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World War I, also referred to as the Great War, continues to exercise a powerful attraction on imagination. The struggle which dominated the world over nine decades ago lasted from 1914 to 1919. Man has never before experienced a war of such complexity and caliber. It all started with the European desire for land. For centuries European nations schemed to conquer land all over the globe. In the latter part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, European nations turned their attention to their rivalries in Europe. With the increased tension and desire for power and prestige, the great nations were plunged into "the eve of World War I". Powerful empires joined alliance. On one side, the Triple Entente consisted of France, Great Britain and Russia. On the other side, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy joined forces to force the Triple Alliance. With the formation of alliance systems, came increased tension. Together with distrust and political crisis, militarism came to play a key role in governments of European powers. The already intense atmosphere was then elevated to another level by the preexistent nationalistic feelings of the distinct ethnic backgrounds of the European population. Along with other minor incidents and conflicts, alliance systems, militarism and nationalism brought forth the outbreak of World War I. However, these three more apparent reasons are products of a larger concept which extends its roots centuries before the outbreak of the war. Imperialism is the domination of a foreign area by a mother country in one or more ways. Imperialism was the major cause of World War I because it was the fundamental concept from which specific causes of the Great War, militarism, nationalism and alliance systems, were born. The undoubted role of imperialism in the outbreak of the World War I can be studied by examining the naval arms race, the tension between Serbia and Austria-Hungary and the Boer war.
The naval arms race was the major conflict based on militaristic values which originated from imperialism and led to the outbreak of World War One. The naval arms race is commonly accepted to have begun in 1898. This was the year Germany published its famous navy law. Also known as the Reichsflotte theory, the law required Germany to construct a navy large enough to inflict serious damage to the mighty British fleet. This law was designed to challenge the superiority of the British navy and promote a shift of power in the seven seas. In response to the threatening policy, Britain made a deadly addition to its navy-the dreadnought. This newly designed ship had superior firepower, armor and speed compared to any other warship of the time. In 1906, the first dreadnought, Her Majesty's Ship, left British harbor. Sensing the threat, Germany estimates how many dreadnoughts she could build with her resources. The estimate of 21 potential dreadnoughts frightened the British public. Protests broke out in London to force the parliament's permission to build eight dreadnoughts. Together with the pressure of the military, the British parliament allows the construction of eight dreadnoughts. In response, Germany builds more Dreadnoughts of her own. During the period of 1908-1912, Germany would build 13 dreadnoughts while the British would build 20. Finally in 1912, the naval arms race starts to lessen in intensity as Germany shifts her attention to her army and artillery. The naval arms race was a major cause of the outbreak of World War I because it brought Britain into the conflict and tension between the powers of the European nations. This is true because Britain did not have any other reason to form its conflict with Germany. She did not seek territorial gains in the Balkans, nor did she have any alliance obligations at the time. Britain's attitude toward German aggression would lead to her defense of Belgium neutrality in 1914. Thus Britain declared war on Germany when she was going through Belgium to invade France. This was the start of World War I. This whole conflict, up to the declaration of war on Germany, was the result of the build up of the British Empire through imperialism. The reason Britain did everything to maintain her superiority in naval power was to protect her imperialistic control over her colonies and her trade routes. She needs to dominate the oceans because she has the largest oversea empire. Britain control over so many areas around the world through imperialism caused her to participate in the naval arms race with Germany, thus becoming enemies with Germany and entering World War I.
Although patriotism is a virtue which should be celebrated, nationalism is taking it to the extreme. The relations between Serbia and Austria in the dawn of the twentieth century are based mostly on nationalistic values originating from imperialism and directly leading to the outbreak of World War I. Since around 1000 A.D., Slavic tribes inhabited the lands of Eastern and central Europe. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Austria-Hungary was replaced by Prussia as the dominant force in the German Confederation. This encouraged Austria-Hungary to focus on other territories. Her efforts paid off when she was given the right to occupy the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Treaty of Berlin of 1878. This was officially announced in 1908. Since, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina were mainly Slavic people, other Slavs in Europe, especially the Slavs in Serbia, felt uneasy. They believed that the Slavic people of Bosnia and Herzegovina should be united with other Slavs and free from control of the Roman Catholic Austrians. This was the nationalist movement know as Pan-Slavism. Based on this purely nationalistic belief, a terrorist group, called the Black Hand, was formed in Serbia. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, was assassinated. The assassin responsible for this was Gavrilo Princip, a man closely related to the Black Hand of Serbia. In response, Austria sent an ultimatum to Serbia. After Serbia accepted all the conditions except one, Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia, also mainly Slavic people, was an ally of Serbia and mobilized its military along the German border. Germany, sensing war, activated the Schlieffen plan and mobilized its military towards France. On the way to France, Germany passed through Belgium, violating Belgium neutrality guaranteed by the Treaty of London. Britain, a strong supporter of Belgium neutrality, declared war on Germany. Thus World War I began. These events were, in essence, caused by imperialism. It is the domination of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria that set in motion this catastrophic chain of events. If Austria did not imperialistically take over the areas, there wouldn't have been strong nationalism leading to the assassination and mobilization of troops. In other words, it was the imperialistic endeavors that triggered the nationalistic values of people which eventually lead to the outbreak of World War I.
It is ironic that friendship can lead to war. Caused by imperialism, the Boer War shaped the alliance systems of the latter nineteenth century and early twentieth century which led to the First World War. In 1815, in the treaty of Vienna, Britain acquired the Cape of Good Hope in the Southern tip of the African Continent. Living in the Cape of Good Hope were Dutch farmers who fled from the Netherlands to avoid persecution. The domination of the cape by British forces caused great tension and conflict between the two parties. In 1837, the Dutch farmers, or Boers, could not put up with the British anymore. They marched north to settle in what is known as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. As luck would have it, gold and diamond deposits were discovered in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The British became jealous of this wealth, but could not do anything to acquire it without a citizenship. In 1895, a small group of British settlers raid the Boers in what is know as the Jameson Raid. This unsuccessful raid alarmed the Boers of the danger down south. Taking the initiative, the Boers attack British railways along the border. On October 11, 1899, the Boer War officially broke out between the Dutch farmers and the British. It would prove to be a costly war for the British. Even though the British forces were far superior to the Boers, the Boers knew the terrain and used Guerilla Warfare. Having suffered severe casualties, the British makes a Machiavellian move. Lord Kichener, commander of British forces, ordered troops to capture woman and children and put them in detention camps. The Boers finally surrenders to the British in return for the release of their women and children. Though Britain had won the war, they realized the vulnerability of their military. This caused Britain to abandon Splendid Isolation, where Britain did not have any allies. Immediately after the war, Britain signed the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance in 1902 and the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 which became the Triple Entente in 1907 when Russia joined. This reshape of the alliance systems in Europe led to World War I. First, the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance enabled Britain to shift all its attention to competing with Germany in the Naval Arms Race because Japan would take care of things for Britain in the pacific. As previously discussed, the Naval Arms Race is what brought Britain into World War I. This is what made Britain declare war on Germany, thus initializing the First World War, when Germany passed through Belgium. Secondly, the formation of the Triple Entente inspirited the creation of the Schlieffen plan. It was because of the Triple Entente alliance system that Germany went through Belgium to attach France when Russia mobilized its army. The formation of the alliance systems, especially the Triple Entente, dragged all nations into the war, thus creating a world war. Otherwise, without the alliance systems, a World War wouldn't have taken place. So, the First World War was fuelled by alliance systems, especially the formation of the Triple Entente, which was formed because of the Boer War. The Boer war, the source of the chain reaction, was due to an act of Imperialism. The domination of the Cape of Good Hope of Africa by Britain caused the Boer war. The First World War couldn't have taken place without the Triple Entente which was a result of the Boer war which was a product of imperialism.
The apparent initialization of the Great War is the killing of Franz Ferdinand. However it is more complex than a terrorist with a cocked gun. There are three main factors, all originating from historical events caused by a common idea-imperialism. Imperialism was the major cause of the First World War because it was what gave birth to militarism, nationalism and alliance systems which directly led to World War I. Specifically speaking, the concept of militarism is closely associated with the Naval Arms Race between Britain and Germany which was caused by Imperialism. Nationalism was magnified by the relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary which was also a consequence of Imperialism. Finally, the Triple Entente that shaped the Great War was the result of the Boer war which was just another effect of Imperialism. Some say World War I was so intensely petrifying that it can only be an act of God. However, this memorable war was just the consequence of and act of man based on prestige and greed.