to syllabus

World War One:  Causes, Conduct, and Consequences

A) Imperialism and the Origins of World War One

Capitalism and Imperialism

1) The relationship between colonialism and imperialism/forms of imperialist influence

a) colonies (political, economic, and cultural dominance, direct control of colonial power)

b) protectorates (political, economic, and cultural dominance, often with “shared” political control)

c) spheres of influence (economic dominance, often with indirect political control)

d) markets for targeted investment

e) “markets” for cultural dominance (example--missionary activities)

2) Contemporary arguments explaining imperialism

a) national pride

b) military-strategic necessity

c) social Darwinism (combines elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution with theories of racial superiority and justifications of social and political

d) the “missionary imperative” and the “White Man’s Burden” (Christian duty/obligation of the “advanced, superior races” to “civilize” the
“child-like,” “savage” non-European peoples)

e) Economic imperialism (markets for surplus goods, markets for surplus capital, way to generate “super-profits” to “buy off” the domestic
working class)

Specific arguments:

i) Hobson. Imperial markets for goods and investments serve the class interests of the domestic rich are against the national interest;
imperialism can be ended by establishing real domestic democracy

ii) Conant. International capitalism is weakened by a glut of surplus capital (surplus savings, surplus capacity), which drives down the
value of investments and causes depression. Imperialism is a strategy to find markets for this surplus capital and surplus
production. The US should promote free trade (not colonialization) so that it can gain access to markets world wide (the “Open
Door Policy”).

iii) Lenin. The capitalists use markets abroad for goods and investments to prevent depression (here his views are similar to Conant) and
then they use the “super-profits” from imperialism to “buy off” the highly-skilled elements of the working class—this divides the
workers and prevents revolution. The solution to this, Lenin said, was for a socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism and end

Imperialism in Practice

1. Asia: example, the “spheres of influence” in China.

2. Latin America: example of the USA in Cuba (which also involves the USA in the Philippines).

3. Africa: in 1850, there were only two significant European colonies in Africa (Algeria and what we now call South Africa); between 1870 and 1914,
European powers divided all of Africa up into colonies and only two independent countries remained (Liberia and Ethiopia). This was hastened by the
1884-1885 Berlin Conference on "rules" for colonial expansion in Africa.

Imperialism and the acceleration of great power tensions.

1. Germany as a late-comer to imperial expansion, but with economic and domestic (political) need for empire. By 1900, the German leadership was
discussing the great need for a German colonial empire in Africa and in Asia.

2. German perception that it was being "shut out" of imperial expansion by the British and French.

3. German hopes that the British and French would turn against each other in the Sudan are dashed by a British-French agreement on Africa in the
1890s, and the new alliance system of England-France-Russia accentuates German fears of "encirclement."

4. Germany twice used the threat of war over Morocco (in 1905 and in 1911) in an effort to split the French-British alliance, but in both cases this
failed. By 1912, the German government's inner-circle of leaders (the Emperor and his closest advisors) had decided that war was the only way that
Germany could spread its power in Africa and break its "encirclement" at the hands of the British-French-Russian alliance.

Study Questions:

Be prepared to write a short essay that explains some of the economic, cultural, and political causes of imperialism and that suggests why imperialism was
contributing to tensions between the great powers of Europe.


B) World War One

I. Causes usually discussed by historians

failure of diplomacy; nationalism (esp. in the Balkans); the arms race; imperialist competition; social imperialism; the zeitgeist (the "spirit of the
age"); bad decisions by national leaders

II. The breakdown of diplomacy

two alliance blocks in Europe by 1907: England-France-Russia vs Germany-Austria Hungary-Italy

tensions between Germany and the French-British over colonial expansion in Africa (see previous lecture)

tensions over the Balkans (decline of Ottoman Turkey's empire and ambitions of the Austrians--who in 1908 annexed Bosnia-Herzogovina--and
the Russians; rising nationalism of the Serbians)

three wars in the Balkans in 1912-1913 involved Serbia and other Balkan states, Austria and Turkey, but Serbia's ally Russia did not directly

28 June 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo (Bosnia)

Austria declared war on Serbia, Russia declared that it would defend Serbia and began to mobilize, Germany prepared to mobilize to support
Austria and declared war on Russia--this in turn drew France, England, then Italy and Turkey into the war. (Italy switched sides in 1916 and joined
the British alliance; the US joined the war in 1917 on the British side)

III. Imperialism and social imperialism as causes

Frustration of German imperialist ambitions in Africa had led the German leadership to decide that it was willing to fight for wider empire

1912 meetings of Kaiser Wilhelm and his closest advisors (including Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and industrialist Walter Rathenau) to discuss
Germany's aims in the next war

German aims: German control over "middle Europe"; German colonization of Eastern Europe and Russia; German control over "middle Africa";
expanded German influence in Asia and the Middle East

Social imperialism--war as a way of preventing revolution in Germany (fear of rising Social Democratic opposition)

IV. The War

Enthusiasm for war in Fall 1914

Germany (and all other combatants) had planned on a quick victory

German advances stopped in France; trench warfare on the Western front

Initial German and Austrian victories on the Eastern front vs Russia, which was not prepared for the war; by late 1915, trench warfare on Eastern

Ottomans enter war in late 1914; by late 1915, trench warfare on Southern front

New technologies for killing and the realities of trench warfare

1917--USA entered the war; rebellions in the French army; revolution in Russia and the near collapse of the Russian army; still no clear winner

Fall 1918--German military collapse, German military leadership lobbied for peace, vs. civilian officials (Rathenau) who wanted to continue
fighting. Austria knocked out of war in early November.

9 November 1918--revolution in Berlin overthrew the Kaiser, who fled to Holland. Germany declared a Republic. New government signed an
armistice on 11 November 1918. War over.

V. Domestic impacts of the war

Enormous economic and domestic dislocation (shortages, destruction, refugees, etc.)

Increased state intervention and planning in the economy to keep the war effort going (economic planning, state control over key industries,
state-union-ownership cooperation in all major combatants, and esp. in Germany)

Shifts in gender roles and (in the USA) impact on race relations

Death toll (approx. 10 million dead)

Cultural shock at level of violence and death undermined faith in progress and weakened faith in democracy

VI. Revolutions

1917 Russian revolutions (Tsar overthrown in March 1917; weak provisional government; Lenin and Bolsheviks [Communists] seize power in
November 1917 and held on to it to win a a 3-year Civil War [1918-1921]--see notes to next lecure)

1918 German revolution established a Republic, at first a Social Democratic-Liberal coalition

1918-1919, revolutions in Hungary and in Turkey

1919-1920, failed attempted Communist uprisings in Germany

VII. Break up of old empires

Austria-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman empires all broken up into several new countries

VII. The Peace Process

US government's position (President Wilson)

Paris Peace Conference of 1919

Treaty of Versailles (1919): German war guilt; German territorial loses; German colonies lost; limits placed on German military; German
required to pay reparations

Similar treaties for Austria and Turkey

Creation of the League of Nations