Why did the First World War start?

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mvs | 00:34 Fri 18th Apr 2008 | History
9 Answers
OK, so we know the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary sparked the start of The First World War... But why should it begin a war involving forces from Germany, France, Britain + commonwealth & eventually USA, Russia, Italy, Serbia, Turkey and Japan ?

I mean - can someone give a simple answer to what the politics, or social nature of the world was at the time, that could possibly let that happen...?
A depiction of World War I


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Europe was a land of Empires in the early 1900s.

There was the British empire, the Ottoman (Turkish) empire, the German empire, the Austro Hungarian empire, the Russian empire and so on on.

These empires tended to make "pacts" with each other, so Britain, France and Russia made various pacts, and Germany, Austro Hungary and Italy made various pacts.

Each of them wanted to be "top dog" in Europe and I think at the time it was like a gun powder keg waiting to go off.

The British were annoyed that Germany was flexing its muscles by increasing their military might, so it was felt the British needed to teach Germany a lesson so we would stay top dog.

The assasination was just a small spark, but because each of these "empires" had agreed to support each other via these pacts it escalated into a full scale war.

There is a long but well written article here
Try to watch the film "Oh what a lovely war" directed by Richard Attenborough. Have to say it is probably my favorite film.

This film gives a pretty good overview of the first world war, with a mixture of satire, jokes, songs, and some thought provoking moments.

He does start the film with an overview of how each of the various countries made friends with each other and offered to support each other.

It shows how the war affected the "Smith" family, a mythical family who represent the typical british man (from working clas to posh toff).

He sets the first world war on Brighton pier, making it seem as though it was all light hearted, but then flashes to scenes of the "real" war in France.

You never actually see anyone killed in the film, every time there is a gun shot, or an explosion, the camera just cuts to a single poppy, or a group of poppies.

And if the end does not bring a lump to your throat I will be very surprised.

It is available on DVD.
I was going to suggest watching "Oh What a Lovely War" but was beaten to it. A brilliant film that explains why "the lamps went out across Europe". Get the video from your library and settle down to watch a damn good film but watch out for the "whizz bangs"
I think Britain probably was top dog, but not by much. The theory around in those days was the 'balance of powers' - which meant no nation should really be top dog, not even Britain; if one did begin to pull away (and Germany was arming and industrialising) then the others would combine against it.

We've got more or less the opposite of that situation today, where the USA is so powerful it thinks it can do whatever it likes, which is what brought us the war in Iraq. So there was something to be said for the balance of powers; it brought a lot of fighting, though ore or less between equals.
Didn't someone called Archie Duke shoot an Ostrich?
>Didn't someone called Archie Duke shoot an Ostrich?

Blackadder goes Forth !
Oh God there are books written about this.

I quite like AJP Taylors altho he is not rated as an historian

I mean you can credibly ask why didnt the War start in 1908 or 1911. The Balkans were unstable for ten or fifteen years.

Once you have done that you migh ask - why or how do wars end ? AJP Taylor again
A J P Taylor also believed that had Gavrilo Princip not assassinated Franz Ferdinand in 1914 there would possibly have been no war for many years; and maybe none at all.

This was based on the known fact that Franz Ferdinand had said publicly that he would grant independence to the Austro-Hungarian Balkan states rather engage in war for them. Bearing in mind that Franz Josef died in 1916 and F/F would then have inherited the throne this seems entirely plausible.

We can then speculate that without WWI there would have been no Russian revolution and no WWII.

Whatever you choose to think there can be no doubt that the political map of Europe would be very different from the one we see today had it not been for the shots that rang around the world!
It was down to the alliance systems, Austria -Hungary, Italy and Germany formed the triple alliance. England France and Russia formed the Triple entent.

Germany had been out for extra land for sometime, she felt penned in by France and's the cliche Germany was the only nation who had a war plan, the Schlieffen plan, and this had been under lock and key since 1906, Germany was prepared to go to war to obtain her aims, no matter what the cost, The assassination of the Arch duke was merely the Catylist that sparked off the war, but played into Germany's hands. Britain had to get in volved because, in1839 she had signed the Treaty of London with Belgium, promising to protect Belgium in the event of hostilities by other nations, she had to adhere to that treaty. Serbia, was bound to be involved because Gavrillo Princip was a serb, and he was the one who fired the gun that killed the arch duke and his wife.

In conclusion and a nutshell, all the bigger nations, had empires and the countries in those empires were bound by their positions in the empire to take up arms in support.
Hope this helps you


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