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Summary of Martel, The Origins of the First World War Assignment

In the following assignment, I will summarize what arguments Martel is trying to make in Chapter 1 of Origins of the First World War starting with what caused the outbreak of War and Martel’s reasons to why it happened.

The crisis began one morning in June 1914, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot dead by Serbian nationalists. Though the assassination did not have enough impact to cause a world war, the Austrians decided that this was the perfect opportunity to crush the Serbian movement by issuing an ultimatum that would end Serbia’s existence as a sovereign state. With each country bound to each other through the alliance system, this triggered each of the alliances to go against each other, causing a continent wide war.

Martel goes on to explain the main causes of the war and claims that though the alliance system was considered one of the main causes of the war, their were other deeper underlying causes to why the crisis broke out in 1914. Martel mentions nationalism as one of the main causes that drove the Serbian nationalists to assassinate the archduke. Nationalism was also what motivated Austria to take action against Serbia and what caused the feeling of brotherhood between the Russians and the Serbs because of their common Slavic identity.

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Another less subtle cause of the crisis is militarism. All countries had produced armies of massive size and millions of men were being forced to fight in the army by their governments. All over Europe there was widespread enthusiasm for the war and

governments practically manipulated their people into supporting the army by inspiring war scares. Therefore to fight in the war was to be patriotic and nationalistic.

Imperialism too was mentioned as one the reasons why the powers wanted more land and territory and therefore engaged in a massive war that got out of control.

However one underlying reason formulated by historian Eckhart Kehr many years after crisis was that the war was engaged abroad as an excuse to forestall social conflict at home. That is, war was seen as a better alternative than domestic reform.

At that time however, people were less concerned with how the war begin but were more focused on who caused it. At first Germany and her allies were fully blamed and were made to pay reparations. War guilt in Germany was strong and wounded feelings in Germany and Austria caused people to see the treaty of Versailles as unfair and wrong and that responsibility should be shared between the powers. In the 1920s fresh investigations showed that no one was really innocent. Militarism, imperialism and other complexities made it hard to find fault with any one country.

A connection between the two world wars was formed and it was decided that the unfair and unjust terms of the treaty ultimately led to World War II. Then came a debate from German historian Fritz Fischer in 1961 who claimed that it was Germany’s responsibility for the war. Fischer argued that the Germans had decided on war before 1912 and had postponed it until circumstances were right for them.

In spite of the underlying causes mentioned earlier, many historians claim that war was not inevitable and could have been avoided. The view puts the blame on the men who

actually made the decisions such as Hungarian minister Count Berchtold, Serge Sazonov of Russia and German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm.

Modern historians chose not to look at the immediate events that caused the war, but looked at a culmination of events since 1902 such as the Anglo Japanese alliance, the Moroccan crisis, the naval race and the Anglo German entente that brought about a belief that the world war was basically a Anglo German conflict for an empire outside Europe.

Other historians argue that the war was not a competition for resources outside Europe, but a conflict that got of control between the alliances. These historians hold Germany and France responsible for the war. Germany because of its astonishing growth and its defeat of Prussia, which meant it would soon be able to dominate Europe, and France for wanting revenge on Germany for its humiliating defeat in the Franco Prussian war.

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