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Chapter: 11th 12th std standard History autobiography life Higher secondary school College Notes

Causes of First World War

There were many causes for the World War I. The most important cause was the system of secret alliances. Before 1914 Europe was divided into two camps.

First World War (1914 -1919)



System of Alliances


There were many causes for the World War I. The most important cause was the system of secret alliances. Before 1914 Europe was divided into two camps. It was Germany which created the division in European politics before World War I. In order to isolate France, Germany entered in to an alliance with Austria. Bismarck formed the three Emperors League by making alliance with Russia. Later Germany did not care for Russia. Hence Russia left. But Germany continued its alliance with Austria alone. This was known as Dual alliance. After Italy joined in this alliance, it became a Triple alliance.


In the meantime Russia began to lean towards France. In 1894 there came Franco-Russian alliance against Austro-German alliance. It was at this time England followed a policy of splendid isolation. She also felt that she was all alone. First she wanted to join with Germany. When this became a failure, she entered into an alliance with Japan in 1902. In 1904 she made alliance with France. In 1907 Russia joined this alliance. This had resulted in Triple Entente. Thus Europe was divided into two camps. The secretnature of these alliances brought about the war of 1914.




The countries in Europe had been increasing their armies and navies. This was the main reason for universal fear, hatred and suspicions among the countries of Europe. In Europe, England and Germany were superior in Navy. There were competitions between these two countries in naval armaments. For every ship built by Germany, two ships were built by England.

Narrow Nationalism was also a cause for the war. The love of the country demanded the hatred of another. For instance, love of Germany demanded the hatred of France. Likewise the French people hated the German people. In Eastern Europe narrow nationalism played a greater role. The Serbians hated Austria-Hungary.


The desire for the people of France to get back Alsace-Lorraine was also a cause for the outbreak of First World War. It was Bismarck who had taken away Alsace-Lorraine from France and annexed them with Germany in 1871. The result was that there grew animosities between these two countries. It was this reason that forced Germany to take steps to isolate France by making alliances with other countries.


William II, the Emperor of Germany himself was a cause for the First World War. He wanted to make Germany a stronger power. He was not prepared to make any compromise in international affairs. He was mistaken in assessing Great Britain's strength. It was a misunderstanding of the British character by William II that was responsible for the war.


Prussian spirit by Germany was also a cause for war. The Prussians were taught that war was a legal in the world. War was the national industry of Prussia. The younger generation of Germany was indoctrinated with such a philosophy of war.


Public Opinion


The position of public opinion by the newspapers was also a cause. Often, the newspapers tried to inflame nationalist feeling by misrepresenting the situations in other countries. Ambassadors and cabinet ministers admitted the senseless attitude of the leading news papers in their own countries.

The desire of Italy to recover the Trentino and the area around the port of Trieste was also a cause for war. The Italians considered that these areas were inhabited by Italians. But they were still part and parcel of Austria-Hungary. They cried for the redemption of these territories. Italy also entered into a competition with Austria to control the Adriatic Sea. As Austria was not prepared to put up with the competition, there arose bitterness in the relations of these two countries.


The Eastern Question was also a factor for the war. This complicated the situation in the Balkans. The misrule of Turkey resulted in discontentment. There was a rivalry between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria for the control of Macedonia which had a mixed population. On the occasion of Bosnian crises Russia supported Serbia. Pan Slavism also created complications.


The questions Bosnia - Herzegovina in the Balkans was also similar to the problem of Alsace-Lorraine. Bosnia and Herzegovina were given to Austria-Hungary by the Congress of Berlin in 1878. This was strongly opposed by Serbia. A strong agitation was started in Serbia to separate these provinces from Austria-Hungary and unite them with Serbia. This created rivalry between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. This became very keen after 1909. Serbia also received moral support from her big brother Russia (The Serbs and Russians belong to Slav Race).


Immediate Cause

The immediate cause was the assassination of Arch Duke Francis Ferdinand who was heir to the Austrian throne. Arch Duke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Serbians in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo when they paid a visit to this city on 28th June 1914. The news of this murder shocked many countries.  Austria-Hungary was already sick of Serbia and she decided to take advantage of the new situation to crush her. The murder of their crown prince and his wife resulted in an ultimatum being sent to Serbia for immediate compliance of certain terms. Serbia's reply did not pacify Austria-Hungary. Hence, Austria-Hungary backed by Germany declared war on Serbia. Russia mobilised her forces in favour of Serbia.

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