Events that shaped WW I (Part I)

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The Steady Rise of Nationalism

  • A fierce rivalry developed between Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, and France due to several sources, Competition for materials and markets was one.
  • Nationalistic rivalries also grew out of territorial disputes. France, for example, had never gotten over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War (1870). Austria-Hungary and Russia both tried to dominate in the Balkans. Within the Balkans, the intense nationalism of Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, and other ethnic groups led to demands for independence.


The nations of Europe competed fiercely for colonies in Africa and Asia. In 1905 and again in 1911, Germany and France nearly fought over who would control Morocco, in northern Africa.

The Growth of Militarism

Beginning in the 1890s, increasing nationalism led to a dangerous European arms race. By 1914, all the Great Powers except Britain had large standing armies. The policy of glorifying military power and keeping an army prepared for war was known as militarism.

Tangled Alliances

  • Between 1864 and 1871, Prussia’s blood-and-iron chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, freely used war to unify Germany. Bismarck saw France as the greatest threat to peace. Bismarck’s first goal, therefore, was to isolate France. I
  • In 1879, Bismarck formed the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary. Three years later, Italy joined, forming the Triple Alliance. In 1887, Bismarck made a treaty with Russia.
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Shifting Alliances Threaten Peace

In 1888, Germany’s foreign policy changed dramatically when, Kaiser William II became ruler of Germany and forced Bismarck to resign. He let his nation’s treaty with Russia lapse in 1890.

Russia responded by forming a defensive military alliance with France in 1892 and 1894. Impulsive Kaiser, decided to challenge Britain. Meanwhile Germany built  its own small colonial empire and started a tremendous shipbuilding program  equal to Britain’s.  

By 1907, two rival camps existed in Europe. On one side was the Triple Alliance—Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. On the other side was the Triple Entente—Great Britain, France, and Russia. A dispute between two rival powers could draw the entire continent into war.

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Social Tensions

Varied nationalities were one of the major internal issues among European states. Secondly, workers in industrialized nations were highly exploited, and condition of peasantry was not better off either.

The period witnessed rise of trade union movement and spread of socialist ideas. By 1914, Socialist parties were formed such as, socialist parties in Germany, France and Italy were single largest parties. In 1889, the Second International was formed and declared 1st May as day of working class and for the first time a demand of limiting work hours to 8 hours per day was raised. Second International in its Stuttgart Congress held in Germany in 1907 categorically condemned colonialism and called for an independence of colonies.

  • Madam Bhikhaji Cama also attended the congress and even unfurled an Indian flag here designed by her.

Socialists opposed the World war and in Brussels Congress of Second International, they declared a ‘War on War’ and asked workers to work in direction of ending it. However, in later years Socialist movement saw a split and it became even acute after the Russian Revolution.

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