The First World War in 1914 marked a major turning point as the first time that all the major European powers engaged in the same war. The great powers chose their victims from among the weaker ones, and paid the price for it, for example, Russia’s defeat by Japan. For most of the western states before the war, a European war was simply a theoretical exercise for some undefined future. The major function of armies at this time was civilian. Conscription was the norm in nearly all serious powers except for the US and Britain. It represented a powerful method for teaching proper civic behavior to the common folk, and transforming them into citizens.
An obvious consequence of the preparations for war was that these preparations became more and more expensive, especially as the technological revolution made killing technology more advanced and expensive. The arms race began in the late 1880s and accelerated into the new century. Military spending expanded fourfold. Private arms producers took on more and more supply contracts, and the armament firms joined the giants of industry. These arms producers would have been nothing without the various governments’ arms races. As they grew, and needed a way to sell their surpluses, they turned to smaller nations, always ready to buy such hardware. Now the merchants of death worked on an international scale.
Although the majority of European foreign relations originally relied on the goal of balance and stability, stronger nations never hesitated to wage war against weaker ones. All powers were in an expansionist and conquering mood. Britain for example, attacked the South African republics, and did not hesitate to consider partitioning the colonies of Portugal with Germany. What made the world an even more dangerous place was the equation of unlimited economic growth and political power. Germany was one of the most dangerous adversaries. The final crisis in 1914 was so unexpected that it made it all the more traumatic and haunting. The atmosphere of war grew across Europe.
What was most interesting was how the world slowly moved toward a state of war. It seemed as if there was nothing that could have happened to prevent this world war from eventually taking its toll.
I am curious as to how the world slowly transitioned to world war, yet at the same time, it seemed as if the war was something brand new, drastic, and unexpected.