Four Main Causes Of World War 1 Essay Question

Causes of World War I Essay


There were many causes to World War I (1914 - 1918). The issue of which country was to blame of causing this great war is very controversial. No one country was to blame. The four main causes of World War I was militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism.

Militarism is the glorification of the military. This was a romantic view of the war. Germany and Great Britain were in great competition. Both countries were increasing their naval spending. This arms race, or the build up of armies and navies, caused fear and suspicion. Germany had challenged Britain as the number one naval power. This led to a hostile relationship.

Alliances were agreements among nations to aid each other if attacked. By 1907, Europe was divided. Great Britain, France, and Russia all formed the Allies while Germany, Austria- Hungary, and Italy formed the Central Powers. As seen in Document 4, the position of Germany might have led to an early declaration of was because it was surrounded by the allied powers.


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Imperialism, competition for trade and colonies, resulted in tense relationships between European nations. Britain and France formed alliances against Germany as a result of competition for colonies. Germany wanted to expand and take over Europe, as seen in Document 1.

Nationalism was pride and devotion to one’s country. This led people to support their government even if it meant war. France, whose pride had been hurt after the Franco-Prussian war, wanted revenge against Germany and regain Alsace and Lorraine. This seen in Document 3. Ethnic minorities, such as the Slavic people, wanted unity and independence. Russia felt obligated to defend all Slavs because they all shared a common nationality. By 1914, ethnic tensions in the Balkans were increasing, making it the “powder keg” of Europe.

The immediate cause of World War I was the assassination of Archduke Frances Ferdinand of Austria Hungary in 1914. He was assassinated by Gavilo Princep, a member of the Black Hand (a Serbian nationalist group). This event is depicted in Document 7. Austria-Hungary wanted to punished Serbia. They issued an ultimatum, or a final set of demands. An excerpt of these Austrian demands can be seen in Document 8.

World War I had many causes to it. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism were the four main causes. Most of the European countries were all in somewhere responsible for the outbreak of war. There was no one country to blame.

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The following article on causes of WW1 is an excerpt from H.W Crocker III’s The Yanks Are Coming! A Military History of the United States in World War I. It is available for order now from Amazonand Barnes & Noble.

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The first world war began in August 1914. It was directly triggered by the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, on 28th June 1914 by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip.

This event was, however, simply the trigger that set off declarations of war. The actual causes of the war are more complicated and are still debated by historians today.

Causes of WW1: Alliances

An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. When an alliance is signed, those countries become known as Allies.

A number of alliances had been signed by countries between the years 1879 and 1914. These were important because they meant that some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies. declared war first. (the table below reads clockwise from the top left picture)

Causes of WW1: Imperialism

Imperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule. By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. With the rise of industrialism countries needed new markets. The amount of lands ‘owned’ by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany who had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa. Note the contrast in the map below.

Causes of WW1: Militarism

Militarism means that the army and military forces are given a high profile by the government. The growing European divide had led to an arms race between the main countries. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914 and there was fierce competition between Britain and Germany for mastery of the seas. The British had introduced the ‘Dreadnought’, an effective battleship, in 1906. The Germans soon followed suit introducing their own battleships. The German, Von Schlieffen also drew up a plan of action that involved attacking France through Belgium if Russia made an attack on Germany. The map below shows how the plan was to work.

Causes of WW1: Nationalism

Nationalism means being a strong supporter of the rights and interests of one’s country. The Congress of Vienna, held after Napoleon’s exile to Elba, aimed to sort out problems in Europe. Delegates from Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia (the winning allies) decided upon a new Europe that left both Germany and Italy as divided states. Strong nationalist elements led to the re-unification of Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871. The settlement at the end of the Franco-Prussian war left France angry at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and keen to regain their lost territory. Large areas of both Austria-Hungary and Serbia were home to differing nationalist groups, all of whom wanted freedom from the states in which they lived.

Causes of WW1: Crises

Moroccan Crisis

In 1904 Morocco had been given to France by Britain, but the Moroccans wanted their independence. In 1905, Germany announced her support for Moroccan independence. War was narrowly avoided by a conference which allowed France to retain possession of Morocco. However, in 1911, the Germans were again protesting against French possession of Morocco. Britain supported France and Germany was persuaded to back down for part of French Congo.

Bosnian Crisis

In 1908, Austria-Hungary took over the former Turkish province of Bosnia. This angered Serbians who felt the province should be theirs. Serbia threatened Austria-Hungary with war, Russia, allied to Serbia, mobilized its forces. Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary mobilised its forces and prepared to threaten Russia. War was avoided when Russia backed down. There was, however, war in the Balkans between 1911 and 1912 when the Balkan states drove Turkey out of the area. The states then fought each other over which area should belong to which state. Austria-Hungary then intervened and forced Serbia to give up some of its acquisitions. Tension between Serbia and Austria-Hungary was high.


This article on causes of WW1 is from the book The Yanks Are Coming! A Military HIstory of the United States in World War I © 2014 by H.W Crocker III. Please use this data for any reference citations. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazonor Barnes & Noble.

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