Guide The Origins of World War I

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In , Serbia unleashed the fury of war, as the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were both murdered by Serbian terrorists. The murders had been organized by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrevic, chief of the intelligence department of the Serbian General Staff, while the Russian military attache in Belgrade, Colonel Artamanov, financed them. Thus tsarist Russia bears the main responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War.

Russia encouraged Serbia to war, and on July 25 the Russian Privy Council decided on a partial mobilization of the Western provinces adjacent to Austria-Hungary and Germany. Russia had been allied with France since ; France had connected herself with England in by the "Entente Cordiale," and Russia had made an agreement with England in The encirclement of the two Central Powers-Germany and Austria -- was complete.

Italy was an unreliable ally of the Central Powers; but it was only the British declaration of war against Germany on August 4, , that enlarged the European conflict into a world war. Following the 27th of July, the British navy was the first force to fully mobilize. Two years before the outbreak of that war, convinced of the inevitability of war between England and Germany, the American author Homer Lea wrote in his book The Day of the Saxon. The German Empire is less in area than the single state of Texas, while the Saxon race claims political dominion over half of the landed surface of the earth and over all its ocean wastes.

Yet the German Empire possesses a greater revenue than the American Republic, is the richest nation in productivity and possesses a population 50 percent greater than the United Kingdom. Its actual military power is manifoldly greater than that of the entire Saxon race. Germany is so tightly encircled by the Saxon race that it cannot make even a tentative extension of its territory or political sovereignty over non-Saxon states without endangering the integrity of the Saxon world. Germany cannot move against France without involving or including in its downfall that of the British Empire.

It cannot move against Denmark on the North, Belgium and the Netherlands on the West or Austria-Hungary on the South without involving the British nation in a final struggle for Saxon political existence. Any extension of German sovereignty over these non-British states predetermines the political dissolution of the British Empire.

In a like manner any extension of Teutonic sovereignty in the western hemisphere, though against a non-Saxon race and remote from the territorial integrity of the American Republic, can only succeed in the destruction of American power in the western hemisphere. Germany faced the Triple Entente of the British Empire, France, and Russia, while its own allies -- Austria-Hungary, the Turkish Empire, and, since , Bulgaria, were all weak and in need of support.

Italy, which had originally been allied with the two Central Powers, remained at first neutral and then entered the war on the side of the Entente. Despite the unequal distribution of forces, the military ability and economic competence of Germany, as well as the spirit of sacrifice and endurance shown by its people, proved so strong that Germany's eastern enemy, Russia, collapsed in the spring of Fate seemed to have decided in favor of the Central Powers.

The Western allies were facing the necessity of a compromise settlement of peace. In order to avoid that, England then entangled the United States in the war. After the outbreak of war in , the U. Most of this traffic in arms was conducted by the Morgan banking company.

To secure its arms manufacturers' profits, the U. The decisive influence in winning the Wilson Administration over to war was that of the Zionists. England had won their help by promising to establish a national home for Jews in Palestine if Jews exercised their influence in Washington in favor of an active American military intervention in the European war. The decision was facilitated by the fact that their kinsmen were able to seize power in Russia in by the Bolshevik revolution after the downfall of the anti-semitic tsarist regime.

It was the intervention of the United States which decided the war in favor of the Entente,. In October the last Imperial government of the German Reich asked-Wilson, the American president, to mediate talks regarding an armistice and eventually a peace treaty, based on the "Fourteen Points" he had proclaimed earlier.

The Western Allies, however, did not adhere to these "Fourteen Points. According to Baruch, the President had refused "to accept measures which clearly do not respond to the motions we had persuaded the enemy to agree to and of which we may not change anything, just because we are powerful enough to do that. Similarly, the South African prime minister, General Smuts, in his letter to the American president dated May 30, , pointed out the obligations the Western Allies accepted in the preliminary treaty, which they did not honor.

President Wilson, however, was not able to defend his point of view against the Western Powers, since he was severely ill. Wilson had induced the German people to capitulate and overthrow the monarchy by the promise, soon to be broken, of a peace without annexations and indemnities. Capitulation and revolution delivered the German Empire to the mercy of the vengeful victors. Germany was not allowed to take part in the peace negotiations; the victors alone decided the conditions of peace, in a procedure without precedent in European history.

On May 7, , the peace conditions were handed over to the German peace delegation. We know the impact of the hate we are encountering here, and we have heard the passionate demand of the victors, who require us, the defeated, to pay the bill and plan to punish us as the guilty party. We are asked to confess ourselves the sole culprits; in my view, such a confession would be a lie By these words the foreign secretary refused to accept article of the peace treaty, the so-called war-guilt article, the lie which claimed that Germany was solely responsible for the war and could therefore be made responsible for all the havoc wrought by the war.

The victors threatened that if the German government didn't sign the treaty, they would invade Germany proper. Indignation in the Weimar National Assembly was general, and the climate of opinion favored rejection.

The Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann, who had proclaimed the German Republic on 9 November , and was prime minister of the first republican government elected by the National Assembly, declared: "I ask you, who as an honest man -- not even as a German, simply as an honest man feeling himself bound by contracts, is able to accept such conditions? Which hand would not wither, should it be bound in such chains? In the government's view, this treaty is unacceptable. Important German-Jewish economic leaders, namely Walther Rathenau and the Hamburg banker Max Warburg, took a firm stand against accepting the dictate of the victors and called for a refusal, even against the odds of an enemy invasion of Germany.

The Origins of WWI

It was on June 28, , the date fixed by the victorious powers, that the National Assembly's plenipotentiaries had to sign that treaty. The date had been chosen as a reminder of the murder at Sarajevo on June 28, Connected with the "war guilt article" were the punitive regulations of sections , referring to the surrender of "war criminals" to the victors, the most prominent "criminal" on the lists being the German emperor, who had fled to the Netherlands.

Since the Dutch government declined to extradite the emperor, the planned trial did not take place. The German government refused to hand over other prominent German leaders to the victors, and passed an act concerning prosecution of war crimes. One of the inhuman conditions of capitulation was the hunger blockade against Germany, which was continued by French demand until the Versailles Treaty came into force in January Because of its long-term effects, the hunger blockade imposed by the British was more decisive in defeating the Central Powers than was wartime military pressure.

The number of deaths due to hunger and malnutrition is estimated at , for alone. A committee of American women traveling through Germany by order of Herbert Hoover, chief of war relief and later president, reported in July , "If the conditions continue which we have seen in Germany, a generation will grow up in Central Europe which will be physically and psychologically disabled, so that it will become a danger for the whole of the world. Adolf Hitler, then an unknown soldier, experienced the famine which lasted throughout the war and in those early postwar years.

His political program was born of those experiences, particularly his idea of conquering Ukraine for the German people. Conquering the fertile regions of southern Russia could provide not only living space for the German people; it could ban forever the possibility of another hunger blockade. Hitler experienced the Revolution of November lying wounded in a military hospital. He became a passionate enemy of the November Revolution and of the "Soviet Republic" in the Bavarian capital of Munich during April , a political coup staged chiefly by Jews and directed by Lenin's radio commands from Moscow.

Hitler became a member of the then totally unimportant "Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" German Worker's Party founded in January of that same year, and he soon proved to be a brilliant orator. His main topic was the Versailles dictate, which he saw as closely connected with the November revolution and the mischievous revolutionary activities of the Jews. The main focuses of his political activity were the fight against the peace dictate, the Marxist-Communist threat with the leading role of the Jews in the revolt, and the fight for self-determination and equality of rights for the German people.

The overthrow of the monarchy, the change from an empire to a republic, as well as the capitulation, had been sparked by President Wilson's third note, dated October 23, The National Assembly, which began sitting in January , was determined to shape the new state and government according to the Western example, as the victors had wished. By the peace dictate, however, the Allies had sentenced the Weimar Republic to death even before the new constitution had been ratified by the National Assembly.

On June 28, , the German government signed the Versailles dictate; the new constitution came into force on the 11th of August, burdened with the curse of the Versailles treaty and its unrealizable demands. The miserable end of the Weimar Republic, "the freest democracy of the world," and its result, Hitler's dictatorship, were consequences of the Versailles dictate.

The victors had won the war but lost the peace by their treaty. The most important stipulations of the dictate of Versailles were as follows: The German Reich had to cede 73, square kilometers, inhabited by 7,, persons, to neighboring states. Before the war it had possessed , square kilometers and 67,, inhabitants; after the war, , square kilometers and 59,, inhabitants remained. Germany lost 75Vo of its yearly production of zinc ore, Of its yearly agricultural production, Germany lost The Saar territory and other regions to the west of the Rhine were occupied by foreign troops and were to remain so for fifteen years, with Cologne, Mainz, and Coblenz as bridgeheads.

The costs of the occupation, 3,,, gold marks, had to be paid by the German Reich. Germany was not allowed to station troops or build fortifications to the west of the Rhine and in a fifty-kilometer zone to the east. Germany was forced to disarm almost completely, the conditions calling for: abolition of the general draft, prohibition of all heavy arms artillery and tanks , a volunteer army of only , troops and officers restricted to long-term enlistments; reduction of the navy to six capital ships, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers, twelve torpedo-boats, 15, men and officers.

An air force was absolutely prohibited. The process of disarmament was overseen by an international military committee until Additionally, all German rivers had to be internationalized and overseas cables ceded to the victors. The economic conditions of the Versailles treaty were as follows: After the delivery of the navy, the merchant ships had to be handed over as well, with only a few exceptions. Germany was deprived of all her foreign accounts -- private ones too -- and lost her colonies.

For a period of ten years, Germany had to supply France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Italy with 40 million tons of coal per year, and had to deliver machines, factory furnishings, tools and other materials for the restoration of devastated areas in Belgium and the North of France. In regard to the hunger blockade, which continued until January , a special hardship on the German people was the forced delivery of German cattle to the victors for breeding and slaughtering purposes.

The Versailles Treaty did not contain any limitation on the victors' financial demands, in order to facilitate additional demands. In , the Western allies fixed the amount of reparations first at a sum of billions of gold marks; then, in , at billions -- both unrealistic demands. France made use of this opportunity by occupying additional German cities. This policy of blackmail culminated in the invasion of the Ruhr territory by French and Belgian military units in January, In this way, France hoped to accomplish the disintegration of the German Reich, and to establish the Rhine as France's eastern frontier.

Thereafter, the French occupation forces accelerated inflation in the occupied zones by confiscating the presses for printing bank notes, and produced money in unprecedented amounts. It was thus that France promoted high inflation until the breakdown of German currency. The French government, however, did not achieve its goal.

Even its British and Italian allies condemned the French attack on the Ruhr as an open breach of the Versailles treaty. The paralysis of the German economy resulting from inflation, combined with passive resistances forced the United States to abandon its policy of isolation and to concentrate on regulation of the war debts. The Habsburg Empire, the second strongest of the Central Powers, was destroyed and divided up by the victors. Serbia and Romania were amply rewarded with substantial enlargements of territory, since they had sided with the Western Allies. Serbia swallowed its Croatian, Slovenian, and Montenegrin neighbors to become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and Romania received the eastern part of the former Hungarian Monarchy.

The victors established another new state, especially favored by President Wilson, and which up to then had been unknown in European history, namely, Czechoslovakia. This new Czechoslovakia became the heir of the monarchy of Bohemia-Moravia, formerly belonging to the western half of the Habsburg monarchy, and of old Slovakia, then part of Hungary. Because the Czech leaders Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Benes, had given false data to the victors, the Czechs, forming only 44q10 of the population of the new state, were allowed to rule over the other 56tto of the population, consisting of 23q7o Germans, 18Vo Slovaks, 5No Magyars, 3.

The Sudeten Germans were the largest minority, numbering 3. This promise was broken. Also, Italy was ceded the German South Tyrol. At their national assembly in Vienna in November , the Germans of the Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire had decided to join themselves to the German Reich. The victors, however, denied the German people their right of self-determination, forcing 3.

The truncated Austrian state was burdened with the peace dictate of St. Hungary, the Eastern part of the Habsburg Monarchy, reduced to one-third of its former territory due to its losses in favor of Romania, Serbia, and Czechoslovakia, was forced to sign an equally harsh treaty at Trianon.

Poland, newly founded as a monarchy in after its liberation from Russia rule by German troops, became a republic and was greatly enlarged at the expense of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The Beginnings Of World War 1 Explained (WW1 Documentary) - Timeline

The German city of Danzig was separated from the Reich and put under the administration of the League of Nations as a so-called "free city. This sadistic fixing of frontiers was due mainly to French influence.

The Complex Origins of the First World War | History Today

The French commander-in-chief, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, declared that in twenty years a new war was inevitable. To hold Germany down permanently, France devised a system of treaties with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. General Henry Allen, the commander-in-chief of the American occupation forces of the Rhine, also spoke strongly against such "wrong policy. When seen from a global point of view, the most imminent result of the First World War was the victory of the United States of America.

The first stage of the European civil war had resulted in a decrease of European power and brought about America's rise to the world's leading power, as well as the determining factor in the fate of Europe. Certainly the two Western colonial powers of Great Britain and France had reached their greatest territorial extension overseas as well as their climax of power in Europe with the defeat of Germany, the destruction of the Habsburg Monarchy, and the division of the Turkish Empire; but they had been able to win only by the help of an extra-European power, and they had thereby become America's debtors.

The British Empire, which up to then had been the main representative of European power overseas, as well as the main financial and naval power, had by war's end become dependent on its North American "junior partner. Because he was afflicted with paralysis, President Wilson was not able in and to realize the ideals based on his "Fourteen Points. In , the U. A However, the attempt to withdraw into isolation was a grave mistake as well as an evasion of responsibility, for Europe had neither been able to end the war on its own or to reach a compromise peace.

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Thus the main responsibility for the subsequent development of European history falls on the United States. The name of God had been excluded from it, and from it not only one, but ten wars would originate. An atrocious peace, making slaves out of millions of highly civilized people. That is no peace; those are conditions dictated to a helpless victim by robbers with knives in their hands. In this way, the pattern of the events that led the Western world to new disaster in was laid down in its entirety by the Allied governments in What we shall have to observe from here on, in the relations between Russia, Germany and the West, follows a logic as inexorable as that of any Greek tragedy.

Since the Allied powers depended upon Germany's reparation payments to repay their debts to the U.


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The Dawes Plan was based on the principle of changing political guilt into commercial debt. Accordingly, American loans, mainly short-term ones, poured into the German economy. Germany could only meet the victors' reparation claims by a surplus resulting from increased exports. Since many states pursued a policy of enacting protective tariffs to restrict German competition, a new payment plan had to be arranged in , the so-called Young Plan, named after the American banker Owen Young. According to the Young Plan, the German Reich would pay reparations until , while at the same time having to pay interest on and amortize the mainly short-term private loans.

Causes of World War I

However, the shattering Wall Street crash and the ensuing crisis of world economy rendered the Young Plan absurd before it came into force. By mass employment and a decrease in the gross national product stemming from the Wall Street crash led to German insolvency and moved Hindenburg, then president of the German Reich, to write to President Hoover asking for a moratorium. In July the Conference of Lausanne ended German reparation payments by fixing a final payment of three billion gold marks.

The German Reich had altogether paid The German economy had still to meet interest obligations deriving from Germany's enormous foreign debt. In the spring of , after political leadership had changed simultaneously in the U. At first, both President Roosevelt and the Hitler government countered identical domestic problems of economic depression and mass unemployment by state work programs: the New Deal in the USA; the Four Year Plan in Germany. Shortly after his inauguration in , Roosevelt announced a large-scale naval rearmament program and established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in the hope of fostering trade relations which could boost American industry.

After the nationalist parties' seizure of power in Germany, resulting after one-and-a-half years in Hitler's autocratic rule, based on a mass-movement, all the victor states of the First World War talked of a future war. It was not Hitler who wanted the war, but rather his internal and external enemies.

Shortly after Hitler's rise to power, the Polish government suggested a preventive war against Germany to its French ally. During his journey to America in May , Hjalmar Schacht, the President of the Reichsbank, found the atmosphere hostile. When his talks with President Roosevelt concerning regulation of German debts took a friendly turn, Schacht explained to Roosevelt that Germany could meet its obligations to American private creditors only if Germany were given the opportunity to increase its exports.

This, however, did not jibe with the international boycott movement organized by the Jews, which sought a speedy overthrow of the Hitler government. During his stay in America, Schacht was also told that Paris nursed exceedingly anti-German sentiments and that people were saying that Germany should be divided up in order to accomplish what had been neglected in Versailles.


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Schacht managed to render the boycott useless, however, and he made Germany economically independent by signing the clearing agreements. The Four-Year Plan proved to be a success, and the Hitler government managed to get nearly all the jobless into some kind of employment by the end of At the same time, the American New Deal failed.

After that, Roosevelt changed his policy to one favoring intervention. He introduced it by his "Quarantine" speech dating from October , directed against Japan but also against Germany and Italy. For the ambitious Roosevelt, a large-scale war could help in solving his domestic problems by absorbing the unemployed through an armament boom, as well as subsequently bringing to pass the "American Century" through his leadership of a world government.

He favored turmoil in Europe, and through his Ambassador, Anthony Biddle, he influenced the Polish government not to enter into negotiations with Germany. Therefore, President Roosevelt declared it a capitulation to Hitler, and brought pressure on the Western powers and Poland to offer stiff resistance to Germany. Within ten years, Britain had concluded agreements, albeit limited, with her two major colonial rivals, France and Russia. Europe was divided into two armed camps: the Entente Powers and the Central Powers, and their populations began to see war not merely as inevitable but even welcome.

In the summer of the Germans were prepared, at the very least, to run the risk of causing a large-scale war. The crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire decided, after the assassination on 28 June, to take action against Serbia, which was suspected of being behind the murder. The German government issued the so-called 'blank cheque' on July, offering unconditional support to the Austrians, despite the risk of war with Russia.

Germany, painted into a diplomatic corner by Wilhelm's bellicosity, saw this as a way of breaking up the Entente, for France and Britain might refuse to support Russia. Moreover, a wish to unite the nation behind the government may have been a motive. So might desire to strike against Russia before it had finished rebuilding its military strength after its defeat by Japan in In December the Kaiser held a meeting at which some historians believe it was decided to go to war some 18 months hence.

This interpretation is controversial, but the bellicosity of Wilhelm and some senior advisors is clear, and the coincidence with the actual outbreak of war in August is remarkable. A month after the war began, Germany drew up some far-reaching war aims. French power would be broken, Belgium reduced to vassal status, and a colonial empire carved out in Africa and elsewhere.

Mitteleuropa, a German-dominated customs union, would give Berlin economic hegemony. As the war went on, Germany's appetite grew. In Germany set up a huge informal empire on the ruins of defeated Russia. There were distinct continuities with Hitler's aims in World War Two. In fate seemed to have offered Germany the opportunity to turn dreams into imperial reality. It is unclear whether Germany went to war to achieve these aims, or whether, having found themselves at war, they began to think about what they would do with the victory they hoped to win.

Some important figures in Germany, including industrialists, politicians, and the Kaiser himself, favoured a radical approach. Germany now controlled most of Belgium and some economically important parts of northern France. Campaigns in conquered Poland and portions of Russia. By the end of the war, the Germans were even casting covetous eyes on their ally, Austria-Hungary.

The size and wealth of the conquered Eastern territories easily outweighed what would have been lost had the Germans withdrawn from Belgium and France.

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Had they done so, France might have made peace and the anti-German coalition collapsed. Instead, in March , the German army struck on the Western Front in an attempt to knock Britain and France out of the war. The gamble failed and the Germans were themselves defeated by the Western Allies.

Having played for everything, the German leadership lost everything. However, since Germany's aims were fundamentally incompatible with those of the Allies, and almost to the end both sides believed that the war was winnable, it is not surprising that the struggle went on. Despite some sporadic attempts to find common ground, it was not until autumn that Germany, clearly defeated, staged a deathbed conversion to the idea of a compromise peace.

France's immediate aim was to expel German troops from its territory. In the longer term, many desired the return of the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, annexed by Germany after the war of , and the crushing of German power in some form, thus enhancing French security for the future. Britain went to war because it saw a German victory as a threat to its security. For centuries, Britain had fought to maintain the balance of power in Europe, to ensure that no state became overmighty.

In particular, Britain was highly sensitive about Belgium. In the hands of an enemy, Belgian ports offered a major threat to the British naval supremacy and hence the security of the British Isles. Britain had no real option but to go to war in If France had been defeated, Britain would have been faced with the nightmare that since the days of Elizabeth I it had fought to avoid: the continent dominated by a single, aggressive state. Yet that is in many respects exactly what it was. The original coalition of course contained Tsarist Russia, but Britain and France had a shared democratic heritage.

In , the defeat of Russia and adherence of the USA to the coalition polarised the conflict to one between a group of states committed to liberal and democratic values, and a militarist autocracy. The coalition was imperfectly democratic. Both Britain and France had large colonial empires whose people did not have access to democratic forms of government, and both sought to extend their empires at the expense of their enemies.