Great War: Nationalism, Imperialism, Militarism

Table of Contents


Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot and killed on June 28, 1914, and this act was the ultimate trigger that started World War I. However, nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in Eastern Europe and Germany-speaking countries were the main contributing factors to the war. Pan-Slavism was on the rise in Eastern Europe, and especially in Serbia and Austria-Hungary. This paper addresses the role of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism as contributing factors to the start of World War I. It also discusses different aspects of the US in the war together with the Treaty of Versailles.

Nationalism, Imperialism, and Militarism

Germans had exceeding faith in their military power, and they wanted to start a war to test it. Similarly, Russia had the same nationalism mentality, and the tsar made the outrageous claim that God had sanctioned his presidency, and thus with over 1.5 million military personnel, he would easily win any war and extend his rule to most parts of Europe (Neiberg, 2014). With the support of Russians, Serbia started to expand its imperialism to Bosnia, which was under the territory of Austria-Hungary, having annexed it in 1908 (Avery, 2014).

In response, Austria-Hungary, with unparalleled support from Germany, rose to protect Bosnia from the Serbian interests. Consequently, when Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian, shot the Archduke of Austria, the already volatile situation culminated into World War I as Austria-Hungary retaliated to the killing of Franz Ferdinand.

Contribution of the Alliance System to the War Outbreak

Before the war, Russia had partnered with France to build a railway line extending to East Prussia, and this alliance angered Germany, which saw it as a threat to its presence in the region. Therefore, Germany allied with Austria-Hungary to ensure that it was positioned strategically to counter any threats from Russia and France. Consequently, Austria-Hungary was ready for any form of confrontation with Serbia, its long-term adversary. Serbia was rambunctious, and the call to reclaim Bosnia from Austria-Hungary was motivated by the guaranteed support from Russia (Avery, 2014). Therefore, the alliance system between these countries created an enabling environment for the war to break out.

The US in World War I

The United States remained neutral during the early stages of the war due to economic and political reasons. Regarding politics, President Wilson sought to maintain the US foreign policy of not taking sides between warring sides. Additionally, President Wilson did not want to risk economic depression by getting into a war that was being fought mainly in Eastern Europe. Besides, the US seized the business opportunity to supply weaponry to the countries involved in the war for profit. According to Finney (2017), the US sold weapons worth close to $1.3 billion by 1917. Therefore, the US remained neutral mainly for profiteering and policy reasons. However, ethnicity also played a significant role in the neutrality stand.

By the time the war was breaking out in 1914, the US was experiencing an influx of immigrants, with close to 3 million of them settling in the country in the first decade of the 20th Century (Finney, 2017). Therefore, the ethnic diversity of the country would have sparked internal chaos if the country had taken sides at the early stages of the war. The majority of the immigrants had come from the warring sides, and thus supporting one side would have easily caused ethnic clashes in the country. Nevertheless, the US was ultimately drawn into the war.

Germany killed thousands of American citizens on different occasions between 1915 and 1917, and the US was becoming intolerant of such acts of aggression. In May 1915, 128 Americans aboard a British ocean liner were killed by Germany (Finney, 2017). The following year, 27 Americans lost their lives when Germany torpedoed an Italian ocean liner. Ultimately, in 1917, Germany targeted and destroyed several American liners, thus forcing the US to join the war on April 6, the same year. The US contributed to the war by sending 14,000 troops to France on June 26, 1917, to support the Allies. This infusion of troops advanced the Allies’ military power. Thus Germany was defeated, and the war ended on November 11, 1918, only 15 months after the involvement of the US.

Treaty of Versailles

On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end the war. However, this treaty failed due to several reasons, and in 1935, Hitler rejected it. First, Germany was forced to sign the treaty. Second, France differed with the US and Britain on how to enforce it, and these factors led to the failure of the treaty. During the war, President Wilson created the famous 14 points on how to end the conflict together with the formation of the League of Nations.

However, the 14 points were rejected, and the US declined to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or join the League of Nations (Thorntveit, 2011). Consequently, the role of the US in the world during the 1920s and 1930s was minimal as it came out as a weak nation to command international politics.


Nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in Europe contributed significantly to the start of World War I. Germany and Russia supported Austria-Hungary and Serbia, respectively, and after Archduke Franz was killed, World War I broke out due to the volatile environment in the Balkans. Initially, the US remained neutral in the war for profit and policy reasons. However, in 1918, the US entered the war after numerous aggression acts by Germany. The Treaty of Versailles ultimately failed, and the influence of the US in world politics during the 1920s and 1930s was minimal due to the actions of President Wilson.


Avery, J. S. (2014). Lessons from World War I. Cadmus, 2(2), 126-141.

Finney, P. (2017). Politics and technologies of authenticity: The Second World War at the close of living memory. Rethinking History, 21(2), 154-170.

Neiberg, M. (2014). The crisis of 1914 and the road to war. The História, 66, 11-27.

Thorntveit, T. (2011). The fable of the Fourteen Points: Woodrow Wilson and national self-determination. Diplomatic History, 35(3), 445-481.

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