The history of World War 1 (WW1) is a fascinating one. We can see that its causes lie mainly in the rise of militarism and nationalism, territorial disputes, and arms buildups.
It’s important to remember that WW1 was a world war as such, with three different nations on each side pitted against each other: the Central Powers consisted of Germany (Habsburg), Austro-Hungary (a defunct empire), and the Ottoman Empire; while the Allied Powers consisted of Belgium, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Russia/Soviet Union and finally Serbia. After months of secret planning, German and Austro-Hungarian forces launched attacks on the Central Powers in August.
19, 1914. On that very day, all the Great Powers (except for Britain) signed a secret Treaty of Alliance, which was later to become the Treaty of Versailles.
The following is a background explanation on how things got to this point:
1) The Rise of Nationalism.
During the early 19th century and throughout most of 20th century European history there were two main political ideologies: liberalism and nationalism.
Both ideologies had several enemies and battles in between them, but nevertheless these are basically what each side believed in. Liberalism was basically an ideology that was against big government, control over people’s earnings, and basically everything a monarchy stood for.
Nationalism was also an ideology that was against monarchies. Marxism, socialism, and communism hadn’t been invented yet in Europe at this time so there weren’t any battles between them.
As time went on, the balance of power increased between the two groups with each side gaining a greater number of allies.
By the beginning of World War 1, both sides had an overwhelming amount of allies and enemies opposed to them.
2. Territorial Disputes.
The map of Europe around the early 20th century was pretty messy. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire each held land in different parts of Europe and there were often disputes over them.
Some of these disputes were created to fight against liberalism but in reality they had no logical reason for being apart from national pride.
3. Arms buildups and militarism.
As time went on, many European countries (especially Germany) started building up their arms for future wars that seemed inevitable to break out at any time due to the growing tensions between liberals, nationalists, and monarchies.
One example that comes to mind is Germany’s industry around the time of World War 1. Germany was one of the largest arms manufacturers in Europe at the time and was widely regarded as a military power.
4. The Treaty of Versailles.
Soon after World War 1 began, Germany (and many other countries) demanded that their war expenses be paid by Britain, France, and Russia/Soviet Union united in one large payment called “Reparations” as listed in the Treaty of Versailles.
In order to pay this, they took out loans from French banks to pay for it. As time went on, German war expenses continued to grow and grow. In order to fulfill their debt, the government started printing more and more money.
To make matters worse, inflation was running rampant in Germany during this time period. Germany had already borrowed 200 million marks from France for war expenses but by March of 1921 had already reached 11 trillion marks in debt.
Germany’s currency became completely worthless thus making it impossible for the country to take out any more loans to pay for reparations.
5. Problems in Russia/Soviet Union.
At this point Germany’s economy was destroyed and they had a large amount of war debts to satisfy. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was just being born in 1917.
As a result of this, Germany (and every other country) sponsored anti-communist revolutions in Russia/Soviet Union that eventually caused the Russian Civil War where most of Russia’s best generals were killed or went into hiding so that communism couldn’t be offered to them by the Germans.
6. The treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles wasn’t written with these facts in mind and has become one of the most controversial treaties in world history today for that very reason. It was signed on June 28, 1919 and consisted of the following:
- Germany was financially deprived of it’s sovereignty and broke up into several new countries that were later known as “The Weimar Republic” (Germany) which was a democracy with a President, Chancellor, and parliament.
- Reparations: The great powers force Germany to pay off all it’s war debts for the war that took place in 1914. The Germans had to sign an agreement saying they would never again fight another war without first consulting the other Allies and that they would pay all their reparations at 10% interest from 1919 to 1927.