HS-102 Readings

Causes of World War I

WHAT WERE THE MAJOR CAUSES FOR WORLD WAR I?

HOW DID NATIONALISM IN THE BALKANS CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMING OF WAR?

HOW DID NATIONALISM AMONG THE GREAT POWERS CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMING OF WAR?

HOW DID THE ALLIANCE SYSTEM CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMING OF THE WAR?

HOW DID MILITARISM CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMING OF WAR?

    The instability in the Balkans was the weak link in the complex of relationships that had developed in Europe. Multi-national uprisings in the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian empire were causing their disintegration.

    Greece became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1829.

    In 1867, the Austrian government granted local autonomy to the Hungarians, and the empire became known as Austria-Hungary. This was an effort to contain the multi-national unrest by responding to the demands of the most powerful national independence movement. But 60% of the population still consisted of nationalities which clamored for independence.

    In 1878, following upon the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War and the subsequent agreements at the Congress of Berlin, Romania and Serbia became independent, Bulgaria obtained local autonomy, and Bosnia was occupied, though not annexed, by Austria-Hungary.

    In 1885, East Roumelia was included as a part of Bulgaria.

    In 1908, a nationalist rebellion by Turkish military officers (The Young Turks) overthrew the government of the Sultan. This ended the many-centuries-long history of the Ottoman Empire with the establishment of a Turkish national state based upon the preponderance of Turkish people in Asia Minor. It also encouraged a separatist movement among the different ethnic groups in the Ottoman portion of the Balkans.

    Also in 1908, Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia. Russia had tentatively agreed on condition that the Russians be granted the right of passage of their warships through the Straits of Dardenelles. But England and France refused to agree, while the Austrians went ahead unilaterally with their part of the arrangement. The Russians were infuriated. So also were the Serbs because many millions of their compatriots lived across the border from Serbia in Bosnia.

    In 1912, the Serbs, Greece and Bulgaria combined against Turkish rule and partitioned Macedonia among themselves in the First Balkan War. Dispute over the spoils led to the
Second Balkan War in 1913. Austrian intervention during the Third Balkan War compelled the Serbs to give up Albania.

    The Ottoman Empire lost all of its holdings on the European continent with the exception of Thrace and the city of Istanbul (Constantinople).

    These historic developments encouraged nationalist groups in Austria-Hungary in the hope that they too might soon achieve their independence.

    It was in this context that the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo (the capitol of Bosnia) while observing Austrian military maneuvers and making public appearances.

    The Serbian nationalist Black Hand society was implicated. The Austrians were determined to root out this organization whose support was in Serbia. After a month of political maneuverings in which Austria-Hungary obtained an unrestricted pledge of German support, and determined to punish Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian government presented Serbia with a series of demands linked to a 48 hour ultimatum.

    The demands involved allowing Austrian officials to go into Serbia to conduct an investigation.  The Serbs met most of the demands, but the Austrian government was not satisfied, and declared war on Serbia one month after the assassination.

    The Russians would not stand by and allow their Slavic compatriots to be overrun, and they ordered mobilization of their army. This caused the Germans to put the Schlieffen Plan into effect. The Russians failed to meet a 24-hour ultimatum from the Germans to cease their mobilization, and the French gave a vague reply to a 48-hour ultimatum. The German invasion of Belgium, on the way to France, assured that the English Parliament would vote for war with Germany.

    National feeling among the peoples of England, France, Germany  and Russia assured that they would loyally support the decisions of their governments, even if those decisions meant going to war. To do otherwise was to be considered a traitor, and very few were courageous enough to go against the tide.