This November 11 will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Great War, the War to End All Wars. The United States entered into world prominence when it joined WW I on the side of the Allies in 1918. To commemorate and remember that war, I’m going to make a few posts, lest we forget.
The causes of World War I are debated by historians. It’s commonly said that the war began when the Austrian archduke Ferdinand and his wife were shot by a Bosnian revolutionary in the summer of 1914. But that was just the match laid to the tinder and kindling that had been set in Europe for decades.
Some historians point to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 as a main cause. That war, won by Prussia, re-unified Germany. For decades France, it is speculated, was looking for an excuse to take on the Germans and get revenge for what was a terrible defeat. The re-unification of Germany also led to a number of alliances, two between Germany and Austria-Hungary, on one hand; and one among France, Britain and Russia and several between France and Russia, both of whom wanted to protect themselves against what they viewed as increasing German militarism.
For its part, Germany had been planning another expansion of its borders, with the development of the Schlieffen Plan in 1905-06. This plan, named after Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen, head of the German Imperial Army, was developed as an offensive against the French Third Republic.
With the Schlieffen Plan for an invasion of France in place for over a decade, growing alliances between nations, rising imperialsim and nationalism, the fire was laid. All that was required was a match. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand provided that. Outraged by the deed, Austria-Hungary declared war on the tiny and all-but defenseless Serbia. It offered terms that were completely unreasonable. Serbia looked to its ally, Russia, with whom it had a pact. Austria-Hungary looked to its ally, Germany, in the face of Russian intervention. With Germany potentially entering the war, Russia turned to its ally, France. That provided all the incentive the Germans needed to implement the Schlieffen plan and invade France. France, in turn, sought Britain’s help.
World War I had begun.