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World War 1
Assassinations and Assassination Attempts

How did the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lead to World War I?


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February 27, 2012 2:10PM

Please take into account, before reading, that this was done as a piece of history coursework and so an opinion was required from me in the concluding paragraph of the essay. It got a pretty good grade by the way, so the facts should be accurate.

Why did an assasination lead to war in 1914?

There are a variety of reasons that led the Powers of Europe into the great war of 1914-1918. The main cause of WWI was the alliance system which was created by suspicion and mistrust and once created, resulted in even more tension between nations. A new empire, the German Empire, had formed in 1871 after the unification of its smaller states. The newly founded empire was eager to catch up with the other powers of Europe and had beaten France in the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871), gaining the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. In 1900 Germany announced its 17-year plan to construct the second largest navy (after Great Britain's) in the world. Nations such as Britain, France and the Russian Empire felt threatened by the power Germany now wielded. To counter this, France and Russia formed an alliance to support each other should a conflict arise between them and Germany. Although Britain did not sign up to the alliance it still remained on good terms with both France and Russia through various agreements. The three nations became known as the "Triple Entente". But while some nations opposed the growing power of Germany, others saw it as an opportunity to increase their own security and influence, such as the Austria-Hungarian Empire (Habsburg Empire) which signed an alliance with Germany near the start of the war. Italy was also part of the pact but would only support either of them if they were being attacked not if they were the attackers; a defensive-alliance. The agreement between these three nations was known as the "Triple Alliance".

However the war didn't start simply with members of the "Triple Entente" and the "Triple Alliance" attacking each other. The event that actually sparked the war off was to do with problems within and around the Austro-Hungarian Empire, namely rising nationalism in the Balkans. The Empire ruled parts of small nations such as Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and a small part of Italy. The nationalists strongly objected to foreign rulers governing parts of their nation or all of it. Nationalists in the Balkans resented being governed by foreigners from the Habsburg Empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted to expand further south-east into the Balkans, especially into Serbia. This was because it felt threatened by Serbia's growing power. Many people from Serbia believed that the empire would try and take over Serbia and they opposed the fact that Bosnia was under Austro-Hungarian control. Could it be Serbia next?

The single event that triggered the war off was caused by active nationalism. In June 1914 the Austrian army was due to undertake manoeuvres in the southern part of the empire near Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Archduke

Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef, was to review the troops and supervise the action. A few days before the manoeuvres took place he decided to visit leading citizens in Sarajevo itself. Three extreme Serb nationalists who were members of a group called the Black Hand, a terrorist organization, were planning to assassinate him. As the Archduke and his wife drove from the train station to a meeting, the first assassin threw a hand grenade which missed the Archduke but caused 20 civilian injuries. On his way back from the meeting another member of the group shot both the Archduke and his wife. The Austrians quickly found out that a Serb nationalist group was responsible for the assassination. This gave the Austrians the excuse they needed to crush Serbia. The assassination became the catalyst that drew the opposing alliances into conflict.

The Russian empire had strong cultural and religious links with Serbia and the Balkan states and it wanted more influence over there because they wanted access to the Mediterranean Sea. After Austria declared war upon Serbia at 3 p.m. on the 28th July 1914, Serbia contacted its ally, Russia, which mobilized its army to the Austrian Frontier as a threat. While at the same time Germany promised to back up Austria in its pledge against Serbia and mobilized its well prepared troops on the 30th of July. But King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy refused to support Austria or Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany informed Russia that unless the Russian troops backed down they would declare war on Russia. By backing down, Russia could have avoided a large-scale war, but in order not to seem as if he were submitting to German authority, Tsar Nicholas of Russia refused. He then appealed to his ally, France. Hearing the German demands imposed upon the Russians, France mobilized its troops on the 31st July to support its ally against Germany and possibly have its revenge for the Franco-Prussian war. On the 1st of August war was declared by Austria and Germany on Russia. By this point only Great Britain had stayed out of the war but that was soon to change. Germany's plan was to defeat France before Russia could bring its reserves in, the plan involved marching through Belgium, but the Belgians refused and Germany declared war upon Belgium on the 4th of August. Belgium's ally, Britain then swiftly declared war on Germany. Within a month of the Archduke's assassination, all of the great powers of Europe were caught up in a war despite the trigger event having very little to do with most of them.

But was it just the Alliance System, tensions between Austria and Serbia and the growing power of the German Empire that were the main causes of WWI? There are also other ideas as to how war broke out. I think the less sophisticated communication between Generals or leaders of the Empires could also be a cause of the war. There would have been more room for misinterpretation as well as telegrams not being as fast or as personal as phone calls. The strong communications between Russia and America during the cold war managed to prevent a war breaking out. Maybe strong communications between armies before WWI could have also done the same. For example, by the time Tsar Nicholas had mobilized his troops towards the Austrian front line it would have been hard to withdraw them due to communications being so slow. Bad communications would have also made it harder for sides to reach a compromise and to solve their problems by negotiation as opposed to a war. A reason why war may have been inevitable was that the nations involved had spent a great deal on arms, so it would have made sense to finally use them. Could a war have broken out without the assassination of Franz Ferdinand? Maybe it could have started with an argument between the naval powers of Germany and Britain over dominance in the North Sea. A more general cause of the war was that all the powers wanted different things and despite offers and compromises between them it could only have been resolved by fighting a war with the victors being granted what they wanted afterwards. A more disputed reason for the war was that the Kaiser and Tsar Nicholas were grandchildren of Queen Victoria and that there may have been a personal rivalry between them. I question this because surely they can't have been stupid enough to let thousands die just because of a rivalry between them.

So for me, the main cause of WWI was the alliances which were just waiting for something to spark the two sides off, and nationalism which was the trigger cause that created a huge chain reaction. I also think that the newly formed German Empire was the reason that the alliances were formed because some nations felt threatened by it while some joined sides with it. I'm not certain of this being the reason for the alliances although it is a possibility. The building of armies and navies across Europe added to the tension e.g. the more battleships Germany built, the more battleships Britain built. Also bad communications could have played a minor part in making it harder for both sides to reach an agreement or a compromise by peaceful means. But with the alliances in place, there's no reason why something other than the assassination would not have led to a full scale war.
The stage was already set for war with powerful countries in dispute with countries allied with other countries. The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke was, if you will, an excuse to begin fighting.
the Bosnians got help from the Russians then the Russians got help from the french then the french got help from the British. the opposing side first got help from Italy then they got help from Germany and it lead to world war 1
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians later to be known as Yugoslavia was a rival state to Austria. Serbs had already freed Croatia from Austria, and stopped the Austrian anexation of Bosnia. They were also the only country that blocked Austria from taking over the Balkans and the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. However they could not attack the Serbs as they had Russia as an ally.

When the assassination happened it gave Austria their chance to make an exuse for war with Yugoslavia. Previously allying with the Germans, who wanted war as soon as possible, they sent a ultimatum to Yugoslavia, stating that they want their police to go to Sarajevo and well basically do what ever they want.

Serbs declined, so Austria declared war on them allong with Germany and Bulgaria. Serbian allies were France, UK, Italy and most notably Russia.

And there it is. The assassination did not lead to war. The war was planned for years before that.