The Start of World War One:
An Unseen Blood Bath
World War One began in August 1914 when Austria declared war on Serbia, after Francis Ferdinand was assassinated. The war sparked a wave of death and destruction unseen of before, including the death of more than 30 million people. This war involved almost every country in the western world who found themselves thrown into a blood bath that spanned for four years, until peace was declared in 1918. Since that day forward, many scholars have argued and pondered the cause of this horrific event and many reasons have been given for why the war broke out. Imperialism was the primary cause that contributed to the start of World War One.
Imperialism is the effort by one country to become in every aspect the most powerful country in the world. In the years leading up to the start of World War One several countries were acting imperialistically. Germany was trying to get more power to stop the bad economic problems in the country. Great Britain was trying to get more power to keep its title as the greatest navy in the world, and to stop Germany from growing stronger. France, Italy and to some extent the U.S. were all trying to grow their influence throughout the world and become a strong world power. All of these countries had one thing in common, they wanted more power to help improve their own countries economy and make their own countries grow stronger. These imperialistic ideas are what sparked World War One.
Prior to the war, many countries in Western Europe were experiencing difficult economic issues and each were seeking new ways to rebuild their country. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm III was ruling Germany at the time. He wanted to expand his empire through imperialism. He took control over Kamerun, Togo land, German East Africa, and South West Africa. Germanys main motives were to expand politically, economically and socially to become the strongest country. And also involved was the need by all countries to expand their natural resources so that their economies could grow.
For example, in the early 1900's the industrial revolution was in full bloom and "mercantilism", the idea that there is a certain amount of wealth in the world and in order to increase a country's wealth it needs to dominate others, was a dominate feature of western European thinking. In fact, most of Western Europe was in competition for more raw materials to increase their wealth and foster their imperialistic desires. When the demand for cheap raw materials went up, countries started to scramble to find regions in the world that they could control.
One good example of imperialism was the way that Western Europe invaded and controlled Africa. In fact, by the end of the nineteenth century all of Africa was under the control of mainly European countries. Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy each fought for control over different parts of Africa in the years leading up to the war. Ethiopia and Liberia were the only two countries that resisted the European takeover.
Another specific example of how imperialism, the need for power, and mercantilism, the desire for money worked together to cause World War One is the change of weapons and military transportation that occurred in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War One.Ships were being perfected and instead of wooden ships with sails, countries were starting to use steamships. Those large ships needed a massive amount of coal to power the steamships but the ships couldn’t take enough coal for the entire trip. When countries took control of colonies they could set up coal refueling stations along their route. In Africa, this occurred in Port Guinea, which was controlled by Portugal, in Walvis Bay, controlled by Great Britain and many more. Many of the Pacific Islands of were also used as coal refueling stations to refuel ships allowing them to make long trips around the world, a key advantage when fighting your enemy across the world.
The battle to control the sea and be the best navy in the world, an important feature of the desire to gain power in the late 1800's and early 1900's definition of imperialism, also sparked tension between Great Britain and Germany. Great Britain had the biggest and most advanced naval force in the entire world, but in 1897 Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II decided that he wanted Germany to have the best naval force. Soon other countries such as France, Italy, Japan, and the U.S. were joining the naval race.
Another feature of imperialism that contributed to the war was the nationalism that was sweeping many countries. This happened through countries encouraging their citizens to stand up and become unified as a country. Political leaders in Germany, like Kaiser Wilhelm, were telling their citizens that they should always put their own country first and to not trust other countries or their citizens. Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith in England used the same type of talk to mobilize his peoples. The culture of the people living through this time changed dramatically through imperialism. The idea that it was Germany's or Britain’s duty to dominate or “civilize” other cultures, especially in Africa, caused many citizens to join the cause for expansion of colonies.Through imperialism, western European countries were able to disregard the horrible conditions that they inflicted on others. The dominating countries, believed that their ideas, the idea of the white man's superiority and knowledge, should be taught to every un civilized country. Many countries although they said they were trying to do good for the colonies would often abuse the people to benefit themselves. In Russia, Czar Nicolas II told the world that he wished to unite all the Slavic-speaking people under his leadership through what he called “pan-Slavism”. But Czar Nicholas actually wanted the Balkans because it had access to a warm water port in the Black Sea. He abused the Slavic people purely for his own benefit, while lying to his citizens about his real motivation just to give them false reasoning. The easy control of smaller, less powerful countries caused the few dominating countries to fight even harder to be the best in the world
The demand for power caused a tangled system of alliances to form with countries thought the world. Many countries signed peace treaties stating that they would fight with each other if their ally were ever in war. It was a precaution provoked by fear, and it caused two major groups to form. The Allies, which consisted of France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and eventually the USA. The other group of allies were called the Central Powers, and it consisted of Austria-Hungary, Germany, The Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.
This caused a dangerously complicated domino effect of war. One conflict between two countries could end up involving most of the world because of the alliances and treaties. The paranoia of war created a system that would ultimately cause the war from being a battle between two countries and a full out massacre of the human race.
Imperialism created an epidemic of power in people across the world. It was born from mercantilism, economic issues and nationalistic desires. The need to have the top naval army to expand a country's power caused so much tension that every country was doing all they could to prepare themselves for any war they might face. It turns out however, that in their struggles to become the most prepared for war and the most powerful country they caused a bigger war than anyone thought possible. Countries abused weaker countries and the split in power throughout the world became a ticking time bomb for a massive world war. Imperialism created a demand to become the greatest country in the world, and it soon became apparent, with disastrous results, that people would do anything to rise to the top.
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