“A War to End All Wars”
First World War is historically important for its causes and
effects more so than specific events surrounding actual battles.
This page will deal with the long-range and more immediate causes of
World War I, the technological advances created during the war, some
aspects of WWI battles, and the far-reaching effects of the conflict
on Europe and the rest of the world.
Europe as a
The fundamental causes of the World War I, or the
Great War as it was known at the time, were Imperialism, Militarism,
Alliance System, and Nationalism.
of World War I
nationalism led to increased production of goods and economic stability in
these countries, which resulted in an arms race. The aggressive attitude of
this policy drove them into producing more weaponry, such as
strong navies and armored vehicles.
alliances of Europe were formed for protection against each
other. However, the
Triple Entente and the
very quickly took aggressive postures towards one another.
This is due in large part to the lack of any global organization
designed to promote peace among the nations of the world.
countries divided up Africa and Asia to strengthen the
political and economic power of the mother country. This
resulted in competition among European countries.
was both a uniting force and a divisive one. It resulted
in Germany and Italy uniting into strong nations, and also
caused the disintegration of the
Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary.
At the turn of the century, war was imminent. As
nationalism weakened the
Ottoman Empire, the
Slavic peoples of the Balkan region struggled
to free themselves from Ottoman control. Serbia
declared independence in 1878, allying themselves to Russia.
Serbia then wanted to unite with Bosnia and Herzegovina,
which were controlled by Austria-Hungary. Serbia could count
on Russia's support, and Austria-Hungary could count on Germany's.
Because of the high tensions in this area, the Balkans became known
as the "Powder Keg of Europe." All that was
needed to ignite the world into war was a spark.
In 1914, Austrian
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
and his wife were
visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Gavrilo Princip, of the
Serbian nationalist group called the
Black Hand, assassinated the Archduke and his wife.
Austria-Hungary made threats to Serbia, whom they blamed for the
assassination. Russia supported Serbia, and readied their
military for war. Germany declared war on Russia, and on
France, Russia's ally. Germany then invaded Belgium as a prelude to
invading France. This resulted in Great Britain declaring war
on Germany, which was the start of World War I.
Aspects of World War
Most of World War I was a stalemate. Entrenched
positions on both sides were only able to move a few miles in a
battle that lasted the better part of a year. The conditions
trench warfare were brutal; trench-foot, disease, lice,
and inadequate supplies made fighting difficult. Advances in technology also played a
major role. The machine gun, the tank, the airplane, the
submarine, and the use of poison gas drastically changed the face of
modern war, and resulted in large numbers of casualties.
The Aftermath and its
Impact on Subsequent Events
Overwhelming odds and weariness forced an end to the fighting
with the defeat of the Central Powers. The peace conference
that followed was headed by the "Big Four,"
David Lloyd George of Britain,
Georges Clemenceau of France,
Vittorio Orlando of Italy, and
Woodrow Wilson of the United
States. Together, they drafted the
Versailles, signed in 1919, which officially ended the war. Wilson tried
to institute his
14 Points but was largely rejected.
League of Nations was created as a result and
attempted to act as the peacekeeper of Europe. Unfortunately,
it was weak and ineffectual due to the absence of the United States.
The treaty, however, was more about revenge, than it was about
forging a lasting peace. Germany was forced to accept total
responsibility for the start of the war. They also were forced
to pay huge reparations, and give over vast amounts of territory.
The start of
World War II is a direct result of the harsh treatment
of Germany after World War I.
World War II (1939-1945)
rise of the
Adolf Hitler and the formation of German
directly related to the Versailles Treaty.
Hitler blamed the treaty for Germany's economic trouble and
made a call for German patriotism. The
Nazi Party quickly came
to power in the early 1930's and used terror to achieve its goal of
a strong German nation. The most obvious example of this is
anti-Semitism, the blaming of the Jewish people for many German
Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader
of Italy, had a similar rise and utilized the same policies.
Without the negative influence of the Versailles Treaty, Germans and
Italians may not
have supported the oppressive regimes of Hitler and Mussolini.
Causes of World War
War II was fought for many of the same reasons
as the First
World War. The Axis Powers, Germany,
Italy, and Japan, were hungry for territory and resources.
Institutions like the League of Nations, and peace treaties
such as the
Kellogg-Briand Pact, were weak and ineffectual. The
immediate cause of WWII was the policy of
Allied Powers of Europe, and eventually the United States. Germany, as it
had previous to WWI, was using nationalism and militarism to
imperialize surrounding areas. Austria and portions of
Czechoslovakia were taken by Germany in direct violation of the
dictations of the Versailles Treaty. Likewise, Italy had taken
Ethiopia, and Japan had imperialized much of China.
Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, a
conference was called in Munich in 1938. Appeasement
became the official policy when Hitler was allowed to keep what was
already taken if he promised to stop taking territory from that
point forward. The futile hopes of appeasement were quickly
dashed when Hitler annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia.
The worst fears were realized when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939
using the blitzkrieg tactic. Blitzkrieg, or Lightening Warfare used
all available military resources to attack the target
simultaneously. The invasion of Poland marks the beginning of
World War II.
Aspects of World War
WWII is divided into two areas, the European Theater and
the Pacific Theater. In Europe, Germany had quickly taken over large
amounts of territory. France fell after
French and British troops were pushed off of the European mainland
at Dunkirk. Then, Germany failed to win the
Battle of Britain
in the skies over England. Italian and German troops gained control of the Mediterranean and the North coast of Africa.
Germany also attacked the
Soviet Union, despite the secret
agreement between Hitler and
Josef Stalin, which stated neither would
attack the other. This proved Germany's undoing as it had
in World War I, as a two-front war is nearly impossible to win.
The Battle of Stalingrad was the turning point of the war in
Europe. After this Soviet victory, Allied troops retook Africa and then move on to take
the Italian peninsula. Mussolini's Italy was considered the
weak point of Europe. After the daring D-Day
invasion of Normandy, and Germany's last-ditch effort in the Battle
of the Bulge, it was only a matter of time before Berlin
Hitler committed suicide as Soviet troops took the
city in the spring of 1945. The surviving Nazis that were
captured were held accountable for their war crimes in the
Nuremburg Trials. The atrocities of the
Holocaust would come to light, resulting in the execution of
Nazi Party officials and ending the darkest segment of human