What Started World War I

Daven Hiskey 25
Today I found out what started World War I.

The commonly held notion that it was started out of outrage over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie at the hands of Serbian nationalist secret society known as the “Black Hand” isn’t entirely correct.  In fact, the Emperor Franz Josef himself expressed relief over the assassination because it rid him of an heir whom he deeply disliked.  The Emperor commented that “God will not be mocked.  A higher power had put back the order I couldn’t maintain.”

Indeed, it wasn’t just the Emperor who was relieved; it was reported by an Austrian newspaper that the general consensus among the various political circles was that the assassination, though a tragedy, was for the best.  As far as the Austrian people were concerned, it was noted “The event almost failed to make any impression whatever.  On Sunday and Monday, the crowds in Vienna listened to music and drank wine as if nothing had happened.”   Indeed, it took the government itself a full three weeks to react.

As you’ll see shortly, the “treaty alliance system” that was prevalent in Europe with numerous treaties interconnecting the various states was really at the heart of why what would have been a small conflict, not noteworthy in any way in history, escalated into one of the bloodiest wars in human history with over 15 million people dead.  Somewhat ironically, the spark that set it all off was the assassination that nobody really cared about.

So why go to war over an assassination, if nobody cared?  Because, while nobody seemed to much care about the assassination itself, Austria-Hungary had been looking for an excuse to wage a “preventative war” against Serbia as a state in order to weaken or destroy them so as to take back territory in the Balkans, which had been taken during the Balkan Wars.  They had not taken it back up to this point because they lacked Germany’s support; without that support, they feared Russia too much, because of the treaty Russia had with Serbia.

With the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28th, 1914, Austria-Hungary was able to secure the promise from Germany that it would aid in a war with Serbia and possibly Russia, if Russia chose to enter the fray due to their treaty with Serbia.  It should be noted here that Austria-Hungary did not really expect Russia to enter the fray as they expected this to be a very small war that would be over quickly, before Russia would be obligated to respond.  Now with Germany’s support if Russia did enter the fray, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia with remarkably severe terms that Serbia would be sure to reject, thus giving Austria-Hungary an excuse to go launch a limited war on Serbia to reclaim territory in the Balkans.

Surprisingly, Serbia responded relatively well to the ultimatum, but they did dispute a few minor clauses, which gave Austria-Hungary the excuse they needed to go to war.  At this point, the following general series of events happened due to a variety of existing treaties between various nations, which escalated this minor clash into the first “Great War”.

  • WWI MapRussia bound by their treaty with Serbia decides to come to Serbia’s aid.
  • Germany, with the recent treaty with Austria-Germany, declares war on Russia.
  • France, bound by an existing treaty with Russia, now is at war with Germany by association.  Germany then invades Belgium to have easy access to France.
  • Britain, allied to France with an existing treaty, declares war against Germany.  This was unexpected by Germany as they expected Britain to stay out of the war, due to the fact that the treaty with France was loosely worded and not entirely binding.  However, Britain also had a 75 year old treaty with Belgium.  So because of both of these treaties, they decided to declare war on Germany.
  • With Britain now warring with Germany, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa enter the war as they were colonies of Britain.
  • Japan honors an existing treaty with Britain and declares war on Germany.
  • Austria-Hungary declare war on Japan for declaring war on Germany.
  • The U.S. tries to stay out of the war but in 1917 decides to enter due to Germany’s submarines hindering the United States’ commercial shipping because the U.S. was shipping a lot of supplies to the Allies.

So in the end, a small quick war over a minor land dispute got turned into a lengthy war that was joined by powers all over the globe due to a variety of existing treaties dating back as much as 75 years before the war started.

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25 Comments »

  1. August Obrecht January 31, 2010 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    Nice post!!

  2. Rick_MK December 10, 2010 at 6:19 am - Reply

    One thing that’s missing here is the reason why the archduke was assassinated by the Black Hand! A lot of it has to do with the animosity of the Orthodox religion against the Catholic Church which was at the heart of the conflict; a tension which still continues to linger in some Orthodox countries.

  3. chris December 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Although I’m not sure when Australia,NZ, and SA officially gained their independence, Canada most certainly NOT a British Colony at the time of WWI. We had close ties to Britain still and were obligated to enter the fray do to these, but we became a country in 1867.

  4. jimbob December 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Kaiser Wilhelm was the biggest factor for WWI – a spoiled little brat with a gimpy left arm with HUGE inferiority complex ready to take it out on the world – responsible for both World Wars

  5. Reynaldo December 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    wikileaks will trigger the next war?

    • bob April 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      really?

  6. Omu December 18, 2010 at 10:10 am - Reply

    Rick, there is much more animosity of the Catholic Church against the Orthodox religion in last century. Vatican used to re-baptize Orthodox people during II World War and thus convert them to the Catholic Church. Black Hand was an organization who was against Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 and there were not only Serb nationalists, but Muslims too. Here is a caricature from Austrian newspapers calling for war against Serbia right after assassination as a proof that war was desired by Austria-Hungaria:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Serbien_muss_sterbien.jpg

  7. Mr. R February 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    I really suggest that whoever wrote this article, read Hew Strachans’ “The First World War”. It’s a really great book detailing the causes, duration, and effects of the first world war. If you can not read the book for what ever reason, then I suggest you watch the documentary by the same name. In fact, anyone who reads this and is interested in the First World War, I suggest this to you.

  8. Anthony February 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    @ Chris:

    you did not become a nation in 1867, in 1867 you combined british colonies under confederation into one provence under the word Canada. But up until 1937 you still relyed on Britian for foreign affairs and other things. It wasnt untill 1937 that you got more autonomity from the brits. Then FINALLY in 1982 you severed all ties to the British Parlament (vestige and legal independence). Your relationship was quid pro quo…

    and by 1907 the start of the war, considering you were reliant on the british for foreign affairs (which what ww1 was to the canadians) then walla you got British control over Canada to enter the war…

    there are other gaps but you get the idea…you cant claim independence when your suckling on the nanny states ‘tata’s for the next century…

  9. vesey March 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Actually Anthony, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and S.A. were all self governing members of a very close knit commonwealth of english speaking former colonies. Their going to war when England did was a independent act of their respective parliaments. Because of the various dates of internal self governance being within 50 years of WW1′s start, there remained a very close attachment to England and their shared head of state King George V. However all had independent parliaments and prime ministers as head of gov’t……

  10. Katlen January 26, 2012 at 8:47 am - Reply

    Very nice. This helped me with my social studies essay.

  11. Katlen January 26, 2012 at 8:48 am - Reply

    We are learning about this now, 8th grade Social Studies evolves alot around WW1.

  12. Stephan February 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    1. There was tension between the French and the Germans because the Prussians won in a war against the French and gained Alsace and Lorraine.
    2. Germany was in a Triple alliance with BOTH Russia and Austria-Hungary, however when Bismarck fell out of power the Russian-German alliance broke and the French created an alliance with Russia.
    3. The Germans wanted a war with the French and had created the “Schlieffen” plan years before it started, which was to capture Paris and knock the French out of the war and return to the east before the Russian army was able to mobilize.
    4. The war was caused because of the rise of “Imperialism” and “Nationalism” in the European nations. Which also caused the arms race, which made Europe ready to burst with military power.
    5. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the Americans that won the war, the entrance of America in the war just made the German High Command give up faster, the Germans made their last offensive in the summer of 1918, and when they heard that a million more men will be entering the war on the opposite side in 1919, they knew that they had no chance. If America did not enter the war they may have lasted a year longer, a year and a half at best.

  13. Dawn May 7, 2012 at 9:32 am - Reply

    So basically, austria or Germany (I got a lil confused there) just got greedy and caused all the pain and tragedy in the world for no real reason, just land!!

  14. Stephan May 10, 2012 at 11:58 am - Reply

    1. There was tension between the French and the Germans because the Prussians won in a war against the French and gained Alsace and Lorraine.
    2. Germany was in a Triple alliance with BOTH Russia and Austria-Hungary, however when Bismarck fell out of power the Russian-German alliance broke and the French created an alliance with Russia.
    3. The Germans wanted a war with the French and had created the “Schlieffen” plan years before it started, which was to capture Paris and knock the French out of the war and return to the east before the Russian army was able to mobilize.
    4. The war was caused because of the rise of “Imperialism” and “Nationalism” in the European nations. Which also caused the arms race, which made Europe ready to burst with military power.
    5. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the Americans that won the war, the entrance of America in the war just made the German High Command give up faster, the Germans made their last offensive in the summer of 1918, and when they heard that a million more men will be entering the war on the opposite side in 1919, they knew that they had no chance. If America did not enter the war they may have lasted a year longer, a year and a half at best.

  15. caroline September 19, 2012 at 6:02 am - Reply

    one Question I have to ask is this. Did Germany asked the Black hand to kill the duke?

  16. dawg September 21, 2012 at 6:21 am - Reply

    my name is JASEPH and this site doesnt know ANYTHING this all wrong i killed Franz Ferdininad jk lololololololoololololol

  17. Boris December 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    caroline@ Nope, they were enemies.

  18. beci January 5, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    LOL! naive…definetly!

    you should look up dodds interview regarding the carnegie investigation.

    Norman Dodd, former director of the Committee to Investigate Tax Exempt Foundations of the U.S. House of Representatives, testified that the Committee was invited to study the minutes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as part of the Committee’s investigation. The Committee stated: “The trustees of the Foundation brought up a single question. If it is desirable to alter the life of an entire people, is there any means more efficient than war…. They discussed this question… for a year and came up with an answer: There are no known means more efficient than war, assuming the objective is altering the life of an entire people. That leads them to a question: How do we involve the United States in a war. This is in 1909.”

    although intervention seems an annual tradition these days, to believe nations do anything that isnt in theiri nterests is just a lack of logic!

    also the outcome of ww1 was the sykes-pecko agreement!

    ww1 was about a lot more than binding treaties. the small planned war was well organised pretext to involve the other countries!

    result= the league of nations…only the americans wanted none of it!

  19. Robert t Poole February 25, 2013 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Simply an Awesome clear concise and highly readable and understandable breakdown of the causes of the Great War, very well done,

  20. nichole March 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    this helped me get a 100 on my social studies test although i like this wesite i still think they could have provided more information thank you tso much to the creaters

  21. Jeremy December 30, 2013 at 3:30 am - Reply

    Have a read of this excerpt, written by AJP Taylor who is largely to be considered one of the best informed WWI historians, and tell me that all the preamble (assassinations and treaties) to The Great War wasn’t all pretext to something that had already been long planned out.

    http://www.ae.metu.edu.tr/~evren/history/texts/taylor1.htm

  22. TheBigOne November 24, 2014 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the attention! Too bad that here in the USA the indoctrination centres known as *public schools* try to push it on kids that it’s all religious reasons.

    I actually have read it and it’s the teachers that emphasize the religious aspects but most kids just read what they are required at the minimum not giving a rip.

    As usual thru history even today most wars are over resources and land grabs.

    The Salem Witch Trials religion actually had very little to do with it. The problem was again land grabs from widows who had large plots of unused land judges wanted.

    The religious excuses were only enough to start it as the church only read select passages from the bible not seeing the *big* picture so go right along with the majority but in the end it was all about power and land rights.

    When will people be happy with the land they have and use their own resources more wisely instead of ignoring it and trying to take it from others?

  23. TheBigOne November 24, 2014 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Also thank you for not having a lot of military lingo that goes on and on making the scroll bar really tiny.

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