The Origins of World II

World War I

The main causes of World War I were militarism (building large armies and navies), nationalism (a feeling of national pride), imperialism (establishing colonies), and an alliance system (agreements nations made to protect each other if attacked). The Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. The Allied Powers were Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on 28 June 1914, set in motion a series of diplomatic events that led to the outbreak of war in Europe at the end of July 1914. Ferdinand - and his wife Sophie - were killed by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip while on a formal visit to Sarajevo. Princip shot Ferdinand at point blank range as the archduke traveled in his car from a town hall reception, having earlier that day already survived one assassination attempt.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand provided the Austro-Hungarian government with a ready made excuse to launch what it believed would be a short war against the much weaker Serbia. The Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff - and Commander-in-Chief he had been pressing for 'surprise' attacks against Austria-Hungary's enemies, i.e. Serbia and Italy for years. With the murder of Ferdinand he pressed the Foreign Minister to declare a state of war with Serbia. Both were united in requesting Franz Josef and Prime Minister Tisza to launch an attack against Serbia without first declaring war in early July, thus guaranteeing an element of surprise.

Russia had an agreement with Serbia to protect her in the event of an attack. Also, the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary stated that if either found itself at war with Russia the other would enter the fray to provide assistance.the Franco-Russian Military Convention of 1892 provided for French assistance should Russia find itself at war with either Germany or Austria-Hungary. And Britain was in effect (as the result of a number of agreements) - although not technically - bound to aid France should she be at war with Germany. Germany, who to all intents and purposes appeared to be spoiling for confrontation, offered what became known as "the blank cheque" to Austria-Hungary on 6 July. In this diplomatic communication from the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, Austria-Hungary was promised unconditional support from Germany regardless whatever action Austria-Hungary decided to take in punishing Serbia.

Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum on 23 July that effectively revoked Serbia's national sovereignty. Serbia consented to almost all of Austria-Hungary's demands except for a number of minor clauses. Rejection on some of the demands however was seized upon by Austria-Hungary as the reason for a formal declaration of war on 28 July 1914. The day after Serbia received Austria-Hungary's declaration of war, 29 July, the capital Belgrade was placed under bombardment.

Russia and Austria-Hungary mobilized their forces on July 30th. The French withdrew their troops to several several miles all along the German border. The Germans demanded that the Russians demobilize and that the French declare themselves neutral. On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia. Germany delivered an ultimatum to Belgium on the evening of 2 August, requiring that she remain neutral while German troops occupied the country while en route for France. The following day the British Foreign Secretary announced to Parliament that Britain would fight to defend Belgian neutrality if necessary.

The German army invaded Belgium in August 1914 then advanced into France. The two sides stayed stuck in the mud for more than three years. Lines of trenches stretched across France from the English Channel to the border with Switzerland.

Trench warfare

In March 1917, German submarines sank three American ships. President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Germans. The United States entered the war in Europe

Treaty of Versailles

On June 28, 1919 World War I came to an end when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. The treaty, crafted by the victorious powers (the United States, Great Britain, France, and other allied states) imposed severe terms on Germany. Germany, under threat of invasion, was forced to sign the treaty. Germany accepted responsibility for the war and agreed to make huge payments (known as reparations), limit its military to 100,000 troops, and transfer territory to its neighbors. The terms of the treaty lead to widespread political discontent in Germany. Adolf Hitler gained support by promising to overturn them.

Stock Market Crash

On October 24, 1929 the New York Stock Exchange crashed.The plummet in the value of stocks on the New York Stock Exchange brought a rash of business bankruptcies. Widespread unemployment occurred in the United States. The "Great Depression," as it was called, sparked a worldwide economic crisis. In Germany, six million were unemployed by June 1932. Economic distress contributed to a meteoric rise in the support for the Nazi party. As a result, the Nazi party won the votes of almost 40 of the electorate in the Reichstag (German parliament) elections of July 1932. The Nazi party became at this point the largest party in the German parliament.

In the Reichstag (German parliament) elections of November 1932, the Nazis lost almost two million votes from the previous elections of July. They won only 33 percent of the vote. It seemed clear that the Nazis would not gain a majority in democratic elections, and Adolf Hitler agreed to a coalition with conservatives. After months of negotiations, the president of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Hitler chancellor of Germany in a government that appeared to be dominated by conservatives on January 30, 1933.