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On 28 June 1914, a Serbian shot an Austrian. Within six weeks, many of the countries of Europe had become involved in a war that was to cause the deaths of 10 million soldiers, but was the assassination the only cause of war?
Four underlying causes of war
Although the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand signalled the rapid slide into world war, this event alone was not to blame. In fact, there were underlying causes that had existed for many years in the run-up to the First World War.
You need to think about these causes carefully, when trying to determine who or what was to blame for the war.
In the 1930s, historians such as Sydney Bradshaw Fay argued that there were four underlying long-term causes of the First World War:
- Nationalism - the belief that your country is better than others. This meant nations were assertive and aggressive.
- Imperialism - the desire to conquer colonies, especially in Africa. This brought the powers into conflict - especially Germany, which wanted an empire, against France and Britain, which both already had empires.
- Militarism (Arms Race) - where military concerns influence a country's policy, especially the attempt to build up a strong army and navy. This gave the nations the means and the will to make war.
- Alliances - in 1882, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance. Alarmed, France and Britain in 1904, then Russia in 1907, formed the Triple Entente. Thus Europe was divided into two armed camps, obliged to help each other if there was a war.
Revision tip and answer preparation
Make a spidergram to illustrate the four underlying causes of the First World War mentioned in this Revision Bite. Use the information from the interactive map (on the previous page) to find examples of nationalism, imperialism, militarism and alliances in each country and add them to your spidergram.
As part of your revision, think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain:
- Why the countries of Europe formed two alliance blocs.
- How the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 affected the relationship between France and Germany.
- How each of the four long-term causes helped to increase the likelihood of war.
- Which of the four long-term causes was the greatest threat to peace.
The new century saw a number of incidents from sub-Saharan Africa across to Eastern Europe where the major powers clashed in desperate bids to conquer land and secure superiority over each other. The final straw was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in June 1914.
During 1900-1914, the great powers of Europe clashed a number of times. Each of these events increased international tension and rivalry, and made war more likely. War was going to come sooner or later.
Key events 1899-1914
Event Description 1. Boer War 1899-1902 Germany opposed Britain's attempt to defeat the Boers in South…