XVI. The First World War
85. The International Anarchy
A. Rival Alliances: Triple Alliance versus Triple Entente
Nations kept huge peace-time armies; compulsory military service produced millions of trained reserves. Few
wanted war; all assumed it would come.
1. Triple Alliance: Germany’s wealth, industry, and population grew immensely after 1870, and Germany felt it
deserved its “place in the sun.” The French had grievances of 1870, the British feared competitors for markets
and colonies. From 1871-1890, Bismarck followed a policy of peace; his goal was to isolate France and to keep it
interested in colonies, hopefully causing problems with Britain. Bismarck made key alliances; the Triple Alliance
was formed by joining with Austria in 1879, then Italy in 1882. He then added the “Reinsurance Treaty” with
Russia. These alliances were obviously under severe internal strains due to competitive interests.
2. Triple Entente: France secured a Russian alliance in 1894 when Wilhelm II changed Germany’s policies; thus, the
most radical nation allied with the most conservative, a relationship cemented by French capital for Russian
railroads. Britain, held to its “splendid isolation” --until the shock of its isolation (Boer War), the building of a
German navy, and Germany’s insulting attitude. Germans, reading A. T. Mahan’s book on the influence of sea
power, began a naval race which Britain saw as a threat to their survival. The result was a British alliance in 1902
with Japan (against Russia), the 1904 Entente Cordiale with France, and in 1907 the Anglo -Russian Convention--
which together were called the Triple Entente.
B. The Crises in Morocco and the Balkans
1. The Germans tested the Entente Cordiale in the first Morocco Crisis (1905), resulting in the Algeciras Conference,
and with the second, or “Panther” crisis of 1911. Both failed, driving the British and French closer together.
Germany claimed to seek Moroccan independence, but their real goal was to gain more African colonies.
2. The center of the Balkan crisis was Serbia, seeking Bosnia and Croatia/Slovenia from Austria; its pan-Slavic
agitation aimed at unity of the South (Yugo) Slavs.
a. Events came to a boil in 1908, with the Young Turks out to save the Ottoman Empire and Russia out to restore
its damaged pride. Russia and Austria made a secret deal: Austria would annex Bosnia and support opening
the Dardanelles to Russian warships. Austria took Bosnia (angering the Serbs) but did nothing for Russia --
which was frustrated but had to accept the fait accompli.
b. In 1911, Italy went to war with the Ottomans, grabbing Tripoli. Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia attacked the
Ottomans in the First Balkan War. Bulgaria grabbed too much, so Serbia joined with Greece, Romania, and
the Turks to defeat it in the Second Balkan War. Several nations wanted Albania, so the Great Powers
established it as an independent kingdom. Serbia was again frustrated and blocked from the sea; Russia, again
humiliated, was forced to back down.
C. The Sarajevo Crisis and the Outbreak of War
1. A Serb terrorist, with Serbian complicity, assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, a moderate, who angered both the Serbs and
the status quo Austrians. Austria now determined to crush the South Slav movement, and Germany promised the “blank
check” of support. Serbia refused the Austrian ultimatum and brought war, counting on Russ support. Russia counted on
France, which itself gave a virtual blank check. Russia began to mobilize, and Germany set in motion its war plan, attacking
France through Belgium--counting on British reluctance to act. The Kaiser dismissed Britain’s protests, calling the treaty of
Belgian neutrality a “scrap of paper,” and Britain declared war.
2. Why had war come?
The Alliance system had divided Europe into two entangled, hostile camps. Each was concerned about its
credibility with its allies. Germany feared encirclement by Russia and France; France feared increasing German
superiority. Austria and Russia acted recklessly, feeling they had much to gain and little to lose. Germany,
moreover, had an internal crisis, with the growing power of the Social Democrats, anti-war and anti-military--
while power was held by the arrogant, obstinate Junkers. In addition, the international economy showed the
vulnerability of nations, relying on the import of raw materials and food, the export of goods, services, or capital in
return --and with no policing power. The resulting imperialism stimulated the quest for binding alliances in a
seemingly anarchic world.
86. The Armed Stalemate
A. The War on the Land
1. Most people expected a short war, but it lasted through four years of appalling losses. Germany launched its attack
with 78 divisions against about the same Allied strength; a surprisingly rapid Russian offensive forced reduced
strength; over-extended by their rapid surge, the Germans were slowed and then stopped by the counter-attack
called the Battle of the Marne. The Russians were defeated in the East and the whole Western front turned into
trench warfare, dominated by artillery and the machine gun.
2. The second year of the war brought Russian successes against Austria and the Allied attempt to punch through the
Dardanelles to supply Russia--the Gallipoli campaign. The third year was characterizing by the two great battles
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