses that showed their nation's colonies tinted with the national colors. Nationalism also took on a very martial quality because of its connections with militarism and imperialism. In germany, the Prussian cavalry officer was considered the finest example of German culture, a dashing hero for many young people. Popular songs, poems, and plays had nationalistic themes and often cast rival Europeans as antagonists.