Causes of the First World War

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The twentieth century was a time period characterized by conflicting ideologies and great dissension among countries; it also marked the onset of World War One in 1914. The origins of the "Great War," as the First World War has been called are open to a myriad of insightful and distinct interpretations. However, one interpretation which many historians alike have affirmed is that decisions were made by human beings; "They made them in fear and in trembling, but they made them nonetheless" (Stoessinger 2). More specifically, the diplomatic decisions made by European leaders in crucial events subsequent to the death of Franz Ferdinand initiated the Great War.

The first crucial step in the triggering of the Great War can be looked at with respect to the German vow to support the Austrian position on Serbia. According to historian John G. Stoessinger, news of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie's death deeply shook Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had a genuine fondness of the Archduke. For this, "he [Kaiser Wilhelm II] took the fateful step of assuring Austria that she could count on Germany's `faithful support' even if the punitive action she was planning to take against Serbia would bring her into conflict with Russia. In other words, the Kaiser issued Austria-Hungary a blank check" (Stoessinger 3). This decision of the Kaiser, as Stoessinger argues, was guided by his morals and friendship toward the Archduke and "under any circumstances demonstrated an extraordinary confusion of personal ethics and political judgment," and thus, it is untrue, "as many historians have stated, that the Kaiser wanted war" (Stoessinger 4). Contrastingly, the German historian Fritz Fischer argues that official papers give proof that German lea...

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... On a similar note, "There was a pervasive tendency to place the preservation of one's ego before the preservation of peace" (Stoessinger 22). Thus, World War I, by all means, was evitable.


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Fischer, Fritz. Germany's Aims in the First World War. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967.

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Kagan, Donald. On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1999.

Stoessinger, John G. Why Nations Go to War, 7th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1998.

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