Who caused the deaths of over 20,000,000 people? Was it a single, callous, malicious person? Was it a group of these people or a country that caused the Great War? Or could it have been a system or policy at that time? Who caused the events that inspired the Jewish poet Isaac Rosenburg to write the poem ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ in 1917?’The wheels lurched over sprawled deadBut pained them not, though their bones crunched;Their shut mouths made no moan.They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,Man born of man, and born of woman;And shells go crying over themFrom night till night and now.’Private Isaac Rosenburg, 22311, was killed on April 1st, 1918, at dawn while on night patrol. Just another of the 20,000,000 then.France had completely resented Germany for years. The Franco-Prussian War began in July 1870 as a result of a dispute between France and Prussia, the main German State. All the other German states joined Prussia, and the conflict became one between France and Germany. The war ended with the Treaty of Frankfurt, which was signed on May 10, 1871. The treaty provided that France would give most of Alsace and part of Lorraine (parts of West France) to Germany, pay Germany 5 billion francs, and support a German army of occupation until the huge sum was paid. The money was paid off surprisingly quickly due to the French pulling together and taking out loans. However, there were two effects of this war, which contributed to World War One.The first was the new German Empire. Before the Franco-Prussian War, Germany had been made up of small independent states – over 40 of them. Prussia’s defeat of Austria in the Seven-Week War of 1866 had established it as the main German State. After the Franco-Prussian War, Germany’s states joined up together and the government realised how strong the new empire could potentially be.The second effect concerned France’s feelings towards Germany. They were extremely angry about their defeat and the loss of Alsace and Lorraine. Their hatred for Germany had increased even more, setting the stage for another war between them.An underlying cause of the First World War was nationalism. Nationalism is the political ideology that all people of the same ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the right to independent states. At the close of the century, however, the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in other areas of Europe, resulting in tensions both within the regions involved and between various European nations. One particularly prominent nationalistic movement, Panslavism (the belief that all Eastern Orthodox Slavs should live in their own country), figured heavily in the events preceding the war.The spirit of nationalism also showed in economic rivalry. The Industrial Revolution, which took place in Britain at the end of the 18th century, followed in France in the early 19th century, and then in Germany after 1870, caused an great increase in each country’s produce and a need for foreign countries to sell their goods in. The desired place for the European countries to have colonies was Africa, and on that continent colonial rivalry was usual. Several times between 1898 and 1914 the economic rivalry in Africa between France and Britain, and between Germany on one side and France and Britain on the other, almost precipitated a European war. An important example of this would be the Agadir Crisis.On July 1st, 1911, Germany’s warship ‘The Panther’ landed at Morocco’s main port, Agadir. This angered the French owner’s of the country, who had taken it to Germany’s objection in 1905, as they thought Germany would try and take Agadir. The British were also very worried by this move as they had a naval base in Gibraltar, Southern Spain, only a few miles north of Morocco. Germany could easily challenge them if they had Agadir as their port, and Britain prepared for a war. The war never came – Germany gave way and let France have their port. But the damage was done. Britain and France’s relations with Germany were even more strained and could have snapped at any time.As a result of such tensions, between 1871 and 1914 the nations of Europe adopted domestic measures and foreign policies that in turn steadily increased the danger of war. Convinced that they were threatened, they maintained large standing armies, and increased the size of their navies. The naval race was intensely competitive. Britain, influenced by the growing German navy, begun in 1900 and by the events of the Russo-Japanese War, developed its fleet under the direction of Admiral Sir John Fisher. The war between Russia and Japan had proved that long-range naval guns were effective and the British developed the revolutionary and widely copied Dreadnought battleship, with a lot of armaments. Developments in other areas of military technology and organisation led to the dominance of general staffs with precisely laid plans for mobilisation and attack, often in situations that an army couldn’t get out of once they had got into it. This became apparent during the war, when soldiers would stay in virtually the same place for long periods of time in the trench-filled battlefields.The countries of Europe started to make moves that eventually would make the scale of the war much larger. Germany’s government decided it was in their best interests to make alliances with countries for extra protection if a war began. In 1879, Austria signed a treaty with Germany and a strong alliance was born. Germany’s next move was to ally with Italy in 1882, and then with Russia in 1887. Unfortunately, Russia and Austria were enemies because of conflicts in the Balkans, so Germany did not renew the alliance with Russia in 1890. France felt threatened by The Central Powers (the name for the alliances between Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy), so in 1892, a treaty was signed with Russia for protection and support. In 1904, Britain, feeling worried about Germany’s growing naval force, allied with France and in 1907 with Russia. Now Europe had been divided into two armed camps – the Central Powers and the Triple Entente (the name for France, Britain and Russia’s alliance).Southeast Europe is known as The Balkans. For centuries, the powerful Turks had ruled it, but when their empire began to fall apart in the 19th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire swooped in and took much of the Balkans for itself. Only Bosnia, Albania and Montenegro were still ruled by the Turks and four countries gained independence – Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria and Serbia. Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908.The Russians started to get very friendly with the people in the Balkans, persuading them to rebel against Turkish rule with a theory called Panslavism. Many Russians were Eastern Orthodox Christian Slavs, and the people in the Balkans were too. The Russians told them that they would help them if they tried to gain independence from Turkish rule, but they were actually manipulating these people for their own gain. Russia wanted the Dardanelles, a narrow strip of sea which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, because all of their Northern ports were frozen in winter, and the Dardanelles provided a route into the ocean. Turkey still controlled the Dardanelles at this time, but if the Slavic people of the Balkans rebelled, Turkey would weaken and Russia would have a chance to gain control of the Dardanelles.This angered Austria, as they hated Serbia, now on friendly terms with Russia. The inhabitants of Bosnia were mainly Serbian, and wanted to live freely like the Serbs in Serbia. The Austro-Hungary Empire was in danger of disintegrating if people rebelled for freedom, so their relations with Russia became much worse than they had been previously. The Central Powers were not very fond of the Triple Entente, and vice versa – another push towards full-scale warfare.The Balkan Wars began in 1912, ending a year later. Turkey had lost most of its countries by now, but was clinging on to Macedonia. The Balkan League, which was made up of the free Balkan countries, including Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia, wanted Macedonia to be free. A war was fought between Turkey and the League, ending in all the Turks being driven out from the area. In 1913, another war was fought, this time between the League members – Serbia and Greece versus Bulgaria. This was because Serbia wanted more of Macedonia for itself, annoying Bulgaria who attacked Serbia. The war was over within 2 months, but had some important results.It resulted in an increased desire on the part of Serbia to obtain the parts of Austria-Hungary inhabited by Slavic peoples, strengthened Austro-Hungarian suspicion of Serbia, and left Bulgaria and the Turkish Empire, both defeated in the wars, with a desire for revenge. Germany, disappointed because Turkey had been deprived of its European territory by the Balkan Wars, increased the size of its army.Every war has a trigger. The trigger for the war to end all wars occurred in 1914, on a sunny June day in Belgrade, capital of Bosnia. The Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria’s nephew, Archduke Francis Ferdinand (heir to the Austrian empire) and his wife Sophie were visiting for a military inspection. Members of the Black Hand Gang, a Serbian nationalist group, decided to kill him. Borijove Jevtic, one of the conspirators, gave this eyewitness account:”When Francis Ferdinand and his retinue drove from the station they were allowed to pass the first two conspirators. The motor cars were driving too fast to make an attempt feasible and in the crowd were many Serbians; throwing a grenade would have killed many innocent people.When the car passed Gabrinovic, the compositor, he threw his grenade. It hit the side of the car, but Francis Ferdinand with presence of mind threw himself back and was uninjured. Several officers riding in his attendance were injured.The cars sped to the Town Hall and the rest of the conspirators did not interfere with them. After the reception in the Town Hall General Potiorek, the Austrian Commander, pleaded with Francis Ferdinand to leave the city, as it was seething with rebellion. The Archduke was persuaded to drive the shortest way out of the city and to go quickly.The road to the manoeuvres was shaped like the letter V, making a sharp turn at the bridge over the River Nilgacka. Francis Ferdinand’s car could go fast enough until it reached this spot but here it was forced to slow down for the turn. Here Princip had taken his stand.As the car came abreast he stepped forward from the curb, drew his automatic pistol from his coat and fired two shots. The first struck the wife of the Archduke, the Archduchess Sofia, in the abdomen. She was an expectant mother. She died instantly.The second bullet struck the Archduke close to the heart.He uttered only one word, ‘Sofia’ — a call to his stricken wife. Then his head fell back and he collapsed. He died almost instantly.The officers seized Princip. They beat him over the head with the flat of their swords. They knocked him down, they kicked him, scraped the skin from his neck with the edges of their swords, tortured him, all but killed him.”This was the end of peace in Europe. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the rather insane ruler of Germany, was horrified at the assassination and sent a telegram to Emperor Josef offering support and advising him to declare war on Serbia. The Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II (cousin to the Kaiser and King George V of Britain) sent a telegram begging him to hold back:St. Petersburg, July 29, 1914, 1:00 A.M. – Tsar Nicholas II to Kaiser Wilhelm II: “I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. Nicky”Unfortunately, Tsar Nicholas realised that The Central Powers were not going to hold back, so he mobilised his army that afternoon. This gave the Kaiser an excuse to do the same thing.Two days later, Germany declared war on his cousin’s country because Russia was backing Serbia. Another two days later, Germany declared war on its old adversary, France. They intended to invade using the Schlieffen Plan – they would attack France going through Belgium, and deal with Russia after an easy surprise victory over France.However, this was not going to work. Belgium was a neutral country, but Britain wanted to help them when the strong German forces invaded them. Britain’s entry into the war was on August 4th, 1914. The First World War was already in motion.In conclusion, I have found that no one person was to blame for one of the worst wars in human history. Many countries contributed to the tension and hatred surrounding the pre-war years, but more to blame, in my opinion, were certain systems. Imperialism, nationalism and the alliance system all greatly contributed to this tension and Gavrillo Princip’s act simply pushed everyone over the edge. Even if he had been stopped, war would have probably still broken out – war was imminent before the assassination, not directly after it. Unfortunately, mankind did not learn from the First World War, but hopefully if we look back, war can be avoided in the future for good. And as the poet Wilfred Owen wrote in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’:”My friend; you would not tell with such high zestTo children ardent for some desperate glory,The old Lie: Dulce et decorum estPro patria mori”*Sarah Watson*The last two lines of this poem mean ‘It is a good and fitting thing to die for your country’.


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