What caused World War I?

So, I was watching Friends and in this episode Joey gets a part in a movie about World War I. 

Now while leaving for the set he tells the gang that he is going to kill some Nazis when the gang tells hi that they didn’t fight against Nazis in WW1. After Joey leaves they start thinking who they caught WW1 against. Now I was thinking that the war was between the Allied Powers and Prussia and Austria-Hungary. You might take me for a nerd but we had that in class 10 exams and some things just stay. 

However, what really provoked my curiosity was, what started the war. I mean, I knew that the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand caused the war, which probably many of you know from your history books (your if you are like me from 39 Clues series). But why did that cause a war? What was the significance of the assassination? According to the historian Zbyněk Zeman, people of Vienna didn’t even care. They were drinking and listening to music for the next two days. 

So, how did the assassination start such a major war? A lot of leaders have been assassinated in the history but Everytime we do not see a World War. Before I get in any further let me inform you that I am only going to discuss the beginning of the war, not how the war proceeded or how it ended.

Before getting into the war it is important to understand how the political system was. I’ll try to keep it brief and simple. Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary wanted form an alliance. Russia and Austria-Hungary did not agree to it; they had problem with the Balkan policy. So, Germany and Austria-Hungary entered an alliance. This was done to reduce Russian influence over the Balkan. Later, Italy joined them.

The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck tried to keep Russia to German side to avoid a Franco-Russian war. When Kaiser (German King) Wilhelm II became, well, the Kaiser, he forgot about what Otto go Bismarck did. He forgot to renew an important Russian Treaty. Following this, Russia formed an alliance with France and later Britain formed agreements (not alliance though) with France and Russia. This was done to counteract the treaty between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.

At this point the Balkan wars started. It all began when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia is now pissed. The Balkan region being recently freed was unstable. So, the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina started the first Balkan War. This increased Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Bulgaria territory. Then, Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece and lost large parts of Macedonia to them. This was the beginning of the second Balkan war. In the second Balkan war, Bulgaria also lost southern Dobruja to Romania. 

Then on 28 June 1914, the archduke was killed in the Bosnian capital. The actual event is pretty interesting but I am not going into details. It was pretty much unnoticed by the people. Later, it was found out that the killer belonged to the Serbian Secret Service. So, Austria-Hungary decided to send Serbia a list of demands in return for peace. The demands were intentionally outrageous. Serbia agreed to all of them except one that asked Serbia to allow Austrian officials to conduct an investigation on the assassination. So, Austria broke treaty and declared war. Thus, The First World War, The Great War, the war to end all wars, etc started.

Feel free to… Wait a minute. If Germany wasn’t even in the war, then why did the treaty of Versailles blame Germany for the war. I mean, even if Germany joined the war later, it didn’t start the war and it should not be blamed for it. 

Well, this part is interesting. Before Germany, Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary and marched. Russia also mobilized forces against Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II asked his cousin Tsar (Russian King) Nicholas II to stop mobilization. Nick gave Will the finger. Germany declared war against Russia and asked France to not join help Russia. France stood mobilized but waited 10 km behind the borders. Germany then attacked Luxembourg and then France. Finally, when Germany asked Belgium to allow her to cross Belgium said no. Germany declared war against Belgium. This was a big no-no as Belgium was to be kept neutral. This caused Britain to declare war against Germany.

Now, it is important to noticed two things:

  1. If Germany had not interjected the war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, then the conflict would have passed as just another Balkan war. But no. Germany had to butt in and make the situation way worse.
  2. Germany lost the war. So, even though in the above point, Russia did the same thing as Germany, Russia was not blamed. Germany had to pay a war indemnity and the harsh punishment was kind of an indemnity.

So, that is how the Great War began. Next time, if someone asks you who the war was against you don’t have to say Mexicans. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me if I missed something and your opinions on the war and its effects.



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