Writing an Essay on an Underlying Cause of World War I

Determining and analyzing the cause of any particular historical event, especially such a complex event like a war, is a highly challenging task, even for a professional historian. On top of that, World War One is still one of the most contentious of events. After the war, which was unprecedentedly destructive, nobody seemed to know exactly what it was all about. Even now there is no broad consensus among historians. For this reason, it can be very intimidated for a student to write about the causes of World War One. However, there’s actually a bright side to this subject. Since there is no consensus, there can be no one “right answer.” As long as you bring facts to support your case, you can put together a successful paper on the underlying cause.

The best papers are those that have a strong thesis. In this case the thesis is the easy part. It will simply take the form of “X was the primary cause of World War One.” However, you should know the difference between types of causality. In one sense, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand caused World War One, since it is universally agreed that that is the inciting event, but that is not the kind of cause you’re looking for. It’s more of a how the war got started than a why. However, if you look at the context of the assassination, which is the annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary and what became known as the “Bosnian Crisis,” you have a significant thesis to be argued. It’s impossible to overrate the importance of good research.

Here’s a quick guide to the causal factors of World War One:

  1. The growth of nationalism across Europe
  2. Unresolved territorial disputes
  3. A complex alliance system between states, (the Germany-Austria “Dual Alliance,” the Franco-Russian alliance, and England and France’s “Entente Cordiale”) which entailed commitments that made it difficult to avoid war.
  4. A naval arms race between Germany and England
  5. Imperial rivalry between European states, competing for colonies
  6. The decline of the Ottoman Empire left a power vacuum
  7. The conventional wisdom of military strategy emphasized offensive attack
  8. There was a failure of diplomacy among warring states, illustrated best by Germany’s “Schlieffen Plan”
  9. The growth of militarism, especially Germany’s militaristic ideology
  10. Economic and trade rivalries