Article

World War I Origins

Dennis Showalter

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0006
World War I Origins

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The origins of World War I are best summarized in two contexts. The first stresses long-term issues such as nationalism, materialism, and militarism. It critiques a diplomatic system that devolved into rival alliances that risked turning any conflict into a doomsday machine. This structural approach incorporates the domestic tensions generated by industrialism, a shift that led to the emergence of an upper class of old aristocrats and new bourgeoisie willing to risk war to maintain their position. The second context of the war’s origins emphasizes volitional elements. The states of Europe, Great Powers and lesser ones, interacted according to decisions that were made by relatively small groups of politicians, officials, and soldiers so that relatively small events, such as the assassination of Habsburg archduke Franz Ferdinand, could set off a chain reaction of events leading to a war no one wanted. Taken together, these contexts inform most of the literature on the origins of World War I but that is not to say plenty of debate still goes on over the events that precipitated the first shot.

Article.  7864 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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