We have conquered for ourselves a place in
the sun. It will now be my task to see to it that this place
in the sun shall remain our undisputed possession, in order that the
sun's rays may fall fruitfully upon our activity and trade in foreign
parts... The more Germans go out upon the waters, whether it
be in journeys across the ocean, or in the service of the battle flag,
so much the better it will be for us.
A speech by Kaiser
Wilhelm to the North German Regatta Association, 1901.
[Note: the AQA
syllabus only requires you to know about the
System of Alliances, but you may wish
to treat nationalism,
as essential background knowledge.]
The argument which follows suggests that Europe in 1914 was RIPE for war to break out - that the causes of World War One went back long before 1914, and had so set Europe at odds that it only needed a tiny spark to push all Europe into war.
You will need to understand, not only WHAT the
situation was in 1910-14, but HOW each element made war more
Examples of the
long-term causes of war
How did the long-term causes of war cause war?
• Alliances and World War I
• Arms Race and World War I
the causes of World War One
Austria-Hungary in 1914
Race map of Europe before 1914
How was a 'climate for war' created by 1914?
This is not just an arms race, but also a government's attitude of
mind, seeing war as a valid means of foreign policy. (This
often includes the influence of government by the generals.)
All the nations of Europe were militaristic, but
the governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary were especially
All the countries of Europe built up their armies
and navies. In 1914, their armed forces stood like this:
• Germany: 2,200,000 soldiers, 97
• Austria-Hungary: 810,000 soldiers, 28 warships.
• Italy: 750,000 soldiers, 36 warships
• France: 1,125,000 soldiers, 62 warships
• Russia: 1,200,000 soldiers, 30 warships
• Great Britain: 711,000 soldiers, 185 warships
As one country increased its armies, so all the
others felt obliged to increase their armed forces to keep the
‘balance of power’.
Germany and Britain clashed over the size of
their navies -
in 1900 Kaiser Wilhelm began to build up the
German navy (Tirpiz's Navy Law), announcing that he wanted
Germans to sail all over the world and take for Germany 'a place
in the sun'. After 1906, he began to build numbers
of the new, large 'Dreadnought' battleships, which were more
powerful than any other ship.
Another thing that the countries of Europe
did was to train all their young men so that if there was
a war they could call, not only on the standing army, but
on huge numbers of trained reservists. One historians has
estimated the total number of men (including reservists) that
the countries could thus call upon as:
• Germany: 8.5 million men
• Russia: 4.4 million
• France: 3.5 million
• Austria-Hungary: 3 million
It is important to realise that - although in
1914 the German army was the biggest and best in the world - the
Russian army was growing the fastest, and German generals were
worried that, in a few years time, they would not be able to
defeat Russia so easily (see Source E).
The German answer to all our talk about the
limitation of armaments is: Germany shall increase to the utmost of her
I have lived among Germans,
but with the best will in the world I can see no solution to the present
collision of ideals but war.
lecture given in 1913 by JA Cramb
JA Cramb was an Englishman who went to university in
Germany, and who loved Germany.
The Naval 'War Cabinet' of 1912
General von Moltke [head of the army] said:
I believe war is unavoidable; war the sooner the better. But
we ought to do more to press to prepare the popularity of a war against
Russia. The Kaiser supported this. Tirpitz [head
of the navy] said that the navy would prefer to see the postponement of
the great fight for one and a half years.
From the Diary of Admiral
Muller, 8 December 1912
historians say that this proves that Germany was wanting war
in 1912, although others say that it records a general
discussion of no great significance.
As well as seeking protection in the size of
their armies, the countries of Europe sought protection by
At first, Bismarck had kept Germany friendly with
Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm overturned this, and concentrated
instead on the
Dual Alliance of
1879 between Germany and Austria-Hungary - which became the
Triple Alliance (or Central Powers Alliance)
when Italy joined in 1882.
Alarmed by this strong central bloc:
a. France in 1894 made an alliance
with Russia, and
b. In 1904 France made an agreement
with Britain called the
Entente Cordiale (= ‘Friendly
Relationship’ – not a formal alliance, but a promise to work
c. In 1907, Britain made an entente
with Russia, thus forming the Triple Entente (France, Russia,
d. In 1902 Britain made a naval
treaty with Japan.
The Triple Entente alarmed Germany, which felt
itself surrounded by the France-Russia alliance.
The countries of Europe thought that the alliance
system would act as a deterrent to war; in fact it tied the
countries together so that, when one country went to war, the
others felt themselves obliged to follow.
Alliances Timeline Diagram - very clear
Alliances - Columbia encyclopedia
The Triple Alliance - Wikipedia article
Triple Entente - Wikipedia article
Sidney Bradshaw Fay
It is important to realise that
the politicians of 1914 did not see - as we do today - the
build-up of armed forces or the system of alliances as
threats to peace; they thought that they would KEEP the
peace by acting as a deterrent to any nation thinking of
attacking them. They believed that peace would be
kept by a BALANCE OF POWER
between the two alliance blocks.
A map showing the alliances
in Europe in 1914.
In addition to these two major
issues, historian have identified three other underlying causes
of the war:
EVERYONE was nationalist in those days, and this
helped cause war in two ways:
a. It made the people of countries like
Britain, Germany and France more bellicose (warlike) – the
British sang: ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, and
the Germans sang: ‘Deutschland uber alles’. French politicians like Clemenceau
and Poincare (who had been around in 1870) HATED the Germans.
People were enraged when someone insulted their country.
b. It made the races ruled by Turkey (such as
the Romanians and the Bulgarians) and by Austria-Hungary (such
as the Serbs) want to be free to rule themselves. In the
Balkans this was called ‘Panslavism’ because the people who
wanted to be free were all Slav races. The most
nationalistic of all were the Serbs – Serbia had became an
independent country by the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, but
in 1900 many Serbs were still ruled by Turkey and Austria-Hungary, and Serbia
was determined to rule over them all. This led to
rebellions and terrorism which destablised the Balkans.
Land of Hope and Glory,
mother of the free...
God who made thee mighty,
make thee mightier yet.
words of Land of Hope and Glory, written by the
English composer Elgar and sung by British people at the
Prom concerts every year.
Germany, Germany above all,
over everything in
When it steadfastly holds
The words of the German
Countries who believed that they were superior
thought it was alright to conquer and rule others – particularly
if they were inhabited by races they thought were inferior.
This is why countries like Britain, France, Belgium and Italy
thought it was OK to colonise vast areas of Africa in the 19th
century. In 1900, the British Empire covered a fifth of
land-area of the earth.
a. This led to clashes between imperialist
powers. Britain was trying to conquer Africa from Cairo (in
the north) to Cape Town (in South Africa). France was trying
to conquer Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. In 1898
their two armies met, at Fashoda in the Sudan, almost causing a
b. Most of all, it led to HUGE tension when
Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany decided that HE wanted some colonies
British postcard shows what would happen if the Kaiser took the 'place in the sun'
that he wanted.
Not only were many of the governments of Europe
autocracies (ruled by one man), many countries had stupid and
corrupt governments (click
here to find out the
Note that very few of the countries of Europe were
democracies - it is hard for a democracy to go to war because the people
(not just an individual ruler or small group of ministers) need to agree
to go to war.
also that in these days there was no idea of going
to war for the 'right' reasons - many people
in those days thought it was alright to
go to war simply to win more power and territory for the ruler.
In such a Europe, outbreak of war was less of an issue than - say - the
recent war in Iraq.
industrious, sensible mass of 500 million [European people], was hounded
by a few dozen incapable leaders, by falsified documents, lying stories of
threats, and chauvinistic catchwords, into a war which in no way was
destined or inevitable.
Ludwig, July 1914 (1929)
For each of these background
'pressures-towards-war' 1-5, suggest how it helped to bring
For each of these background
'pressures-towards-war' 1-5, suggest how it helped to bring