MILITARISM was one of the four major causes of the war. It was an
“arms race.” Because Britain had a large navy, Germany wanted a large
navy too. Germany and France competed to build larger armies. Many
nations introduced “universal conscription” (the draft), even in times of
peace. For reasons of prestige and self-defense, the more one nation built
up its army and navy, the more other nations felt they had to do the same.
The expense of the “arms race” fell on civilian populations in the form of
high taxes. Between 1870 and 1914, all of the major powers except Great
Britain and the United States, doubled the size of their armies.
ALLIANCES For twenty years, the nations of Europe had been making
alliances. It was thought the alliances would promote peace. Each country
would be protected by others in case of war, making it foolish for one
country to wage war on another. The danger of these alliances was that an
argument between two countries could draw all the other nations allied with
them into a fight. This is just what happened when a conflict between
Austria-Hungary and Serbia led to World War I. In the summer of 1914
there were two alliances. The Triple Alliance composed of Germany,
Austria-Hungary, and Italy, stood opposed to the Triple Entente composed
of Britain, France, and Russia.
IMPERIALISM Another cause of World War I was that European
nations ruled smaller countries, called colonies, and competed with each
other to amass more colonies. Gathering colonies is known as IMPERIALISM.
The purpose of imperialism was and is to build up national wealth and
influence by owning colonies. Both France and Britain had many colonies in
Africa and Asia. In the 1880s and 1890s, Germany and Italy decided they
wanted a colonial empire too. This global competition for land caused
confrontations and conflicts in many places. For example, Great Britain
almost went to war with France and the United States during the 1880s over
NATIONALISM In addition to political conflicts, the causes of the war
included such forces as nationalism, or pride in one’s country. The belief that
one’s own nation or culture is superior to all others, nationalism led
European nations to compete to build the largest army and navy. It also
gave groups of subject peoples the idea of forming independent nations of
their own. Serbians, Czechs, Slovaks, Bosnians and many other peoples
living under the rule of the Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian Empires wanted
freedom from “foreign” rule.