Armed Hostilities

The Origins of the First World War


This paper discusses World War I, its causes and the role of America in the military actions. It identifies the role of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in the outbreak of the war, as well as the impact of the alliance system. The paper also concerns America’s role in World War I, the reasons for its initial neutrality and interference into the combat. Finally, it discusses the results of the war and its impact on the US and other involved parties.

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The Causes of the War

The Role of Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism

Nationalism, imperialism, and militarism were one of the main aspects that led to the war. Nationalism became a cause of World War I because countries did not establish proper negotiations between them. All of the involved parties tried to be superior to each other. The support of one country demanded the hatred of another one. The aggressive nationalism, as well as imperial and economic competition, created a favorable atmosphere for war and gave the states the false hope to win it. Slavic nationalism has played a crucial role as it created tensions between the parties. Pan-Slavism was a dominant force in the Balkans, opposed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its influence over the region (Mulligan, 2017). The nationalism of German-speaking states emerged during the unification of Germany in 1871 as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. The fear of the increased Russian power in the East motivated Germany to tighten alliances and mobilize its forces.

Imperialism has played an essential role in World War I as well. It was a significant factor contributing to the rivalry in Europe. At the time of the war, the European powers were very imperialistic due to the fight for new territory and foreign markets after the increase in manufacturing after the Industrial Revolution. As a result, the countries involved in the revolution started to compete for economic expansion in Africa. The Ottoman Empire, on the contrary, was interested in the territory of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Balkans.

Militarism played a significant role in several European nations before the outbreak of the war. At the time of warfare, military power was seen as a measure of imperial strength. Militarism in Europe started in Prussia that was the most influential German state before the unification of Germany. After the unification, German nationalism and Prussian militarism became closely connected. British militarism was an important political force as well. For example, the Royal Navy protected trade routes and shipping.

The Role of the Alliance System

The alliance system had a substantial impact on the outbreak of the war. The system comprised two groups, the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied Powers (Serbia, Russia, Belgium, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The fact that the involved parties represented opposing blocs meant that the war between them was inevitable. Alliances ensure European states’ protection; they served both as a mean of defense and as a political tool. It is clear that the involved countries would not be able to start the warfare individually as they did not have enough power for such action.

America in World War I

America’s entry into the war was preceded by a sequence of events. On June 28 Franz Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo. A month later, the war started with Austria-Hungary declaring war. The American government announced the country’s neutrality shortly after the outbreak. Woodrow Wilson wanted to isolate the US from the European conflict, as the state would not benefit from entering the war. However, remaining neutral was profitable to the US, as the country’s economy was strengthened by providing military supplies and loans to the involved parties. It made the country a significant economic power; the US knew that joining in the war would make a significant impact on its financial capacities. It is also necessary to mention that American foreign policy, first declared in Tomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, has a key feature of entangling alliances with none (Jefferson, 1801). It is clear that the US tried to preserve its neutral position by all means.

Ethnicity played a significant role in America’s neutrality as well. The United States had a large immigrant population. In the Declaration of Neutrality (1914) Wilson stated that America’s ethnic minorities must not become active partisans of their countries of origin. Many German- and Irish-Americans wanted to join their co-nationals at the front. Moreover, the sinking of Lusitania rose ethnic tensions as well because German-Americans were suspected to be saboteurs. It resulted in those ethnic minorities holding a series of pro-neutrality events.

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There are two main events that led to America’s entrance into World War I. The first one is Germany’s decision to resume unlimited submarine welfare. This issue was a point of contention between the US and Germany for a long time as it resulted in America losing a number of its ships. To the US, such military action was humane and led to it declaring war in April 1917. The second significant factor was the Zimmermann Telegram that tried to make Mexico involved in the war, which would result in America’s inability to support the Allies. It is notable that the Telegram promised Mexicans that they would reconquer their lost territory of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, which also triggered America’s entry into the war (“The Zimmermann Telegram,” 1917).

It is necessary to mention that by the time America entered the combat, most of the significant events had already occurred. Its contribution to the war effort was primarily the number of new soldiers that were ready to fight while their enemies had already become exhausted by military actions. However, America’s entry made a significant contribution to the results of the war. It prevented the warfare from lasting longer, as none of the involved parties was able to stop the war without the country’s interference. Moreover, Germany would not be forced to accept the conditions of the Armistice.

Wilson was dedicated to preventing the war from happening again. To serve this purpose, he established the League of Nations, which primary task was to maintain world peace by managing international disputes. Notably, America refused to join in the League because the country wanted to have an isolationist position in the world. Germany, on the contrary, was not allowed to enter the League. It is necessary to mention that Wilson also created the Fourteen Points, the principles for peace used for negotiations to end the war. It is clear that the president strived to establish peace both during and after the war.

The Treaty of Versailles had a crucial impact on the parties involved in the war. For Germany, it meant that the country was held responsible for all the damage during the war. However, the Treaty changed America’s role in the world during the 1920s and 1930s too. The reason for it is that during that time, the US become the largest economy in the world. The country supported the German economy and provided loans the them. However, the 1930s were a decade of depression for America as a result of the stock market crash that left many citizens unemployed.


The outbreak of the war was caused by nationalism, imperialism, and militarism of the involved parties. It is necessary to mention that World War I would not start without the alliance system as well. Even though America joined the combat several years after it had begun, its intervention made a significant contribution to the outcomes of the military actions both for the US and for its allies and enemies.


Mulligan, W. (2017). The origins of the First World War (Vol. 52). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Jefferson, T. (1801). First inaugural address. Web.

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Wilson, W. (1914). Declaration of Neutrality. Web.

The Zimmermann Telegram. (1917). Web.

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