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Handout: MAIN Jigsaw WWI Activity Unit C

MAIN: There are four causes that led to war between the major powers of the world in 1914: Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism, and Nationalism.


  • To learn the four main causes of WWI

  • Collaboratively and critically read the four causes


Read the main cause you have been assigned. In your group answer the questions. After you complete the first part, you will jigsaw with other students in the class.

I. Imperialism

“Imperialism was clearly a contributing cause of World War I. The competition for overseas possessions often brought European powers into conflict. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Germany became more and more aggressive in its quest for imperial possessions. In 1905, the leading imperial powers acceded to Germany’s demand for a conference to dispute French control of Morocco. Though Germany gained nothing, other nations began to view Germany as a threat to stability in Europe. Britain and France had vied for control of areas in Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. It was not until the Anglo-French Entente of 1904 that the two nations finally settled their colonial disputes. Many the “entangling alliances” that historians often cite as a premier cause of World War I actually came about as a result of conflicts over imperialism.”1

“What was most strikingly novel about the new imperialism was its intense concentration upon two continents: Africa and eastern Asia. These were the only two important areas of the globe still not brought under European influence before 1870. The decades between 1870 and 1914 speedily completed the expansion of European influence and civilization over the whole of the earth; and it was accomplished in an era when the realism, ruthlessness, and rivalries of European national governments were exceptionally great. It therefore had a temper uniquely masterful and remorseless, brooking no obstacles and pushfully self-assertive. This quality came as much from the nature of European politics as from the urges of European economic development. There was no international organization fitted to exercise any kind of control or regulation over the scramble for territories in which the great powers now indulged. The naked power politics of the new colonialism were the projection, onto an overseas screen, of the interstate frictions and rivalries of Europe. It was this combination of novel economic conditions with anarchic political relations which explained the nature of the new imperialism. Among the economic forces behind it, the urge to find new outlets for the "glut of capital" and fresh markets for industrial output were in general more important than either the quest for raw materials or the factor of overpopulation.”2

II. Alliances
“An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. When an alliance is signed, those countries become known as Allies.

A number of alliances had been signed by countries between the years 1879 and 1914. These were important because they meant that some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies.”3

“European alliances were designed to keep a balance of power. The Triple Entente (U.K., France, and Russia) balanced the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). Belgium had pledged neutrality but made a treaty with the U.K. to protect it in case of attack. The Ottoman Empire was weak and had allowed Germany too much control over its foreign policy. As a whole, these alliances assured total peace or total war. There was nothing in between: one incident could set off a chain reaction that would draw all the countries of Europe into a conflict.”4

III. Militarism

“The Industrial Revolution brought great changes to all aspects of life, including the military. Armies were now swifter, stronger, more mobile and more deadly. New technologies also created new weapons. The cavalry and bayonets of the past would now meet tanks, machine guns, howitzer cannons, and airplanes on the battlefields of Europe.”5
“The menace of the hostile division led to an arms race, another cause of World War I. Acknowledging that Germany was the leader in military organization and efficiency, the great powers of Europe copied the universal conscription, large reserves and detailed planning of the Prussian system. Technological and organizational developments led to the formation of general staffs with precise plans for mobilization and attack that often could not be reversed once they were begun. The German von Schlieffen Plan to attack France before Russia in the event of war with Russia was one such complicated plan that plan drew more counties into the war than necessary.

Armies and navies were greatly expanded. The standing armies of France and Germany doubled in size between 1870 and 1914. Naval expansion was also extremely competitive, particularly between Germany and Great Britain. By 1889, the British had established the principle that in order to maintain naval superiority in the event of war they would have to have a navy two and a half times as large as the second-largest navy. This motivated the British to launch the Dreadnought, invented by Admiral Sir John Fisher, in 1906. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 had demonstrated how effective these battleships were. As Britain increased their output of battleships, Germany correspondingly stepped up their naval production, including the Dreadnought. Although efforts for worldwide disarmament were made at the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, international rivalry caused the arms race to continue to feed on itself.”6

IV. Nationalism

“In countries like Germany, nationalist movements united the people with a sense of greatness of who they were. Nationalism takes patriotism and adds to it a sense of superiority that calls for the conquering of the inferior. In the 19th century, nationalism was expressed as dedication to and identification with the nation-state as evidenced by the unification of Germany and Italy.”7

“Austria-Hungary was established as the Dual Monarchy in 1867. The Dual Monarchy ruled over a large empire consisting of many nationalities, but only the Austrians (racially they were German) and the Hungarians had the right to rule. The other nationalities Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Rumanians and Poles resented their loss of political freedom. They desired for political independence. Thus the policy of the Dual Monarchy was to suppress the nationalist movements both inside and outside the empire. The particular object of the Dual Monarchy was to gain political control over the Balkan Peninsula, where nationalist movements were rife and were always giving encouragement to the nationalist movements within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The centre of the nationalist movements in the Balkans was Serbia. Serbia always hoped to unite with the Serbs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire so as to create a large Serbian state. Therefore the first enemy of Austria-Hungary from 1871 to 1914 was Serbia. Besides Serbia, Austria-Hungary also hated Russia because Russia, being a Slav country, always backed up Serbia in any Austro-Serbian disputes.

Nationalism in Britain

In 1870 Britain was the most industrially advanced country in Europe. She also possessed the largest overseas empire and the largest navy in the world. She did not want to trouble herself with the continental affairs of Europe. Her main concern was to preserve her overseas empire and her overseas trade by maintaining a large navy. Before 1890, her chief enemies were France and Russia. The colonial interests of France often clashed with those of Britain . (Britain and France had colonial rivalries in Asia and Africa--for example, India, Burma, Thailand, Egypt.)

Russia's interest in the Balkan area also alarmed Britain, as British naval interests in the Mediterranean Sea would be immediately threatened. After 1890, as Germany went on increasing her naval strength and threatened British naval supremacy and the British overseas interests, she became Britain's chief enemy.8

1. What factors led to the cause you are studying?





2. Summarize in one sentence how the cause led to war





3. What is the connection of the image to the cause?




4. What could have been done to prevent the cause from leading to war?





1 Quoted from: www.socialstudies.com

2 Quoted from http://mars.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/world/lectures/imperialism.html

3 Quoted from: http://mars.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/world/lectures/imperialism.html

4 Quoted from : www.socialstudies.com

5 Quoted from: www.socialstudies.com

6 Quoted from: http://www.cusd.chico.k12.ca.us/~bsilva/projects/great_war/causes.htm

7 Quoted from: www.socialstudies.com

8 Quoted from: http://www.thecorner.org/hist/wwi/national.htm

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