Can Germany, as Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles States, Be Held Solely Accountable for the Outbreak of the First World War?

Published: 2021-06-29 04:32:17
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Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, the major peace accord that ended the horrors of the First World War, states that 'The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies'. This Article was imposed on Germany, it was 'nothing less then (a) diktat (dictated peace without negotiation)' . It attributes the causes of the "Great War", a war that resulted in 10 million deaths and injuries to a further 20 million , solely to the aggression of Germany and its allies. Understanding the causes of this major conflagration is important because, among other key outcomes of the War, were 'the rise of fascism and Nazism ; certainly, Adolf Hitler, who fought and indeed was wounded in the War, drew a number of his philosophies on the role of the state and his political support from the aftermath of the War. A second outcome was the post-war tension between Germany and France which certainly contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War and the horrific impact of that war . Accordingly, this essay analyses the causes of the First World War. It contends that a series of inter-related factors, including the failure of diplomacy, the rise of nationalism, imperialistic demands and the convoluted alliance system brought all the then major empires of the world and their allies into this global conflict.

One of the key causes of the First World War, indeed the spark that lit the tinderbox which was Europe, was the rise of nationalism. Nationalism can be defined as a strong feeling of support for one's nation: nationalists believe that the needs of their nation are 'far more important than the needs of other nations '. Nationalistic fervour in Europe reached fever pitch at the end of the 19th century. 'The armies of the early twentieth century were the most tangible embodiment of the nation, recruited from the entire population, officered largely by its elite, and celebrated as the instrument of national protection, power, and public display' . Nationalism had often created tension among the nations of Europe. For example, at the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the principle of nationalism was ignored in favour of preserving peace. Germany and Italy were left as divided states but, subsequently, strong nationalistic movements and revolutions led to the unification of Italy in 1861 and that of Germany in 1871. Similarly, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 France was left seething at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, and revenge became a driving factor in its international affairs. The nationalistic tension directly linked to the outbreak of the first truly global conflict existed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, particularly in the Balkans, an area compromised of many conflicting national groups. Austria-Hungary had long wanted to crush the Serbian populace into subservience, and one ultimate act of nationalistic fervour granted them their chance. The Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the nationalistic Serbian based organisation 'The Black Hand'. With the backing of Germany, Austria declared War on Serbia on the 28th of July 1914. It was the shot that echoed around the world, resulting in the bloodiest war the world has ever seen to this very day.

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