Why Did World War I Start?

All major wars fought around the world have supporters and protestors. Some give what they consider good reasons why a certain nation’s military should be involved in military action. Others give reasons for not fighting in the war, reasons they consider just as good.

world-war-iIn the case of World War I, which was at the time considered the “Great War,” many people pointed to a single act by one man as the spark that started the conflict. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in June 1914 by a Serbian man. There were some significant differences among several of the European countries at the time, notably between Austria and Serbia. The act of the assassin led nations to take sides in the matter and these associations led to military alliances that would fight WWI over the next four years.

For decades, countries in Europe had worked to maintain an uneasy balance in the region, avoiding serious military conflict most of the time. There was tension among the nations but various treaties and agreements kept the alliances from breaking up altogether. One of these alliances involved an empire established by Germany working with Austria and Hungary. Italy was to become part of this alliance at a later date.

As a counter-balance to this union, France and Russian joined forces. Representatives of the British Empire were to sign onto this alliance and the group called “Triple Entente” was born as a counterweight to the German/Austrian/Italian economic and political forces.

Some of the actions from both sides was seen as posturing, as one group tried to build a bigger military presence or larger ships. Industry across the European continent was heavily focused on military hardware before World War I. When Austria-Hungary made a move to annex a section then known as Bosnia/Herzegovina, there was strong opposition. Serbia and the Russian government saw this as a threat.

Thus when the Serbian activist assassinated the Austrian leader, the emotions that smoldered just under the surface across Europe caught fire. The killing of the Austrian leader was the spark that set World War I in motion. The Russian Empire went into action, just as the Austria-Hungary leaders were declaring war on Serbia. Germany set its military in motion a month later, followed shortly by France, on the other side.

These are just the high points of a very complex and dangerous political/military situation that existed in Europe in the first years of the 20th century. The act of one man, who was a member of a militant group, caused one nation to blame another (even though the Serbian government leaders were not involved in the assassination attempt).

Newspapers and magazines of the time did not necessarily disagree with the opinion that the assassination was the spark. However, some considered that the differences between nations dated back several decades and were as much based on economics, imperialism and the battle for colonial control as anything else. It took the actions of one man to bring all of these reasons into play.

Category: History, Government & Society

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