What were the background causes of World War One and which nations were responsible for it?

Essay by skyllinkaHigh School, 11th grade March 2005

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"Oh, if only I knew." Even Bethmann-Hollweg had to voice his frustration in isolating a major cause of the First World War. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th Century, a place where "Europe was the centre of the universe" (Petrie), World War I resulted from a number of factors: nationalism, imperialism, militarism and he alliance system in Europe. All the European powers bear responsibility. Germany in particular, risked war, but did not plan it.

Bismarck said "If ever there is another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans," -this proved correct. At the beginning of the 20th century, nationalism was "a new religion that roused the deepest emotions of mankind" (Schapiro). A virulent strain of South Slav nationalism, especially within the Serbian and Slavic provinces of the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian state emerged which threatened the troubled Habsburg Empire. Serbia had ambitions towards the South Slavs, wishing to incorporate them into a much enlarged Serbia, and was supported by big brother, Russia.

Austrian politicians believed that an active policy of expansion in the Balkans was the best cure for their Empire's internal stagnation. So, Aehrenthal announced the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. Serbia was furious as it meant the permanent exclusion of Yugo-Slav territory from "Greater Serbia". Russia veered threateningly on Serbia's side, but Germany came like "a knight in shining armour" to Austria and convinced Russia to back down. Russia was in no condition for war. Serbian and Austria-Hungarian relations turned fierce. The prelude to WWI was the crisis that arose during the Balkan Wars (1912-13) which brought tension between Serbia and Austria to high pitch. Serbia's success had convinced Austria that the "Serbia question" had to be solved: Serbia not only gained territory, but confidence. Serbia defied a decision of...