Essay on World War I: Nationalism, Imperialism and Militarism

Published: 2021-08-11
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University of California, Santa Barbara
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World War I began in 1914 and ended in 1918. Its occurrence was triggered and influenced by three factors, namely nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. This was due to the fact that the huge armies in the different countries were a threat to other countries which had to take measures in the form of forming forceful alliances so as to protect their regions, and this began brewing conflict locally that soon became global and resulted in the First World War. Prior to this, the death of the Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife set the series of events that climaxed the preparations for the war. Analyzing these forces provides insight into how each force led to World War I.

Nationalism was the belief that a particular country was supreme in comparison to other countries in terms of their culture, military strength and economic achievements (Alpha History, N.d.). This was very common in countries in Europe during the twentieth century. Based on nationalism, citizens had the belief that in the event that they went to war with other nations, they had enough military strength to be victorious at war. Constant colonial wars also made Germany, England and France used to war. These countries believed that they had several advantages over other nations, ones which gave them a strategic advantage over other countries. In the case of Britain, the massive economic growth and naval power gave them an advantage, while France believed in their defenses that were placed along the eastern boundary that could fight off the Germans. The Germans looked to their expansion in weaponry, their growing fleet of submarines and battleship and their Prussian military that was efficient and the Schlieffen Plan that was strategically for winning a war against the French (Alpha History, N.d.). Based on the military preparedness of these countries, it can be established that they were constantly preparing for war, which they later used to stir up trouble just so that they could demonstrate their superiority at war. Nationalism resulted in the delusion that these nations were unconquerable as it provided a false understanding of war, which is evident in their strategic plans regarding how they would win the war. The belief that they would win at war despite failures as a result of various factors resulted in Imperialism.

The rise of Pan-Slavism in Eastern Europe was aimed to unite the Slavic people, seeing as numerous nations were embracing nationalism. Slav nationalism in Balkans caused policymakers in Russia to opt to go to battle with Austria-Hungary as they sought to claim Serbia to expand their region. Here, it can be established that nationalism influenced countries to seek to expand their territories, and this meant having to go to war with each other. Prior to this war, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Serbia and this prompted the Austria to go to war with Serbia to revenge the death of their heir to the throne. It is speculated that Serbia was beginning to gain roots in the concept of nationalism and thus sought the help of Russia to win the war that would be launched on them by Austria.

German-speaking states also took part in nationalism after the unification of their territories, and they were bound by Pan-Germanism (Alpha history, N.d.). They believed in the strength of military forces, and had an obsession with imperialism, to expand their territories. They felt that the British were their enemies towards expansion, and this paranoia is the reason they declared war against Britain while urging their people to their superiority in the regions. As a result, Germany got into an arms race with Britain to try and build an army that was both large and fully equipped. However, the issue of imperialism caused tension between the two countries.

Imperialism resulted in the formation of alliances and several countries formed alliances between 1879 and 1914. This is because in trying to gain colonies in Africa, an international conference was held and the German Kaiser at the time was degraded at the conference since he was not allowed to talk. In addition, France was allowed to take control of Morocco, which was initially under the rule of the Germans. Looking at this sequence of events, the Kaiser was justified to organize a war, to revenge against the British and French for the humiliation that he faced. Suggestively, it can be assumed that this increased the rift between the Germany and the two countries, a factor which resulted in Germany seeking military help from other countries.

The alliances were formed because major countries needed allies to provide military support that would be useful during the declaration of war (, N.d.). Major Powers formed allies, which would later be divided into two opposing sides, the Triple Alliance that constituted of Italy, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, and the Triple Entente that constituted of France, Britain, and Russia. Looking at how these alliances were formed, it is evident that the Britain sought to become allies with countries that it felt had the superior military training to assure them of victory in battle. On the other hand, Germany formed alliances with Italy and Austria-Hungary to prevent Italy from forming an alliance with Russia. The strong ethnic ties between the countries can be said to have majorly influenced the dual alliance between Austria-Hungary and Germany since they shared their borders and both majorly spoke German. Thus every state had to form an alliance with the state, which assured them of strategic advantage over other nations in the war.

From the agreements signed, if one of the allies declared war, then the other allies had no option but to provide military and naval support. When Russia declared that it would support Serbia, Austria sought Germany who wanted Russia to stay out of the war (, N.d.). Their refusal prompted Germany to declare war on them, and Russia sought the help of France and was later joined by Britain after Germany disrupted Belgiums neutrality.

Upon the break out of the war, the United States, with the guidance of President Woodrow Wilson chose to retain its neutrality. The US planned to maintain its long-running foreign policy by opting not to become entangled in any alliances (Historian Apprentice, N.d.). Owing to the Presidents declaration, it is evident that he wanted to maintain trade ties to ensure and to ensure that America was not affected by the consequences of the war. However, since citizens of US also had familial relations, it is evident that their neutrality would not be helpful to any of the sides, and this is how ethnicity resulted in the US joining the war.

Certain events also influenced the entry of US to the war. The invasion of Belgium by Germany and the death of numerous innocent individuals, among other atrocities, surprised the Americans (, N.d.). They felt anger towards the Germans, despite other propaganda being concerned with Britain. Another event was the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine without warning the civilians, an action which killed 128 Americans and angered President Woodrow. America threatened to go to war with Germany, but seeing as they were fighting numerous European allies, they sent an apology and promised not to sink any more ships. The Americans did not like the fact that the British blockade threatened to starve the Germans (, N.d.). This also reduced the trade between US and Germany by over 90 percent. They were also astounded by the British brutality in Ireland. The use of crude weapons and poisonous gas made the war a bloodbath. Another event was the Zimmerman telegram from Germany to the US threatening that Mexico would regain their territory if the US planned to go to war with Germany. Since Britain intercepted the letter and sent it the US, the press in the US mobilized US citizens. After the American elections, the US joined the war in 1917 since it could no longer remain neutral.

Upon entry into the war, US sent the American Expeditionary Force to lead the Western Front by providing warfare divisions and guiding operations against Germany. The participation of the US was very minimal, and this could be attributed to the fact that they lacked experience in Industrial warfare. Germany felt overpowered and decided to surrender in 1918. The nations agreed to end the war after the signing of an armistice agreement.

Meanwhile, President Woodrow went to France to propose the Treaty of Versailles to improve the international relations after the war. He had outlined a number of points that foresaw his vision for global peace. He also gave a proposal for the formation of an international organization that would consist of representatives from all parts of the world and would act as the mediator for any conflicts to prevent another world war. However, European countries needed vengeance in place of peace and this led to the failure of the treaty (US History, N.d.). This failure can be linked to the fact that Woodrow was trying to impose his will on other countries. Another cause for the failure was the fact that Americans who had families in Germany felt that Germany was being treated cruelly and could not support the treaty. Failure of Woodrow to consider all factors pertaining to peace, including the involvement of Hungary, Austria and Germany were among the reasons for the failure of this treaty. Woodrows failing health also reduced the appeal of the treaty. Numerous criticism of the treaty resulted in its rejection.

Despite the rejection of the treaty, Woodrows proposal to form a League of Nations was approved although other nations felt like US would impose economic impediments on them to break foreign relations (US History, N.d.). The League was however accepted since it would minimize the power of the US government in determining affairs of other countries. It is however hypocritical that the US did not join the League of Nations, but set the framework for World War II.


Alpha History. (N.d.). Nationalism as a Cause of World War I. Retrieved from (N.d.). The Causes of World War One. Retrieved from

Historian Apprentice. (N.d.). Why Did the United States Stay Neutral in 1914 but decide to enter the First World War in 1917? Retrieved from (N.d.). 5 Reasons for the US Entry into World War I. Retrieved from

US History. (N.d.) 45d. The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Retrieved from

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