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The Origins of World War I - Essay Example

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An analysis of the origins and the causes of World War One, also known as the Great War, is complicated by a number of factors. As an initial matter, early analyses tended to blame the defeated countries rather uncritically. Germany and Austria-Hungary were allocated a disproportionate share of the blame as the victors sought to distance themselves from criticism for such widespread destruction and death…
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The Origins of World War I
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Download file to see previous pages The causes are better understood within a broader historical context than in instances of contextual isolation (Hamilton & Herwig, 2004). There were many contributing causes, exerting varying degrees of influence, at different periods leading up to the conflict. Had Germany remained fragmented and un-unified, for instance, there is a possibility that the larger scope of the war might have been avoided. This essay, therefore, proceeds on the assumption that there were many mutually reinforcing causal factors rather than a more particular cause per se.
A final complication involves the reality underlying certain alleged causal factors, and the ways in which the involved parties varied in their perceptions of these realities. There were, to be sure, underestimations and overestimations. There were fears fanned by imperfect knowledge regarding the intentions and the capabilities of other countries and alliances. As this essay will argue, the ultimate participants seemed always to be preparing for a worst-case scenario, and perhaps created their own self-fulfilling prophecy. There were moments when crises could have been averted, moments when falsehoods could have been cured through the introduction of facts, but the competitive momentum of the historical period in which the participants existed seemed to tolerate no such notions of tolerance or sharing. The Balance of Power was jealously guarded by some, envied by others, and conflict exploded with assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand.
This essay will set forth a number of causal factors. The greatest contributing causal factors were the ideological tilts toward nationalism, a number of structural and systemic alterations to the Balance of Power in Europe, and a number of smaller crises which sharpened the competitive conflicts of major European countries. These causal factors occurred over many years and it took time for the Great War to come to fruition. When it did, the power of the combatants was fearful.
1.1 Ideological Causes
As a preliminary matter, it is of fundamental importance to understand what ideologies motivated politicians and countries to act in this historical period; indeed, competitive drives, both offensive and defensive, were in many ways the product of particular types of thinking. What we take for granted today, the sovereignty of nation-states, was not so well-established in the period leading up to World War One; to be sure, the Westphalian system, conceived of and developed by Europe in the mid-seventeenth century, was in many ways incomplete and embryonic. There were stronger nation-states, such as Great Britain and France, and weaker amalgamations of peoples such as in Germany and Italy. The drive was to become a fully-functioning and unified nation-state. It is here that ideology intruded into the conduct of European affairs.
Ideology intruded because ideology was deemed necessary to mobilize peoples into larger nation-states and also as a form of political legitimacy for the ultimate rulers.
This ideological growth was most commonly expressed in terms of nationalism and patriotism. People, to varying degrees, were encouraged to embrace their own unique culture and ethnicity. Dangerously, and of particular relevance to this essay, ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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