World War I was the international conflict that started in the summer of 1914. Even though World War I was not as destructive as the consequent World War II, the importance of the first global conflict cannot be underestimated. The unexpected decision of Germany to attack Russia revealed that the distribution of international influence did not satisfy the expectations of some leaders. Moreover, the scope of this first international conflict was global and it revealed that the threat of war was not hypothetical but real. Finally, the World War I pointed out that the concept of power was relative and new leaders may emerge with the use of power and coercion.
It is important to add that World War I consisted of two wars, not one as believed by most people. Both wars started separately; however, they were intertwined. The first war was started by the Hapsburg Empire while the second one by the German Empire. These two empires were historical rivals even though the wars bounded them by mutual need. Interestingly, in both wars, the decision to start the war was made by a small group of people at the top while their nations were not even aware of the intentions of their leaders.
Fromkin suggested that World War I was about power or “relative ranking among the great European powers that at the time ruled most of the world” (p. 295). Austria and Germany, the initiators of the wars, believed that the distribution of power in Europe was not affair and that their powers were on the way down. As the result, they started wars with the hope to stay where they were. While the war on Serbia by Austria was a minor episode in history of Europe; however, it gave Germans an incentive or platform to justify their decision to start the war on Russia. In other words, Germans referred to the Balkan conflict in order to impose the belief that World War I emerged from Austria’s war on Serbia.
Initially, World War I was focused on the redistribution of power in Europe. The war itself was the attempt by Germans to gain more power and establish their supremacy in the region. “Whether Germany or Russia should control Europe, and whether Europe should continue to rule Africa and much of Asia, were issues that overlapped with rival ideologies: communism, fascism, Nazism, liberal democracy and others” (Fromkin, p. 296). The Germans sought political and economic power while the emerging strength of Russia and well-established domination of Britain and France were the direct obstacles to the realization of Germans’ plans.
The importance of World War I was not fully realized until the 1990s when it became clear that people need to rule themselves rather than being ruled by foreigners. The specific meaning was attached to World War I from the very beginning of the conflict. The decision was purposeful while the war was not. Germans initiated the war to decide on the international politics questions and to achieve mastery over Europe and the world. Nevertheless, the Germans did not expect the resistance of other nations. As the result, the war was lost by Germans while the significance of the conflicts itself suggested that this attempt to gain power through military interventions was not the last and undoubtedly was not to become the last conflict in history of humankind.
The Pre-War Times
To explore the significance of World War I, it is vital to look into the pre-war times to find out the true intentions of the key players. Fromkin argued that World War I was predictable as “practically limitless power was the new thing that made almost all else possible” (p. 18). The Europe in the 1990s was characterized by stable economic growth of some countries that ensured their growth at the expense of other countries. Thus, the disadvantaged countries felt the need to reestablish their position on the political map of Europe.
Moreover, World War I was the first international conflict to test the scientific advances in weapons. The European nations did not have peaceful and civilized relationships with each other. The science was used a tool to make armies more destructive and effective in brining the desired results. Thus, Europe was building up toward a “giant smashup” (Fromkin, p. 19). The historians agree that the war could not be avoided even though it involved the industrial societies.
At the heart of the first international conflict was the idea that European states have accumulated explosive power with the help of the science concentrated on mass destruction. The war economy has been of impressive scale but it did not create security for the people as well as for the government. Moreover, “a technological breakthrough such as Britain’s development of the Dreadnought, rendering all existing battleships obsolete, not merely forced a country to write off its previous efforts and investments, but risked leaving it naked before its enemies during the years required to catch up” (Fromkin, p. 30). This leads to the assumption that the World War I marked the beginning of the military technology research and development. Since the World War I, the success of international conflicts has been determined with the advanced weapons and technological might.
Even though there was no evident threat for the war in the early 1900s, the European states adjusted their military manpower requirements including regular army, conscripts, and reserves, to be able to protect themselves in the case of attack. Nevertheless, the army buildup did not create security for the Europeans. On the contrary, it resulted in the arms race and increasing fears. It is important to add that the Great Powers (including Russia) were open societies and it gave their enemies an opportunity to analyze the allocation of national funds and assess the effectiveness of military investment.
Ironically, the openness of the countries empowered enemies with the most effective weapon – knowledge about the schedules and timetables for armaments production. Thus, enemies had the unique opportunity to determine the best time for the attack when the target was not equipped to respond to the invasion. Therefore, the World War I showed that openness of the country is not always beneficial as it creates opportunities for the enemies to abuse the available information for their own purposes.
Moreover, the accelerated arms race made the conflict inevitable. The arms race itself was similar to the rehearsal of the war itself, as if introducing military intervention. Fear of one another accompanied with the arms race pushed the European states into war. Therefore, the World War I was significant in the respect it exemplified the destructive impact of the arms race and war preparation on the actual war outbreak.
In other words, the preparation for the war (or against the threat of military invasion) resulted in the outbreak of the war. Fromkin suggests that in addition to the arms race and the fear of each other, it is important to mention the “inborn aggression, pent up during the unnaturally long four decades of peace among the Great powers”, the maneuvering of the governments toward war “in order to distract attention from domestic problems that looked to be insoluble” (p. 31). Whatever the reason was, the outcome was the war.
Germany – Aggressor
While Germany lost World War I, the Germans’ experience in creating the dedicated army has become the model for other countries. This unintended significance of World War I is mostly neglected by the researchers and historians; however, the closer look at the army training reveals that the German commanders were exceptionally talented. For example, count von Schlieffeu, the chief of the general staff, was appointed to this high position despite of his lack of combat experience.
His approach to training soldiers resembled the university education as he “put them to work testing and reworking deployment plans annually in the light of what was learned in frequent war games and in horseback rides to study the terrains” (Fromkin, p. 33). Thus, the German soldiers were well-trained and their skills were continuously enhanced. In addition, Schlieffeu prepared 49 strategic plans for the European war that was coming (16 plans against France, 14 against Russia, and 19 against the whole Europe). Ironically, at the times of the impressive openness, the European states failed to gain information about the preparation for war going on in Germany.
It is vital to mention that World War I was thoroughly prepared by the Germans. However, the strategies were rather ineffective due to Germany’s failure in the war. Nevertheless, the Germans considered diverse options of their actions. In particular, it was believed that dealing with Russia was impractical as they could retreat into the interior of their country. On the other side, the Germans did not believe in the strength of Russian military capabilities.
Thus, the experience of Germany in World War I reveals that the strength of the enemy should never be neglected. While an impressive number of strategic plans have been developed, none of them was truly effective for Germany. Therefore, the experience of Germany suggests that the success of the war depends on thorough research and understanding of the ideology of the enemy.
Historically, international conflicts and wars were based on ambitions of a leader. The World War I was unique in this regard as it was expected by states in Europe even though their expectations have never been expressed. In particular, Fromkin suggests that “in the opening years of the twentieth century, Europeans glorified violence, and certain groups among them, at least, felt a need for radical change” (p. 40).
In other words, the war was sought by European society as ideology of that time demanded the aggressive campaigns against the neighbors. Fostered with the technological, industrial, and scientific revolution, the economic growth of the European states created pressure on Germany, the country in the center of the continent, to make strategic arrangements to bring Europe into the war for or against it. It indicates that the war itself rather than victory or domination was sought by the Germans. In such a case, the question is why the war was sought by the Germans? What would be the gains for the defeated state?
Fromkin, David. Europe’s Last Summer. Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York.