What Lead to the Outbreak of World War 1

There are many factors that can be used to argue about what lead to the outbreak of World War 1. Global imperialism, national alliances, and rivalry between countries can all be linked to one aspect, the region of Alsace-Lorraine and how it created a long-standing conflict between France and Germany. National and cultural identity in Alsace-Lorraine were oppressed by Germans that stirred a feud eventually leading to World War 1.

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The mid 1870th century was a time filled with colonial expansion and imperialistic movement on a global scale never before seen. The five Great European Powers, Germany, France, Britain, Russia were racing to expand their colonies to attain more resources, ‘The imperialism of the late nineteenth century was undoubtedly ‘new’. It was the child of an era of competition between rival industrial-capitalist national economies which was new, and which was intensified by the pressure when the peripheral part of the global economy become increasingly significant…’ (The Age of Empire, 1989, pp.72-73). Due to the economic growth that took place, Germany was quickly developing into a major power. The German emperor Wilhelm II expressed imperialistic intentions when he took power and stated that his aim was to turn Germany into an imperial power. With the declining fall of the Ottoman Empire, the world powers scrambled to secure the territory for their own and the tension that was building in Europe would eventually factor in as a cause for World War I. If not for imperialism, and social nationalism, Germany wouldn’t have felt the need to show off their power to the other countries, further expanding their empire and building up their navy. This strategy however, led to increased suspicion in Great Britain, France and Russia who were otherwise continuously in contact with each other.

As a region that wasn’t fully established by boundaries, Alsace-Lorraine instigated a disagreement to whose control the country would come under after France’s loss in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. When the German Empire got ahold of Alsace-Lorraine, it completely changed the balance of power in Europe and strengthened Germany’s position as the leading continental power. Following the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, the nation of France was deeply wounded, and resentment began between the two countries. When the time came around for Germany to integrate Alsace-Lorraine into German rule, there were many who opposed the idea completely and thought Germany had no business dealing with French territories. Yet there were many reasons that Germany used to validate their reasoning for occupying the region…one being based on strategic reasoning, wanting to use the Vosges Mountains as a defense system against enemies. The other being purely for economic reasons, since Alsace-Lorraine contained a lot of coal, iron and other minerals that Germany could utilize. In 1862, the newly appointed chancellor Otto Von Bismarck, in his famous ‘Blood and Iron’ speech, claimed that the provinces were necessary for future defense against France, ‘We are too hot-blooded, we have a preference for putting on armor that is too big for our small body; and now we’re actually supposed to utilize it. Germany is not looking to Prussia’s liberalism, but to its power…’ (Bismarck: Collected Works, 1924-35, pp. 139-40). Later on, August Bebel, who was the leader of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, went on to write a speech defending his party’s refusal to grant the funds needed to carry on the military campaign against France. In his speech he points out the likelihood of the French government staging a retaliation attempt fueled by revenge, ‘It is necessary to refrain from anything that might help drive France to extremes and, instead, to leave France today with what has been hers for centuries. This is all the more important because, after all, with the exception of a few dozen people, the entire population of Alsace-Lorraine is clearly opposed to this annexation’ (August Bebel: His Life in Documents, 1968, pp.158-62). Needless to say, the German government carries on with the annexation of Alsace and began their military rule.

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What Lead To The Outbreak Of World War 1. (2022, Apr 18). Retrieved May 18, 2022 , from
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