War and Conflict

World War I

How did World War I begin?

Though the Great War, as it was called until World War II (1939–45), was sparked by the June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary (1863–1914), the war in Europe had been precipitated by several developments. National pride had been growing among Europeans; nations increased their armed forces through drafts; and colonialism continued to be a focus of the European powers, as they competed with each other for control of lands in far-off places. Meantime, weapons and other implements of war had been improved by industry, making them deadlier than ever. So on that June day in the city of Sarajevo (then the capital of Austria-Hungary’s province of Bosnia and Herzegovina), when a gunman named Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918) shot down Archduke Ferdinand, it is not surprising that Austria-Hungary responded with force. Since Princip was known to have ties to a Serbian terrorist organization, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Both sides, however, believed that the battle would be decided quickly. But instead fighting would spread, involving more countries. Four years of fighting—aided by the airplane, the submarine, tanks, and machine guns—would cause greater destruction than any other war to that date.


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