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World War I took place between 1914 and 1918 and was caused by a chain of events that directly led to fighting. The events were premised on a deep history of old powers in Germany, France, Austria, Italy, and Hungary. However, what triggered the chain of events was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. The war traumatized the generation and changed the world’s political order. The paper will demystify the causes of the First World War by analyzing how the forces of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism led to the war. It will also analyze how the United States was drawn into the war and why it had remained neutral between 1914 and 1917.

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Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism

Nationalism is an extreme form of patriotism and loyalty. It led to World War 1 because nationalists were placing the interests of their own countries above the interests of other countries (Goldstein, 2013). Each country was trying to prove its power and dominance, which gave the citizens excessive confidence in their nation. Similarly, the media, as well as various cultural expressions such as music, promoted the arrogance spurred by nationalism. In addition, rising nationalism was a factor in the Balkans as Slavic Serbs sought independence and autonomy from Austria’s political domination. In fact, nationalism also triggered Pan-Slavism, which was marked by the promotion of political and cultural unity. It grew with the awakening of the Slavs within the Austrian and Ottoman empires.

The Slavs in the Balkans relied on Russia for their support. In fact, Russia realized that it had lost international prestige when it ignored the Slavs in the Bosnia crisis (Goldstein, 2013). In this regard, Pan Slavism triggered World War I because Russia had to look after its fellow Slavs in Serbia. The corresponding rise of Pan-Slavism in German-speaking states was accompanied by the uniting of small German States to form a German Confederation. Subsequently, the German-speaking state expanded its territory by using language as the unifying force. This took place in the 19th century.

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Imperialism occurs when a country is focusing on expanding its influence and power in order to turn into a large empire. It led to World War I because some countries, such as Europe and France, were creating a large worldwide empire with the aim of amassing wealth (Venzon, 2013). As a result, there was an increased competition as Russia and Germany were also striving to enlarge their empires. With regard to militarism, powers across Europe started expanding their armies through what came to be known as the arms race. This took place particularly in Germany and Great Britain. At some point, the border between France and Germany became militarized while the size of their armies increased dramatically (Venzon, 2013). As for Russia, the military establishment was beginning to have a greater influence on public policy. By 1871, there was already a warm atmosphere, which was engendering the secret alliance. As a result, various countries strived to increase their military expenditure and naval forces between 1910 and 1914.

The alliance system encapsulated the Central Powers and the Allied powers. The Central powers comprised Germany, Turkey, and Italy while the Allied powers encompassed France, Great Britain, and Russia (Tucker, 2013). The alliance system contributed to the ultimate outbreak of the war because the nations had vowed to support each other in times of war. In fact, even though the alliance system did not spark the war, it made it easier for it to grow exponentially, from a regional war to an intercontinental conflict. This is because instead of only two countries fighting, 6 or 7 were dragged into the war, thus leading to a large world conflict (Tucker, 2013). Most alliances were formulated behind closed doors and contained secret clauses that were not announced to the public.

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Events that Drew the United States into World War I

After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, various countries came to each other’s aid. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, with Turkey and Germany signing a secret alliance treaty the same year. Subsequently, Germany declared war on France, invaded Belgium, and led Britain to declare war on Germany (Floyd, 2013). Austria-Hungary invaded Russia on August 10, 1914. While all these events were taking place, the United States tried to stay neutral throughout. However, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany after it had repeatedly attacked the water vessels traveling to Britain (Tucker, 2013). This was encapsulated in Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. The United States felt Germany had crossed the line after a British passenger ship (Lusitania) had been attacked. America was also drawn into the war after being outraged by German atrocities in Belgium as this triggered an anti-German sentiment (Floyd, 2013). The other event was the interception of Arthur Zimmerman’s telegram, which ordered Mexico to declare war on the U.S. in the event that America declared war on Germany.

America had remained neutral between 1914 and 1917 because President Wilson had a strong isolationist sentiment and wanted to keep the U.S. out of the European conflict. In addition, America was not a signatory to the agreements that lured European powers into conflict (Floyd, 2013). Moreover, the United States was evading the war in accordance with its central theme policy of avoiding entangling alliances. After all, most European countries believed that the war would be over in less than a year, which made America believe it could uphold its impartial policy of neutrality. The role ethnicity played in America’s neutrality was ensuring that ethnic minorities were not active partisans of their origin, as this would have had fatal consequences for the peace of mind and the proper execution of duties (Goldstein, 2013). The United States was initially involved in the war by assisting its allies with materials and soldiers. It also offered weapons, supplies, and money in the form of wages. This was America’s contribution to the war effort. In addition, America also contributed to the end of the war by being among the Allied powers that drafted a peace treaty in Paris, which imposed severe punitive measures against Germany. The peace treaty was known as the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Even though America did not ratify the treaty of Versailles, it signed separate peace treaties with Germany and its allies.

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The defeat of the Treaty of Versailles

The treaty faced enormous opposition because Article Ten required the United States to support the League’s actions. In fact, with regard to the League of Nations, the United States would give too much (Goldstein, 2013). Besides, there was personal enmity between President Woodrow Wilson and the Republican leader of the Senate (Henry Cabot Lodge). America was also being involved in foreign matters without the participation of the Senate, which was against the constitution. The League of Nations was a provision in the Treaty of Versailles instigated by President Woodrow Wilson (Venzon, 2013). The impetus behind his efforts to establish the League of Nations was to enforce the Treaty of Versailles and other peace enforcement agreements (Venzon, 2013). The ramifications that emanated from the defeat of the treaty are that the League of Nations fell short in its expectations of maintaining peace. It also fuelled resentment towards German nationalism as it could not agree with the ‘war guilt’ clause. As a result, World War II broke out years later. Therefore, the fact that America instigated the unsuccessful League of Nations implies that America contributed to the events that led to World War II.


Among the events that led to World War, I was nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. The United States was later drawn into the war after Germany’s introducing the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and the interception of Arthur Zimmerman’s telegram. However, America was not initially involved, as it was not a signatory to the agreements, which gave impetus to the war, with the European powers initiating the conflict. The United States also played a key role at the end of the war by being at the forefront of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Nevertheless, the failure of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations exerted a dramatic impact on the events that led to the Second World War.