Part 1: Conflicting Ambitions of the Great Powers Cause World War I
Causes of World War I
European Nations Form Alliances. Toward the latter part of the 19th century, Europe entered upon an era of tension and conflict-in large part the result of (1) the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and (2) the imperialist rivalries among the great powers in Africa and the Near East. Europe had not known such bitterness among nations since the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 more than fifty years earlier. For their own military security, the leading European nations sought allies, and eventually Europe was divided into two hostile camps, as follows:
1. The Triple Alliance (of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). In the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia won a decisive victory over France, and, under Bismarck’s leadership, (a) completed German unification, (b) annexed the French provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, and (c) became the leading power on the Continent. To deter France from a “war of revenge,” Bismarck’s foreign policy was to isolate France and gain allies for Germany. In particular, Bismarck sought the friendship of Austria-Hungary, an empire partially controlled by German-speaking Austrians. Austria-Hungary welcomed Bismarck’s bid for friendship, because (a) she appreciated the fact that Bismarck had treated her leniently following her defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and (b) she feared Russia, with whom she had come into conflict over control of the Balkans. In 1879, Germany and Austria-Hungary-called the Central Powers because of their location in central Europe-joined together in a military alliance.
Italy, unified by 1870, embarked upon a policy of imperialism especially in North Africa. Italy planned to acquire Tunis, but was thwarted when France stepped in and annexed the territory in 1881. Enraged at France, Italy entered into a defensive military alliance with Germany in 1882, thereby completing the Triple Alliance.
The vital weaknesss of the Triple Alliance was the enmity of Italy for Austria-Hungary, based on (a) Austria’s past opposition to Italian unification, and (b) Austria’s possession of territories inhabited by Italians (Italia Irredenta).
2. The Triple Entente (of France, Russia, and England). As a result of France’s humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, she lost Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. Hoping to regain her “stolen provinces: and her position of leadership in European affairs, France rebuilt her military strength and sought foreign allies. In particular, France looked to Russia, whose interests in the Balkans were in conflict with those of Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary. For a time, Bismarck’s skillful diplomacy enabled Germany to retain Russian friendship. But in 1890, Kaiser William II dismissed Bismarck from office and discarded Bismarck’s policy of friendship for Russia. Then Russia, fearing the Central Powers, and needing loans for industrial and military development, turned toward France. In 1894, these two nations entered into a military agreement, called the Duel Alliance.
In 1898, France came into conflict with England in the Fashoda Affair, a dispute over control of the Sudan region in Africa. A French force under Captain Marchand was ordered to withdraw from the Sudan by and English army under General Kitchener. Although public feeling ran high, both nations sought a peaceful settlement of this dispute and other issues. France remembered that her chief enemy was not England, but Germany. England realized that the chief threat to her industrial leadership and colonial empire was not France, but Germany. The Fashoda Affair was settled by France’s recognizing English claims to the Sudan in exchange for England’s recognizing French supremacy in Morocco. This settlement in 1904 marked the beginning of the Entente Cordiale, a close understanding between France and England that developed into a military alliance.
England and Russia were both afraid of Germany, and following 1904, were both allies of France. Would it not be to their mutual advantage, and to France’s too, if they could end their imperialist clashes in Asia? In 1907, England and Russia arrived at an entente regarding their respective spheres of influence in Persia (Iran) and China. This understanding marked the completion of the Triple Entente.
The Alliances Provoke Crises Before World War I. The formation of the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente divided Europe into two opposing armed camps. Some persons felt that the very existence of these alliances would lead to peace. They pointed out that the two alliances were nearly equal in strength, a situation described by the historical term balance of power. Since neither alliance could be sure of victory, would not the individual members proceed cautiously in foreign affairs and avoid the risk of war?
Other persons felt that the existence of these alliances would lead to war. Since each alliance represented tremendous military power, would not the individual members abandon caution and adopt an aggressive attitude in international affairs? Unfortunately for world peace, this latter analysis proved correct.
In the years between 1905 and 1913, the nations of rival alliances provoked each other into a series of international crises, as follows:
1. Moroccan Crisis of 1905. In 1905, Germany challenged France over the French sphere of influence in Morocco (North Africa). The German Kaiser visited the country and pledged his support for Moroccan independence. Unwilling to risk war at that time, France agreed to submit the question of Morocco’s status to an international conference. The Algeciras Conference, held in 1906, (a) reaffirmed the independence of Morocco, but (b) recognized France’s special interests in the country.
2. Moroccan Crisis of 1911. In 1911, Germany challenged France over French plans to convert Morocco into a protectorate. For a time, war seemed probable, but both nations eventually agreed to a compromise. Germany withdrew her objections to a French protectorate over Morocco, and, in exchange, France ceded a small area of her French Equatorial Africa colony to Germany.
The Moroccan crises of 1905 & 1911 resulted in (a) drawing France and England closer together in the face of German challenges, and (b) intensifying the hostility between the Entente and the Central Powers.
3. Balkan Crisis of 1912-13. Russia planned to extend her influence in the Balkans, especially by strengthening her ally and kindred Slavic state, Serbia. With Russian approval, four Balkan nations-Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece-waged war against Turkey in 1912 and defeated her. In dividing the territory taken from Turkey, Austria intervened to check Serbia’s expansion. Austria forced the creation of the new Balkan state of Albania out of former Turkish territory, thereby denying Serbia an outlet to the Adriatic Sea. Austria’s attitude resulted from (a) her opposition to Russia’s influence in the Balkans, and (b) her fear that the emergence of a powerful Serbia would cause unrest among the Slavic peoples in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1913, as a result of the Second Balkan War, Serbia gained some territory from defeated Bulgaria, but not an outlet to the sea.
Part 2: The Immediate Cause of World War I: Assassination of the Austrian Archduke. In the years immediately preceding 1914, Serbia held bitter hatred for Austria-Hungary because (a) Austria-Hungary, not Serbia, ruled certain Balkan provinces inhabited by Serbs and other southern Slavs, and (2) Austria-Hungary prevented Serbia from securing access to the Adriatic Sea.
Serbian nationalists, some in secret societies (The Black Hand), both in Serbia and in Austria, plotted the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In June, 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. The assassin was a subject of the Austrian Empire; and Sarajevo, where the assassination took place, was a town in the Austrian Empire. Although a number of officials in the Serbian government had been aware of the plot, no one took steps to warn the Austrian government.
The assassination provided the spark that touched off World War I in July, 1914, as follows:
1. Austria first requested assurances of support from Germany for whatever measures Austria might take against Serbia. Germany responded by giving Austria carte blanche, that is, a promise of unquestioned support. Thereupon, Austria, determined to crush Serbia, sent her an ultimatum, a harsh note setting forth final demands that Serbia (a) root out anti-Austrian propaganda, (b) dismiss anti-Austrian teachers and government officials, and (c) permit Austria to investigate in Serbia the origin of the assassination plot. Within two days, Serbia sent a moderate reply, accepting most of Austria’s demands. But Austria denounced the reply as unsatisfactory and declared war on Serbia.
2. Russia mobilized her military forces to come to the aid of her ally, Serbia. Thereupon, due to the requirements of the Schlieffien Plan, Germany mobilized and declared war, first against Russia, and two days later against France.
3. Following the Schlieffen Plan to fight a two-front war, Germany ordered her armies to invade France, not by scaling the mountains on the Franco-German border, but by going through Belgium, whose land is a level plain. By attacking Belgium, Germany violated her pledge to respect that country’s neutrality.
4. England considered Germany’s attack on Belgium as a threat to British security. Germany, by overrunning Belgium would gain control of the strategic coastal area on the English Channel opposite the British Isles. Therefore, England sent Germany an ultimatum to withdraw from Belgium. When Germany rejected the ultimatum, England declared war against Germany.
Thus, step by step, in a sort of chain reaction, Europe was engulfed in World War I.
The Fundamental Causes of World War I. After careful examination of the evidence, historians generally are agreed that all the great powers were guilty, although not in equal measure, of having caused World War I because of their policies, as follows:
1. Nationalism. (a) Some nations of Europe desired to annex foreign lands adjacent to their own boundaries, because those lands were inhabited by members of their own nationality. For example, France was determined to recover her “stolen provinces” of Alsace-Lorraine; and Serbia wanted to annex Austro-Hungarian territory inhabited by south Slavic peoples. (b) Subject nationalities-south Slavs, Czechs and Slovaks in Austria-Hungary; and Poles in Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia-tried to promote war as a way of gaining national independence. (c) Nationalism assured the various governments of popular support for any warlike measures they might undertake.
2. Imperialism. (a) The nations of Europe competed with each other for control of undeveloped areas throughout the world. There were imperialist clashes between Russia and Austria-Hungary over the Balkans; France and Germany over Morocco; and England and Germany over the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad through the Near East. (b) England feared growing competition from German industry for world markets. For about a century, English manufactures had monopolized the world markets.
3. Militarism. (a) The nations of Europe engaged in a costly armaments race. Each nation increased the number of men under arms, lengthened the training period for conscripts (drafted men), and speeded up the production of military equipment. Each nation sought to establish military superiority over its possible enemies. Germany especially looked to militarism for protection against what she called “encirclement” by hostile enemies, namely France on her western border and Russia on her eastern border. Military preparedness was expected to preserve the peace by deterring any enemy attack. In practice, however, militarism fostered fear and suspicion among the nations, and led them to war rather than peace. (b) Armaments manufacturers, such as Krupp in Germany and Schneider-Creusot in France, encouraged militarism. It meant more business and greater profits for them. (c) England alone of the European powers did not build a conscript army. She relied chiefly on her navy for protection of the British Isles. Consequently, Germany’s huge naval building program was considered by England as a threat to her security and as a challenge to her power as “mistress of the seas.”
4. International Anarchy. (a) the nations of Europe did not create a strong international organization with authority to compel them to settle their disputes peacefully instead of militarily. The lack of international law and order left nations free to resort to arms against each other. (b) There was a Hague Court of International Arbitration (also called the Hague Tribunal), which had been established as a result of the Hague Conference of 1899. However, this court was ineffective in settling international disputes, for it could not compel nations to submit their quarrels to its judgment and to accept its decisions.
Other Nations are Drawn Into World War I. The outset of World War I found the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) in battle against the Allies (England, France, Russia, Serbia and Belgium). During the four years of warfare, many other nations of Europe, Asia and the Americas joined the conflict, thereby making the war world-wide in scope.
The Central Powers were joined by two nations as follows:
1. In 1914, Turkey under strong German influence, entered the war to combat Russia, her traditional enemy.
2. In 1915, Bulgaria entered the war for territorial gains promised her by the Central Powers, and for revenge against Serbia (2nd Balkan War).
The Allies were joined by a large number of nations, eventually totaling 30 independent states and dominions. Of the nations joining the Allies, the most important ones were the following:
1. In 1914, Japan entered the war to acquire the German concessions in China and the German islands in the North Pacific.
2. In 1914, Italy refused to honor her alliance with Germany on the ground that the Central Powers were engaging in an aggressive, not a defensive, war. In 1915, Italy joined the Allies. She was won over by secret promises of Italia Irredenta, as well as by the prospects of other territorial gains at the expense of Austria and Turkey.
3. In 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies. This step, of tremendous significance to world history, (a) turned the tide of victory toward the Allies, (b) made a sharp break with America’s traditional foreign policy of isolation, (c) marked the emergence of America into world affairs. Military Aspects of the War:
1. The war was world-wide, being fought in Europe, Africa, the Near East, the Far East, and on the high seas. However, the leading theater of warfare was in Europe.
2. In Europe, there were three major battlefronts:
a). The Western Front. In 1914, German armies overran Belgium and northern France until halted by desperate French and British resistance at the battle of the Marne. Then the Western front became deadlocked; the opposing armies dug into the ground for trench warfare. In 1916, the Germans attempted to smash the Allied defenses, but were thrown back at the battles of Verdun and the Somme. In 1918, Allied armies, reinforced by fresh American troops, mounted a successful attack against the Germans & brought the war to a close.
b). The Eastern Front. From 1914 to 1917, German armies, with some support from Austria-Hungary, inflicted crushing defeats upon Russia’s forces. In 1917, a revolution took place in Russia and thereby eliminated her as a military factor in the war. In March, 1918, the new Communist government of Russia agreed to the harsh terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and officially withdrew from the war and the Central Powers. Meanwhile, troops of Germany and her allies were transferred to other battlefronts.
c). The Southern Front. In the Balkans and in northern Italy, the fortunes of battle see-sawed without any decisive trend until 1918. In that year, a combined Allied force drove Bulgaria out of the war, and a successful Italian offensive compelled war-weary Austria-Hungary to surrender.
3. On the high seas, the British navy, aided by the French and later the American navies, maintained Allied control of the shipping lanes, dealt successfully with the menace of German submarine warfare & effectively blockaded the Central Powers. In 1916, Germany attempted to break the blockade, but was halted by England in the famous naval battle of Jutland in the North Sea.
4. Science and industry, mobilized for warfare, responded with new weapons of destruction such as zeppelins, submarines, giant artillery guns (Big Berthas), tanks & poison gas. For the first time, the airplane was used in warfare, but mainly for purposes of observation.
5. In 1918, Marshal Foch of France was appointed as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of all the Allied forces on the Western Front, thus providing the military unity that led to victory.
6. Starting toward the end of 1917, an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) reached France. This army, which eventually totaled 2 million men, was led by General John J. Pershing. The American soldiers played a vital part in the crucial battles of 1918. At Chateau-Thiery and Belleau Wood, they helped halt the German offensive aimed at Paris. At St. Mihiel and the Argonne Forest, they advanced against the Germans in an Allied counter-offensive aimed at ending the war.
7. By the autumn of 1918, the German High Command, under General von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff, knew that the war was lost. Germany’s armies were war-weary and unable to withstand the Allied offensives. Germany’s allies were at the point of collapse, or had already surrendered. Germany sued for peace, and on November 11, 1918, signed an armistice, an agreement which ended hostilities and brought World War I to a close.
Treaty of Versailles. In January, 1919, leaders of the Allied nations met at Versailles, outside of Paris, to draw up a treaty of peace for Germany. The “Big Four” of this Paris Peace Conference were Prime Minister Lloyd George of Great Britain, Premiers Georges Clemenceau of France and Vittorio Orlando of Italy, and President Woodrow Wilson of the USA. Each had different views regarding a peace treaty. Lloyd George was determined to ensure England’s industrial, colonial and naval supremacy, and to make Germany pay for the war. Clemenceau, remembering the German invasions of 1870 and 1914, was determined to ensure France’s security by drastically weakening Germany. Orlando was determined to acquire territory in Europe as well as colonial possessions for Italy. Wilson was determined to have the treaty reflect the ideals of his 14 points respecting nationality, freedom of the seas and free trade.
Part 3: Treaty of Versailles: Important Provisions
1. Territorial. Germany: (a) Returned the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to France (or from German perspective-was compelled to give them to France). (b) Germany also transferred the Saar Valley to the authority of the new League of Nations, and the Saar’s rich coal mines to control of France. After a period of 15 years, the Saar inhabitants were to vote, by plebiscite, for either continuance of League authority or union with Germany or union with France. (c) Gave part of West Prussia, including the Polish Corridor to the Baltic Sea, to the new Polish republic. The Polish Corridor separated eastern Germany from the rest of the country. (d) Ceded Dazing, a city on the Baltic Sea, to the League of Nations to be governed as a free city in cooperation with Poland. (e) Made minor boundary adjustments in favor of Belgium and Denmark.
The territorial changes involving the Saar Valley and Danzig were based on economic considerations: Saar coal mines were to compensate France for German destruction to France’s homeland during the war; and Danzig was to provide Poland with her only seaport. The other territorial changes were, in the main, in accordance with the principle of nationality. However, it must be understood that near the borders of European countries the different nationalities are so intermixed that no boundary line could be precisely drawn to separate one nationality from another. (Thus, in the post-World War I period, there arose the problem of a German subject nationality in Poland).
2. Colonial. Germany surrendered all her colonies to the League of Nations, which in turn assigned them as mandates to England, the British Commonwealth dominions, France and Japan.
3. Disarmament. Germany’s military power was limited so as to render her unable to wage war again. The German army was restricted to a maximum of 100, 000 volunteers. Conscription was abolished. The Rhineland, that vital industrial region in western Germany, was permanently demilitarized. The German navy was reduced to a few small ships. Submarines (u-boats) and military aircraft were prohibited. Industries producing war materials were forbidden.
4. War Criminals. Provision was made for trying the Kaiser for offenses against “international morality,” but he fled to Holland. Some German military leaders were put on trial in Germany.
5. War Guilt and Reparations. Germany admitted her guilt in causing the war, and agreed to pay reparations for all damages.
6. League of Nations. The first article of the treaty provided for the establishment of the League of Nations.
Observations on The Treaty of Versailles
There is no doubt that the treaty held some imperfections and that it dealt severely with Germany. Considering the passions of the day, however, the treaty was remarkably fair. In keeping with Wilson’s 14 Points, the treaty achieved territorial changes of the defeated nations on the basis of nationality (recall that the nationalist aspirations of minorities within the victorious powers were ignored, e.g. Ireland, Ukraine, and the many colonies). Additionally, the League of Nations was formed. By disarming Germany, the treaty made a start toward world disarmament.
The Treaty of Versailles and World War II
Some historians maintain that the Treaty of Versailles planted the seeds of World War II. They point out that the Nazi Party, by attacking the severity of the treaty, gained the support of the German people and thus rose to power. Other historians disagree, pointing out that the German people expected to be treated leniently, and would have been ill-disposed toward any treaty imposing penalties upon them. These observers further maintain that Germany would have been unable to wage war again if the military provisions of the treaty had been enforced by the Allies when Germany first violated them.
Treaties with the Other Defeated Nations. The Treaty of Versailles set the pattern for settlements with the other defeated nations as follows:
1. The Treaty of St. Germain with Austria (1919) and the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary (1920) provided that, in accordance with the principle of nationality, (a) Austria and Hungary became separate national states, independent of each other, (b) Czechoslovakia, a new central European republic, be created entirely out of Austro-Hungarian territories inhabited mainly by Czechs (Bohemians) and Slovaks (two separate ethnic groups, (c) Italy, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia (the post-war name of greater Serbia-a union of all the South Slavs) were given Austro-Hungarian territories inhabited by their nationals. The Austrian Empire was no more.
2. The Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria (1919) provided that she (a) cede territories to Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece, and (b) agree to strict limitations on her army and to payment of reparations.
3. The Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey (1923) contained slightly better terms than originally had been offered that country by the Treaty of Sevres (1920). Under Mustapha Kemal, Turkey had secured this improved treaty by three years of continued military resistance and by diplomacy. In the Lausanne Treaty, Turkey lost her Arab territories, which became mandates of England and France. However, Turkey (a) retained full possession of Asia Minor, Constantinople (Istanbul) & the Dardanelles, (b) was not restricted as to her military forces, and (c) was released from payment of reparations.
The Results of World War I.
1. Social, (a) Almost 10 million men in service were killed, and 20 million others were wounded, (b) Millions of civilians died as a result of the hostilities, as well as from famine & disease. (c) The world was aflame with hatred, intolerance and extreme nationalism.
2. Economic. (a) The total cost of the war was over $350 billion. Meeting the cost of the war brought heavy taxation and a low standard of living to the peoples of Europe. (b) International trade was disrupted, because each nation sought to achieve economic self-sufficiency. (c) In Russia, the Communists gained control of the government and introduced a new economic system. (d) The economic dislocations caused by the war helped bring on the depression of 1929.
3. Political. (a) the United States emerged as the leading world power. (b) Several small, independent states were created in central Europe out of the former empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia. (c) National boundaries as established in central Europe, created several new instances of subject nationalities, especially a Germany minority in Poland and a German-speaking minority in Czechoslovakia. (d) Many European nations turned to dictatorship to solve their economic problems and to further their nationalist ambitions.