It would appear that the very root of the cause of WWI was the assassination of the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. To me, this is an incredibly odd reason to start a world war. Was the war as pointless as it seems?

  • 2
    Why do you think that this assassination was the reason for the world war? It was the pretense (casus belli) which is something entirely different. As to the reasons, most history books cover them pretty well. Some reasons are mentioned here: history.stackexchange.com/questions/1/… Nov 16 '11 at 9:06
  • 1
    Btw, -1 was because of the formulation of your question. It asks for a judgment call, not for facts. Nov 16 '11 at 9:11
  • The assassination of Duke Ferdinand was the matchstick that lit the powderkeg, but it was NOT THE powderkeg. The issues that resulted in WWI were brewing for awhile. I think the title and the question are way too subjective for an actual answer.
    – MichaelF
    Nov 16 '11 at 12:36
  • 1
    In 1894, upon his retirement, Germany's Chancellor Bismarck opined that "in twenty years, there will be a major European war over some damned fool thing in the Balkans." He was right on all three things, the timing, event, and the cause. Why not change the question to, What where the causes World War I?
    – Tom Au
    Nov 16 '11 at 14:32
  • The cause of ALL wars are lack of commercialization and devotion to the one true ideology of free market capitalism.
    – user4951
    Feb 9 '12 at 6:42

If you look at it in the context of European wars of the past few centuries, it isn't totally out of line. Europe had seen a good many wars, some with even less justification. It also grew quickly once the Great Powers got involved. Austria-Hungary decided to attack Serbia, Russia decided to support Serbia, and Germany decided to support Austria-Hungary. None of these acts were particularly odd by past criteria, but such rapid expansion was unusual. While many European powers could wind up in a war, they generally did so more slowly, with more time for diplomacy.

Germany's war plan didn't help. In event of war with Russia, the German Army would form up on Germany's western border, invade Belgium, and march on Paris, making it impossible to contain the war once Germany decided to support Austria-Hungary against Russia.

Once the war had started, the great increase in army size precluded maneuver, and the unexpected resilience of industrial economies made attrition a long, slow, process. Moreover, each belligerent was suffering greatly in the war, and it rapidly became politically impossible for each side to accept a peace that wasn't some sort of victory over the other.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.