World War I/Lesson 3 - 1914 - The alliances and their agenda

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First World War

The reason for World War I can be found in the 1800’s. During that century Europe was at war for many years. Most famously, there were the Napoleonic wars that finally ended in 1815, and the Franco-Prussian war that ended in 1871. But generally speaking the whole century was pretty much a mess and the leaders of Europe were frantically trying to figure out a fool-proof way to have guaranteed peace.

Their solution was to create a series of agreements or “alliances” between different countries. These alliances had two basic rules: (1) all the members of the alliance would be “friends” and would never attack each other, and (2) if an enemy attacks any member of the alliance, then all the other members of that alliance would team up and fight against that enemy. Seemed like a good plan.

So by the end of the 1800’s and beginning of 1900’s Europe was pretty much divided into two groups: The Triple Alliance that included Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy, and later the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey), and on the other side you had the Triple Entente which was England, France, and Russia. Both sides were pretty equal, but the tension between them was really high.

Since not all small countries and areas were part of these two big alliances, each little country would make it’s own arrangement with one alliance or the other. So for example, Bosnia-Serbia was friends with Russia, a member of the Triple Entente. But Bosnia-Serbia was not an official member of the Triple Entente. And this is where everything fell apart.

On June 28, 1914, a Serbian Fanatic, named Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed the future ruler of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Of course, Austria-Hungary was very angry with Serbia and wanted to go to war against them, but because Bosnia was friends with Russia, the Austrian-Hungarian rulers were a little scared that Russia would then start a war with them.

For a whole month, called the July Crisis of 1914, nothing happened and all of Europe was on pins and needles waiting to see what would happen.

Then another problem occurred. Austria-Hungary went to Germany to basically ask if Germany would back them up should Russia defend Serbia. The answer wasn’t really very clear, but basically Austria-Hungary interpreted that they could go ahead and do whatever they wanted and that Germany would back them up.

So, on August 12, 1914, Austria-Hungary started the war with Serbia. Germany, in an attempt to win this war quickly, immediately started it’s plan, called the Schlieffen Plan, to take over France by going through Belgium. This action had a domino effect because by invading Belgium, France was now involved, and so was England. Russia became involved because of Serbia. And so World War I began.