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The First World War’s Long- and Short-Term Causes Essay

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Updated: Jul 2nd, 2022

The First World War remains one of the most devastating historical events ever experienced. Numerous conflicts witnessed in Europe towards the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th formed the basis for resentment, hate, and the arms race that led to the Great War. Still, the war had no single cause but emerged due to a combination of numerous long- and short-term factors. Notably, the formation of alliances and imperialism were the long-term causes, while the death of Archduke Ferdinand and Serbia’s failure to honor the ten-point ultimatum were the immediate causes of WW1.

Undoubtedly, the build-up towards the First World War started early in the mid-19th century due to imperialism. The industrialized European powers were competing for colonies across the world, especially in Asia and Africa (World War I, n.d.). Apart from viewing imperialism as an economic venture, most Europeans perceived that their military, culture, and race were superior and should influence the entire world. As more European powers realized the financial advantage and prestige that came with colonies, the idea became more competitive to the extent of nations clashing and almost starting war.

Britain and France acquired the most significant share, which angered other European countries (World War I, n.d.). As a result, rivalries emerged, but Britain and France perceived their vast colonies as confirmation of being influential states in Europe.

Imperialism created hostility and paved the way for the formation of alliances. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, the German states united while defeated France remained disgruntled after losing part of its territory, Loraine and Alsace (World War I, n.d.).

To cushion herself from future war with Germany and Austria-Hungary, France allied with Russia. Britain also sought an alliance with France after realizing it was friendless following the Second Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. Russia also allied itself with Serbia in the Balkan region. Due to Russia’s large population, Germany and Austria-Hungary saw it as a potential threat and decided to form an alliance (World War I, n.d.). Thus, two antagonistic groups were formed; Triple Entente comprising France, Russia, and Britain, while Triple Alliance consisted of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy.

At the same time, the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating with different ethnic groups seeking independence. Rising nationalism led to various wars in the Balkan region, with the Second Balkan War of 1912-1913 promoting Serbia to increase its size (World War I, n.d.). Austria-Hungary had equally gained territory from the Ottoman Empire, including Bosnia Herzegovina, inhabited mainly by South Slavic people. Serbia wanted to unite all the Serbs in the Balkan region, but Austria-Hungary was not ready to surrender Bosnia Herzegovina. The Serbs in Austria-Hungary were also pushing to break away and join Serbia.

At the height of nationalism, one young Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot dead Austria-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia while visiting Bosnia. The tension between Serbia and her allies and Austria-Hungary and her friends heightened (World War I, n.d.). Austria-Hungary gave Serbia a ten-point ultimatum, which Serbia honored only nine points. Russia promised Serbia support in case Austria-Hungary, which Germany had pledged reinforcement, attacked. On July 14, 1914, World War One officially started and continued for the next four years before ending in 1918.

Overall, the First World War started due to various factors. However, historians agree that among the long-term causes were imperialism and the formation of alliances. Triple Entente became the Allied Powers while the Triple alliance was Central Powers during the war. However, the most immediate causes of the war were the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Moreover, Serbia’s failure to honor Austria-Hungary’s ten-point ultimatum escalated the conflict.

Reference

. (n.d.). HistoryNet. Web.

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