Marching Towards War

Although the First World War officially began in 1914, the conflict between the countries involved had been steadily brewing since the late 1800s. Today, the war is more commonly known as World War I, although historically it has also been referred to as The Great War due to the sheer destruction and casualties that resulted.

One of the earliest markers of tension occurred in May of 1871 when Germany took the Alsace-Lorraine region from France during the Franco-Prussian War. This war, which lasted from 1870 to 1871, was fought between France and the German state of Prussia.

Prussia had formed a strong network of territories known as the North German Confederation, and when it tried to grow in size and add more territories to its confederation, France was not pleased. France fought back in an effort to stave off German rule and influence.

The year after in May of 1872, Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary formed the Triple Alliance against France, an alliance they would hold onto until the early 1900s and the start of World War I. During this time, Prussia - and soon after, the entirety of Germany - was ruled by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who was well-respected by his people and by other high-ranking German politicians. He was, however, at odds with the much younger and very militaristic German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who forced von Bismarck to resign in March of 1890. Because of von Bismarck’s policies regarding isolation, many feel that if he had stayed in power, Germany would not have entered World War I.

Another important triplet later formed, but this time between France, Britain, and Russia, and they called it the Triple Entente, quite literally the “Triple Agreement”. This Triple Entente was not as binding as the Triple Alliance, as Britain was not forced to fight on the side of France and Russia if it chose not to in 1914. After many attempts to avoid entering into the war, Britain fought alongside France and Russia.

As the 1900s dawned, tensions increased in pretty rapid succession, starting with Austria’s takeover of Bosnia and Herzegovina in October of 1908. Then, in June of 1914, angered over Austria-Hungary’s takeover of his native Bosnia, a young man by the name of Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferndinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This is said to be the event which most prominently brought forth declarations of war: the next month in July, Austria declared war on Serbia. In August of that same year, Great Britain declared war on Germany just before Germany declared war on Russia and France, also in August. A bloody, multi-country war would thus ensue for four years.

Back

World History Book Home

US History Book Home

Next