World War I - Background Information
The War to End War
In 1914, none of the world leaders had anticipated the outbreak of a war as calamitous as World War I. In August 1914, German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II told his troops, "You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees." Originally referred to as “The War to End War”, World War I quickly spiraled out of proportion.
Europe before World War I
Europe was unprepared for the outbreak of World War I. Political developments in the continent, however, incited the nations toward war, but most nations were confident they could prevent it.
Britain, having established colonial rule over India, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, was regarded as a superpower by the beginning of the twentieth century. The emergence of Germany threatened the economic supremacy of Britain. By 1914, Germany had achieved astounding industrial development and had established colonies in southwest and east Africa, Samoa, Togoland, New Guinea and in Cameroon (Colony of Kamerun).
Having built up a strong navy (the second largest in the world), an unassailable army, and an air force, Germany turned towards France and Russia to fulfill its territorial ambitions. Germany was viewed as a major threat to British supremacy in Europe.
In the early years of the twentieth century France had started to evolve from an agriculture-based economy into an industrial and military power. France had built up a naval force with submarines and battleships by 1914. Italy, too, had started to build up its army by 1907. The same year, Russia established its air force. Prior to the war in 1914, the Russian army was the largest in Europe. The armament of these countries was a major catalyst in precipitating war.
World Leaders in 1914
The leaders of major nations in 1914 played an important role in the diplomacy and decision making of the countries. World War I was an outcome of critical decisions made by key historic personalities
LeaderRoleKaiser Wilhelm IIMonarch - GermanyHelmuth von MoltkeGerman Army ChiefEmperor Franz-JosefMonarch - Austria- HungaryCount Leopold von BerchtoldForeign Secretary - Austria- HungaryKing George VMonarch - BritainHerbert Henry AsquithPrime Minister - BritainSir Edward GreyForeign Secretary - BritainSir John FrenchCommander-in-Chief - BritainRaymond PoincarePresident - FranceRene VivianiPrime Minister - FranceJoseph JoffreCommander-in-Chief - FranceWoodrow WilsonPresident - USATsar Nicholas IIMonarch - RussiaPrince AlexanderCrown Prince - Serbia
Much has been said in favor of and against the decisions and the ethicalities of World War I. With war poets and chroniclers analyzing the developments leading to the war and studying its effects, the futility of World War I is generally acknowledged. At best, it may now be regarded as an important, albeit costly lesson in human history.