World War I World War I 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 invades 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, Allied unity was made stronger by the Pact of London, signed by France, Great Britain, and Russia. 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 their 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 principle of national self – determination, however, was largely ignored by the dynastic and retrogressive forces that dominated in the settlement of European affairs at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Several peoples who desired national independence were made subject to local dynasts or to other nations. Notable examples were the German people, whom the Congress of Vienna left divided into numerous duchies, principalities, and kingdoms; Italy, also left divided into many parts, some of which were under foreign control; and the Flemish – and French – speaking Belgians of the Austrian Netherlands, whom the congress placed under Dutch rule. Revolutions and strong nationalistic movements during the 19th century succeeded in canceling much of the retrogressive and antinationalist work of the congress. Belgium won its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, the unification of Italy was accomplished in 1861, and that of Germany in 1871.
At the close of the century, however, the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in other areas of Europe, resulting in tensions both within the regions involved and between various European nations. One particularly noticeable nationalistic movement, Panslavism, figured heavily in the events preceding the war. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996) The attitude of nationalism was also visible in economic conflict. The Industrial Revolution, which took place in Great Britain at the end of the 18th century, followed in France in the early 19th century, and then in Germany after 1870, caused an immense increase in the manufactures of each country and a consequent need for foreign markets. The principal field for the European policies of economic expansion was Africa, and on that continent colonial interests frequently clashed.
Several times between Germany on one side and France and Great Britain on the other, almost precipitated a European war. (Microsoft Encarta, 1996) The dispute between the United States and Germany was far more serious. In order to prevent food, munitions, and other supplies from reaching Great Britain, Germany in 1915 declared the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland a war zone in which German submarines would sink all enemy vessels without the visit or search ordered by international law. To avoid the possibility that uninvolved vessels might be sunk by mistake, or that uninvolved might be killed, Germany warned uninvolved ships not to enter the zone. They also advised citizens of uninvolved nations not to travel on ships of the Allied nations.
Germany remained intolerant in the face of U.S. protests against this declaration. In May 1915 a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger liner Lusitania off the Irish coast without warning, causing the deaths of 1198 people, of whom 128 were U.S. citizens. The Germans claimed that the Lusitania was carrying munitions to Britain, and later research has proven this to be true.
But the American public was outraged by the sinking, and strong protests by the U.S. State Department brought a promise from Germany not to sink any passenger liners without taking precautions to protect the lives of civilians. (Alistair Horne, 1970) In March 1916, however, a German submarine sank an unarmed French Channel steamer, the Sussex, with the loss of two Americans. President Wilson threatened to separate diplomatic relations with the German government unless it abandoned “its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels.” In May, the German government pledged not to sink merchant vessels without warning and without saving the lives of those aboard. For nine months the pledge was kept generally to the satisfaction of the United States.
Wilson’s powerful diplomacy seemed to have averted war with Germany, and as the Democratic candidate in the presidential election of 1916, Wilson was elected over the Republican nominee, Charles Evans Hughes, largely because “he kept us out of war.” The war, however, was near. At the end of January 1917, Germany broke the so-called Sussex Pledge by declaring unrestricted submarine warfare in a zone even larger than the one it had proclaimed in 1915. On February 3, Wilson replied by breaking off diplomatic relations with Germany. Later in the month, at his request, Congress passed a bill permitting U.S. merchant vessels to arm. After new depredations by German submarines against uninvolved shipping, and the discovery of a plan made by the German Foreign Office to unite Germany, Mexico, and Japan against the United States if it entered the war, Wilson on April 2, 1917, requested Congress to declare war. On April 6, Congress passed a resolution declaring a stat …