The First World War has been a major event in the history of the previous century. It caused many changes and transformations alongside ruins, deaths, and the Second World War. Although, the beginning of the war is attributed to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, causes of the war have been present for a long period of time before that because the war was actually a result of a crisis in Europe that has been affecting the countries domestically and internationally. Therefore, the military actions were merely a response to the increasing crisis.
There is a lot of evidence to show that the war was a result of crisis in European countries. There were many internal problems within the countries that became major forces in war, like the increasing demands of the workers and the inability of that day’s capitalism to satisfy the growing demand for the improvement. In other words, the non-democratic rulers did not satisfy the expectations of the increasing working class and did not adapt to the changing capitalism situation. Therefore, there was a large amount of people unhappy with monarchism and the existing rule in their countries. They did not like the working conditions and wages, and even more importantly, they did not like their position in the political system of their countries. In other words, the economy has been developing intensely, and the same applied to the working class, but the political elites did not adapt to it or improve their political doctrines. This can be seen with Austria-Hungary and Germany, although the latter had its workers’ boom after the war. Nevertheless, the best example in this situation would be Russia that had a revolution during the First World War and experienced revolutionary attempts a decade before the war started. The society in Russian empire has been disappointed with the emperor that involved the state into a tiring Russo-Japanese war, where Russians eventually lost (Gatrell, 2014). As it caused negative consequences for the empire in general, the dissatisfaction with the emperor grew. The emperor reacted to protests in 1905 with terror; on the infamous Bloody Sunday that took place on January 22, 1905, the protesters had a peaceful march with the aim to bring a petition to the emperor, but the emperor ordered his guards to shoot all the marching people (Gatrell, 2014). The violence and absolute disregard for average citizens angered the rest of the empire, and the revolution of 1905 began (Gatrell, 2014). Besides the political pressure, the protesters were dissatisfied with the state of economy, raising agrarian problem as one of the most important ones. Besides, the empire consisted of various national groups that were oppressed and were seeking freedom in the form of autonomy at that time. The revolution led to political changes in the empire because, thanks to it, the Constitution has been developed, and Russia got a parliament and different parties. Nevertheless, the developments did not satisfy any of the conflicting sides, and, as the working class has been developing, the tensions within empire grew to explode in the right moment when the empire was weakened by the war and overthrow the emperor.
The political instability took place in other countries as well, and it was one of the parts of the crisis that led to war. For instance, the situation in France was very turbulent because the country was divided between those who were still angry at Germany after losing Alsace-Lorraine and those who were not. Therefore, the angry part wanted to take revenge for the humiliation. The French did not start the war because they recognized the German advantages like better equipped army or greater population, but anti-German attitudes have been spread in society for a long time, so it caused the French to enter the war when the chain of events in 1914 began (Strachan, 2014). Germans, too, thought of war, but out of different reasons; there were discussions about the need of external war, as a way to increase the government’s popularity and patriotism, as well as distract the population from the economic problems, as people would be involved in the conflict (Hull, 2004). Austria-Hungary also experienced war discussions because of the increasing tensions within the political elite. As the empire changed its ruling system, it equalized Hungarian elite to Austrian one in 1867 (before that, the empire was ruled from Vienna by Austrian authorities only). Therefore, the changes angered the Austrian elite, and the national tensions within the empire started. Besides that, the empire has long conflicts with Serbs, and there were discussing at starting the war with them, both in Hungary and Austria. The empire was rich with national minorities who looked for more national freedoms, and that added to the conflict.
It was mentioned before that the working class and the increasing economy added to the crisis. The production has been increasing, starting from 1800 until the beginning of war, and the same applied to increase the financial flows and investments. Around two thirds of the global trade took place in Europe, that was a major player in the world economy, and led to globalization (Stevenson, n.d.). Nevertheless, the booming economy strengthened the working class that demanded more rights and could not get them in monarchic states. Economic development was viewed as a tool for political influence; for instance, British authorities “saw economic interdependence as making Germany more vulnerable” (Stevenson, n.d.). With the increasing international tension, the public opinion in various countries has reached the polar opposite with particular parties speaking of peace, and others promoting the war as a tool for political influence and economic changes.
Besides, imperialism was a strong factor that intensified the crisis and led to war. For instance, Great Britain developed economically, since it traded with the biggest amount of countries, and its market was booming (Charmley, 2013). Based on strategic decisions, Britain was excluding particular countries from its trading system which angered its rivals, such as France and Germany, whose markets were much smaller (Charmley, 2013). Therefore, they wanted to copy the British model and strengthened their economic stance, while weakening the United Kingdom in the process.
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The colonial appetites also played an important role in the crisis development (Strachan, 2014). Germany wanted the access to the rich territories in the Middle East, but was blocked by the British who did not want to share its influence. Also, there were tensions regarding the African colonies as the empires wanted to increase their influence on the content. Therefore, they looked for different ways to weaken their rivals and get their territories as a result, and the war provided them with this opportunity.
Although, all of the described events and conditions were peaceful on the surface, they show the crisis that was widespread among the nations. The situation in Europe was very complicated because of the international rivalry, economic transformations, and political shifts. There were many different parties who wanted the war, and the killing of the Franz Ferdinand was a mere occurrence they used. If it was not for his murder, there could be another event that would lead to the same consequences, such as the start of the international conflict and war on a global scale.
It is important to mention that there are opposing opinions on the war that object the crisis explanation and state that the war was a chain of events right before the actual conflict. Nevertheless, such an approach does not stand up to criticism. For instance, there was First Moroccan Crisis in 1906 when French wanted to conquer Morocco with the help of Brits. Nevertheless, they could not do it because Germany interfered and prevented French plans. As a result, the international relations between Germany and France worsened even more, and the same applies to the relations between the Great Britain and Germany that were complicated by this event. The situation in Morocco proved that there was an international crisis regarding the relations between the European powers who competed for the bigger influence. After all, if there was no crisis in advance, the Great Britain would not be taking sides with France to weaken Germany, and Germany would not oppose France. Therefore, it showed that the international communication and cooperation was in a very bad shape because the countries had various unresolved issues that led to war. The same applies to Bosnian crisis when Austria-Hungary annexed part of Turkey in 1908 that led to further escalation of the conflict between influential war powers. Adagir crisis three years later, when the French interfered to end the revolution in Morocco, and the Germans sent a gunboat to the Moroccan side. It was a clear indication of the French-German rivalry because the German side would not send it if it did not compete with the French and wanted to weaken it and decrease its international influence.
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All of the described events would not have the further consequences if it was not for the crisis within Europe that made various states consider possible military resolution of the tensions. The objectors may state that the big European empires did not want war because it would stop the economic development and growth; nevertheless, they do not mention the fact that, although the empires did not want a time-consuming war, they all believed that in case of military conflict, they would win either to superior army or effective allies. Although the empires did not rush into starting the war, they all calculated its possibility and believed to be victorious, in case it was launched. They viewed war as a solution to various problems, targeting them such as the ability to gain new territories and international influence, weaken the opponents, minimize the internal tensions and increase the patriotism in their states.
The murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was an event that changed the political history of that time, but it would be shallow to call it the reason for the war. On the contrary, it was a reaction to the increasing conflicts and crises, and it triggered the war that was not unexpected, but rather long-awaited.
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For a long period of time, the countries in Europe have been developing different alliances and international treaties that would guarantee their safety and support, in case of a full-scale conflict. It showed that none of the players in the European political game trusted one another or believed in the peaceful development of the region. Taking into consideration the fact that the Concert of Europe was too weak to make any influential decisions, it showed that the cooperation between different countries was impossible, and they had long conflicts. Adding to that, the internal crises in various countries and the increasing political appetites and tensions in various parts of Europe, one sees that the First World War was a result of an unresolved crisis that lingered in this region for many decades.