For HIST 405 United Stated History, Professor Kevin Muir.
Many factors came together to cause World War I. No one factor alone can be blamed for the outbreak. Four main factors, nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and developed alliances, came together to create a perfect storm to be sparked by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
Imperialism is when a country takes over foreign lands and places them under there control. In the years leading up to World War I the British and French controlled large areas of Africa. As industrialism rose countries needed new markets. Germany who began imperialism later then France and England had only acquired a small portion of the lands of the others increasing their rivalry with England and France.
Nationalism being the pride in one’s own country also contributed. The Congress of Vienna held after Napoleons defeat left Italy and Germany as divided states. Italy unified in 1861 and Germany in 1871 leaving strong nationalist feelings. At the end of the Franco Prussian war the settlement left France angry at the loss of lands to Germany. Prior to World War I large areas of Austria-Hungary and Serbia were home to different groups that wanted their own nations
When military forces are given a high profile within a countries power structure it is referred to as militarism. With militaries striving for more power and the growing divide in Europe creating an arms race a powder keg was developing. Between 187 and 1914 the armies of both France and Germany more than doubled and there was fierce competition between the two nations for dominance of the seas. With the introduction of the British battleship “Dreadnought” in 1906 the competition kicked into high gear.
Lastly an extensive series of alliances worked like falling dominoes drawing country after country into the conflict after the assassination of the archduke. Im 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary made an alliance to protect themselves from Russia, Austria-Hungary then allied with Serbia in 1881 to stop Russia from gaining control of Serbia. In 1882 Germany and Austria-Hungary made an alliance with Italy to stop Italy from taking sides with Russia. In 1894 Russia and Italy formed an alliance to protect themselves from Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1904 the Etnente Cordiale was formed as an agreement but not a formal alliance between France and Britain. In 1907 and agreement was formed between Britain and Russia followed by in 197 by an agreement by France, Britain, and Russia to counter the increasing threat of Germany, All these alliances meant that some countries had no choice but to declare war when one of there allies was attacked.
Even though America under Woodrow Wilson originally stuck to a policy of isolationism a number of events came together to bring America into the war. At first when a German U-Boat suck the British ship the Lusitania with 128 Americans on Board Woodrow Wilson convinced Germany to stop attacks on passenger ships in lieu of responding with force. He repeatedly warned that the US would not stand for submarine warfare on civilian ships. This along with suspected German sabotage of black Tom in New Jersey and the Kingsland explosion in Lyndhurst, New Jersey along with pressure from former President Teddy Roosevelt inched the US closer to war. In January 1917 Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain then intercepted a proposal from Germany to Mexico asking them to attack America if America joined the war. This prompted President Wilson to break official relations with Germany. After Germany then sunk 7 US merchant ships Wilson then had no choice but to join the war.
The largest contribution of America was moral support as in reality America did very little in terms of actual warfare. There first offensive happened in September 1918 at St. Michel and in the last 3 months of the war the US contingent