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First World War (1914 -1919)

Colonialism is the extension of a nation's sovereignty over another territory beyond its borders. Colonizers generally dominate the resources, labor, and markets of the colonial territory.

First World War



Colonialism is the extension of a nation's sovereignty over another territory beyond its borders. Colonizers generally dominate the resources, labor, and markets of the colonial territory. They also impose socio-cultural, religious and linguistic aspects on the conquered population.


European colonialism began in the 15th century with the 'Age of Discovery'. This was led by Portuguese and Spanish explorations of the Americas, and the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India, and East Asia. By 17th century, England, France and Holland successfully established their own overseas empires, in direct competition with each other and those of Spain and Portugal. Spain and Portugal were weakened after the loss of their New World colonies. But Britain, France and Holland turned their attention to the Old World, particularly South Africa, India and South East Asia, where colonies were established. The industrialization of the 19th century led to what has been termed the era of New Imperialism. The fight among the European countries to control and establish new colonies led to the First World War.

There are different types of colonies. Settler colonies, such as the original thirteen states of the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina arose from the emigration of peoples from a mother country. This led to the displacement of the indigenous peoples.


Colonies of dependencies came into existence due to the conquest by foreign countries. Examples in this category include the British India, Dutch Indonesia, French Indo-China , and the Japanese colonial empire.


Plantation colonies such as Barbados, Saint-Dominguez and Jamaica, where the white colonizers imported black slaves - who rapidly began to outnumber their owners- led to minority rule, similar to a dependency.




Imperialism is a policy of extending control or authority over colonized countries. The term is used to describe the policy of a nation's dominance over distant lands. The 'Age of Imperialism' usually refers to the Old Imperialism period starting from 1860, when major European states started colonizing the other continents. The term 'Imperialism' was initially coined in the mid 1500s to reflect the policies of countries such as Britain and France who expanded into Africa, and the Americas. Imperialism refers to the highest stage of capitalism which made it necessary to find new markets and resources. This theory of necessary expansion of capitalism outside the boundaries of nation-states was shared by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.


Economic Market


Industrial Revolution created the need among the European countries to find new markets for their industrial goods. Similarly, they had to find raw materials for their industries. This dual need

pushed the European countries to compete with each other to establish their political control over Asia, Africa and Latin America.


Improvement in Communications


Advancement in science and technology led to improvement in transport and communication. Steamships, Railroads, roadways were improved. This helped imperialism to have a firm hold over the conquered territories.


Rise of Extreme Nationalism


The late 19th century was a period of intense nationalism. Many nations developed myths of superiority over other peoples. Each country wanted to have colonies to add to its prestige and power. Writers and speakers in England, France and Germany opened institutions to promote the idea of imperialism. European countries took great pride in calling their territories as empires.


The 'Civilizing Mission'


In the minds of many Europeans, imperialist expansion was very noble. They considered it a way of bringing civilization to the 'backward peoples of the world. Explorers and adventurers, as well as missionaries helped in spreading imperialism.


US Imperialism


The United States has enjoyed its status as a sole superpower. Beginning at the end of World War II, the U.S. largely took over from the United Kingdom certain roles of influence in the Middle East. Several Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel have all been directly or otherwise substantially influenced by U.S. policy.

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.


Course of the War


During the war Germany and her allies were called Central Powers. England and her allies were called Allied Powers. Germany entered the war to defend Austria. Shortly all the powers in the hostile camps were automatically drawn into the war. Turkey and Bulgaria joined the war on the side of Germany. Italy left the Triple Alliance and joined the opposite camp with the idea of recovering Italian territories under Austrian control.


England joined the war against Germany. There was bitter fighting on the French soil. The Battle of Verdun decided the fortunes of the war in favour of the Allies. Germany started submarine warfare in a large scale. All the laws relating to naval warfare were thrown out.


Russia fought on the side of Allies up to 1917. The Bolshevik regime wanted peace with Germany. Thus the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was signed between Russia and Germany.

The Lusitania ship was drowned by a German submarine and consequently many Americans lost their lives. This resulted in the declaration of war against Germany by the U.S.A.  In spite of best efforts, Germany could not stand and ultimately she surrendered in November 1919.

The German Emperor Kaiser William lost all hopes of winning the war. He abdicated his throne and fled to Holland. The German army signed the armistice agreement on November 11, 1918 to mark their surrender to the Allies. The allies of Germany had earlier suffered defeat at the hands of the Allied powers.


Results of the War


The Great War took a heavy toll of lives. It is estimated that about ten million lives were lost and twenty million people have been wounded. People all over the world suffered untold miseries. There was a large scale damage to civil property.


It is estimated that the direct cost of the war reached just over two hundred billion dollars and the indirect cost more than a hundred and fifty billion dollars.


A large variety of deadly weapons such as incendiary bombs, grenades and poison gases were used. Tanks, submarines and aircrafts were also used.


The war wrought its havoc on the economics of the participating countries. It may be remembered that about 25 nations had joined the allies at the time of the outbreak of war. The victors felt the devastating effects of the war even before the cessation. All these nations were burdened with the national debts. The world economy was in shambles.


Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919. It was a dictated peace and Germany had by then become even too weak to protest. She lost everything. Germany and her allies suffered most since they had to pay heavy sums to the victorious allies as reparation debts.


Austria Hungary signed the Treaty of St. Germaine. Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon with the allies in 1920. Bulgaria had accepted the Treaty of Neuliy in 1919. Turkey, which sided with Germany during the war, signed the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.

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