World War One Descriptive Essay

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To date, the actual cause of the eruption of the First World War still remains contentious. Most historians believe that the war broke out as a result of long-term antagonism brought about by unsolved territorial grudges, the perception of a breach in the balance of control over Europe, tangled and broken governance and arms race of prior decades. However, the major point of dispute among historians is on whether Germany was involved in planning for the war. Some believe that Germany purposely planned for the war while others emphasize that the war was inevitable and hence Germany did not intentionally plan for the war. Other historians blame the Austria-Hungary crisis as well as their conflict with Russia while other historians believe that the war did not have one single cause but rather it was due to the activities of many nations including France, Serbia, Great Britain and Russia. Finally, some historians have suggested that the rise of new countries as world powers had a more remarkable responsibility in the outbreak of the war than commonly perceived by the public. The following paper focuses on a chronological historical record of the events that took place before the 1st World War as well as the views of different historians in order to determine the nations responsible for the war.

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Everybody knows that the decision reached at by statesmen and generals in the July Crisis of 1914 is what immediately catalyzed the war. The crisis was fuelled by the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand from Australia by an ethnic Serb being backed by a national institution in Serbia. This crisis between Austria-Hungary and Serbia came to affect other countries including Germany, France, Russia, Great Britain and Belgium. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, other countries followed suit to declare wars on their enemies. This domino effect resulted in the world war which was fought on several fronts.

Many historians have however disagreed that the killing of one prince was the major cause of the war. Instead, they believe that the killing of the prince was just a trigger and the war was caused by other additional causes. For instance, historians have blamed the build-up of tension between rival countries over the years, the formation of treaties, the scramble for colonies in Africa as well as the misunderstanding of intentions and the belief that the war was unavoidable. In order to gain a better understanding of the real cause of the war, let us look at the events prior to the war.

Events before the war

We can begin with 1882 when the triple alliance was formed; Bismarck, a German chancellor convinced countries to sign international treaties and thus the triple alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were formed. The main aim of the treaty was to keep France, who was an enemy at the time, isolated. However, international relations between countries changed when William the second gained Germany’s throne. William launched new policies that were even more aggressive than those suggested by Bismarck. As a result, other countries took up defensive measures since they felt threatened by Germany’s aggressive policies.

Other countries began forming alliances of their own which were a defensive reaction triggered by the aggressive policies practiced by Germany. The Franco-Russian alliance was first in line and it meant that France had finally broken away from the diplomatic systems designed by Bismarck. The second alliance was that between France and Britain after they resolved their disputes regarding colonies in Africa. Prior to the war, it is clear that the powers were already formed; they were well divided based on having similar interests and common enemies. At around 1898-1907 the Triple Entente was formed between Britain, France, and Russia.

From March 1905 and May 1906, there was an international crisis namely the first Moroccan crisis over the condition of Morocco. This crisis damaged German interactions with the United Kingdom and France, aided in ensuring the prosperity of the new Anglo-French Entente Cordiale. In 1908 Austria-Hungary made public its conquest over Bosnia and Herzegovina which were provinces in Balkan previously ruled by the Ottoman Empire. By Austria-Hungary making it public on the conquest of these two provinces in October 1908 offset the delicate balance of power among Balkans angering Serbia and pan-Slavic citizens all over Europe.

In 1911 the second Moroccan Crisis took place causing international tension fuelled by the involvement of a major force of French soldiers inside Morocco April 1911. Britain was in support of France together with Russia and this increased the Anglo-German antagonism broadening the divisions leading to the outbreak of the 1st World War. From 1912 to 1913 the Balkan war took place which involved two grudges in the Balkan Peninsula. These wars heightened tension between Austria-Hungary and the Russian empire. The Balkan Wars wrenched the German/Austro-Hungarian alliance. In September 1913 Serbian were discovered to be moving into Albania and Russia supported them in this. Austria-Hungary was upset by the strengthening of Serbia which was now an ally of Russia. As such, when Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia, Russia was forced to intervene.

Historians Thoughts on the Causes of the War

Immediately after the war, the victorious nations came to a decision that Germany would take the blame as the main cause of the war. To support this claim, the allied nations included a clause in article 231 of the Versailles treaty which made Germany seem guilty. This clause came to be known as the “war guilt” clause; it read as follows, the allied powers and associated governments affirm that Germany accepts the responsibility for causing the war. As a result, many historians think Germany only took the blame since they were the losing party; history is always written by the winners and hence the real cause of the war may still be a mystery.

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Revisionist historians are also in support of the fact that Germany may not have caused the war. During the 1920s and 30s, anger caused by the war cooled down; in addition, the German foreign affairs office decided that the war guilt section in article 231 of the Versailles treaty needed to be amended to show Germany was not guilty of starting the war. As such, the German war guilt section published several documents in an endeavor to prove that the Germans were not guilty. Other governments such as Russia also published such documents. Revisionist historians, therefore, believe since these amendments were made, the view that Germany was the cause of the war should also be revised.

Communist historians, on the other hand, believe the war was as a result of competition between capitalist businessmen. Using this view of communist historians, Germany did not have any direct role instead other powerful forces such as imperialism, are what led to the war. Emil Ludwig, a famous German author of history also quotes that before the war, nations were peaceable, sensible and industrious; the only problem was that these sensible people were led by a few dozen incapable leaders, mainly comprised of wealthy businessmen. These leaders falsified documents, told lying stories of threats and used genius catchwords that led their nations into a war. However a section of the communist historians disagree with the fact that it was businessmen who caused the war; instead, they blame politicians. The British prime minister at the time, David Lloyd George, confirms this further in his war memoirs where he stated that nations muddled into war following decisions made by their leaders.

The views of the communist historians favor those of the revisionist historians that Germany was not the cause of the war. The most important of the revisionist historians may be Sydney Bradshaw Fay an American historian who explained that Europe was pushed into world war one as a result of powerful forces including imperialism, nationalism, and militarism. Bradshaw Fay also argues that the system of alliances may also have caused nations to jump into war.

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However, after the Second World War, many historians changed their views on the causes of the world war. Anti-revisionist historians returned to the idea that Germany was the responsible party for causing the world war. A.J.P. Taylor, a famous British anti-revisionist historian wrote that the ambitions held by Germany for continental supremacy certainly led to the conflict. Journalist Luigi Albertini, in his book the origins of the 1914 war, also emphasizes that Germany’s mass mobilization was the primary cause of the war. Albertini’s book, therefore, supports the statement by A.J.P. Taylor. These historians emphasize that the mobilization plans suggested by Germany were offensive unlike plans by other countries. An example was the Schlieffen plan which was offensive towards France; the world was therefore made aware that when Germany mobilized, Germany went to war. As a result, other countries also started preparing for war due to the actions of Germany.

A.J.P. Taylor may have received the most support from Fritz Fischer, a German historian, who details in his books “Grasp for world power” and “War of Illusions” the atmosphere in Germany before the war. Fischer argues that the Germans had a will to war and as such the German government wanted events to lead to war. In addition, Fischer explains that the expansion plans held by Germany before WW1 were very similar to those held by the German Nazis in the 1930s. These ideas by Fischer have had the hugest impact on historical views about the causes of the First World War.

Fischer was at first attacked by German historians for his ideas; however, he was able to defend his views. Fischer explained that German leaders were aggressive in the years before 1914 and as a result, they destabilized international politics. At the time, Germany was top in terms of military power; other powers were however growing and this was seen as a threat to German superiority. German leaders, therefore, took the military initiative to attack the other countries since if they waited for too long, they may have lost their military superiority. As such, according to Fischer the country that is to be largely blamed for the outbreak of 1st World War is Germany.

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Nonetheless, some modern historians disagree with the fact that Germany was sole to blame for the war. These historians believe that there was a will for war in other countries as well. Samuel Williamson a historian from Britain in his book “Austria-Hungary and the origins of the First World War” argued that Austria-Hungary was equally to blame. Austria-Hungary had expansionism plans similar to those of Germany since they wished to expand to the Balkans. Modern historians have also pointed out the fact that Britain and France had militaristic attitudes; such was the attitude of several institutions at the time that were turning to violence as a war of solving disputes.


In conclusion, Germany is largely to blame for the world war, the Germans were eager to test their military might and they perceived war as being fun. As such, they readily jumped in when the war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia broke out. However, although Germany takes the biggest blame in the outbreak of the 1st World War, other nations also take part of the blame since they also had militarist attitudes which led to a build-up of tension which eventually resulted in the Great War.

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  1. ABC-Clio Information Services., & American Bibliographical Center. (2007). America, history, and life. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.
  2. Albertini, Luigi, and Luigi Albertini. 2005. The origins of the First World War. New York: Enigma. P.13
  3. Bridgham, Frederick George Thomas. 2006. The First World War as a clash of cultures. Rochester, NY: Camden House.
  4. Cassar, George H. 2011. Lloyd George at War, 1916-1918. London: Anthem Press.
  5. Davis, L. E. (2015). The Cold War Begins Soviet-American Conflict Over East Europe. Princeton University Press. P.7
  6. Fay, Sidney Bradshaw. 2010. The origins of the world war. New York: Ishi Press International. P.67
  7. Goemans, H. E. (2012). War and punishment: The causes of war termination and the First World War. Princeton University Press.
  8. Isserman, M. (1993). Which side were you on?: the American Communist Party during the Second World War. University of Illinois Press. P.270
  9. Mombauer, A. (2013). The origins of the First World War: controversies and consensus. Routledge.
  10. Mulligan, William: The Historiography of the Origins of the First World War, in 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2016-11-30.
  11. Rauchensteiner, Manfred. 2014. The First World War and the end of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914 – 1918. Wien: Böhlau.
  12. Sharp, A. (2008). The Versailles Settlement: Peacemaking After the First World War, 1919-1923. Palgrave Macmillan.
  13. Taylor, A. J. P. 2001. The origins of the Second World War. Ringwood, Vic: Penguin Books.
  14. Williamson, Samuel R. 1991. Austria-Hungary and the origins of the First World War. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
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