The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife represented a culmination of several concurrent forces, all of which led to the outbreak of World War. The concurrent forces that led to World War One can be loosely grouped under the following categories: nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. Within each of these categories are ample sub-categories that can testify to the extent of forces that shaped the pre-war conditions throughout not just Europe but the entire world. World War One was a total war for many reasons: it involved serious civilian casualties on a horrific scale for all parties. The Great War also brought to light the impact of globalization on the global economy and political enterprise. Nationalism, imperialism, and militarism all played a part in shaping participation in World War One; the effects of which continue to reverberate.
As Marshall (2001) points out, "Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy were all creations of the mid-nineteenth century," (vii). Prior to the nineteenth century, the city-state model ruled supreme. In Italy, the classic Renaissance economic powers like Genoa and Venice found themselves suddenly embracing a national identity based on some common cultural elements that might not have been recognized a century before: including language and religion. The same thing happened in the German-speaking parts of Europe. For this reason, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire found itself face-to-face with the Serbian nationalist rebels, the Germans took sides against those to which it could relate. Germany was itself a new nation, crafted in the modern model of the nation-state. Fresh and new, Germany had something to prove. It had also been rapidly industrializing, along with other countries that had colonial vassal lands abroad. Therefore, budding concepts of national identity and national pride coincided with both industrialization and colonization. Industrialization led to militarization: as the mass production of ammunitions became possible for the first time. In order to manufacture weapons on the scale that was needed to fight a massive military project like a world war, it was necessary to have access to a seemingly endless supply to natural resources. These natural resources were sometimes located in the regions that manufactured goods like guns. However, a large proportion of the munitions industry was dependent directly on areas in Africa for natural resources.
Nationalism took on different masks, depending on where it emerged. On the Eastern front, it was apparent that national identity was not yet fully formed. The United States had long had a national identity created in part by its opposition to the British Crown and successful secession in the American Revolution. Great Britain had a strong national identity, in part because of its success in the imperialistic enterprise. In fact, Great Britain led one of the most important trends of the nineteenth century: imperialism. The British Empire extended into regions as unlikely and far away as India and Africa. Other European nations followed suit, in order to take part in the wealth creation that was possible by using natural resources sourced abroad and using those to manufacture goods that could be sold on the global market.
For the Serbians and other Slavic nations, nationalism was more nebulous. Unlike Belgium, France, and Great Britain, Serbia and Bosnia did not have colonies abroad. They did not have empires. Quite the contrary, the Slavic peoples were a set of diverse peoples who were ruled over by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As an Empire, Austria-Hungary represented a temporary political alliance that existed in large part to plunder the Balkans and commit various other land and resource grabs. These land grabs were possible because of the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire. Even if the Ottomans were the cause of their own demise ultimately, the effects of the dismantling of this centuries-old imperialist entity were far-reaching and included the outbreak of the First World War. At this time, Russia could not be called an imperialist entity, although nationalism was starting to hold sway there too. What made Russia different was that it had emerged from the feudal model relatively late compared with its Western European counterparts. Because it dismantled feudalism late, Russia had not yet become a fully industrialized nation. Urbanization had long been a trend in Great Britain and the United States, as well as Germany. In Russia, though, the great majority of people remained peasants and poor workers. This unique situation and demographic would pave the way for the Russian Revolution.
When the Serbians revolted against the Austro-Hungarian Empire by committing assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it was time for Russia to assert its national identity. Russia easily sided with the Serbians. A large part of the reason why Russia sided with the Serbians was the system of formal treaties or alliances that had formed between different European powers in the nineteenth century. These alliances helped to maintain a balance of power and were highly strategic. Their importance came to light at the time Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. At the time of the assassination, Serbia had small but meaningful imperialistic goals of its own: a form of pan-Slavism that dominated the Serbian national identity. Bosnia and Herzegovina were under Austrian control since 1878, formally annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1908. The Serbs sought to take over the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina and liberate these Slavic places from Austro-Hungarian rule. Prior to that, the Balkan countries had long been under the yoke of Ottoman rule. Russia supported the Serbian cause, and "took the form of military mobilization along its entire western frontier," (Heyman, 1997, p. 9).
Other alliances led to the all-out breakout of war. Germany easily took sides with its ally, Austria-Hungary, and declared war on Russia and then on France. France was implicated because France was allied with Russia. When Germany invaded France via Belgium, the United Kingdom had to get involved because the United Kingdom and Belgium were allied. Even Japan was involved, because Japan had pledged to be on the side of the United Kingdom.
The United States was no part of any alliance but its own: that alliance was economic and not political or strategically militaristic. Indeed, the United States had a strict policy of isolationism and neutrality that was almost sacrosanct. When the Germans sank the British ship Lusitania, the United States refused to join forces with the British in spite of their tight social, cultural, and economic ties. The British were offended at the American stance and tried to get the Americans involved. However, the only way to get the Americans to engage was to speak to their pocketbooks. Wilson was initially against joining the war but also understood that "if the allies lost it could be damaging to the United States economy," (Bosco & Bosco, 2003, p. 43). By the time Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, the United States was the biggest economic power in the world because of its industrial backbone. As Bosco & Bosco (2003) point out, the allied countries during the war all depended on American goods -- mostly military goods. American steel was huge; the American had been selling steel and steel-based munitions products to the British long before Wilson joined the war effort formally.
In other words, America was already in the war from a financial standpoint. Militarism grew exponentially because of key inventions like the machine gun, which were dependent on American munitions manufacturing. Yet the Germans were also engaged in rapid industrialization and militarization. The modern machine gun was the "most murderously efficient of all WWI weaponry" and "the emblematic military invention of the age" (Marshall, 2001, viii).
Because several European countries were purchasing American goods with money borrowed from American banks, the financial debts incurred would lead to the creation of the American superpower that lasted throughout the 20th century (Bosco & Bosco, 2003). This upset balances of power throughout the century…