Europe was dominated in 1914 by seven great powers: France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and Italy. Th e first five went to war in the space of a week, the last two following in three and ten months respectively. Each followed a different path into the conflict, driven by enemies ancient and new, threats real and perceived, and ambitions from greedy to grandiose.
OLD EUROPE RESTORED
The conflagration came after a century of relative peace on the continent, “relative” compared only to the excesses that had gone before. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed horrific wars of religion alongside the usual dynastic struggles, culminating in the wholesale massacre and regional devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). Thereafter, and partly in reaction to the destruction, European monarchs pursued “limited” wars aimed at internal consolidation of their power and territorial aggrandizement at the expense of their neighbors. A natural balance of power was maintained as none—the United Kingdom in particular—would suffer any other to gain continental hegemony.
Origins of World War I: The Great War was both inevitable and eminently avoidable, but the mesh of ambition and perceived threats overcame every effort to stave off hostilities. This work examines those interests and the world through British, French, German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Italian, and Ottoman eyes, and how what should have been yet another local dispute in the Balkans dragged the continent into war.