What were the causes and effects of World War I? The answer to this seemingly simple question is not elementary. There was more to the onset of the war then the event of an Austrian prince being murdered in Serbia, as is what most people consider to be the cause of World War I. Furthermore, the effects of the war were not just concentrated to a post-war era lasting for a generation of Westerners. No, the effects of the war were widespread throughout the world and can be traced to generations after the war.
It is not a rare occasion that when a person is asked what the causes of World War I were, that they answer with the simple comment of an Austrian Prince being shot in Serbia. However the assignation of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie , in Sarajevo was not the main cause of the Great War. Rather, it was the breaking point for Austria in its dealings with Serbia. The truth of the matter is that several factors played a role in the outbreak of the catastrophic war the engulfed the nations of Europe for over four years. World War I truly was the result of building aggressions among the countries of Europe which was backed by the rise of nationalism. To add to the disastrous pot, there was also imperial competition along with the fear of war prompting military alliances and an arms race. All of these increased the escalating tensions that lead to the outbreak of a world war. (Mckay, pg. 904)
Two opposing alliances developed by the Bismarckian diplomacy after the Franco- Prussian War was one of the major causes of the war. In order to diplomatically isolate France, Bismarck formed the Three Emperor's League in 1872, which was an alliance between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Then in 1882 , Bismarck took advantage of Italian resentment toward France and formed the Triple Alliance between Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungry. In 1890 Bismarck was dismissed from his office and France took the opportunity to gain an ally, therefore , in 1891 the Franco- Russian Entente was formed. Then in 1904 Britain and France put aside their conflicts and formed the Entente Cordiale. As a result , the Triple Entente , a coalition between Great Britain, France , and Russia, countered the Triple Alliance. Now Europe was divided up into two armed camps.(World Book Encyclopedia, WXYZ, pg. 367)
Nationalism also played a major role in developing tensions in Europe; for it had been causing dissatisfaction since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In that settlement the preservment of peace was chosen over nationalism, therefore, Germany and Italy were left as divided states, though they did unify in the future. The Franco- Prussian War in 1871 resulted in the France's loss of the province of Alasce- Lorraine to Germany, and the French looked forward to regaining their lands. Then there was Austria- Hungary which controlled many lands that their neighbors felt belonged to them. Serbia wanted Bosnia and Hercegovina, Italy wanted the Trentino and Trieste regions, and the Czechs and Solvaks wanted independence from Austria- Hungrey. There was also Russia which had problems within it's own boundaries; for Russia contained many different nationalities and many were also seeking independence in the name of nationalism. ( World Book Encyclopedia, WXYZ, pg. 366)
Another major conflict that caused the outbreak of the Great War was what is known as the arms race. With the hostile divisions of the nations of Europe there came the expansion of armies and navies. Furthermore, the great powers came to copy Germany's military organization and efficiency, which called for universal registration for military duty, large reserves and detailed planning. Efforts were made for universal disarmament, but the " international rivalry caused the arms race to continue to feed on itself. " (Karpilovsky, World Wide Web)
Imperial competition also played a major rule in the act of increasing the ever growing tensions among the divided countries of Europe. In Africa there were two crises in Morocco. The first time, in 1905, Germany full heartedly supported Morocco's call for independence from France, and with the British defending the French war was only avoided because of an international conference which made Morocco a French protectorate. The second crisis occurred in 1911, and it was in protest to French supremacy in Morocco. The Germans finally gave the French a free hand in Morocco, but with a price. They demanded in exchange a portion if of the French Congo. Around this same era there was also a Bosnian crisis, which began with Austria- Hungary's takeover of the province of Bosnia in 1908. For this Serbia threatened war on Austria- Hungary with the pledged backing of Russia. As they began to mobilize, Austria- Hungary , with the alliance of Germany, threaten war on Russia. When Russia backed down, the soon to be war was postponed, but left was a greatly strained relationship between Serbia and Austria Hungary. (Karpilovsky, World Wide Web)
On June 28, 1914 the battle lines were drawn with the assassinations in Sarajevo. It was believed that the crime was committed by a Serbian nationalist, and immediately following it Germany , with its full support pledged, pressed Austria- Hungary into declaring war on Serbia. At this same time, France was strengthening its backing of Russia. War might have been avoided if Serbia had excepted Austria- Hungary's harsh ultimatum, however they faithfully refused. Almost at once the war fell into place. Austria declared war on July 28, 1914. The next day Russia mobilized against Austria- Hungary, on August 1st Germany declared war on Russia, and two days later on France. When Germany disregarded Belgium's neutrality, Britain declared war on Germany. Finally war had begun, and unlike the predictions that had been made the resulting war was long, indecisive, and reeked havoc on the nations of Europe. (Karpilovsky, World Wide Web)
The Great War officially ended in January of 1919 with a peace conference in Paris which represented twenty- seven triumphant nations. However almost immediately the great powers, United States, Great Britain, and France, were at odds with each other. President Wilson, the representative of the United States, was insist on first and foremost dealing with the creation of the League of Nations; while France and Britain on punishing Germany. In the long run France gave up on having a buffer zone between itself and Germany for a defensive alliance with the United States and Britain, and Wilson got the formation of the League of Nations. These developments were not the key items at the conference, rather it was the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty was made between the Allies and Germany, and it began to re-establish order. In the treaty, all of Germany's colonies were divided among the nations, thought it sustained minor losses of territory within Europe. Its standing army was reduced to 100,00 men, and they could not have forts in the Rhineland. The clause that angered most people was the one that made Germany claim responsibility for the war, and imposed reparations .Thought Germany's new republican government found the treaty to be harsh, they signed it and their discontent set the stage for the Second World War. (McKay, pg. 926-927)
Germany was not the only country to suffer because of the war; the world had been wiped clean of millions of people, and there was also extensive damage throughout Europe. However, these were not the only sufferings for the generation of the post- war era. The era followed with a great many economic difficulties throughout the world. The many industries that had been based on the war effort were no longer needed, thereby unemployment was on the rise, and the government had secured many debts to succeed in the war. With these aspects , and poor economic policies in many nations present it seemed that an economic crisis would occur sooner or later; which it did. In 1929 the American stock market came to a crashing halt, leaving many investors wiped out and the wealthy and confident without money. In the aftermath, banks began to fall because many loans feel through. With the financial crisis also came a decrease of production, and naturally this lead to widespread unemployment. This in turn lead to the fall of peoples spirits, and "homes and ways of life were disrupted in millions of personal tragedies." (Mckay, pg. 957-958)
The era of the Great Depression was also the era of the rise of political dictatorship throughout Europe. These dictatorships involved a new form of tyranny and were most evident in Stalin Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.( Mckay, pg.967) With hardships rising, people became more willing to put up with leaders like Stalin and Hitler. It is believed by many that Hitler would never have came to power if it had not been for the German peoples' feelings of nationalism, and their discontent with the economy and the restrictions from the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler played on the people's emotions, and he officially won the game when he legally took over as the dictator of Germany.
The rise of Hitler is a very important effect of World War I because it lead to the Second World War. The leaders first tried to please Hitler by giving him what he asked in order to avoid war, however Hitler did not stop he kept on pushing for more. When Germany invaded Poland, war became inevitable. Britain and France declared war on Germany. The United States joined in on the war effort against Germany, Italy , and Japan after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. World War II was the last major effect of the First World War. (Mckay, pg.986-989)
"The war solved no problem. Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading. Confused in its causes, devious in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example of European history of meaningless conflict." These words of C.V Wedgewood are the perfect description of the Great War. World War I had many complex causes, rather than one simple which is what is believed by many people. Furthermore, the effects were widespread throughout generations all over the world.