Nineteenth-century was the period of growth of capitalist industry, for advancement in the use of energy and large-scale power production. At the turn of the 20th century, the European nations had been at peace for nearly 30 years, many peace organizations – such as peace congress – were active in Europe, the colonization of Africa had been peacefully achieved through the Berlin Conference of 1884, and a similar ideology or shared social order which may be called Marxian socialism, social democracy or socialism had started dominating the intellectual as well as workers-peasants circle all over Europe. However, below the surface of peace, bilateral relations and shared social values, several forces were at work that would help propel Europe into war. These forces are Nationalism, Militarism and a System of Alliances. In fact, these forces, however distinct they may be, are subject to imperialism. This analysis is not casual. Could nationalism exist without militarism, or militarism without nationalism or both without the system of alliances and vice-versa? No, they couldn’t. Could imperialism exist without these three driving forces and vice-versa? No. In other words, none of these persuasions could exist without each other. These forces were primogenitors of one another, relations within a totality of imperialism.
The world in 1914, in a nutshell, can be described in five points: Europe still dominated the rest of the world, the political systems of world powers varied widely from centre to right and to extreme-right, imperialism was still the building force of Europe, Europe had divided itself into two systems of alliances: Triple alliance and Triple Entente and friction existed between different nations of Europe. These five defining conditions of the world in 1914 were really an inevitable result of the growth of the capitalist industry. The only defining characteristic of a capitalist system is profit before people. History is evident for the fact that an ever-growing demand for cheap raw materials and easily accessible markets made the capitalist powers race around the world for empire. This was the birth of imperialism, an immediate as well as the long-standing cause of war, which is building up an empire by seizing territories overseas for commercial purposes. European powers rushed about in Asia and Africa seizing as much territory as possible in order to extract cheap labour and raw materials. Having covered the world, there was almost nowhere else to spread, so the imperialist powers began dazzling at each other and craving each other’s colonial subjects. These circumstances inevitably kept pushing Europe to the brink of war. For instance, in 1905 and 1911 Germany and France nearly fought over possession of Morocco, in Northern Africa. Later, the dispute was settled after Germany was gifted a whole of Congo in central Africa.
The nations of Europe were quite often vicious and immoral while dealing with each other. England had a notion of ‘A White Man’s Burden’, France had ‘ Civilizing Missions’ and Germany had ‘Spread our Kultur’. All these bombastic utterances of one nation greatly irritated the other, but these were their justification for the exploitation they caused to their colonial subjects. The only ruling circumstance over their actions was fear of consequences, otherwise, they found it a matter of their autonomy to assume an impudent and rigid attitude towards others and a ‘dog in the manger policy. Why was this so? Each country was preparing for war in its own manner. Or, each of them was prepared. There was an armament race, and the bizarre part of such armament races is that one country increases its weaponry the other countries are forced to do likewise. These increasing facilities of logistics and weaponry hastened the adverse relations between European nations, but at the same time also whisked their confidence to dominate the other. Therefore, whenever the European nations could afford it, they would bully the weak, otherwise, under some circumstances, respect the strong. Nationalist rivalries grew out of these superpower disputes. Although territorial rivalries can sometimes be the reason for increasing nationalism, in those days nationalism was the progenitor of ‘profit’, nothing more nothing less. The big private firms used to make armaments – that is bombs, guns, battle-ships, ammunition, and all other logistics required for war – for they used to reap a rich output in terms of profit, and they were owned by Army-men, ministers and officials. Profitability to an armament factory comes with war scars and wars. Therefore, European officials and ministers were, in fact, ‘financially’ interested in war. But how without some dogmas? Why would people fight for them? Why would the person living trans-Marne river care about the lost territory of Alsace-Lorraine? It was the birth of modern nationalism of European Nationalism. Warlords bought up newspapers to influence public opinion, often bribed government officials, and spread false information to excite people. This caused intense competition between nations, with each seeking to overpower the other. But why did this fierce rivalry develop into militarism and nationalism? One, it has already been established that the armament industry was full of riches and profit. Second, the crux is the competition for cheap raw materials and markets. This also has already been established that the European nations were gracing eyes upon territorial possessions each other. Therefore, the root cause of militarism is the imperialistic creed, which even led to the birth of untamed nationalism. The growing international rivalries also led to the creation of several military alliances, which meant to keep peace in Europe, but it instead helped push the continent into war. England was worried about the competition between Germany and United States in industry. These countries – especially Germany – were making manufacturing goods cheaper than England, and were thus taking away England’s market from it. Germany had made vast progress in science, education and industry, and had at the same time built up a magnificent navy. Even in terms of social reforms and ideological progressiveness, England was far behind Germany. German ships were to be seen in every port, and her own ports, Hamburg and Bremen, became the greatest of world ports. Once, Germany purposed to build a railway to Baghdad connecting the city with Constantinople and Europe. This proposal was an eminently desirable one, but later it caused Germany to face a lot of real consequences. The existing superpower at any time, how rivals they might be, should and will surely unite against the emerging new superpower. For instance, the 21st-century summit of G7 countries, the AUKUS maritime security alliance, and the Indo-pacific strategy of the USA are examples of existing superpowers uniting against newly emerging superpower China. Therefore, it was indispensable for European powers to build up an alliance against Germany. Moreover, the icing on the cake was the Prussian emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who removed Ottoman Bismarck in a bloodless coup and took over the power, and proclaimed that Germany was going to be the leader of the world; that it wanted a place in the sun. Therefore, all peaceful alignments done by Bismarck with Russia and other nations were disposed of, and the Kaiser took a challenge against all nations that led to the emergence of two rival alliances: Triple Alliance and Triple Entente.
As the canes of the clock hit mid-day hour, a spark was lighted which kindled the blaze; a blaze of logistic competition and imperialistic rivalry; a blaze of war. It was the murder of the Archduke of the Austrian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, on June 28, 1914, when he was on a visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia in the Balkans. This was the dawn of WWI.
Until now, it has been established that for whatever reason the war might have started, the crux of all causes is imperialism. Therefore, with some order of events, it is now possible to conclude that in the days following the murder of Sarajevo, the great power still believed in imperialism more than any other idea.
Soon after the murder of Franz Ferdinand, Germany sent a blank cheque to Austria, as historians may call it. It was an open license of ‘no compromise with Serbia’ given by Germany to Austria. Why was it so? It was a test of its fear among European nations as well as a sign of being a superpower. Soon, Austria declared war on Serbia, and Russia mobilized its troops toward Germany. Why was this done all of a sudden? Russia was interested in Serbia nationalism since it desired of uniting all the Slavic population within it, while Austria was against Serbian nationalism since it feared the rebellion among its small Slavic population. Therefore, Russia and Austria were natural enemies due to imperialistic persuasion. Then, Germany declared war on Russia and mobilized its troops through Belgium and Holland to attack France – this was the Schlieffen Plan. The order of events builds itself into an art that is eccentric on the desperate desires of one nation to attack other. It seems as if Russia was waiting to war against Germany, Germany against France and England against Germany. Then, England sent its navy to Belgium to attack Germany and therefore it was the outbreak of world war I.
War is inevitable if the business is of war itself. The second reason why the order of events after the murder by Gavrilo Princep, a member of the Black Hand Society, depicts the imperialistic roots of causing a war is that war itself was a business. For instance, Macedonia was given to Greece after the second Balkan war with the back support of England because rich investors of England had then invested in Greece during the war. Since the war caused a lot of causalities in Greece, therefore, to recover their investment, England succoured in the annexation of Macedonia, an important and the only coastline in the Balkan region. The leader of industries wanted more and more opportunities and areas to exploit; financiers wanted to make more money through war; the makers of armaments wanted bigger profits. These people, who should be called capitalists plunged a whole of Europe into war with compulsory military service in each of the nations, and, at their bidding, and that of elderly politicians representing the capitalists and their class, the youths of all nations rushed at each other’s throats. It was a rich man’s game, with much more polarization that fits into the Marx’s theory of polarization, for the vast majority whose life was concerned and assumed in the war knew nothing of these causes which had led them into the war.
As soon as the war began, the administration of all nation-states made war and anti-nationalism an excuse to suppress free speech and factual confirmation of events. This card of nationalist agenda was played on the game by each country to deem any chances of demands of peace by pacifists or socialists. Even in the times when peace was possible all these nations distorted newspapers, spread misinformation and fooled their citizens with nationalist agendas. In Germany, learned books were written to justify it and prove that war was a “biological necessity” – that is, it was necessary for human life and progress. Similar ideas prevailed in the capitalists and upper class of England and France.
The ultimate and the deciding event that the war flooded Europe due to imperialistic cause is the aid of 2 million troops by the USA to France in 1917. It is implausible to justify the entry of the USA into the war due to Zimmerman’s telegram or German interference over Mexico against the USA. To end the war stalemate each of the nations implemented their own strategy: England attacked Dardanelles and Gallipoli in Turkey to aid Russia with supplies, but lost to Mustafa Kemal Pasha and other Turks; Russia withdrew from the war; French tried to cross the Marne river and so on. Similarly, Germany decided to establish an economic blockade around Britain and warned that any ships that wandered around the waters of Britain would sink. This policy was called unrestricted submarine warfare. US President Woodrow Wilson, who would later attempt to maintain peace in Europe in the aftermath of the war, ignored the German announcement, and hence three American cargo ships sank into the sea. Then, President Wilson presented a bill to parliament for war and propagated that Germany has influenced Mexico to war against the USA and ‘reconquer’ its lost territory from the united states. Therefore, congress agreed to war against Germany and 2 million American troops landed on the banks of the Marne river with the German side surrendering on the banks of the Rhine river. And why did congress agree? Until and unless the American business was not affected the USA stayed away from the war, and the moment its capitalists were harmed it sent 2 million young Americans to a foreign land to fight for them. Even, America wanted peace, because both Germany and England were its large markets of manufactured goods and commodities, therefore it wanted both of these odd nations to recover as soon as possible. This was the prime of imperialism.
Lastly, liberty and other notions of the french revolution were not of interest to any superpower because the call of the dead, who have sacrificed themselves in the cause of rich men and women, itself is a blot on humanity. Where there is no justice there is no liberty, no freedom, no fraternity. This moving poem by Major McCrae of England depicts the degree to which men and women had suffered during the war.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hand we throw
The Torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In the Flanders fields.
All moments of peace were ignored; all cries of men, women and children were passed over; the call for justice was unheard; the call for victory was unearthed; schools, hospitals were filled with young civilians in a bloody, torn combat dresses; literary critics, the intellectuals, scientists, professors, doctors and engineers all deposed their manoeuvre to build the sharpest weapon, the hardest poison, the strongest acid, the loudest bomb, the fastest fighter-jet, the most corrosive smoke and so on. This was the Great war of 1914 – an ultimate consequence of imperialism – and as Lenin said the dawn of the downfall of the Imperialistic era.