Why did Europe go to War in 1914?
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Why did Europe go to War in 1914? The first world war had many causes with a number of them having had the potential to plunge Europe into war. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era had spread throughout most of Europe the idea of political democracy, with the resulting idea that people of the same ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the right to independent states. This idea was manifested in the unification of Germany in 1848 and Italian Unification. By the end of the 19th Century though the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in may areas of Europe; one particularly prominent nationalistic movement, Pan Slavism could perhaps be described as the spark that started the war; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 at the hands of the Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist secret society, set in motion a series of events leading to war. Come 1914 the Austro-Hungarian empire under the ageing Emperor Franz Josef, was patently struggling to maintain coherence of the various diametrically opposed ethnic groups which fell under the Austro-Hungarian umbrella (taken from www.firstworldwar.com). Austria-Hungary argued that the Serbian government was responsible for the actions of the Black Hand and that the assassins must be brought to justice, to the tune of which an ultimatum was sent thus effectively demanding sovereignty over Serbian domestic affairs.
Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilisation of its vast army in her defence Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary viewed the Russian mobilisation as an act of war against Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on 1 August. France, bound by treaty to Russia, responded by announcing war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary on 3 August. Germany promptly responded by invading neutral Belgium (under the Schiefflen plan) so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route, thus taking out France before full Russian mobilisation preventing a war on two fronts. With Germany's invasion of Belgium on 4 August Britain; obligated to defend neutral Belgium by the terms of a 1839 Treaty of London declared war on Germany Japan, honouring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914. Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan. Britain; in a state of "splendid isolation" until the 1904 treaty with Japan began to take increased notice of European affairs by her realisation of the emergence of Germany as a great European power - and a colonial power at that.
The French Military Chief of Staff; Marshall Joseph Joffre said "we shall have a war, I will make it, and I will win it" (taken from (taken from Merriman, 1996, p1025). British politicians probably saw the war as an opportunity to distract people from domestic events; "Not for almost a hundred years had England been closer to civil war then she came between March and July 1914" (Terraine, 1967, p13); just prior to the war in Britain there were influential movements for Women's suffrage; Irish home rule as well as a constitutional crisis brought on by the refusal of the Conservative dominated house of Lords to pass the budget in 1909. Germany probably miscalculated Britain, an essential part of German war strategy was the invasion of France via neutral Belgium. Germany didn't expect Britain to intervene due to internal troubles. "In England however the first sign of trouble brought about an immediate and complete union of the nation" (Wilson and Hammerton, 1914, p4) In conclusion the start of the Great War can be attributed to the number of factors; if one had to be emphasised it would be nationalism; nationalism causing Bismarck to form the alliance system after the formation of a unified Germany in 1871, that led to war following the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne; Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo an assassination carried out by the Black Hand a Slav nationalist group.
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