why was the world war 1 fought

World War I occurred between July 1914 and November 11, 1918. By the end of the war, over 17 million people would
be killed including over 100,000 American troops. The reason why war erupted is actually much more complicated than
a simple list of causes. While there was a chain of events that directly led to the fighting, the actual root causes are much
deeper and part of continued debate and discussion. This list is an overview of the most popular reasons that are cited
as the root causes of World War 1.

  1. Mutual Defense Alliances
    Over time, countries throughout Europe made mutual
    defense agreements that would pull them into battle.
    These treaties meant that if one country was attacked,
    allied countries were bound to defend them. Before
    World War 1, the following alliances existed:
     Russia and Serbia
     Germany and Austria-Hungary
     France and Russia
     Britain and France and Belgium
     Japan and Britain
    Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia got
    involved to defend Serbia. Germany seeing Russia
    mobilizing, declared war on Russia. France was then
    drawn in against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany
    attacked France through Belgium pulling Britain into war.
    Then Japan entered the war. Later, Italy and the United
    States would enter on the side of the allies.
  2. Imperialism
    Imperialism is when a country increases their power and
    wealth by bringing additional territories under their
    control. Before World War I, Africa and parts of Asia were
    points of contention among the European countries. This
    was especially true because of the raw materials these
    areas could provide. The increasing competition and
    desire for greater empires led to an increase in
    confrontation that helped push the world into WW I.
  3. Militarism
    As the world entered the 20th century, an arms race
    had begun. By 1914, Germany had the greatest increase
    in military buildup. Great Britain and Germany both
    greatly increased their navies in this time period.
    Further, in Germany and Russia particularly, the military
    establishment began to have a greater influence on
    public policy. This increase in militarism helped push the
    countries involved into war.


  1. Nationalism
    Much of the origin of the war was based on the desire of
    the Slavic peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina to no longer
    be part of Austria Hungary but instead be part of Serbia.
    In this way, nationalism led directly to the War. But in a
    more general way, the nationalism of the various
    countries throughout Europe contributed not only to the
    beginning but the extension of the war in Europe. Each
    country tried to prove their dominance and power
  2. Immediate Cause: Assassination of
    Archduke Franz Ferdinand
    The immediate cause of World War I that made
    the aforementioned items come into play (alliances,
    imperialism, militarism, nationalism) was the assassination
    of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. In June
    1914, a Serbian-nationalist terrorist group called the Black
    Hand sent groups to assassinate the Archduke. Their first
    attempt failed when a driver avoided a grenade thrown at
    their car. However, later that day a Serbian nationalist
    named Gavrilo Princip assassinated him and his wife while
    they were in Sarajevo, Bosnia which was part of AustriaHungary. This was in protest to Austria-Hungary having
    control of this region. Serbia wanted to take over Bosnia
    and Herzegovina. This assassination led to Austria-Hungary
    declaring war on Serbia. When Russia began to mobilize
    due to its alliance with Serbia, Germany declared war on
    Russia. Thus began the expansion of the war to include all
    those involved in the mutual defense alliances.
    Taken from About Education: The Top 5 Causes That Led to World War I
    The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand (June 28, 1914) was the main catalyst for the start of
    the Great War (World War I). After the assassination, the following series of events took place:
     July 28 – Austria declared war on Serbia.
     August 1 – As Austria’s ally, Germany declares war on Russia, an ally of Serbia
     August 3 – Germany declares war on France, an ally of Russia and immediately begins an invasion of
    neutral Belgium
     August 4 – Great Britain, an ally of France, declares war against Germany
     The United States (President Wilson) declares that the United States will remain neutral
    The first month of combat consisted of bold attacks
    and rapid troop movements on both fronts. In the
    west, Germany attacked first Belgium and then
    France. In the east, Russia attacked both Germany
    and Austria-Hungary. In the south, Austria-Hungary
    attacked Serbia. Following the Battle of the Marne
    (September 5–9, 1914), the western front became
    entrenched in central France and remained that
    way for the rest of the war. The fronts in the east
    also gradually locked into place.

Late in 1914, the Ottoman Empire was brought into the fray as well, after Germany
tricked Russia into thinking that Turkey had attacked it. As a result, much of 1915
was dominated by Allied actions against the Ottomans in the Mediterranean. First,
Britain and France launched a failed attack on the Dardanelles. This campaign was
followed by the British invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Britain also launched a
separate campaign against the Turks in Mesopotamia. Although the British had
some successes in Mesopotamia, the Gallipoli campaign and the attacks on the
Dardanelles resulted in British defeats.
The middle part of the war, 1916 and 1917, was dominated by continued trench warfare in the east. Both sides had built
a series of trenches that went from the North Sea and through Belgium and France. Soldiers fought from dug-in
positions, striking at each other with machine guns, heavy artillery, and chemical weapons. The land between the two
enemy trench lines was called “No Man’s Land.” This land was sometimes covered with barbed wire and land mines.
The enemy trenches were generally around 50 to 250 yards apart. Though soldiers died by the millions in brutal
conditions, neither side had any substantive success or gained any advantage.
Despite the stalemate on both fronts in Europe, two important developments in the war occurred in 1917. In
early April, the United States, angered by attacks upon its ships in the Atlantic, declared war on Germany.
Then, in November, the Bolshevik Revolution prompted Russia to pull out of the war.

Although both sides launched renewed offensives in 1918 in an all-or-nothing effort to win the war, both
efforts failed. The fighting between exhausted, demoralized troops continued to plod along. In August –
September, an Allied offensive along the Meuse River and through the Argonne Forest succeeded in driving an
exhausted German army backward toward the German border. A deadly outbreak of influenza, meanwhile,
took heavy tolls on soldiers of both sides. Eventually, the governments of both Germany and Austria-Hungary
began to lose control as both countries experienced multiple mutinies from within their military structures.
On November 11, 1918, the Germans signed an armistice in which they agreed to surrender their arms, give
up much of their navy, and evacuate occupied territory.

The United States played a crucial role in the outcome of World War I and the subsequent peace treaty, however, the
country tried very hard to stay neutral throughout most of the conflict which it saw as a European affair. By 1917,
Woodrow Wilson’s policy and public opinion changed in favor of the US entry into World War I for the following 5
reasons that are described below.
German Atrocities in Belgium
One factor that had a major influence on American public
opinion was the invasion of neutral Belgium and stories
of German atrocities in the country which shocked and
outraged the Americans. Stories of unarmed civilians
being killed and small towns being destroyed circulated
throughout the press. Although some of the stories were
British propaganda, they left a strong anti-German
sentiment among Americans.
Economic Interests
The American businessmen were very interested in the
Allied victory and many such as J.P. Morgan helped fund
British and French war efforts with approximately $3
billion in loans and bond purchases. If the Allies would be
defeated by the Central Powers, they probably wouldn’t
be able to repay their debt to their US lenders. Many
businessmen therefore supported the so-called
‘Preparedness Movement’ which campaigned for the US
intervention in the war on the side of the Allied forces.
Sinking of the Lusitania
In May 1915, a German U-boat sunk the British
passenger ship Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Over
1,000 passengers were killed, including 128 Americans.
Although the ship may have been carrying military
equipment along with the civilians, the Americans
were infuriated because the people on board weren’t
warned before the sinking. In addition to straining
diplomatic relations between the US and Germany, the
Sinking of the Lusitania further increased anti-German
sentiment in America.
Unrestricted Submarine Warfare
In response to Britain’s blockade, Germany turned to
unrestricted submarine warfare to keep goods from
reaching Britain. After the Sinking of the Lusitania,
Germany promised to stop unrestricted submarine
warfare but within less than one year, they torpedoed
another passenger ship – the cross-English Channel ferry
Sussex. Again, the Germans promised not to attack
passenger ships without warning (the Sussex Pledge). But
that pledge was short lived as well.

Zimmermann Telegram
In 1917, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann
sent a telegram to Mexico suggesting that if the US
should declare war on Germany, Mexico should declare
war on the US In return, Mexico would get back the
territory lost in the Mexican-American War (Texas, New
Mexico, and Arizona). Unfortunately for Germany, the
telegram was intercepted by the British and hurriedly
given to the Americans. Although Mexico had no real
intention of declaring war on the US, the publication of
the letter further mobilized the American people against
the Central Powers.
History Lists · Events · 5 Reasons for the US Entry into World War I
Interactive WWI Timeline
June 28, 1914 Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia are killed by
Black Hand Serbian nationalists (Gavrillo Princip).
July 28, 1914 Austria declares war on Serbia. Russia, an ally of Serbia, prepares to
enter the war
August 1, 1914 Germany declares war on Russia
August 3, 1914 Germany declares war on France
August 4, 1914
German army invades neutral Belgium on its way to attack France.
Great Britain declares war on Germany.
The United States declares its neutrality
August 6, 1914 Austria declares war on Russia
August 12, 1914 France and Great Britain declare war on Austria
August 26-30, 1914 Russians are defeated at the Battle of Tannenberg
September 5-9, 1914 Germans are stopped at the First Battle of the Marne
October 31, 1914 In the First Battle of Ypres, entrenched allies fight off German assault
December 25, 1914 Christmas truce observed on the Western Front
April 22 – May 25 1915 The Second Battle of Ypres. Germans use poison gas and break a hole
through the long line of allied trenches.
May 7, 1915 German U-Boat torpedoes the Lusitania
February 21, 1916 Germans begin Battle of Verdun
May 10, 1916 Germans suspend unrestricted submarine warfare
May 31, 1916 German and British navies clash in Battle of Jutland
June 24, 1916 The Battle of the Somme begins
September 15, 1916 British use tanks for the first time at Somme
November 7, 1916 Woodrow Wilson is reelected President of the United States
January 31, 1917 Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare
February 3, 1917 The U.S. severs diplomatic relations with Germany
March 1, 1917 The U.S. discovers the Zimmermann Telegram plot
April 2, 1917 President Wilson delivers his war message to Congress
April 6, 1917 The United States declares war on Germany
June 15, 1917 Congress enacts the Espionage Act
June 25, 1917 First American troops land in France
June 31 – November 10 1917 British launch Third Battle of Ypres against the Germans
October 21, 1917 James B. Gresham – Evansville, Indiana – First American combat
soldiers killed

November 2, 1917 The Balfour Declaration is presented in London
November 7, 1917 Bolsheviks seize power in Russia
January 8, 1918 President Wilson outlines his Fourteen Points
March 3, 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed between Russia and Germany
May 28, 1918 Battle of Cantigny – Americans prevail
June 6, 1918 U.S. Marines launch attack at Belleau Wood
June 18 – August 5 1918 Allies launch Aisne-Marne offensive
September 12-16, 1918 Americans take offensive at St. Mihiel
September 26, 1918 First phase of the U.S. Meuse-Argonne offensive underway
October 6, 1918 Germany requests armistice – Allies refuse
November 11, 1918 Germany signs armistice

Click on the following links for Pictorial Essays
from the Indiana Historical Society

World War I: Hoosier Soldiers
World War I: Home Front
Indiana War Memorial
Welcome Home 1919 – Investigate the Scene
Welcome Home 1919 – The Parade
Indiana in World War One
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the
Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached
Since there have been Hoosiers, there have been Hoosier willing to serve and sacrifice for their nation and its ideals. The
state of Indiana is represented in every major United States war since the state’s founding and as of the twentieth
century, hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers had served their country proudly. By April of 1917, Indiana had
demonstrated their willingness and capability to serve and following the United States’ declaration of war, Hoosiers
were ready to step up and serve their nation.
Sgt. Alex L Arch of South Bend, soldier
who pulled the lanyard to fire the first
American shot of World War I
Indiana’s soldiers and civilians quickly mobilized for war.
Organizations both public and private adapted to meet the
demands of war. Many Indiana companies, such as the
Studebaker Corporation, placed their factories “at the disposal of
the government.” In the case of Studebaker, they converted half
of their plant capacity to the production of military equipment
including artillery and supply chassis and wagons. The Eli Lilly
Pharmaceutical Company offered $25,000 in funding for medical
equipment to form Base Hospital 32, which would be comprised
primarily of personnel from Indiana and would treat almost 9,700
patients in France throughout the war. Local newspapers and
businesses encouraged the citizenry to purchase war bonds, to
conserve supplies, and to otherwise support the war effort.
Throughout the state, Hoosiers quickly got to work.
Enlisted Hoosiers went overseas with the first units to land on European soil. Among them, Sergeant Alex Arch of South
Bend, Indiana was credited with having fired the first shot of the war for the United States, pulling the lanyard to fire the
first American artillery shell towards German lines. As well as the first strike, the first blow was received by Indiana as
well. The first three American casualties of the war included young Corporal James Gresham of Evansville, Indiana who
died in hand to hand combat while repelling a German trench raid near Bathelemont in France. Hoosiers such as these
cemented the state’s legacy as among the first to strike at the enemy and the first to make the ultimate sacrifice for
their country.
As the first of the American Expeditionary Forces were arriving in France, the Indiana National Guard was quickly
mobilizing. Units from the Indiana and Kentucky National Guards would form the 38th Division and the 84th “Lincoln”
Division would be comprised of guard units from Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. In addition, the famed 150th artillery
regiment, which had gained a fierce reputation in the Civil War under the command of Captain Eli Lilly, was selected as
one of the handpicked units to make up the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. This division would see some of the most intense
fighting of the war. The 150th Field Artillery, under the capable leadership of Colonel Robert Tyndall, would take part in
six major engagements throughout the war. The first day of draft registration, June 05, 1917, passed without incident in
Indiana. During that first period, over 260,000 Hoosiers came forward to register. Over 400,000 more had registered by
the war’s end.
Throughout the war, Hoosier men and women would time and time again prove their unwavering courage and loyalty to
their country in spite of the many faces of adversity. Lieutenant Aaron Fisher of Lyle’s Station, Indiana would become
the most highly decorated African American soldier from Indiana during the war for his extraordinary courage and levelheaded leadership in the face of overwhelming odds.
Fisher received the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de
Guerre for refusing to retreat or surrender even while his unit was vastly
outnumbered. Despite being wounded, Fisher continued to direct his troops
amidst the chaos until finally reinforcements arrived and the German force
was repelled.
Lieutenant Samuel Woodfill would become a national hero when he single
handedly incapacitated three German machine gun nests and earned the
nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor as well as military
honors from several European nations. While suffering the effects of
mustard gas exposure, Woodfill captured three of the gunners and finish off
the rest in intense close-quarters combat where he was eventually forced to
wield a trench pick as a combat weapon. At home, citizens continued to
support the war effort through the Red Cross and Salvation Army, raising
funds and sending supplies to the troops entrenched on the other side of the
Atlantic. Women filled the jobs left empty by those men that had departed
for the front, eager to serve their country. Among them was Opha Johnson
of Kokomo who was the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps. Welcome Home Day; Returned Soldiers on
parade in Indianapolis
She took over clerical work in the quartermaster department and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant by the war’s
end17. This names only a few of the many outstanding Hoosiers who contributed to war effort, most of whom would
not receive such recognition but who, beyond a doubt, contributed to the nation’s war effort, both overseas and at
Over 135,000 Hoosiers would serve their country throughout the war. Of this number, more than 3,000 would make the
ultimate sacrifice. The countless number of Hoosier soldiers, nurses, and civilians who were there to proudly serve and
sacrifice for their nation, deserve more recognition than they have or could receive. They had demonstrated their
commitment to the ideals of the United States and proven that, whenever their nation needed them, the men and
women of Indiana would be there to answer to answer the call.

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