The Crisis of the Imperial Order, 1900–1929
Origins of the Crisis in Europe and the Middle East
The Ottoman Empire and the Balkans
By the late nineteenth century the once-powerful Ottoman Empire was in decline and
losing the outlying provinces closest to Europe. The European powers meddled in the
affairs of the Ottoman Empire, sometimes in cooperation, at other times as rivals.
In reaction, the Young Turks conspired to force a constitution on the Sultan, advocated
centralized rule and Turkification of minorities, and carried out modernizing reforms.
The Turks turned to Germany for assistance and hired a German general to modernize
Turkey’s armed forces.
Nationalism, Alliances, and Military Strategy
The three main causes of World War I were nationalism, the system of alliances and
military plans, and Germany’s yearning to dominate Europe.
Nationalism was deeply rooted in European culture, where it served to unite individual
nations while undermining large multiethnic empires. Because of the spread of
nationalism, most people viewed war as a crusade for liberty or as revenges for past
injustices; the well-to-do believed that war could heal the class divisions in their
The major European countries were organized into two alliances: the Triple Alliance
(Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and
Russia). The military alliance system was accompanied by inflexible mobilization plans
that depended on railroads to move troops according to precise schedules.
When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, diplomats, statesmen,
and monarchs quickly lost control of events. The alliance system in combination with the
rigidly scheduled mobilization plans meant that war was automatic.
The “Great War” and the Russian Revolutions, 1914–1918.
The nations of Europe entered the war in high spirits, confident of victory. German
victory at first seemed assured, but as the German advance faltered in September, both
sides spread out until they formed an unbroken line of trenches (the Western Front) from
the North Sea to Switzerland.
The generals on each side tried for four years to take enemy positions by ordering their
troops to charge across the open fields, only to have them cut down by machine-gun fire.
For four years the war was inconclusive on both land and at sea.
The Home Front and the War Economy
The material demands of trench warfare led governments to impose stringent controls
over all aspects of their economies. Rationing and the recruitment of Africans, Indians,
Chinese, and women into the European labor force transformed civilian life. German
civilians paid an especially high price for the war as the British naval blockade cut off
access to essential food imports.