The Causes of World War One
In a Europe divided between ambitious regimes, and nationalistic movements, the powers of the day entered into series of treaties to protect their interests. The first of these was in 1882 when Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy created a Triple Alliance shortly after Germany and Italy became unified countries. Each needed the protection of the other against older nations. The next was when France and Britain signed an Entente Cordiale in 1904. Russia joined them in 1907 in what became known as the Triple Entente.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip. This event caused Austria-Hungary to make demands of Belgrade and of the Serbs that were rejected. This triggered the enforcement of all treaties among the six nations that had made agreements. Events unfolded rapidly. Efforts were made to turn back from war but none succeeded. The division of power was changed even more when Russia, as a fellow Slav nation and protector of the Christian Orthodoxy, mobilized on July 30 and joined Serbia against Austria-Hungary.
On July 31 Austria-Hungary mobilized for war against Russia, France and Britain. Within days Germany honored its alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy, declared war on Russia and France, and crossed into Belgium as it started the invasion of France. In response Britain declared war on Germany on August 4 and Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on August 6. Britain and France then honored their treaty agreements with Russia and each other. In the coming months and years, the war became a world war with many more countries entering the conflict.
The German army quickly invaded much of northern France. On August 20, 21 and 22, 1914 they killed 130,000 French soldiers, 10 per cent of all French military losses to be suffered in four years of war. The Germans got close to Paris but the French fought hard and defeated them in early September at the First Battle of the Marne, saving the rest of France.
The Western Front in 1914 extended from the English Channel to Switzerland across all of Northern France. A war of attrition and brutal trench warfare, push and push back, started then and lasted until the summer of 1918.
Germany and Russia fought each other hard on the Eastern Front from 1914 until 1917 when the Bolsheviks forced the Czar to abdicate, causing the established Russian government to fall. The collapse of Russia brought their war against Germany to a close in December of 1917. It freed 160 divisions of the German army, equal to 40 American divisions, for use on its Western Front.
The centennial of those calamitous 1914-1918 years will soon be celebrated. Those events started modern warfare and created new borders. The war liquidated the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian Empires. American participation in the war gave rise to the United States as a world power. The war gave birth to Communism, Fascism, Nazism, World War II, decolonization, the rise of Arab and central European nationalism, and the Jewish state. Its dead could be counted in the millions.
More than for anything, the war is remembered for the huge losses suffered by all its combatants over a four-year period. Among those dead were Alabamians, and they are remembered with their fellow soldiers of the Rainbow Division on the site of the Croix Rouge Farm Memorial.