World War One “The War to End All Wars”

In conjunction with our WWI exhibit, we will be publishing a short brochure on the causes and history of WWI. 

The text is from American Political and Social History by Harold Underwood Faulkner, published in May 1937 by F.S. Crofs & Co., New York


…. As the nations of Western Europe became industrialized, they sought an outlet for manufactured goods in the less developed regions of the world.  Great Britain had obtained the lion’s share, but in the decade after 1870 other nations moved aggressively to obtain what was left.

Behind this imperialistic rivalry were France seeking to restore her national spirit after her defeat in 1870; Germany, with an amazing industrial development and with the most powerful army in the world, demanding “a place in the sun”; Russia in search of an ice-free port on the Pacific; and Japan looking for markets to support her teeming population; while smaller nations sought to pick up the crumbs of imperialism let fall from the feast of their more powerful neighbors.

In this scramble for markets and territories Africa had been carved up into colonies and protectorates, and there was every indication that the same fate awaited Asia.

While colonial rivalries kept the chancelleries of Europe on the qui vive and precipitated numerous diplomatic crises, serious European rivalries were a continuous menace to peace.

France had never been reconciled to the separation of Alsace-Lorraine, and the more warlike of her statesmen awaited only the right moment to regain the lost provinces; Russia, without an outlet to the Mediterranean, had her eyes fixed on Constantinople and sought to dominate the Balkans. Italy, since her unification, would extend her boundaries to include Italian-speaking peoples to the north and east; Austria-Hungary, cut off from expansion to the west, looked upon the Balkans as a normal region for expansion and thus came in conflict with Russia.

Obviously there was enough tinder here for a dozen conflagrations, and it is amazing that, with the exception of the Balkans, Europe maintained peace over a long period.  For this period of peace Germany was primarily responsible.  Wedged in between hostile nations and anxious to maintain the status quo in Europe, she constructed in 1882 the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy.  To protect herself, France achieved an alliance with Russia in the early nineties and a close understanding with Great Britain, while the latter attempted to iron out her conflicting imperialistic rivalries with Russia and Japan.

With Europe indulging in an orgy of militarism, imperialism, and nationalism, it was unlikely that this balance of power could be indefinitely maintained.

It was finally upset in the Balkans, where racial hatreds and nationalist strivings were complicated by the conflicting ambitions of Austria and Russia.  One of the Serbian intrigues against Austria, encouraged by Russia, came to a head on June 28, 1914, when Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated while visiting the city of Sarajevo in the Austrian province of Bosnia.  Given a free hand by Germany, Austria was determined to punish Serbia, and Russia, similarly encouraged by France, mobilized for the defense of the fellow Slavs.

Mobilization, in the eyes of Germany, was tantamount to war, and, when Russia refused to order demobilization, Germany declared war (August 1).  Two days later she declared war on France, and, when the German army invaded Belgium, Great Britain entered the war (August 4).  Before many months all Europe, with the exception of Spain, Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Scandinavian Peninsula, was involved.

Forsaking the Triple Alliance, Italy remained neutral until 1915, when she joined the Allies, followed by Rumania and Portugal (1916) and Greece (1917).

Turkey (1914) and Bulgaria (1915) were brought into the war on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria).