In June 1914, a series of incidents took place which, added to the already-present tensions between factions, would "light the fuse to World War I." While Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria, and his wife were on a royal visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, Garvilo Princip, a member of a Serbian terrorist organization called Narodna Odbrana or Black Hand, who wanted to get rid of Austrian rule and unite Bosnia with Serbia, shot and killed both Franz Ferdinand and his wife.In most history books this is regarded as the spark that ignited World War I and in fact that's probably the case, but it has to be said that looking at this war with hindsight it is particularly difficult to find a transparent reason for it. Meaning that World War II, for example, was the consequence of ethical and cultural differences, the willingness to install a new world order and more importantly a new moral order.
World War I, instead, was an accumulation of small, insignificant political, economical and territorial reasons which added up to a terrible war.But countries do act with a n eye on their legacy and try to justify their actions and blame the other for what happened and that's exactly what occurred in this war possibly even more than in others because of the lack of real profound reasons. Bertrand Russell said about the war "And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country's pride."Political reasons:Austria-Hungary's justifications were mainly political.
Until the beginning of the Century the Ottoman Empire had a dominating presence in the Balkans. As the Turks retreated they left a void in this region and the local populations quickly aimed at obtaining independence. Serbia in particular had the objective of reuniting under one flag all the territories populated by Serbians and Croatians. Unfortunately for them, their neighbors to the North had different ideas.
Austria-Hungary had no intention to allow Serbia to gain political strength and tried all they could to avoid this, including supporting the creation of Albania that had the objective of impairing Serbia's ability to reach the Adriatic Sea. This weakened Serbia economically and hence politically.When Austria-Hungary started the war they possibly thought this was going to be a regional conflict with the objective of cooling down the Balkan's nationalistic sentiments.With all this in mind Austria-Hungary's justification comes across quite clearly:a) The importance of controlling the Balkans for the country's well-being,b) the threat represented by Serbia, andc) the terrorist groups sponsored by Serbia.
Territorial reasons:Germany's justifications were related to the willingness of ruling Europe controlling it directly in its northern part and through their ally, Austria-Hungary, in the south.Germany had prepared their war plan several years earlier. It was called the Schlieffen Plan. The idea was to carry out a war on two fronts: The Western front against France and the E astern one against Russia. The former was to be attacked first and according to the plan the French army would be defeated in just six week.
In order to achieve this, Germany would surprise their opponents by crossing the Belgian border and entering France from there, attacking Paris from the West. After occupying France the German army would concentrate on the Russian front. So, Germany's justification could be summarized as follows:a) The ambition of occupying a leadership role in Europe,b) the conviction that this would be reached through territorial control andc) the need to militarily overpower France and Russia in order to achieve this.With hindsight Germany's justification of the war was a good way to obtain popular backing but possibly one of the reasons why they lost it. The willingness of ruling Europe through its territorial control, is what prompted England to commit to the war to avoid this happening. The relationship between Germany and England was tense enough for the latter not to accept Germany's territorial ambitions.
Economical reasons:This difficult relationship between England and Germany had different facets, one of them economical, which became a justification for entering the conflict. The industrial age had started not too long before. Both England and Germany had developed powerful industries and were competing for markets and more importantly for raw materials.Competing for markets meant not only selling their products but also their technology. Not surprisingly one of the contrasts, which also became a justification for the actions that followed, was related to the construction of the Baghdad railway and the ambition of both countries to be assigned the project.Even more important was the competition for raw materials, for example coal to generate power for the factories and textiles, cereals or minerals such as iron ore to be used to manufacture food, clothes or heavy equipment.
Therefore, England's justification for entering the war based on:a) The need to reaffirm its economical superiority byb) leading the world industrially and financially throughc) the control of the raw materials, the markets and the transportation routes such as the Suez canal.