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Was Nationalistic Fervour Ultimately Responsible For The Outbreak Of The First World War?

1058 words - 4 pages

Was nationalistic fervour ultimately responsible for the outbreak of the First World War? Can nationalism be held solely responsible for starting what is usually regarded as the most destructive war, at least in terms of human lives, the world had ever seen? The answer to this question is a qualified no. Though nationalism played an important role in the outbreak of the war there are many other contributing factors which must be taken into account. Imperialism, militarism, the arms race and the balance of power in Europe were all important factors that lead to WW1. The conflict commenced when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the capital of Serbia. This act, however, was merely the spark which lit the flame of war. Though there are many cause of the war arguably the most significant of these was the widespread feeling of nationalism in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.

Though nationalistic fervour cannot be held solely accountable for the war it still played a large part in causing WW1. Nationalism is a strong feeling of support for ones nation, best expressed in the concept of patriotism. Nationalists believed that "the needs of their nations were more important than the needs of other nations. Nationalists were so proud of their country that they wanted to be the richest and most important country - and recognised as such". Nationalism often created tension among the nations of Europe. For example, at the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the principle of nationalism was ignored in favour of preserving the peace. Germany and Italy were left as divided states, but, subsequently, strong nationalist movements and revolutions led to the unification of Italy in 1861 and that of Germany in 1871. Similarly, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 France was left seething over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, and revenge became a major goal of the French. Nationalism also posed a problem for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, particularly in the Balkans, an area comprised of many conflicting national groups, where Russia, because of ethnic Slavic ties, supported Serbia's desire to become a stronger nation. Perhaps the most important manifestation of nationalism which can be directly linked to the opening of WW1 was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Ferdinand was murdered by Gavrilo Princip a member of the 'Black Hand' organisation, a Serbian nationalist group aiming to increase Serbian power. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had long wanted to crush the growing power of Serbia and now had the perfect opportunity to do so. Under threat of war, it sent Serbia a list of ultimatums but deliberately made these conditions impossible for the Serbians to accept fully. Consequently, it declared war on the 28th of July 1914.

This act of aggression summarily brought the rest of the key European powers into the war. Over the...

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