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How Did Nationalism Cause World War 1: Analytical Essay

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In the context of the years 1815-1914, how far was nationalism the most important cause of the Great War?

Nationalism was a significant long-term cause of the Great War, from 1815 through to the start of the war in 1914, this overconfidence in their nation, government, and military became a prominent part of all societies in each country. For some this patriotism was a new sensation, for others, it was about the supremacy of their empire or, like for the Slavics in the Balkans, it was the unification and stride of ethnic groups to independence. However increasingly throughout the period naval rivalry between Britain and Germany emerged and an ever-intensifying armaments race involving all powers whereby every European country mistrusted its fellows thus accumulating stocks of munitions and weapons and not agreeing on peace or disarmament. In addition, the formation of two hostile alliances, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, allowed the nations to fight and challenge each other as they knew they could rely on their friends for help, and support and use each other's resources and power. Although this evidently meant that a dispute involving one of them would involve all of them. It cannot be forgotten that Imperialism was also a significant long-term factor as an important cause of the War. The Powers all had a desire to conquer the other lands and build an empire causing conflict between the nations. The events of Morocco caused much dispute between France and Germany and what had begun as a dispute in the Balkans over conflicting interests between Russia and Austria one country after another became involved until it became a general war. Arguably Germany and their actions were at the heart of the Great War, although non of the great powers can escape the blame. Germany's constant concern about her own prestige and power was significant in the lead-up to the war, her severe pressure on Austria to act quickly in response to the Assassination and to make the ultimatum so strong as to be unacceptable by Serbia is notable. But the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 was a critical tipping point that sparked the chain of events leading to the Great War.

Nationalism had been building up for a long time before the war, it was an important long-term cause of the war because it can also be argued that it fuelled other causes. It all links back to the fact that each country wanted to be better than the other. Everywhere changes were wrought by the forces of nationalism: the unification of Germany and Italy and the rise of national states in the Balkans are prime examples of this.[footnoteRef:1] Throughout the century there were rising feelings of nationalism, the citizens of many multi-ethnic nations stove towards independence whilst the Great Powers strove to extend their rule and prestige and create colonies over Europe. Nationalistic sentiment fuelled the war, it created a new atmosphere and the people were delighted by the chance to prove their nation's superiority and power[footnoteRef:2]. The unification of Germany in 1871 caused a new sensation of patriotism for Germany, The new Kaiser, Wilhelm II, became the driving force of this new, nationalistic Germany. It was ambitious, obsessed with military power and imperial expansion, proud of Germany’s achievements but envious of other empires.[footnoteRef:3] But significantly many citizens also dreamed of uniting all the Germans in one pan-German state and nationalists expressed their desire to have a colonial empire like the other Powers. However, arguably the most significant form of nationalism was on the rise in Southern and Eastern Europe. This nationalism was not about the supremacy of empires but the right of ethnic groups to independence and self-government[footnoteRef:4] seeking freedom away from their imperial masters. This movement had the biggest impact in relation to the cause of the Great War. Pan-Slavism was the belief that the Slavic people of Eastern Europe should be independent and have their own nation, and that they were a powerful force in the region thus they mainly opposed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the control and influence it had over the region. It was predominantly in Serbia where their form of nationalism had risen significantly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Discontent was on a high and young Serbs joined radical nationalist groups like the ‘Black Hand’ because of Vienna’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they wanted to drive Austria-Hungary from the Balkans to form a nation called ‘The Greater Serbia’. This is significant in the argument because it was this intensified form of nationalism that led to the start of World War I through the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914.[footnoteRef:5] [1: ] [2: “The Corrosion They Called Nationalism” by Mandeep Dhillon ] [3: ] [4: ] [5: ]

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The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was an imminent cause of nationalism in Serbia.

In 1815 Congress of Vienna was the first of a series of international meetings that came to be known as the Concert of Europe, an attempt to forge a peaceful balance of power in Europe. The Congress of Vienna dissolved the Napoleonic world and attempted to restore the monarchies Napoleon had overthrown, The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace. The Concert of Europe, also known as the Congress System or the Vienna System after the Congress of Vienna, was a System of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power. This conservative agenda has been heavily criticized by many historians who argue that it stood in the way of progress and created the conditions for World War I.

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