The Slow Slide into War

By 1914 Europe was ready to explode. Every major country was not only prepared for war, it wanted a war. Each had a rival they wanted to defeat.

France wanted revenge against Germany. France suffered a complete and humiliating defeat against Germany in 1870 and now it was its turn to strike back. Germany wanted to be the Number One power in the world, replacing Great Britain. It wanted to have more world trade than Britain, more colonies than Britain and a larger navy than Britain. It already had an extremely powerful army.

Austria-Hungary was Germany's ally and it was busy trying to swallow the small Balkan countries on its southern border. It had taken over Bosnia and Herzegovina and was looking hungrily at Serbia. Serbia however, had a "big brother" - Russia - who was eager to teach the Austrian bully a lesson.

Italy was the youngest major country in Europe and the Italians were eager to show the world that they belonged with the "big boys". The Italians had dreams of creating a new Roman Empire both in Europe and in Africa.

Finally there was Great Britain - the number one industrial and trading power in the world, with the world's largest empire and the world's largest navy. The British, however, felt the Germans breathing down their necks and didn't like it.

By 1910 these six powers had formed two alliance systems - where each alliance member promised to come to each other's aid if they were attacked. France sided with Russia and later Britain in the Triple Entente, while Germany, Austria-Hungary and later Italy formed the Triple Alliance.

France and Germany had spent years researching and planned complex attack plans against each other. These plans involved organizing and moving over one million soldiers into attack positions in as short a time as possible. There was no turning back from these plans once they were started - they were simply too large and complex to change.

In 1908 these six powers almost went to war over Austria-Hungary's actions in the Balkans. War almost started in 1911 over a crisis in North Africa. Both times, last-minute negotiations avoided war. In 1914 the war everyone wanted actually started.