To what extent was Germany to blame for the start of World War 1? During the beginning of the 19th Century Europe was crossing a period characterized by great technological advancements and scientific optimism, but it was also subject to hostile relations between many of its main powers. These hostilities transformed into war on the 28th of June 1914,when a 19 year old terrorist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, creating the cause of war that one month later brought Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia and officially start World War 1.
At the end of the war, during the treaty of Versailles, the "war guilt clause" was written and it stated that Germany was to blame as the cause of World War 1, but as time passed the majority of historians disagreed on this statement. World war two was the result of many long and short term factors such as nationalism, militarism, alliance systems and colonialism.These factors created the ideal environment for the war to outbreak as they favored the creation of hostilities between groups of countries and, even though Germany did have an important role as it was one of the most influent powers of the time, so did other allied and non-allied countries and blaming entirely Germany would result unjust. The decades that preceded World war 1 were characterized by a profound feeling of nationalism in Europe that fueled the belief in each country's population that they were superior to other countries, that they deserved more and would win in a military conflict.People were proud of their countries and patriotism was taught to children. These feelings were the same that led to the unifications of Italy and Germany in 1861 and 1971, but that also caused problems in Austria-Hungary due to Slavic territories in the country and that continuously sought independence.
Nationalism was therefore one of the main reason that caused the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the main Slavic power, that sparked the great war. National pride also deeply affected many other countries in Europe.The German Kaiser Wilhelm II believed that Germany had to become a colonial power and had to expand its borders in order to be recognized as a major international power like Britain. In France the "revanche" movement, that was caused by the humiliation of the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and had a desire to recapture the region of Alsace-Lorraine, was supported by a big part of the population as well as by the right wing party and also Italy craved the idea of annexing Austria'sItalian speaking provinces to its territory.
These desires of expanding territories and proving a country's superiority turned nationalism into an aggressive force and often the popular press would encourage these beliefs by exaggerating international incidents in order to inflame public opinion on the subject. Also war was believed to last for a short period of time and portrayed as a heroic act.Nationalism, therefore, had a great effect on creating the conditions for world war 1 because it produced hostilities between the different European countries' populations, that due to their patriotism felt hatred for their enemies and, as proven by the millions of volunteers in all European countries in 1914-15, were eager to enter in war and fight for their country and government. Militarism was also a key factor in creating attrition between European powers.Between 1970 and 1914 all European countries started competing in an arms race and drastically increased their military spending.
By 1971 they all introduced military conscription, and this enabled the creation of huge standing armies that for the first time included more than a million soldiers. There was also a massive increase in armaments and new technologies led to the creation of innovative and more effective weapons, such as heavy machine guns, more powerful and precise artillery, chemical weapons and the new Dreadnought class battleships.Germany in particular put great importance in developing a powerful military. Between the Franco-Prussian war and WW1, it increased its military spending by almost 350 percent, more than any other country at the time, and the growth of its army alarmed France, that increased the numbers of its army in response.
Also, Germany entered in a naval race with Britain, aiming to challenge its fleet, and this caused an increase in tension between the two countries.All these points show that militarism was an important aspect that affected the start of WW1 because it led to an arms race between the European powers that massively increased their military expenditures and the size of armies, resulting in an increase in hostilities between countries that feared a military attack from their enemies. Alliances, however, were what transformed a conflict in Europe into what has later been remembered as the first World war.After the Franco-Prussian war, an intricate web of public and secret alliances were made between the major European countries, and this led to the formation of two main groups of allied nations. By using diplomacy, Bismarck managed to isolate France while also limiting the possibility of war between the European powers, however when Kaiser Wilhelm went into power he drastically changed Germany's foreign diplomacy.
He continued to have good relations with the other two countries of the Triple Alliance, in particular Austria-Hungary, however he let the Reinsurance treaty with Russia lapse and this enabled France to ally with Russia in 1894, freeing France from its isolation and enabling the possibility of a war on two fronts. In 1904 France and Britain, in response to Germany's militarization and aggressive foreign politics, formed the Entente Cordiale, that in 1907 transformed into the Triple Entente with Russia.Europe was now formed by two major groups: The triple Alliance, formed by Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, and the Triple Entente, formed by Britain, France and Russia. There were also a series of minor alliances, such as that between Britain and Belgium and Russia that pledged to protect Serbia, that later had great importance in leading to WW1.These alliances were a major cause for World War 1 because, by connecting so many countries with each other and creating two major groups, they transformed a small conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia into the first total war that involved the major world powers at the time and that would affect not only Europe but also a large number of countries worldwide.
Even though blaming Germany as the cause for WW1 would be incorrect, Kaiser Wilhelm II's "Weltpolitik" and colonial ambitions contributed in creating international crises and attritions between Germany and the major powers of the Triple Entente.Wilhelm II was a very ambitious Kaiser and wanted to establish Germany as an International power. As I already stated, he focused on developing a strong military and navy that preoccupied France and Britain. However, he also had Imperialist ambitions and desired Germany to become a colonial power like France and Britain, and to achieve this he used very aggressive foreign politics. This caused Germany to enter into conflict with Britain and France numerous times.In 1896 he caused great offence to Britain when he congratulated the Boer leader, S.
T. P. Kruger, for resisting to Britain's attempt to incite a rising against the Boer republic. In 1905 he caused the Moroccan crisis, hoping to break up the Entente Cordiale and instead ending up reinforcing the relations between Britain and France, and causing a blow to German pride. Finally, in 1911, as a result of the Second Moroccan Crisis there was an increase in tension and hostility between Britain and Germany, while Franco-British relations were strengthened further.
These effects of German "Weltpolitik" were, therefore, one of the major causes for the hostilities between Germany and Britain-France, and this affected the formation of alliances against Germany and the British entrance in war in support of France. All these points show how, even though Germany's "Weltpolitik", desire of expansion and aggressiveness towards other powers deeply affected its relations with other countries that felt threatened by the Kaiser's ambitions and became hostile to them, the start of World War 1 cannot be blamed entirely on Germany.Nationalism formed hostilities between the populations of enemy powers and persuaded millions of people to enter in war for their countries, militarism created an arms race between countries, increasing the power and numbers of European armies and further intensifying attritions between the two main alliances, and finally the alliance system led to the formation of two major coalitions that were hostile to each other and caused the Austro-Serbian war to escalate into an international conflict.These factors were the main cause of the conflict as they built up the tension preceding it and created the conditions and rivalries that, after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand, caused the start of the First World War.