History

What triggered World War 1 – The real reason

28th June 1914. A 19-year-old student at a school, assassinates the Austro-Hungarian Prince. And this one incident, triggered the war. A war that lasted four years. In which more than 20 million people lost their lives. A war, in which, several ancient empires came to an end. A war that was fought across multiple countries and continents. Today, we know of this war as the World War I. Doesn’t it sound very sensational? Because of this one single event, World War I broke across the world. If we could go back to the past in a time machine, and if we could prevent this assassination, would there be no World Wars in the world? The reality isn’t this simple, friends. When there’s a large scale war like this, there is a long and complex chain of reasons driving it. And then there’s one such incident that causes a spark. Imagine if there’s a mountain of dynamites here. And I use a small matchstick to blow up the entire mountain, the following blast would not be because of my matchstick, there was a mountain of dynamite there that’s why it happened. Come, in today’s video, let’s understand World War I. “January 1916, 140,000 men were assembling for the attack.” In the year 1914, Europe looked like this on a map. There was an Austro Hungarian empire in the middle, the empire was much bigger than the present size of the countries Austria and Hungary. Germany’s empire was also much bigger than present-day Germany. Poland wasn’t a country. There was the Russian Empire in Russia. There was the Ottoman Empire in present-day Turkey. Apart from these, there was the United Kingdom and France. It’s interesting to know friends, most of the European countries were monarchies at the time. There were rulers in those places. In fact, there were only 3 European countries that were Democracies rather than monarchies. France, Switzerland and San Marino. There are some countries in Eastern Europe such as Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, and Bulgaria, collectively called the Balkan Countries. Don’t forget them, they’re very important for our story. We will begin our story from the year 1878. There was a war between the Russian empire and the Ottoman empire. Ottoman empire was on one side and the Russian empire on the other helping the Balkan countries separate from the Ottoman empire. At the conclusion of the war, the Treaty of Berlin was signed in 1878. According to this treaty, the Austro Hungarian empire was given the right to administer the region of Bosnia-Herzegovina temporarily. But the area would officially be a part of the Ottoman empire. But in October 1908, the Austro Hungarian empire annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. Invaded there. This political caricature from then is very interesting. The Ottoman Sultan, with his folded hands, is feeling helpless. Because of the internal problems in the Ottoman empire. There were internal revolutions. During this time, Bulgaria successfully separated from the Ottoman empire represented as the independent state in the middle. On the left, you can see the Austrian emperor, Franz Josef, is trying to steal Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is ripping it out of the map to steal it. The region of Bosnia-Herzegovina was under the Ottoman empire for 400 years, but instead of getting independence, another empire came in and captured them. Obviously, the people of Bosnia were enraged at this. They wanted freedom. People in the neighbouring country Serbia were also infuriated at seeing this happen. The Serbians didn’t only have a geographical connection with the Bosnians they even had an ethnic connection. Actually, all the Eastern European countries have the ethnicity of Slavs. Many people living in these countries feel this connection. In fact, if you look at the bottom of the map, the countries in dark blue, the people in these countries call themselves South Slavs. Many people in these countries even demanded a South Slavic Nation. Serbia complained that the Austro Hungary empire wasn’t merely invading Bosnia, rather, they were invading the South Slavs. Before capturing the country, the foreign minister of Austria-Hungary, had already spoken with the Russian foreign minister, asking Russia to refrain from objecting to it as they were giving them prior intimation of their capture. And Russia agreed to them. Because Russia wanted something in return. Look at this map, this is the Black Sea, and the Sea of Marmar is in the South. the Strait of Bosphorus joins the two. And dividing Istanbul into 2. This part belonged to the Ottoman empire. And Russia wanted to have this. So Russia told the Austro-Hungarian empire that Russia would annex the region. And so they shouldn’t oppose them. And Russia wouldn’t say anything either when they capture Bosnia. A good deal. But there was a problem. The problem was that many Slavic people lived in Russia. And many Russians started protesting the invasion of Bosnia. How could they agree to the Austro-Hungarian empire getting control of Slavic people? The Russian empire was already weak. It had to abide by the wishes of the people. So despite the secret agreement, the Russian foreign minister started supporting Serbia. It was 1909, the Austro-Hungarian empire turned towards Germany and asks them if they capture Serbia, and Russia comes to interfere, would Germany help the Austro-Hungarian empire? Germany agrees to help them as they were old friends. They’d definitely help. On the other hand, Russia asks France, Austro-Hungarian empire had first invaded Bosnia, and when Serbia objected to it, the Austro-Hungarian empire and Germany, had joined forces to attack Serbia. Russia proposed that France should join its forces with Russia to fight against them. But France replies that it has nothing to do with Bosnia. regardless of what happened, they didn’t want to interfere in the matter. France’s refusal silenced Russia. And it had to accept the annexation of Bosnia. With this, the threat of a war the threat of World War ensuing passes. But then comes the assassination of Ferdinand. The thing was that, the Bosnians that were annexed, the Bosnians didn’t accept that meekly. The Bosnians wanted freedom. A new revolutionary movement had begun. It is named the Young Bosnia. It was a revolutionary group of students. And the Serbians were helping them. They aimed to build an independent country. In fact, not only did they aim to free Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also to unite with Serbia. They wanted to build a United South Slavic nation. Yugoslavia. What a beautiful name, Yugoslavia. Yugo means South. An apt term for a South Slavic country. Spoiler alert, it did become a reality later on. Although, by now, the country has broken apart too. But anyway, on 28th June 1914, the prince of Austro-Hungary, Ferdinand, with his wife, Sophie, went to visit the annexed territory in Bosnia. They wanted to travel through the newly acquired territory, but soon that cause much suffering to them. Six Bosnian revolutionaries planned to assassinate them. Around 10 in the morning, a revolutionary named Cabrinovic, threw a bomb near Ferdinand’s car. But the bomb bounced on the car and blew up in a side street. Injuring 20 people. Ferdinand escaped this. The meeting he was headed to was then cancelled because of the shock and tells the Bosnian mayor that They decided to cancel the program and go to the hospital. To meet the injured people. On the way to the hospital, their car takes a wrong turn mistakenly. When they tried to get back to the correct route, they realised that actually, they were a mere 5 feet away from a revolutionary. A 19-year-old school student, Gavrilo Princip, I talked about him at the beginning of the article. This was the person to shoot at Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. And so assassinated the prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Gavrilo Princip was arrested immediately but he was 2 months short of 20 years and so, according to the law, he couldn’t be given the death sentence. Gavrilo was sentenced to 20 years in jail for this assassination. During the trial, he said that he was a Yugoslav Nationalist. That he aimed to unite the yugo slavs. But it didn’t matter to him which state would Yugoslav be a part of. But during the trials, he wanted that Bosnia should be free from Austria. The emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire is enraged at the assassination. In his anger, the declares war on Serbia. Russia sees this as an attempt to annex Serbia. And so Russia went to save Serbia. Germany saw that Russia was taking arms against the Austro-Hungarian empire. And so Germany went to save the Austro-Hungarian empire. This time, France doesn’t stay behind. France reached there in support of Russia and Serbia. This created an interesting chain called the Chain of Friendship. This is an interesting caricature drawn to describe the situation. Italy was in alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany. But Italy reneges on the agreement to support the two. Because the agreement stated that in case of an attack on their country the others would help them. But it was Austria-Hungary and Germany that were invading Serbia. They started the attacks. So Italy claimed that they weren’t bound to help. But because the Ottoman empire had enmity with Russia, the Ottoman empire reached in support of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The United Kingdom gets involved in this too. Because Russia, France, and Britain had an alliance treaty called the Triple Entente. This was how the Great war ensued. In which all these countries were at war with each other. Later, countries like the USA and Japan join this war in support of Britain and France. And obviously, the countries that were under British rule, like India, gets involved in this war. Because the British needed soldiers. And the easiest option was to use the people of the countries Britain had colonised as soldiers. Many Indians went to participate in World War I on behalf of Britain. Friends, this was how World War I began. But a pertinent question arises here, why were all these countries so eager to go on a war against each other? If something like this happens today, so many countries wouldn’t get into the war. What was so different then? That these countries readily went to war. Friends, it’s said that there were four main reasons for it. Friends, here Nationalism means a nationalism without liberation. A nationalism without independence. A nationalism that was based on race. On the belief that their country is the best in the world. And to have an aggressive attitude against the other countries. Looking at other countries as inferiors. Bismark had united Germany in 1871, on the basis of nationalism. But Germany was still a constitutional monarchy. Under the Prussian monarchy. The kings and emperors took advantage of this nationalism among people. They convinced people to go on a war for their country. And they declared war for Imperialism. To capture and occupy the other countries. You might think that it is so difficult to manage one’s own country, why would these people want to expand the borders of their countries? Why did they want to invade other countries? Causing them a greater administrative headache. Friends, the simple answer to this is Looting. The kings and emperors annexed other countries for their pride, to gain power by comparing the sizes of their empires and to exploit the resources in those areas. If gold was found somewhere, they’d loot it. To keep it in their treasury. By the 1900s, this process of looting was carried on by Capitalist countries too. Like the East India Company. It was the East India Company that had first captured areas in India and started draining India’s wealth. That’s why many people call Imperialism the highest stage of capitalism. Capitalists capture other countries exploit the raw material and cheap labour there to earn more profit. A famous capitalist of the time, Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford company, gave a famous statement on war and capitalism. There are numerous interesting things to know about World War I, but if I start telling you all of them, this article would be very long. Now, let’s return to the topic. Friends, this imperialism wasn’t possible without militarism. The countries had to spend a lot of money on their military. So that they could invade more countries simply by brute force. The Royal Navy of the British, was the largest navy in the world then. With its help, Britain could run their large imperialistic empire. The six great powers of the time, Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Italy, had combined military spending of around £94 million in 1870. And by 1914, it had increased to four times this. All of these countries were spending a lot of money on military. These countries were greatly interested in imperialism. Of capturing as many countries as possible. To extend their empire. Friends, the most interesting thing was that when I talk about a country here, by ‘country’ I mostly mean the monarch of the country. The ruler of the empire. Because there weren’t democracies. They paid no heed to the people’s opinions. The wishes of the one at the top ran the country. And the monarchs were very ruthless. Kaiser Wilhelm II was the ruler of Germany then. He is believed to be a hot-tempered ruler. He was always worried about an attack on Germany by France, Britain or Russia. In Russia, Tsar Nicholas II was having trouble maintaining his position. He was the last emperor of the Russian Empire. And Britain’s Head-of-State was King George V. Wanna know an interesting fact? These three rulers were first cousins of each other. They literally belonged to the same family. The rulers of 3 countries. Can you imagine that? World War I was literally a Game of Thrones. You can think of this as a family feud. It is said that Queen Victoria had tried to get them to stop the war, but after her death, it couldn’t be possible. The fourth reason cited here was the Alliances. There were many political alliances in force among these countries. The Triple Alliance was formed in 1882, among Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy. These three countries had promised mutual support to each other if any of the Great Powers were attacked. The second major alliance was formed in 1907, called the Triple Entente. Among Great Britain, France and Russia. The original reason behind forming these alliances was Imperialism. Since the countries were trying to capture the other countries they’d later feel jealous when some other country captured more countries. They were constantly worried that if such and such country captured any particular region, they would need to capture more to protect themselves. This was all they did. In this case, how did the commoners fare? Why would the commoners fight among themselves for their rulers? Did the people want World War I? Friends, the answer to this is mostly no. But the commoners were still pushed into the war. The first reason was that the job of the soldier then was for the poor. A common man would become a soldier, put his life at risk, for the greed of a ruler. Why would someone want to do this? To earn money. For the lack of employment. The people that couldn’t get employed anywhere else, looked for jobs as soldiers in these countries. It is a different matter to fight a war for to protect one’s country but to capture another country, to invade another country, why would anyone want to fight in a war? From where would they get the motivation? The answer to this is the propaganda that used to be spread then. Lingoistic Nationalism. The newspapers and media at the time, created an image that to enlist oneself in the army was a noble profession. Labelling it as a selfless service for the country. Soldiers were shown as gentlemen, disciplined heroes. The media started glorifying War. For example, Britain had gone on the Crimean War against Russia once, and because of a failed military action, 200 British soldiers were killed. But the newspaper exaggerated it so much to highlight it and the article that was printed in The Times, London, Even though the top leadership made horrible decisions in the battle, due to which soldiers had to lose their lives, it was still shown as a heroic act. The monarch of Britain, appointed an official poet, Alfred Tennyson. He wrote the poem The Charge of The Light Brigade. This was one of the first poems in the world, that showed a soldier as a hero. Another famous English poet, Rupert Brooke, his poems The Soldier, The Dead, portrayed war and death as glorious things. He lost his life in World War I. And Winston Churchill used his poem as a death note, to recruit more people. This was the type of was mongering propaganda that was spread then. It was shown that going on a war for “your country” was a great act. I’m putting quotes on ‘country’ here because there wasn’t a democratic country there. The ‘country’ referred to the rule of the emperor. And you were basically going on a war for the ruler. But not everyone fell under the influence of the propaganda. There were many people in these countries who were completely against the war. America’s Socialist Party, the Italian Socialist Party, British Labour Party, Russia’s Bolsheviks. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany. Apart from them, there were many other groups of people. Like the Anarchists and Syndicalists who believed in Internationalism. Some people opposed the war on the basis of religion and humanity. Like Henry Ford and Valentine Bulgakov. Additionally, there were poets and intellectuals like Rudyard Kipling as well against the War. You’d recognise him as the author of the Jungle Book. Against the poem The Charge of The Light Brigade, he wrote a counter poem, The Last of The Light Brigade. It highlights the inhumane conditions that a soldier has to go through while fighting in a war. Similarly, there were poems by Wilfred Owen, that showed the bitter truth of the war. Poisonous fumes, wounded limbs, coughing blood, if you can truly understand the conditions that a soldier has to go through in war, then you would never look at war with enthusiasm. Perhaps the most legendary anti-war poem was written by Thomas Hardy, in 1909. The Man He Killed. In this poem, he focuses on a soldier that has killed another soldier because both were unemployed they had no work, driven by the need to earn money for their family, they enlisted as soldiers, fought for their country, looked at each other and shot at one another. But had the same two people met each other in a restaurant in one of their countries, perhaps they would have merrily sang together and dined and revelled together. These are the reasons friends that every soldier that fought in World War I, did not come under the influence of the terrible war mongering, and we witnessed several cases of mutinies, There was a case in France where an entire battalion gave up their arms because they didn’t want to fight in the war. In Russia, the soldiers waged a war against their rulers. But the Christmas Truce of 1914 was the most interesting case. While the war was going on in 1914, come Christmas, the British and German soldiers came together to celebrate Christmas on the battlefield. They exchanged food, sang together and celebrated together. Because these common folks literally had no reason to fight in this war. But then their commanders ordered them to stop celebrating and to continue with the war. They started punishing the soldiers, if they refused to fight, they would be shot down by their own troops. If someone deserts from the battles, they would be punished when caught. The soldiers were given such punishments by the country they were fighting for. To force them to fight in the war. Eventually, World War I happened.