THE WAY INTO THE WORLD WAR
The political tensions immediately before the First World War had their roots in the late 19th century. The era of imperialism began in the 1880s with the struggle for overseas colonies, known as the “Scramble for Africa”. All of the major European powers wanted to be conquered, and all of them, except Austria-Hungary, waged war to extend their property rights to other continents. At the same time, there was a break with the national ideas and liberal traditions of the 19th century within industrial societies. The desire for annexation aroused envy and aggressive nationalism between the states; especially in the German Reich, which was surrounded by enemies and believed to have been cheated of the colonies that were supposedly due to it.
The risky German foreign policy under Wilhelm II, who, especially after Bismarck’s dismissal, repeatedly snubbed the neighboring powers and openly expressed the ambitious plan to establish a “strong German fleet” (83.6), alarmed the European states. The two Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911 and the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria in the summer of 1908 contributed to the rest. Both the allies Great Britain, France and Russia as well as the Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary prepared for armed conflicts, also by developing new types of weapon systems. At the same time – with the introduction of general conscription – the armed forces of the continental European powers grew into armies of millions.
For the first time, the First World War clearly showed the dark side of modernity and progress. Not armies but whole peoples fought one another. The development of the means of communication and new forms of propaganda made it possible for the warring forces to mobilize entire countries within days. At the same time, the military had new weapons of mass destruction such as machine guns and poison gas grenades; Aircraft were used for aerial reconnaissance and to locate the enemy. About ten million people from 32 participating states were the victims of this war.
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