Who started WW One?

Underlying Causes versus Immediate Causes

The Timeline concentrates on the immediate causes of the war.

Most books about the origins of World War One examine the underlying or long term causes; the rival alliances*, the armaments race, domestic issues, cultural trends, and overseas and economic competition, even if they have a chapter on the July Crisis. See Book Store.

* The Triple Entente (The Franco-Russian Alliance and Britain) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy)

This is not to say that underlying causes are more important than immediate causes. One type works with the other. If there are no immediate causes the underlying or long term issues don’t cause anything, they remain issues which can change or eventually fade away!

Equally, a political misjudgement, a foolhardy decision, might not have such disastrous consequences without the there being a larger issue.

We think the immediate causes bring out more clearly the human factors; ignorance, incompetence, miscalculation, and even bad organisation. And, these were greatly present in July 1914.

And, paradoxically, the Timeline with its concentration on immediate causes is a useful tool for a better understanding of long term causes. It draws attention to the occasions when the underlying causes were at their greatest relevance.

Why were the Austro-Hungarians so overwhelmingly and so quickly in favour of attacking and dismembering Serbia? What were the German leaders hoping for when they gave their unqualified support to Austria-Hungary on the 5 July? Why on the 24/25 July was Russia so quick to take military steps? Why did the French support them? Did the British really have to delay until the 2 August when Belgium was threatened to make up their mind?

Many of the [More] links go into these issues.