The Major Causes Of World War I

2447 words - 10 pages

The World at the beginning of the twentieth century was a very different place from what is was to be two generations later. "Primarily this was so because Europe was still the center of the universe, both politically and economically, and Europe was still in the main the Europe of the ancien régime." (Petrie 7). By the year 1901, Europe's nineteenth-century promises had become substantial realities: the nation state, constitutional government, and a predominantly secularized society. Europe had also gained a position of world predominance, which was then lost in the course of the twentieth century because of two catastrophic wars. Great Britain was the foremost maritime Power with no continental commitments, just as Germany was the greatest land Power. The United States was still a debtor country, and neither the United States, Italy, nor Japan claimed the status of World Powers. Spain was temporarily in eclipse. The partition of Africa between the Great Powers was still in uneasy progress. "The British Commonwealth of Nations had not yet replaced the British Empire, but there was still a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, over which 'Queen Victoria, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India,' bore sway." (Petrie 10). Four great empires, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey, dominated continental Europe east of the Rhine, just as three great empires, the British, the Russian, and the Chinese, dominated Asia. "It was a glittering facade, but it was little more." (Petrie 9). The appearance of a European order was preserved by the immense forces of tradition and sentiment, as well as by the fear universally felt by elder statesmen of all countries that even the most modest attempts at repair or readjustment would bring the whole structure to ruin.War between the Great Powers was much talked about in the first decade of the twentieth century, by politicians, writers, novelists, and philosophers. Yet, the nature of a European war, as opposed to a colonial venture, was little understood. "What was known were the many swift forays by superior forces against distant, feeble foes, the victory of machine guns against spears, of massive naval guns against antique cannon." (Gilbert 1). However frightening those conflicts could be for those who took part in them, the public at home had little sense of anything terrible.In 1914, Europe stumbled into a civil war, and the civil war grew into a world war. "The First World War was a great divide, a watershed in world history." (Hale 1). It produced an irreversible shift in the axis of world power, which was registered historically in the relations of states, the loss of empires, and radical changes in the distribution of national power. "Such agreement on the significance of the First World War does not extend to the period that preceded it - the decade and a half that elapsed between the beginning of the century and...

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