This past June while we were busy talking about The Normandy Invasion of 1944, there was another anniversary of a very historic event. On June 28, 1914, – just over a hundred years ago – the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. (“Okay, I’m sorry, but so what?”) His assassination triggered the start of World War I.
I believe that in many ways World War I is one of the “forgotten” wars of modern times. This month (August 2014) we’re going to examine the causes of World War I, how the war actually started and became global, where the USA stood for most of the war, and what new weaponry was tested during the conflict.
For this week, let’s talk about the political situation before World War I and who was friends with whom.
1. A World With Minimal Conflicts “At Home” After Napoleon was banished from Europe in 1815, the European powers set out to balance the power between nations and hopefully avoid large scale wars involving the whole continent. They were somewhat successful. Aside from liberal revolutions within the countries, the Crimean War, and the Franco-Prussian War, European nations managed to “play nice” in the international sandbox.
2. Imperialism While the European continent itself remained relatively peaceful, those same countries wrangled and fought over territorial conquests in other parts of the globe. Imperialism was the fad. (Imperialism – according the dictionary – is “the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.”) Particularly in Africa and parts of Asia, the European powers squabbled or fought colonial conflicts over land and resource control.
3. Ideology We won’t go into a lot of detail here, but there were a lot of philosophies that were becoming popular in the era before the Great War. Nationalism was a key factor, prompting countries to desire territories that had originally been theirs, but were now possessed by other nations. Other philosophies – Darwinism, Modernism, Materialism, Socialism, Communism – were tearing at the foundations of society and producing moral confusion.
4. Alliances They seem like such a good thing. If you’re a nation and you get attacked, you’ll have lots of “friends and allies” to fight with you and help keep you safe. Good idea, but… When France lost the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), she obviously wasn’t happy. Prussia (Germany) was an old enemy and it wasn’t pleasant to lose to this new up-and-coming world power. European nations had been forming and breaking alliances for several decades, but just prior to World War I there were two very important agreements:
#1. Triple Alliance – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy (Italy decided to be neutral during the actual war, but the Ottoman Empire joined the other two)
#2. Triple Entente – Great Britain, France, Russia
Each of the nations within the Alliance or Entente was pledged to support each other in case of war. Smaller nations tried to align with the bloc they thought would be successful or least dangerous. These would be a key factor in the globalization of World War I.
5. Mistrust Alliances can be good, but in this era, the alliances were created because the nations feared each other. Lack of communication, national pride, and unwillingness to communicate, fueled a sense of mistrust which spiraled deeper as time ticked closer to 1914.
Although superficially desiring peace, the European powers squabbled in imperialistic pursuits, adopted destructive ideologies, formed far-reaching alliances, and looked at each other with mistrust. It was a powder-keg waiting for a spark…and one nation made plans for swift invasion once the fuse was lit.
(Join us next week for a discussion of this nation and it’s bold military strategy!)
P.S. Do you see any similarities between the pre-1914 Europe and our world today? What is positive? What is negative?