The Conflict Begins

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The Conflict Begins
The First World War - The Conflict Begins

On Sunday, June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was shot and killed by a Serbian nationalist during a visit to Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Convinced that the Serbian government was involved in the plot, Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany, sent a harsh ultimatum to Serbia. Although Serbia met nearly every demand, Austria-Hungary, bent on conquest, declared war.

International relations in Europe in the summer of 1914 were quiet but tense. The great European powers formed two opposing alliances – the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and the Triple Entente (France, Russia, and Great Britain). The situation was heightened by economic and imperial rivalries, national pride, the nationalism of new countries, ambitious statesmen, the instability of Eastern Europe (particularly the Balkans, where the Ottoman Empire was collapsing), and the constant talk of wars somewhere. All the ingredients were there for a small international fire to become a raging inferno. Once started by those fatal shots, efforts to stop the blaze
would prove futile.

Russia, the self-proclaimed protector of the Slavic nations, mobilized. Germany demanded promises of peace from Russia and France. When there was no answer, it declared war on Russia on August 1 and on France two days later. France looked to Britain for support. Although Britain was not bound by a formal treaty to join France in a war, Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary, had made an informal agreement with the French.

On August 4, 1914, the German Army, on its way to France, invaded neutral Belgium. Britain sent an ultimatum demanding withdrawal of German troops and reminding Germany of the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality, to which Prussia (effectively the predecessor of Germany) was also a signatory. Unanswered, the ultimatum expired at midnight on August 4. Britain was at war. And when Britain was at war, Canada, a part of the Dominion, was at war.

The war truly became a world war when Japan, in 1914, and Italy, in 1915, joined the Entente Powers, while Turkey aligned itself with Germany and Austria. Other countries were drawn in, one by one, until by 1917 every continent and all the oceans of the world were involved.