Several articles and writings from different scholars try to unearth what could have transpired before 1914 and ended up triggering the World War 1. Contributions of the most recent and the most convincing papers differ from the already existing ones. David Fromkin in his book highlights and explains structures that could have caused the notorious war.
In his paper, Fromkin presents the political landscape of Europe before the war. He further expounds on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which managed to trigger a continental war (Fromkin). In his book, Fromkin explains what sparked the beginning of two major wars in 1914: the first being the war of Serbia against Austria-Hungary and the second being the one of Russia against Germany. Each of the above powers had their reasons for waging a war against the other. Austria’s reason was to reinforce its power status in the Balkans by fighting down the Serbians. Austrians also wanted to ensure that Austria’s Southern Slavic countries remained under its rule by not aspiring to achieve autonomy. Mysterious murder of Ferdinand provided a ground under which Austrians could start a war against their enemy, i.e. Serbians. Of course, Russians came to shield Serbians and the conflict was escalated by the fact that Austria could not risk entering a war against Russia (Fromkin). Austrians went on executing their war plans after Germany promised to stand with them by all means. This tug-of-war between nations expanded borders and later on transformed into notorious WW1. Fromkin identifies such main causes of the WW1 as imperialism, nationalism, diplomacy, and militarism. He goes further to expound on each of them.
Imperialism (Fromkin): Fromkin in his book expounds on the words of David Lloyd George who was the then British wartime Prime Minister. George in his essay on the nations of Europe said that they ‘slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war without a trace of apprehension or dismay’ (as cited in Fromkin). The above happened in 1914 and he meant that the war and the decision to venture into it happened because of muddle and miscalculation. Lloyd believed that there was something greater in the underlying logic of the decision-making (Fromkin). Michael Howard in his contribution to this subject said that every belligerent who happened to have taken arms in 1914 was driven by the idea that people were to repel and prevent direct invasion, hence protecting their territory or fulfilling their obligation, which could not be implemented unless going through shattering and tough consequences of collision of morale, interests, and national prestige. In other words, Howard and Fromkin believe that in summer of 1914 each of the then Great Powers in Europe had a prior calculation that could be any of the following: on the one hand, by waging the war, their nation had a chance to survive and be one of the remaining Great Powers; on the other hand, by refusing to take part, they were risking and could forfeit their nation’s Great Power status. Most of these empires made a decision to take part in the war and they were willing to accept an impending rapid and irreversible decline (Fromkin). In his deeper insight into the topic of imperialism, Fromkin explains that immediate motives that compelled the countries to take part in the 1914 war were coming not really from direct imperialists, but from policies inherited from the previous imperialist order, which reshaped the mind and decisions that ought to have been made. Examples in this case include the lure of the Balkans, the Straits, and Constantinople for Russia; Germany was driven by vague aspirations of the world hegemony; England was striving to ensure preservation of the Empire; Austrians were driven by fears; and the UK had its anxieties. All of the above prove that the war was inevitable if all vital interests of all countries were to be met (Fromkin).
Nationalism: According to Fromkin, friction that occurred between major powers in Europe in 1914 traces its roots to changes that took place between 1859 and 1878. These events inflamed resentment of the minority nation in terms of skills (Fromkin). Resentment and the entire process were accelerated by the then intense rivalry as a result of a competition to dominate colonies overseas, which was as a result of the post-free trade era. The spread of the famous western education and the birth of the yellow press caused frequent crises in the 1880s. The yellow press in essence represented nationalism that encouraged suspicion because of its ideological nature rather than understanding of other nations (Fromkin). The imperialists’ rivalry in a way aroused passions of the nationalists during the age of the politics. The political elites like the ones in Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy had the hope of consolidating their home authority while keeping a sharp eye on the foreign policy. A considerable source of the WW1 was grounded on the need of the Slavic people in Herzegovina and Bosnia to be a part of Serbia and not the Austria-Hungary as they used to be (Kelly). This way, nationalism led directly to the war. In a broader sense, the autonomy of innumerable countries in Europe went back not only to the launch, but also to the extra time of the war in Europe. Each country strived to show its supremacy power (Kelly).
Diplomacy: Diplomacy played a crucial role in the WW1 (Fromkin). It occurred because of the uncertainty and mutual suspicion between the Europeans nations. This state of insecurity prompted a more frequent creation of alliances between nations than ever in the recent history. The worst aspect of the situation was a rising state of contraposition of alliances in which they were more flexible than the ones of the early 19th century (Fromkin). To prevent defection of members from the alliances, crude and unreasonable commitments were made. It was not a surprise as heads of the unions were under the full control of trivial union members. This meant that risky Austria-Hungary received a full backup of the Germans, Serbs being indulged fully by the Russians, and Frenchmen having a clear determination to support Russians. The German’s calculation was that they at least required defense of Austrians in case Russians decided to attack from their Eastern flank. Russians, on the contrary, had an eye on Serbs mainly because of the Balkan Peninsula, which gave them a great power status because of its proximity to the Straits and the Black Sea in addition to Serbs being their slaves (Fromkin). Russians and Frenchmen had mutual benefits in their alliance; Russians needed the French capital to boost their railway construction and the industrialization process while Frenchmen required input of the manpower to balance the Germany’s increased war power. An example of diplomacy was exhibited when Germany proposed to France to refrain from waging the war against it if France had promised neutrality when Germany entered the war against Russia (Fromkin). Generally speaking, Germany wanted the French army to concede defeat without any practical war. This never went as suggested by Germany because the scheme was overruled. Germany went ahead and approached Britain. Germans wanted Britain to remain neutral and it promised to respect the Holland’s self-rule. It backfired as well.
Militarism: Europe as a continent already entered the million-men army scope at the end of the 1870s (Fromkin). It received a major boost after a widespread adoption of systems of universal conscription and, hence, the war became so complicated and intense that the political class was no longer able to control it. Each army now had its general staff system and military technicians with a key responsibility of coming up with war plans, as well as lobbying for logistical support for weapons development and testing (Fromkin). The military headman could schedule a conference that all soldiers could attend to deliberate on the war during the crisis time. This is where they could argue that execution of their war plans was inevitable if they were to avoid disaster. Use of the famous military mentality ‘use-them-or-lose-them’, military urgency, and expediency dominated over the logical process of diplomatic negotiation (Fromkin). An example is the case in 1866 when Austrians were overwhelmed by Prussians as well as by French in 1870. The key reason was that Prussians then had excellent railways that could be used to ferry armies with speed and efficiency. For example, Germany had already built the greatest army by 1914 (Kelly). Both Germany and Britain had increased their natives during this period. Moreover, there was a military establishment that posed a great stimulus in terms of the public strategy being steered by Russia and Germany (Kelly). This intensification in militarism facilitated momentum and the countries became tangled in the war. Germany led having 2.2 million soldiers and 97 warships. France had 1.125 million soldiers and 62 warships. Austria-Hungary came third having 810,000 soldiers armed with 28 warships. As one nation enlarged its defense force, so all other nations felt obliged to increase their military forces to keep equilibrium. Such supremacy and imbalance of powers prompted some countries to enter into alliances. In the beginning, there was an alliance between Russian and French armies in 1894. In 1904, Britain and France entered into an agreement with a view to working together on friendship terms and, hence, it was not a formal alliance. Others came later like the naval agreement signed by Japan and Britain in 1902. These alliances strengthened weaker armies and then posed great danger to security in Europe.
In conclusion, David Fromkin in his discussion of the origin of the World War I explains that this war was triggered by two wars and not one as other scholars may argue. Fromkin argues that the two wars were started deliberately and the two were intertwined in a way. Countries and empires who started these wars were rivals although they were bound together by a mutual objective and need. The two empires who started the war were the German Empire and the Habsburg Empire (Fromkin). The coincidence between the two wars was that they were initiated by governing individuals and the lower class members were not aware of those critical steps. Fueling factors of the wars can be traced back to the issue of control. It was considered as a way of improving the power ranking in the European powerful states, which at that time happened to rule the world (Fromkin). Another fact was that both Austria and Germany were on their way down in terms of power superiority. Hence, the only thing that Austria and Germany could have done was to start the war to retain their status. Central issues that accelerated the war were imperialism, nationalism, diplomacy, and militarism.
Fromkin, David. Europe’s Last Summer. New York: Knopf, 2004. Print.
Kelly, Martin. ‘The Top 5 Causes of World War 1.’, n.d. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.