On Sunday, June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, the Archduke and Archduchess of Austria-Hungary were both shot and killed by a member of the terrorist group called the Black Hand. This was the immediate cause of the war, but the war was caused by a number of other factors, most which were happening in the years leading up to the shooting at Sarajevo.

There were six main background causes of world war 1. They were: imperialism, colonialism, militarism, the arms race, nationalism, and the Alliance system.


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Imperialism was when one state dominated other states or territories. This could be done by the military, economically, politically, culturally, etc. Britain for example, used the Royal Navy to acquire an empire and to prevent other states from expanding. Other imperialists included the USA, Russia, Germany, Austria, Turkey, France, and Japan.


Colonialism was the acquisition of colonies. The colonies were used as dependencies for the purpose of wealth (ie. Britain got spices and silks from India), land for emigrants, glory, and the Christian missionary.


Militarism was the glorification of the army, it was based on the belief that the military solution was the best solution. Having strong armies and navies also made others think twice before attacking you because you would have an advantage over them. The Arms Race

Many countries were in competition with one another for who could have the most and the best weapons. The size of navies and armies would decide who was the most powerful nation.


Nationalism was a feeling of deep loyalty to one’s people and country. Nationalism drew the many states of Germany together but extreme nationalism soon became a problem. Nationalism was also the force that started the conflict between Serbia, Bosnia, and Austria-Hungary. Serbia’s border touched Bosnia’s border, which was a part of Austria. Some Serbians and some Bosnians wanted Bosnia to break away from Austria. This led to the formation of the terrorist group called the Black Hand. The terrorists uses violence to get what they wanted.

The Allianced System

There were two main group of Alliances, one was called the Triple Entente (also known as the allies) and the other was called the Triple Alliance (also known as the Central Powers). The Allies were France, Russia, and Britain and the Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. When the war started Italy joined the Allies. What these alliances meant was that a war involving two countries could quickly involve many more.

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In 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were touring the city of Sarajevo. The date was June 28. The occasion? The anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo were the Serbians were defeated by the Ottoman Turks, ending their existence as a nation. Hoping to further the cause of Serbian nationalism, Gavrilo Princip, member of the Black Hand, fired two pistol shots. The first instantly killed Sophie. The second caused the death of the Archduke just moments after its firing.

Now let s step back and observe the political climate of Europe in the early nineteen-teens. Serbia and Russia have always had close relations due to their common ethnic heritage. Germany and Austro-Hungary were strong allies with powerful militaries looking to expand. Serbia was being repressed and persecuted. France and Germany were historic enemies. France and Russia had a treaty of alliance with Russia. England had a treaty with Belgium. What existed were two hostile systems of alliances, and this is, in reality, the reason for war. The German and Austro-Hungarian alliance combined armies of such might that if tipped the European balance of power and forced a system of defensive alliances. Remember, too, that the Triple Alliance (Germany and Austro-Hungary) wanted war. All that was needed was an excuse.

Austro-Hungary presented an ultimatum to Serbia. Thirty demands (calculated so that Serbia wouldn t accept them) were presented and 48 hours were allotted for their answering. Serbia agreed to all but one Austrian investigation of the assassination plot. That was enough. Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia (who had allied with Serbia). Two days later, Germany declared war on France and swept its armies through Belgium, violating its neutrality. Because of this, England declared war on Germany. Austro-Hungary declared war on England. You get the picture.

We see, then, that the desire of Austro-Hungary and Germany for conquest kept them from negotiating the situation. Hoping to preempt a Russian military build-up, those two powers declared war immediately. Little did anyone think the war would sweep across Europe. And so the hostile system of alliances toppled the European peace, and left a mark on the world that would never be forgotten.

Militarism: Was another cause of the war, was simliar to the arms race of today. Because Britain had a great navy, Germany wanted a great navy too. Germany and France competed for larger armies. The more one nation built up its army and navy, the more other nations felt they had to do the same.

Alliance System:

For Twenty years, the nations of Europe had been making alliances. It was thought the alliances would promote peace. Each country would be protected by others in case of war. making it foolish for one country to wage war on another.

The danger of these alliances was that an argument between two countries could draw all the other nations into a fight. This is just what happened when a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia led to World War 1.

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