Militarism as a cause of World War I Facts & Worksheets

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    • The concept of militarism
    • Its origin in Europe
    • Military modernisation of major superpowers and weapons during the First World War

    Key Facts And Information

    Let us know more about the concept of militarism!

    • Militarism is a concept where military personnel and ideas are incorporated into a civilian government. It is also the belief that military power is integral to national strength.
    • According to Alfred Vagts, a German historian who served in World War I, “Domination of the military man over the civilian, an undue preponderance of military demands and an emphasis on military considerations.”
    • Due to the effect of growing nationalism, European governments increased military spending purchasing new weaponry and increasing the size of armies and navies.

    Origin of European Militarism

    • European militarism is thought to have originated from the northern German kingdom of Prussia. Germany’s government and armed forces were designed on the Prussian model and many German generals and politicians were landowning Prussian nobles, also known as Junkers.
    • Prussia was the most powerful German state prior to the unification of Germany in 1871 as Field Marshal von Moltke had reformed and modernised its army in the 1850s.
    • New strategies and improved training for its officers were implemented under von Moltke’s leadership. He also introduced advanced weaponry and a more efficient means of command and communication. France’s massive defeat in 1871 by this army was a testament to its strength and efficiency, solidifying its status as the most formidable army in Europe.
    • Subsequently, Germany unified in allowing Prussian militarism and German nationalism to become closely intertwined. Prussian commanders and their methodologies became the core of the new German imperial army.
    • German unification gave birth to the Second Reich. The new German nation was headed by Kaiser Wilhelm I who acted as the supreme commander of the army. His military council and advisers were mostly composed of Junker aristocrats and officers.
    • As a result, Prussian military men became the centre of the new German imperial army. The Reichstag, composed of elected civilian parliament, had no say in the government.
    • In other parts of Europe, militarism looked different but it was still an important political and cultural force. In Britain, for example, militarism played an integral part in maintaining the nation’s imperial and trade interests, though more subdued than its German counterpart. Britain’s pride was the Royal Navy, which was, by far, the world’s largest naval force.
    • It helped protect shipping, trade routes, and colonial ports. Order was kept, and imperial policies were implemented by British land forces in British colonies that included India, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
    • British attitudes to the military underwent a transformation in the 19th century. Being a part of the British forces was depicted as a noble vocation and a selfless act of duty to one’s country.
    • Just like in Germany, British soldiers were glorified and romanticised, both through the media and popular culture. This went against Britain’s initial thinking in the 18th century when they considered armies and navies an unnecessary evil.
    • The ranks had been filled with the dregs of the lower class and most of their officers had not received sufficient training. This praise lauded on the soldiers was epitomised by Tennyson’s 1854 poem The Charge of the Light Brigade and was also reflected in popular novels about wars, both real and imagined.

    Military Modernisation

    • Military victories, whether in colonial wars or major conflicts like the Crimean War (1853-56) or the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), only served to increase the effect that militarism had and intensify nationalism.
    • Conversely, military defeats like Russia losing to Japan in 1905 and the costly victory of Britain in the Boer War (1899-1902) exposed problems of militarism and heightened calls for military reform and decreased spending.
    • Virtually every major European nation was involved in some form of military rejuvenation in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
    • In Germany, the newly crowned Kaiser Wilhelm II fully endorsed military expansion and modernisation as he claimed to retain his country’s “place in the sun.”
    • Public interest and the press drove the arms race in Britain as the monarchy took a back seat. In 1884, W. T. Stead, a prominent journalist, published a series of articles suggesting that Britain was unprepared for war, particularly its navy.
    • This caused pressure groups like the British Navy League to voice their concerns and press for more ships and personnel.
    • By the early 1900s, the Navy League and the press were calling on the government to commission more battleships. There was even a song composed, called “We want eight and we won’t wait!” to drive this point home.
    • This pressure, coupled with other factors, caused European military expenditure between 1900 and 1914 to sky-rocket.
    • The combined military expenditure of the six great powers totalled 94 million pounds in 1870 but it had increased by over four times to 398 million pounds by 1914.
    • Germany’s expenditure during this period increased by over 73 percent, compared to France’s 10 percent and Britain’s 13 percent.
    • Russia’s embarrassing defeat by the Japanese (1905) prompted the tsar to order massive changes in the form of a rearmament programme, causing Russian defence spending to increase by more than 33 percent. Around 45 percent of Russian government spending was allocated to the armed forces by 1910 with only five percent allocated to education.
    • Every major European power apart from Britain had introduced or increased conscription to expand their armies.
    • This was mostly achieved by youth being forced to join the army. Germany added 170,000 full-time soldiers to its army in 1913-14, which in turn increased the size of its navy - the construction of 17 new vessels was ordered in 1898.
    • Berlin was also exemplary in the construction of military submarines (U-boats) and by 1914 the German navy had 29 operational submarines. The British were highly suspicious of this and responded by adding 29 new ships to the Royal Navy.
    • There were changes in the quality and quantity of military weapons and equipment. After analysis of the Crimean War and other 19th century conflicts, military industrialists developed hundreds of improvements and rushed to patent them.
    • Perhaps the most notable improvements were the calibre, range, and accuracy and portability of heavy artillery and weapons. During the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), a type of heavy artillery was invented that could fire up to 2,500 metres and by early 1900, it had been further improved. The invention of explosive shells was also significant.
    • They had greater killing power as they would explode wherever they landed. These inventions caused artillery attacks to become standard practise along the Western Front during World War I.
    • Barbed wire, an invention of the 1860s, was also embraced by military strategists as it prevented enemies from getting past a defensive line.
    • First developed in 1881, overtime machine guns became smaller, lighter, more accurate, more reliable, and faster with some capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute. Small firearms also improved during this period. The effective range of a rifle in the 1860s was only about 400 metres.

    Weapons of WWI

    • During WWI, all nations used rifles as firearms. These included Lee-Enfield .303, Mannlicher-Carcano M1891, 6.5 mm, Mosin-Nagant M1891 7.62, Springfield 1903 .30-06, Steyr-Mannlicher M95, mauser M98G 7.92 mm and Mauser M1877 7.65 mm.
    • Machine guns based on Hiram Maxim’s 1884 design were also Usually they can sustain up to 450 to 600 rounds per minute. In time, machine guns replaced rifles.
    • In 1915, war history recorded the use of flamethrowers by the Germans at Malancourt, Verdun. Nitrogen pressure was used to spray fuel oil and ignite, producing fire.
    • In 1915, the British introduced the Stokes mortar design that could fire up to 22 three-inch shells per minute, which can reach 1,200 yards. Meanwhile, the Germans developed min thrower with 10-inch barrel firing shells of metal balls.
    • Gas attack during WWI was first fired by the German at the battle in the Ypres area. Cylinders with chlorine gas were used, which attacked the eyes and respiratory system of the enemy. Mustard gas, which had effects on the skin soon followed.
    • Land battleship was materialized by the British with the development of tanks. Little Willie was the first British tank to enter the war. France and Germany soon developed their own.
    • The First World War also witnessed the air war of long planes armed with machine guns. Aircrafts in lightweight designs were soon replaced with multi-engine bombers. Long-range operations like the bombing of London were carried out by aircrafts.
    • Prior to Germany’s U-boats, submarines were already developed by Britain, Russia, France and the United States, however, such technology was associated to the German Imperial Army. Submarines attacked beneath the water powered by torpedoes.