The year of 1914 was considered to be the most tragic and watershed moment of 20th century political history. The creation of poison gases, flamethrowers, aerial bombings, submarines and machine guns intensified the scale of war wreckage and led to the end of nearly forty million people’s lives. The loss of people’s lives was greater than in any previous war in history and it was considered to be the most horrific cornage the world had ever seen. Due to the most tragic and horrific incidents, the reason for the outbreak of 1914 had happened is as important as the consequences. As it is clearly seen in the Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, known as the ‘War Guilt Clause’, Germany was officially blamed for the start up of the war. The Allied and Associated Governments affirm as well that Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies. (HKEAA.2022) Many researchers claim that Germany should bear the sole responsibility for the outbreak of WWI because the alliance system initiated by Germany aimed at preparing for a war and it paved the way for the outbreak of such Great Conflict (HKEAA. 2022). Germany was blamed to be the main consequence of the war due to several causes and problems that they had created. The German government obviously was extremely aggressive towards the other countries, pushing them to start a war, believing they could win European domination. The facts made it seem like Germany was the only cause of the 1940 incident. For a great certainty, Germany had created great tensions by threatening Austria-Hungary and great European countries, such as France and other powerful countries such as Russia to start an alliance against the German government. However, World War 1 was considered to be the most powerful incident and it is morally and theoretically impossible to blame only one country for the start up of the war that nearly affected all the countries in the world. Even though Germany was one of the main countries for the cause of the creation of the war, it was not the only reason. Germany should bear the sole responsibility for the outbreak of war although we cannot deny that they had to share part of the responsibilities, especially with the Great Powers. The cause of the war had much more and deeper reasons and Germany was just one of the actors behind it.
During the 20th century, the great European Powers had been developing rapidly in terms of economy and politics, taking nearly control of half of the world through the decades even before World War I had started. Imperialism was the main reason why the members of the world war countries decided to create an actual war and end thousands of people’s lives. European nations carried out a massive campaign of imperialism against the regions of Africa and the rest of the world to an extent that was never seen before. During the conflict in Europe, the countries were rapidly transforming themselves into a war due to the desire and aim of getting a part of colonial subjects. The European countries had scrambled Africa especially after the abolition of slavery, which led to new Technologies like steamboats and quinine to allow the imperial Powers to invade easily. They saw colonizing Africa as a way to make use of forced labor in order to exploit their valuable resources and to become more powerful. This led to one of the massive effects of the start of the war because of the increased rivalry between the European nations and the fight against each other for gaining new territories. Especially Britain and France prioritized imperialism as a prior competition to gain as much new territories and possessions as possible through exploiting smaller nations. ‘The Indian Empire has overwhelmed the British nation by the completeness and unanimity of its enthusiastic aid; likewise in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa rushed to the Empire’s standards’ to stand in arms against a foe. ’(The Times 2006)
The Dutch control over the Netherlands Indies in 1870 had massive effects over the islands such as Java. The French imperialism over Indochina and the British control over India was pretty damaging as well and in 1914 the Europeans ruled almost the whole South and Southeast Asia and Africa except Liberia and Ethiopia. European imperialism further increased the aim of the other countries such as the Ottoman Empire, Persia and China to aim to be larger and bigger. The second reason for the outbreak of World War 1 that the countries rather than Germany had caused was nationalism, which led to massive tensions and unrest to grow between most of the nationalist countries. For instance, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not made up of one single nation, but consisted of many different nations and subnations which aimed to take control over it and wanted sovereignty from the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Russia’s aim to capture the control of the Bosphorus to access the warm water ports of the Mediterranean also led to The Russo-Turkish War in 1877, which created a great deal of unrest and arised conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire as well as with several Balkanic countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. The fight resulted in Russia’s succession to claim Kars and Batum and the annexation of Budjak and the Balkanic regions saw nationalism as a way of independence and had grown the massive nationalist interests of Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians and other ethnic groups that led to demands for independence. The proclamation of the Balkanic countries to gain sovereignty from the Ottomans, grew massive tensions and raised problems for the Ottomans as an outcome. Furthermore, it may also seem extraordinary that a timeline in which the European countries had massively conquered the world has been called a period of relative tranquility, also called ‘the Age of Armed Peace’. The Arms race made the powerful countries to increase the probability of starting a war by undermining military stability and straining political relations. Britain had created significant debates between Germany, by creating a massive naval arms race, resulting in a competition of dreadnought-class ships, which lasted until the breakout of the 1914 incident. This incident had also caused the other European countries to build up their expansion to other countries by showing their military power over them and had caused for a startup of expansion of the military forces between the great powers. This occasion represents a great rivalry that existed between the European nations during the times of the war outbreak. If these countries had not built such strong and large armies, then the war would not have been so easily begun and be so devastating. The fourth reason was the secret alignments and factions between the countries. Even before the world war, the countries had made secret alignments for their own political and economic goals. For instance, The Alliance system played a fundamental role in leading to the first World War because it divided the European territories into two rival military groups as the triple alliance and the triple entente as a basic European sanction of the pre-world war one era. In this pre-war era France was not as ingenuous as it seems to be. The secret alliance that they have made between the other great powers led to multiple damages and fractions for the post war era. Especially post Franco Prussian war and the annexation of the Alsaice Lorraine made France extremely disturbed and provoked to enter the war and further assist to get into a Franco-Russian alliance in 1904. Furthermore, the secret treaty London which was between neutral Italy and the Allied forces of France, Britain and Russia was created, aiming to bring Italy into World War I. The Allies wanted Italy’s participation because of its border with Austria and they served as a means of guarding or advancing national interests while acting as a deterrent to war. Furthermore, many countries had made alliances with one another. They agreed to protect each other. If one was attacked, the others would defend them and If there hadn’t been alliances, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would only have caused a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. Due to the consequence of the alliances, Russia came to aid Serbia and that led Germany to declare war on
Russia. After the disperse of Russia from the Allied Powers the secret alliances that the countries had made between themselves had come out to reality. Furthermore, the ultimate failure of the Concert of Europe, culminating in the First World War, was driven by several different factors especially from rival alliances and the rise of nationalism. The Concert of Europe failed to protect their two main promises , regarding the international word order, which were to safeguard power balancing in Europe and to collective responsibility for peace and stability among the Great Powers. The growth of colonial and imperial Powers and the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans as well as North Africa made the Concert of Europe’s aims even harder to achieve and this also led to the outbreak of the war.
Now going back to the issue that Germany was the cause of the war, it is obvious that the German government had anticipated great forces to create conflicts and problems between countries in order to seize the opportunity to dominate Europe politically and economically and to gain a superior power in Europe. They had significant responsibility for the outbreak of the war, which it is clearly seen from the Versailles treaty that Germany was forced to sign after the post-war era. Germany was the main reason for the creation of the axis powers by both provoking Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire to get in an alliance. Germany had great influence over the Austria-Hungary to start a fight with Serbia by granting them a blank check assurance, Kaiser Wilhelm II and his chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, made it clear that Germany would stand by Austria-Hungary even if an attack on Serbia provoked Russia, Serbia’s ally, to declare war on. (JSTOR. 2022) For the Ottomans things were not very different. Germany had planned to provoke the Ottoman Empire into the war in order to reduce their battlefield in the war and to gain control over the Bosphorus. Also the Schlieffen Plan of Germany had further created great conflicts by attacking one of the most neutral countries that did not provoke war, Belgium. Germany’s annexation of the Alsaice-Lorraine, which led to Franco-German war, also caused a war-startup by increasing the tensions between German and French governments. In 1914 the invasion of Belgium by Germany was one of the main reasons for the spark of conflict between Britain, Belgium against Germany, especially because of the compromise Britain gave Belgium to protect them. Before the war, in the Hague Conference there were strict and restrictive rules that led out the rules of modern warfare which prohibited chemical weapons among the nations and prohibited the killing of civilians. However, Germany underestimated and disobeyed the rules and decided to send zeppelin air raids commencing over British cities
and started to attack the ally trenches with chlorine gas and used submarines to sink civilian ships and it led the Germans to justify their attacks. Furthermore, they caused the longest and one of the bloodiest battles of the war when they attacked the French city of Verdun and led to the death of thousands of casualties. In return, Britain joined their own brutal fight with Germany in the Battle of Somme and the great German power led Britain to use their new technological tanks which caused the deaths of thousands of civilians. These events make the German country to be highly responsible for causing the world war incident in 1914. However, The victorious powers were too assertive to say that Germany deliberately started the war to relieve themselves from the responsibilities and consequences that they had created in the before and post world war era and it was a collective responsibility of all powers rather than a sole responsibility of Germany.
In conclusion, Germany was one of the main actors in the war for both causing the start of the war and for the horrible consequences and outcomes after the war. They tried to increment and enhance their economical, political and social power and to outrage the other European great powers secretly by causing effective tensions and conflicts between the countries, which ultimately led the countries to get in a political fight. They did multiple invasions towards countries such as Belgium or by forcing their allies, the Ottomans and the Austria-Hungarians to start a war. They are the main responsible character for creating great complexity and complications between the nations, provoking them to start a war. They were also certainly punished and penalized after the post world war era by accepting what they had done and by losing a good amount of their territories, population and developed iron industries. However, it is impossible to deny that Germany should bear most of the responsibility for the outbreak of the war. On the other hand, other great powers’ responsibility at the same time should not be neglected. The victorious powers were too assertive to say that Germany deliberately started the war to relieve themselves from the responsibilities and consequences that they had created in the before and post world war era and it was a collective responsibility of all powers rather than a sole responsibility of Germany. World War I was a massive war that affected thousands and millions of lives in the whole world and every member country was simply responsible for it.
Citations and Bibliography:
Antony Best, Jussi M. Hanhimäki, Joseph A. Maiolo, Kirsten E. Schulze – International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond-Routledge (2014)
German Responsibility For The Outbreak Of The War. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2022 https://www.history.com/topics/germany/weimar-republic
Characteristics of partnership success … – JSTOR. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2022. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bush11642
German Responsibility For The Outbreak Of The War. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2022. https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-the-world-went-to-war-in-1914
Henk Wesseling,. Imperialism & The Roots of the Great War. American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 10, 2022
Characteristics of partnership success … – JSTOR. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2022. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bush11642
Empires in World War I. Bloomsbury. Retrieved April 10, 2022 https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/empires-in-world-war-i-9781350157040/
Among the participants in the First World War … – HKEAA. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2022