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The Great War

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Imperialism

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a great deal of colonization of Asia and Africa by European powers, each trying to fulfill its own version of manifest destiny. England controlled vast holds in Africa, as well as India; the Belgians ruled the Congo; Germany, France, and Italy also held several African lands. These colonies funded a great part of the ruling countries' economies and provided foreign markets for European products, and expansion became necessary and desirable to advance the glory and the wealth of each European power. However, the land available diminished as Germany, France, England, Italy, and Belgium occupied increasingly large tracts of land. Oftentimes, border disputes would break out between colonists of different nationalities; for example the Boer War in South Africa between the Dutch and the English. Furthermore, in the Middle East, the crumbling Ottoman Empire was alluring Austria-Hungary, the Balkans and Russia.

Militarism

An arms race punctuated the hostile feelings among the European nations. Acknowledging that Germany was the leader in military organization and efficiency, the other great powers of Europe copied the universal conscription, large reserves and detailed planning of the Prussian system. Technological and organizational developments led to the formation of general staffs with precise plans for mobilization and attack that often could not be reversed once they were begun. The German von Schlieffen Plan to attack France before Russia in the event of war with Russia was one such complicated plan that drew more countries into war than necessary.

Armies and navies were greatly expanded. The standing armies of France and Germany doubled in size between 1870 and 1914. Naval expansion was also extremely competitive, particularly between Germany and Great Britain. By 1889, the British had established the principle that in order to maintain naval superiority in the event of war, they would have to have a navy two and a half times as large as the second-largest navy. This motivated the British to launch the Dreadnought, invented by Admiral Sir John Fisher, in 1906. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 had demonstsrated how effective these battleships were. As Britain increased their output of battleships, Germany correspondingly stepped up their naval production, including the Dreadnought. Although efforts for worldwide disarmament were made at the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, international rivalry caused the arms race to continue to feed on itself.

Tangling alliances also developed whose purpose, ironically, lay in preventing the outbreak of war for conquest. German official Otto von Bismarck took advantage of Italian resentment towards France and created the Triple Alliance between Germany, Italy and Austria- Hungary in 1882. In exchange for Italy's agreement to stay neutral if war broke out between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary would protect Italy from France. However, after Bismarck was fired by Kaiser William II in 1890, the traditional dislike of Slavs kept Bismarck's successors from renewing the understanding with Russia. France took advantage of this opportunity to get an ally, and the Franco- Russian Entente was formed in 1891, which became a formal alliance in 1894. The Kruger telegram William II sent to congratulate the leader of the Boers for defeating the British in 1896, his instructions to the German soldiers to behave like Huns in China during the Boxer Rebellion, and particularly the large-scale navy he was building all contributed to British distrust of Germany. As a result, Britain and France overlooked all major imperialistic conflict between them and formed the Entente Cordiale in 1904.

Nationalism

At the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the principle of nationalism was ignored in favor of preserving the peace. Germany and Italy were left as divided states, but strong nationalist movements and revolutions led to the unification of Italy in 1861 and that of Germany in 1871. Another result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was that France was left seething over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine

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