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World War 1 Essay

7629 words - 31 pages

The First World War was truly 'the Great War'. Its origins were complex. Its scale was vast. Its conduct was intense. Its impact on military operations was revolutionary. Its human and material costs were enormous. And its results were profound.The war was a global conflict. Thirty-two nations were eventually involved. Twenty-eight of these constituted the Allied and Associated Powers, whose principal belligerents were the British Empire, France, Italy, Russia, Serbia, and the United States of America. They were opposed by the Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire.The war began in the Balkan cockpit of competing nationalisms and ancient ethnic rivalries. Hopes that it could be contained there proved vain. Expansion of the war was swift. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914; Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August. Germany declared war on France on 3 August and invaded Belgium. France was invaded on 4 August. German violation of Belgian neutrality provided the British with a convenient excuse to enter the war on the side of France and Russia the same evening. Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on 6 August. France and Great Britain declared war on Austria-Hungary six days later.The underlying causes of these events have been intensively researched and debated. Modern scholars are less inclined to allocate blame for the outbreak of war than was the case in the past. They have sought instead to understand the fears and ambitions of the governing élites of Europe who took the fateful decisions for war, particularly that of imperial Germany.Fears were more important than ambitions. Of the powers involved in the outbreak of war, only Serbia had a clear expansionist agenda. The French hoped to recover the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine lost to Germany as a result of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, but this was regarded as an attempt at restitution rather than acquisition. Otherwise, defensive considerations were paramount. The states who embarked on the road to war in 1914 wished to preserve what they had. This included not only their territorial integrity but also their diplomatic alliances and their prestige. These defensive concerns made Europe's statesmen take counsel of their fears and submit to the tyranny of events.The Austrians feared for the survival of their multi-racial Empire if they did not confront the threat of Serb nationalism and Panslavism. The Germans feared the consequences to themselves of allowing Austria, their closest and only reliable ally, to be weakened and humiliated. The Russians feared the threat to their prestige and authority as protector of the Slavs if they allowed Austria to defeat and humiliate Serbia. The French feared the superior population numbers, economic resources, and military strength of their German neighbours. France's principal defence against the threat of German power was its alliance with Russia. This it was...

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