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World War I

Books on the Cold War

What you need to know

Things:

  • Dual Alliance
  • Triple Alliance
  • Triple Entente
  • Franco-Russian Alliance
  • Anglo-Russian Accord
  • Entente Cordiale
  • Ottoman Empire
  • 1st Shipbuilding Law
  • 2nd Shipbuilding Law
  • Schlieffen Plan
  • Plan XVII
  • Ultimatum
  • Blank Check
  • Lusitania
  • Balfour Declaration
  • McMahon Letters
  • Sykes-Picot Accord
  • Trench Warfare
  • MANIA
  • 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month
  • Treaty of Versailles
  • Reparations
  • Fourteen Points
  • League of Nations

People:

  • Nicholas Romanov
  • Wilhelm II
  • Gavrillo Princip
  • Bismarck
  • Lenin
  • Stalin
  • Trotsky
  • Bolsheviks
  • Mensheviks
  • Alfred von Schlieffen
  • Helmuth von Moltke
  • Ludendorf
  • Hindenburg
  • Petain
  • Pershing
  • Wilson
  • Lloyd George
  • Orlando
  • Clemenceau
  • Keynes

Events:

  • Crimean War
  • Franco-Prussian War
  • Russo-Turkish War
  • Russo-Japanese War
  • 1st Balkans War
  • 2nd Balkans War
  • 1st Moroccan Incident
  • 2nd Moroccan Incident
  • Boer War
  • Fashoda Incident
  • Marne
  • Verdun
  • Somme
  • Gallipoli

Works:

Questions to answer
  • Explain the major changes in the European political and economic order that allowed it to go from the durable peace of 1815 to the cataclysm of 1914.
  • Assess the relative importance of nationalism, imperialism, industrialism, and alliances as they contributed to the outbreak of the War.
  • The War occurred because of the incompatibility of extreme weakness and extreme strength co-existing in the same European political system. Explain.
  • The War occurred because Bismarck had undone Metternich and Wilhelm II had undone Bismarck. Explain.
  • Compare and contrast the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution in terms of: their underlying intellectual foundations; their origins in deep social pathologies; and the way they were resolved.
  • In what ways did the rise of German power manifest itself as a threat to other European powers?
  • In what ways had Russian humiliation over the prior 60 years increased the likelihood that it would eventually have go to war?
  • Analyze the accelerating collapse of the Ottoman Empire from 1830 to 1913 and explain how this accelerated the path to War.
  • Explain how European colonial affairs affected the path to War. Distinguish between Mediterranean and exo-Mediterranean issues.
  • Explain the details and the significance of England’s reversal of hostility with its historic rivals, Russia and France.
  • In January 1917, Russia was a right-wing autocratic state. By 1920, it was a left-wing communist state. Trace the major events, institutions, and people that led to the change.
  • In 1890, England, France, and Russia were hostile to each other. By 1907, they had formed the Triple Entente. Explain the events that caused this reversal and their significance to the eventuality of World War I.
  • According to Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was solely responsible for the outbreak of World War I. Is this judgment valid? Consider both long and short term factors in your answer.
  • Discuss the phenomenon of “total war” and its impact on the social, political, and economic structure of Europe both during and after the War.
  • Evaluate the adequacy of “MANIA” as an explanation for the cause of World War I.
  • World War I was fundamentally about a world in balance that went out of balance. Discuss at least three different ways in which this statement is true.
  • What roles did Russian, Ottoman, French, and Austrian weakness have in the onset of War?
  • World War I should have been the Third Balkan War. Why did it escalate so quickly into the global conflagration that it ultimately became?
  • World War I is considered by some historians one of the most important events of the past 1,000 years. Why?
  • Ignoring how Britain might have been able to deter Germany at the last minute, was World War I inevitable? Explain your answer.
Sample questions answered

Explain the details and the significance of England’s reversal of hostility with its historic rivals, Russia and France. 

Between 1904 and 1907 England completely reversed its historic rivalry with both France and Russia.  This was to check the rise of German power in Europe, to bolster France, and to lessen challenges from Russia in Asia.

After national unification in 1871 Germany began a rapid economic ascent which threatened England’s dominance of global economic affairs.   By 1900, Germany had surpassed England as the leading industrial power in Europe and had begun building its army and, more threateningly, its navy to challenge British naval supremacy.  For these reasons, England was threatened and looked about for allies to counter German power.

The most immediate of these allies was France, England’s historic continental riva;  England befriended France in the Entente Cordiale of 1904.  France had been humiliated by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and Germany continued to intimidate France to gain diplomatic leverage in Europe and in the Mediterranean. By befriending France, England hoped to contain German strength.

England befriended Russia for similar reasons—to counter the growth of Germany.  Russia had been humiliated by its loss to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.  The Anglo-Russian Accord of 1907 was meant to both reduce tensions between the two countries in east Asia (China) and in south Asia (India) and to give Russia an ally to stand up to Germany in eastern Europe.

The resulting Triple Entente, between England, France, and Russia (completed by the French Treaty with Russia in 1894) left Germany encircled and threatened.  It almost certainly accelerated the descent to War in 1914.

 

Analyze the accelerating collapse of the Ottoman Empire from 1830 to 1913 and explain how this accelerated the path to War.

Beginning with the independence of Greece in 1830, the Ottoman Empire began to implode.  This is why it was named “The Sick Man of Europe.”  The implosion accelerated toward the end of the 19th century, assuredly increasing the likelihood of War in 1914.

Ottoman collapse was given a strong boost in the Russo-Turkish War.  In that War Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire and Ottoman territories in south-eastern Europe were almost completely extinguished.

Ottoman weakness attracted continued attackers.  It lost Cyprus to England in 1879 and Tunisia to France in 1881.  It lost Egypt to England in 1882, Bosnia-Hertzogovina to Austria-Hungary in 1908, Libya to Italy in 1911, and Macedonia to independence  in the First Balkan War in  1912.

Through all of these pillages against its territories, the Ottomans were unable to effectively defend themselves.  In other words, all of the major powers of Europe except Germany had taken bites out of the Ottoman Empire.  World War I was fundamentally about who was going to gain control of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.

 

Why can World War I be considered “the most important event of the past 1,000 years?”

World War I can be considered the most important event of the past thousand years because of the way it radically re-arranged the architecture of global power.  Specifically, it caused the destruction of four great empires, the creation of 11 new countries, spawned the first-ever communist state, and saw the center of global power shift from Europe to the United States.

Four great empires were destroyed in World War I.  They were:  the German empire of the Hohenzollerns that had existed since 1648; the Austro-Hungarian empire of the Hapsburgs that traced its roots back to Charlemagne; the Russian empire of the Romanovs that went back to the 1500s; and the Ottoman Empire that had conquered Constantinople in 1453.  No other event ever has seen such destruction in major political entities.

There were 11 new countries created in the aftermath of World War I.  They were, in Europe, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.  In the Middle East, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan were created.  Never had so many countries been created as the result of a single event.

During the War, the Romanov government of Russia collapsed.  The Russian Revolution produced the first-ever communist government in the world.  This was bitterly contested by the capitalist governments of the West and produced the most threatening conflict of the twentieth century, the Cold War.

Finally, World War I caused a once-in-the-history-of-the-world shift in the center of global power from Europe to the United States, where it resides still today.

For these reasons, World War I can rightly be called “The most important event of the past 1,000 years.”

Original documents
Supplementary notes
Intro to the book

In 1914, Europe blundered into one of the greatest cataclysms in history. It began a European civil war that would last for over four years, that would consume the entire continent and involve several other continents as well, and that would ultimately claim over 26 million casualties. It brought to bear the entire productive capacity of a modern technological civilization for the effective purpose of industrializing human slaughter.

Because of its sheer horror, the scale of its destruction, and its lasting impact, the causes of World War I have been studied for decades. At their root, they reflect what happens when a system designed for balance goes out of balance, when established powers become weak, when ambitious newcomers maneuver for more power, when all participants become schemers in an intricate webs of alliances, and when all parties to a conflict have access to unending supplies of unimaginably destructive armaments.

This book examines each of the major participants in the war, including their strategic positions, national interests, and motivations for engaging in war. It looks at the underlying issues that virtually guaranteed a war, and then how the War actually started. It discusses themes during the War, how the War ended, and the Treaty of Versailles which settled the War. Finally, it considers some the War’s major consequences and concludes with a final word and a timeline of the War’s beginning.

The consequences of World War I were as dramatic as the devastation itself. They included: the extinction of four formerly great empires; the emergence of communism as a state-based system; the creation of 11 new countries; a proliferation of dictatorships; the end of European dominance in world affairs; and the elevation of the United States to the position of pre-eminent world power. Any one of these consequences would be momentous, at any place, or at any time. Their cumulative effect, as a result of a single event, is impossible to overstate. In fact, the impact of World War I was so great, it is considered by many historians as the most significant event of the last thousand years. This is that story.

Table of Contents to the book
  1. Introduction
  2. Major Participants: Status and Motives
    1. Germany
    2. France
    3. Austria-Hungary
    4. Russia
    5. Ottoman Empire
    6. The Balkan States
    7. England
  3. Issues Leading to War
    1. The Tectonic Clash of Three Civilizations
    2. Rise of German Power
    3. Balkan Nationalism
    4. Austrian-Hungarian Weakness
    5. The Collapsing Ottoman Empire
    6. Russian Ambitions in the Balkans
    7. The Domino Effect of Entangling Alliances
    8. Military Preparations Making War Inevitable
  4. The Start of the War
  5. Major Themes During the War
    1. Stalemate
    2. New Industrial Technologies
    3. Massive Slaughter
    4. War in the Middle East
    5. The Russian Revolution
    6. State Propaganda
    7. The U.S. Breaks the Stalemate
  6. The End of the War and the Treaty of Versailles
  7. Major Consequences
    1. Destruction of Four Great Empires
    2. New States
    3. Emergence of Communism as a State-Based System
    4. Rise of Dictatorships
    5. Death of the European Enchantment
    6. Rise of the U.S. to Preeminent World Power
    7. The Cause of World War II
  8. Final Word
  9. Timeline
Comments and Questions

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