Sidney Bradshaw Fay,

The Origins of the World War (1928)

Volume 1, Chapter 1:


Fay changed the way people looked at the causes of World War One, by rejecting the idea that it was Germany which caused the war, and blaming instead the 'underlying causes of the war, by which he meant:

(a) the system of secret alliances;
(b) militarism;
(c) nationalism;
(d) economic imperialism; and
(e) the newspaper press.







The greatest single underlying cause of the War was the system of secret alliances which developed after the Franco-Prussian War.  It gradually divided Europe into two hostile groups of Powers who were increasingly suspicious of one another and who steadily built up greater and greater armies and navies.  Though this system of alliances in one sense tended to preserve peace, inasmuch as the members within one group often held their friends or allies in restraint for fear of becoming involved in war themselves, the system also made it inevitable that if war did come, it would involve all the Great Powers of Europe.  The members of each group felt bound to support each other, even in matters where they had no direct interest, because failure to give support would have weakened the solidarity of the group.  Thus, Germany often felt bound to back up Austria-Hungary in her Balkan policies, because otherwise Germany feared to lose her only thoroughly dependable ally.  Similarly, France had no direct political (only financial) interests in the Balkans, but felt bound to back up Russia, because otherwise the existence of the Dual Alliance would have been threatened, the balance of power destroyed, and the best guarantee of French safety from a German attack would have been lost.  Likewise, the officials of the British Foreign Office became increasingly convinced that England must support France and Russia in order to preserve the solidarity of the Triple Entente as a check to the Triple Alliance.  In the crisis of July, 1914, it was not, merely a question of Austria, Serbia and the Balkans; it was a question, of the solidarity and prestige of the two groups of Powers into which Europe had become divided.  As one reads the new British Documents, one is struck by the emphasis on this necessity of preserving the solidarity of the Triple Entente.  As Sir Eyre Crowe noted in a “minute” early in the crisis:  “It is clear that France and Russia are decided to accept the challenge thrown out to them.  Whatever we may think of the merits of the Austrian charges against Servia, France and Russia consider that these are the pretexts, and that the bigger cause of Triple Alliance versus Triple Entente is definitely engaged.  I think it would be impolitic, not to say dangerous, for England to attempt to controvert this opinion, or to endeavour to obscure the plain issue, by any representation at St. Petersburg and Paris. . . . Our interests are tied up with those of France and Russia in this struggle, which is not for the possession of Servia, but one between Germany aiming at a political dictatorship in Europe and the Powers who desire to retain individual freedom.”[61]  It was stated more bluntly by Herr Zimmermann to the British Ambassador in Berlin on August 1, when he saw with excited regret that Germany, France, and perhaps England, would be drawn into a war which none of them wanted:  “It all came from this d——d system of alliances, which was the curse of modern times.” [62]