With two degrees in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.
On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, and his wife Sofia, were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. Gavrilo shot Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, at point blank range killing them both almost instantly. Princip was a nineteen-year-old Serbian nationalist, who believed that Serbia should become part of the newly independent, and ambitious Serbian nation. To Princip and his allies, “the Archduke was considered to be a dangerous enemy of the Serbian people.” Princip’s actions would create a battle cry that would change the world forever. Although many felt that this tragic event was the main cause of the Great War, now called World War I, it was merely a catalyst. There were many other factors that lead the world to enter into a global war. By this point in history, many nations were rising as a global power, and as such there were numerous alliances between nations to protect one another’s interests. The underlying causes of World War I were imperialism, nationalism, and alliances.
During this time in history, many European nations were engaged in expanding their empire. For example, Britain had expanded into India and under the India Trading Company, claimed it as part of the British Empire. Austria-Hungary also desired to expand its borders, which it had done so during the Balkan Wars. This Imperialism, lead to tensions between nations and much animosity. For example, the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. This conflict is plainly seen in Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia when it stated, “The movement, which had its birth under the eye of the Serbian Government, has gone so far as to make itself manifest on both sides of the Serbian frontier in the shape of acts of terrorism and a series of outrages and murders.” Serbia, like other nations, felt the tension of this Imperialistic expansion. This Serbian National pride caused some to wish to separate from Austria-Hungary to become their own independent nation.
Many European nations encouraged their people to feel intense pride in their home nation. Having pride in one’s own nation is natural; however, it too can cause friction. Often this Nationalism was carried to a point in which opposing nations were hated, not only by one another, but by other nations as well. When Princip assassinated the Archduke claiming Serbia was better than Austria-Hungary, it set off a chain reaction of intense nationalism in other European countries, to prove that their nation was better than others. Some countries even celebrated entering the war. It was a chance to protect their empires and show how strong they were, in comparison to other countries.
Sultan Mehmed V of Turkey declared in November 1914, “I called you to arms in order to be able in case of trouble to protect the existence of empire and country from any assault on the part of our enemies, who are only awaiting the chance to attack us suddenly and unexpectedly as they have always done.” The Sultan is saying that these other countries are not as great as his country as they are sneaky and attack unexpectedly. This entry into the war was something that the allies had feared, as they were worried that it would bring Muslims from throughout the world into the war.
Europe was split into alliances during this time. One was the Triple Alliance consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, which was negotiated and signed in May 1881. It was intended as a counterweight to France and Russia. “Under the provisions of this treaty, Germany and Austria-Hungary promised to assist Italy if she were attacked by France, and vice versa”.
Additionally, under the Dual Alliance of 1879, Germany and Austria-Hungary agreed to aid one another, in the event of an attack by Russia, or if Russia provided aid to a country that was at war with either Germany or Austria-Hungary. Furthermore, the Triple Entrente was enacted, and signed during the Franco-Russian Military Convention of 1892, which bound Russia, France, and Britain together. The terms of this treaty were similar to the Dual and Triple Alliances. Because the major powers of Europe had all signed treaties to come to the aid of one other in the event of an attack, the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia created a snowball effect that lead each country to enter the war in support of one another.
While the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked the first cries of war, there were many underlying causes that fueled it. Imperialism that caused countries to expand their borders to create vast empires caused tensions across those countries. Nationalism, which made people so proud of their countries went too far and angered other countries with their boastfulness. Lastly, alliances, meant to protect the interests of each country lead to an expansion of war in defense of an ally. Even countries wishing to remain neutral, such as America, were ultimately drawn into the war. For America, it was Germany’s threat to sink neutral United States ships. Italy, though tied by alliances to Germany, remained neutral but eventually entered the war on the side of the Allies. The Great War ended in 1918 with the Allied forces winning. It was the first war of such global scale, yet it would not be the last.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - Austrian Ultimatum to
Serbia, 23 July 1914. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/austrianultimatum.htm.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - Proclamation of Sultan
Mehmed V, November 1914. Accessed May 10, 2017.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - Triple Alliance, 20 May
1882. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/triplealliance.htm.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - Dual Alliance, 7 October
1879. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/dualalliance.htm.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - Franco-Russian Military
Convention, 18 August 1892. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/francorussianmilitaryconvention.htm.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - U.S. 'Strict Accountability'
Warning to Germany, 10 February 1915. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/wilsonwarningfeb1915.htm.
"Firstworldwar.com." First World War.com - Primary Documents - Italian Entry into the War,
23 May 1915. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/italiandeclaration.htm.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 30, 2021:
Althought this is well known, you present it in a new light. Thanks.