The history of humanity has always been rich with armed conflicts and wars that brought death and destruction on a massive scale. Political and military leaders had different reasons for choosing such course of action: some desired power and wealth and claiming natural or human resources, others sought to promote personal interests and ideals. Additionally, numerous acts of aggression and armed conflicts occurred due to the desire of powerful groups and individuals to impose their religious, cultural, and ideological views on the surrounding people and nations by any means necessary, including brute force. This tendency is especially topical for the historical period that preceded the beginning of one of the most destructive wars of all times – World War I. The conflict is also known as the Great War because it involved the majority of powerful nations from all corners of the world, including the United States of America. Therefore, it would be beneficial to examine the spectrum of reasons that led to the beginning of World War I and its influence on the most developed countries of that time. Additionally, it would be helpful to analyze the involvement of the US in the conflict thoroughly to evaluate its impact on American society and the contribution of the nation to war efforts and eventual victory.
First of all, it is essential to review political, social, and ideological reasons that have led to the beginning of World War I. One of the major causes of the conflict was the rise of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe, especially in such countries as the Russian Empire and Serbia. According to historical data, the approach was founded in early 16th century Vinko Pribojevic, a Croatian historian. Pan-Slavism is a form of nationalism that emerged due to the dominance of monarchy and imperial ambitions in Eastern Europe. According to specialists, the movement aimed at unifying all Slavic people under as a single nation under one powerful authority. Therefore, the Russian Empire put tremendous efforts in promoting the idea and depicting itself as the only possible sovereign that could guarantee the unification and protection of Slavic people. According to research, at the beginning of the 20th century, the ideology of Pan-Slavism was also very popular in the Balkans and among the Southern Slavs that were citizens of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Therefore, the desire of Serbian nationalists to turn into the subjects of the Russian Empire instead to become the constituents of a unified Slavic nation was one of the main reasons for assassinating Franz Ferdinand.
Unfortunately, the rise of nationalism at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century was a trend inherent not only to Eastern Europe but also to German-speaking states. The approach concentrated on creating a powerful nation through expanding its borders by annexing the territories that were inhabited by the same national group. Such ideology and its efficient application combined with military victories allowed Prussia to gain control over a large number of German-speaking states that had previously belonged to Denmark, Austria, and France and establish the German Empire in 1871. Moreover, the empire continued to expand its borders further by using language as the main element for unifying the remaining territories inhabited largely by German national group. According to historical data, Germany grew larger and more powerful with each passing year due to the leadership of Otto von Bismarck and his understanding of the connection between industrial, military, and political power. Additionally, he desired to establish German dominance over other European countries and across the continent. Therefore, the rise of nationalism and ambition in Germany has seriously contributed to the brewing tension and conflict in the strategically important Balkans and the beginning of the war.
Additionally, one of the major causes of World War I was the sophisticated system of alliances in Europe. According to research, Russia had a treaty to Serbia and announced a massive mobilization to support its ally with military force while Germany allied with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and viewed Russian actions as a declaration of war. Additionally, France had an alliance with Russia and was forced to join the conflict without having sufficient human resources and Britain acted to protect neutral Belgium from German invasion and contain the growth of Germany’s influence. The actions of the United Kingdom were supported by the military and financial assistance of its colonies, including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. Moreover, Japan joined the war to honor the agreement with Britain while Italy acted against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire because of their offensive aggression. Therefore, the majority of powerful nations across the world joined the conflict to uphold their political and military alliances.
It is also essential to review the involvement of the United States of America in World War I and the impact it produced on the outcome. At the beginning of the war, US President Woodrow Wilson declared the official policy of neutrality due to two main causes: the opinion of American society rejected the idea of joining battle and losing the lives of soldiers at another continent for no evident political or military reason; the economic beneficence of conducting trade with all sides of the conflict. Additionally, the ethnic composition of the nation contributed to its neutral position. According to research, at the beginning of the 19th century, a one third of American population constituted of immigrants mainly from European countries with a large percentage of Germans, Irish, Russian, and Jewish. The first two groups actively supported Germany and its allies while others maintained a radically opposite position. Therefore, the government adopted the policy of neutrality to prevent the outbreak of an ethnic civil war in the US and decrease social tension.
Despite certain unpleasant situations such as several attacks of German submarines on American vessels and the trade blockade imposed by Britain, the United States maintained neutrality until 1917. According to research, the US decided to join the conflict due to the adoption of unrestricted warfare on water by Germany and consequential submarine strikes on American civilian liners and trade ships. This situation and the official position of German authorities posed a serious threat to the economic well-being of the United States and worldwide political stability. Therefore, on April 2, 1917, President Wilson officially declared war against Germany and started the mobilization campaign. The United States assisted its allies by providing ships, airplanes, and soldiers for use in strategically important military operations and the additional supply of necessities such as food, weapons, equipment, ammunition, and fuel to support their troops. This contribution was critical to ending the war because the resources of European countries had been majorly depleted by 1917 while the US had a significant battle-worthy army. According to statistics, more than 2 million American soldiers served in the war and 50 thousand of them were been killed in action.
The defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the development of British attack on the Western Front in 1918 finally made Germany realize that the war was lost. Therefore, German government addressed the Allies and particularly the United States to conclude the armed conflict and develop a peace treaty that could be acceptable to all parties. American President Woodrow Wilson developed a set of principles that could guarantee world peace and stability called the Fourteen Points and insisted that Germany had to obey it and withdraw forces from allied soil to begin the negotiations. Additionally, Allies demanded compensation for the harm done by German invasion and urged to perform a complete demilitarization of Germany. Eventually, the negotiations resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, that officially ended World War I and established a new world order. In the aftermath of the war, the United States took a leading position in international trade and politics due to the destruction of manufacturing capacities and great human losses in Europe and its contribution to the victory over Germany and its allies.
In conclusion, World War I was caused by several major factors: the rise of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe and nationalism in German-speaking states and a sophisticated system of alliances between the most powerful countries. At the beginning of the war, the United States chose a policy of neutrality due to economic reasons and unstable social situation but eventually decided to join the conflict due to Germany’s policy of unrestricted warfare on water. The US contributed to the victory of Allies by providing military and financial support and engaging in the negotiation process. Eventually, these efforts resulted in the signing of the Treaties of Versailles and American political and economic dominance in the aftermath of the war.