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Analysis of the First World War

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Analysis of the First World War

World War I was a military conflict from 1914 to 1918. It began as a local European war between Austria - Hungary and Serbia on July 28, 1914. It was transformed into a general European struggle by declaration of war against Russia on August 1, 1914 and eventually became a global war involving 32 nations. Twenty - eight of these nations, known as the Allies and the Associated Powers, and including Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States, opposed the coalition known as the Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria - Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria. The immediate cause of the war between Austria - Hungary and Serbia was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, at Sarajevo in Bosnia by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

On July 28 Austria declared war against Serbia, either because it felt Russia would not actually fight for Serbia, or because it was prepared to risk a general European conflict in order to put an end to the Greater Serbia movement. Russia responded by partially mobilizing against Austria. Germany warned Russia that continued mobilization would cause war with Germany, and it made Austria agree to discuss with Russia a possible change of the ultimatum to Serbia. Germany demanded, however, that Russia demobilize. Russia refused to do so, and on August 1, Germany declared war on Russia. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

The French began to mobilize on the same day. On August 2, German troops invaded Luxembourg and on August 3, Germany declared war on France. On August 2, the German government informed the government of Belgium of its intention to march on France through Belgium in order, as it claimed, to prevent an attack on Germany by French troops marching through Belgium. The Belgian government refused to allow the passage of German troops and called on the witnesses of the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed the justice of Belgium in case of a conflict in which Great Britain, France, and Germany were involved, to observe their guarantee. Great Britain, one of the witnesses, on August 4, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding that Belgian justice be respected. When Germany refused, Britain declared war on it the same day. Italy remained uninvolved until May 23, 1915, when, to satisfy its claims against Austria, it broke with the Triple Alliance and declared war on Austria - Hungary. In September 1914, the Pact of London, signed by France, Great Britain, and Russia, made Allied unity stronger. As the war progressed, other countries, including Turkey, Japan, the U.S., and other nations of the western hemisphere, were drawn into the conflict. Japan, which had made an alliance with the Great Britain in 1902, declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996)

The outbreak of war in 1914 set in motion forces more gigantic than any previous war had seen. Two million Germans were on the march, the greater part of them against France, and there were another 3,000,000 trained men to back them up. France had nearly 4,000,000 trained men at call, although they relied on only 1,000,000 active troops in the first clash. Russia had more millions to draw upon than any, but their mobilization process was slow, a large part of their forces were in Asia and even their great potential strength was to a large extent canceled out by lack of munitions. (Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart, 1984)

The growth of these tremendous forces had been due primarily to a military gospel of mass. Known by Clausewitz, the Prussian military philosopher, who drew his inspiration from Napoleon’s example, the spread of this gospel had been stimulated by the victories of the Prussian conscript armies in 1866 against Austria and in 1870 against France. It had been assisted also by the development of railways, which enabled far larger numbers of men to be assembled, moved and supplied than had been possible previously. Therefore the armies of 1914 - 1918 came to be counted in the millions compared with the hundreds of thousands of half a century earlier. (Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart, 1984)

The essential causes of World War I were the attitude of intense nationalism that permeated Europe throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, the political and economic rivalry among the nations, and the establishment and maintenance in Europe after 1871 of large armaments and of two hostile military alliances.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era had spread throughout most of Europe the idea of political democracy, with the resulting idea that the people of the same ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the right to independent states. The dynastic and retrogressive forces that dominated in the settlement of European affairs at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 however largely ignored the principle of national self - determination.

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