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The Great War begins

World War I began after Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on June 28, 1914. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, whose ally Russia then mobilized for war. An alliance between Germany and Austria then prompted Germany to preemptively declare war on Russia, Serbia, and Russia's ally France. Germany then attacked France through Belgium, activating an alliance between the United Kingdom and Belgium, and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. Created by Sal Khan.

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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user eightsquare
    I find it hard to believe that the Germans thought they could take on the Russians, Britain, and France at once.. Were they militarily superior to the other countries? Otherwise its just a suicide mission...
    (104 votes)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user Quintius Junger
      Yes. Germany had one of the strongest armies in the world. Krupp, one of Germany's weapons contractors was considered very good - especially with Artillery. Germany also adopted the machine gun first and had more of them (four times more than the British) then anyone else. They also utilized tactics and weapons (planes, tanks etc.) which traditional allied commanders refused to use. Many British Generals laughed at the idea of tanks and planes calling them toys.

      Germany did not think it could take on all three powers at once. This is why Germany initiated a plan known as the Schlieffen plan. This plan called for Germany to take France out of the war before Russia fully mobilized (Russia was massive in those days, and mobilizing an army across those distances would take time.)

      France however had constructed a defensive perimeter known as the Maginot Line, full of artillery positions and other defenses. Germany therefore requested permission from Belgium and Luxembourg to re-route their attack through the aforementioned countries. In a display of either extreme bravery or stupidity they refused and Germany invaded them instead, on-route to France.

      The plan was extremely success. the German army just miles from Paris after mere weeks. Unfortunately for them the British had sent troops to reinforce France and at the first battle of the Marne where allied forces defeated the German army and ended the German offensive. This began the trench warfare on the western front which would ast the rest of the war.

      Meanwhile Russia had mobilized and moved to attack Germany from the East forcing Germany into a two-way defensive trench-warfare campaign.
      (17 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Yehyeon Cho
    sal was talking about the legal justification to declare war on a country.
    Why was this important? Who was there to control wether or not everything was legally justified?
    (16 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user Brittany
      Having legal justification is also important when getting citizens of your country to help in the war effort. Wars involve death, soldiers leaving their homes and families, and shortages throughout the country. It is much easier to have citizens go along with this if they believe the country to be in the right and the war to be necessary.
      (8 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Edmund Tran
    What was the anti-war sentiment like for this war? Surely I can't be the only person who thinks that many of the decisions made here were ridiculous (Examples: assassinating Franz Ferdinand and just banking on your allies to help you; why not discuss beforehand? Germany attacking Belgium after Britain told them they take the treaty seriously. And many more...). Sal hints that the FF assassination was not really the cause of the war, but just an excuse for all these nations to go to war. What were the causes of these tensions or does it all boil down to empires trying to get bigger? (in which case, why wait for an excuse?)
    (21 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Andris
      There were several real reasons for the war:
      Firstly, think of imperialism. Most powers in Europe thought at the time, that the source of their power comes from colonies.This made them turn against each other when it came to conquering new colonies (mostly in Africa).
      Secondly, there were secret alliance treaties. Everybody plotted against everybody, it was not a stable alliance system, it just happened to be as it was at the beginning of the war. Only 50 years before the beginning of the war, the Austrians and the Germans had a war, later both of them became friends with Russia, the French and the British had conflicts in Africa, etc... No one could be sure, what alliance treaties were about exactly, I don't think anybody expected a world war.
      Thirdly, another reason was nationalism. Austria-Hungary was composed of many little nations, who wanted independence, the Italians wanted territories from Austria inhabited by Italians, Romanians wanted Romanian-inhabited regions, Russians wanted unify all the slav inhabited regions (threatening Austria again). What's more, all nations wanted to prove, they are above all, they are better than all others, so they celebrated the beginning of the war, thinking now they can show how great and powerful they are.
      Lastly, I hazard a guess at militarism. Especially in Germany, who used her economic development to build up a strong army, a huge navy, and of course, the other powers felt threatened, and they did the same to their armies and navies. This caused an armament race, and finally made it inevitable to use those weapons.

      I hope it satisfies you more than the assassination of Franz Ferdinand :)
      (27 votes)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user Azure
    Wait, I thought that both world wars were started by Hitler. Can somebody help me here?
    (0 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user Nabihah Akhtar
      No WW2 was started by Hitler and WW1 started when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but there was a lot tension before the war actually broke out. There was a number of alliances made between countries during 1879-1914, also many countries were trying to take land away, many countries military forces were given a high profile by their governments, There was also a lot of countries being stronger supporters of other countries and the Bosnian Crisis Austria-Hungary took over the former Turkish province of Bosnia. Hitler was a soldier then and had experience in war, but he didn't cause it.
      (10 votes)
  • leaf yellow style avatar for user Tiago Henriques
    How could Germany possibly think they could take such a big country as Russia?
    (13 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Martijn ten Ham
      Well they actually won the war in the east. You see, you don't need to completely occupy a country in order to defeat it. Nor do you need to kill every last citizen. The objective of a war is to force your will upon another nation, so the main goal is to make the enemy feel that they should submit to your will rather than fight on in a pointless war. The Germans pretty much succeeded in that, the Russian people got so fed up that it provided the spark needed for the Russian revolution.

      How the Germans ever thought to effectively occupy the vast amounts of lands they demanded in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk is another question entirely.
      (19 votes)
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user andersknospe
    At why did Britain have an 'alliance' with Belgium?
    (12 votes)
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    • leafers sapling style avatar for user Jay
      I am taking a guess, but maybe because of the proximity of the netherlands to their coast. and since belgium had revolted and became independent, britain wanted belgium to be on good terms with them as well.

      It could also be due to a kind of imperialism, to influence the state of affairs in another country.
      Hope this helped!
      (12 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user rrzwahlen
    I usually ignore misspellings but this video has so many in the interactive transcript I feel compelled to correct the most flagrant ones. I'm sure It's due to the self correcting function that we all know so well mangles our messages!
    francis burden should be "Franz Ferdinand" and air should be "heir"
    :33 me and Italy should read "immediately"
    :39 the governor little prince should be "Gavrilo Princip" ?
    :48 wasn't no mead should be "was in no mood"
    the air toward the road should be "heir to the throne"
    mobile lies should be "mobilize" / mobile liza should be mobilize
    to calm into a fact should be "come into effect"
    the door wide street should be "the dual alliance treaty"
    eighteen may do should be "1892"
    declare war on drugs should be "declare war on Germany"
    intermec should be "Germany"
    usaid chile should be "you essentially"
    (11 votes)
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    • old spice man green style avatar for user Justice Pirate
      Maybe you were using the automatic translations that youtube offers in his videos. This feature is beta(being tested), and in many of the videos has a lot of errors, mainly because of the difficulty for a computer to write what he hears from a human, just like happens with Siri or other programs.
      I hope this was helpful!
      (6 votes)
  • piceratops seedling style avatar for user sepideh
    At , He says Altamatum, what does that mean?
    (5 votes)
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  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user hi
    Why did Germany declare war on Russia before declaring war on France given that they were planning to attack France first?
    (7 votes)
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    • female robot amelia style avatar for user Anushka Bendigiri
      Hey, good question!
      You're right..Russia was going to declare war on France first, but the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria triggered the attack.
      Remember that many people mistake this assassination to be the trigger of the entire World War 1, but that's not the case..
      Hope that helps!
      (6 votes)
  • leaf grey style avatar for user MFalcon
    Did Austria-Hungary do their research? How did they not know that Russia was friends with Serbia? I mean, if you're going to declare war on someone, you might as well find out who they are allied with.
    (6 votes)
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Video transcript

In the last video, we left off with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. And so you could imagine, the Austro-Hungarian empire did not take that well. They already did not enjoy the kingdom of Serbia trying to, essentially, provoke this nationalistic movement. And they viewed them as this small, little, weak country right below them. And so they use this to, essentially, issue an ultimatum. Essentially say, look, immediately bring all the people who did this to justice, all the people who might have conspired with the Gavrilo Princips to allow this assassination attempt to occur, and do it or else, and accept full responsibility. And actually, the kingdom of Serbia was in no mood to get into a war with Austria-Hungary, and so they tried their best to comply, but their best wasn't enough. So then July 28, a month later, you have the Austrians declaring war on the Serbians. Now up until this point, the Austro-Hungarian empire is thinking, OK, Serbia is a small, little kingdom here. It has some ties and obviously, it's a Slavic nation so it has some linguistic ties with the Russian empire. The Russian empire also had some political ties to it, but Russia is not going to get into a war with us over this. We're justified in attacking them. They've just killed the heir to our throne. So we're going to go in there and Russia is probably not interested in actually creating a larger skirmish here. That was a severe miscalculation on the part of the Austrians. The Russians were not happy about this. They felt close ties to the Serbians and they felt a need to protect the Serbians, or you could argue, that maybe they wanted to mobilize just to scare the Austrians. Whatever it might be, whether it was Russia wanted to get into a war, whether they were really looking to protect the Serbians, or whether they were looking to mobilize to scare the Austrians from actually attacking, the Russians began to mobilize. So the Russians began to gather their troops. So the Russians mobilize. And now, this is where all of the alliances start to come into effect. If you remember about the alliances we talked about several videos ago, if you go to 1879, you have the Dual Alliance Treaty between Germany and Austria-Hungary to protect each other if Russia attacks and actually, if Russia attacks or mobilizes. So now, Germany is like, hey, maybe I am obligated to protect Austria-Hungary from Russia. You also have to remember in 1892, the Franco-Russian Military Convention. Military assistance both ways in the event of attack. So Germany is thinking, look, we signed this treaty and we, to some degree, are maybe eager for war because we've been militarizing so much. And I can't just fight Russia. I also know that France and Russia have this alliance right over here. So Germany in quite surprising quickness decides to declare war on both. So on August 1, Germany declares war on Russia. And then on August 3, Germany declares war on France because they know or at least they feel that they can't declare war on only one of them. And they wanted to do it very quickly because they didn't want Russia a chance to mobilize too much. And the fact that they were able to do this so quickly-- we're talking three days after Austria declares war on Serbia and then another two days declare war on France-- kind of shows that Germany was already in a war footing. It's not a joke to all of a sudden invade or declare war on countries. So Germany was, essentially, preparing for this. And this right over here gave them the excuse to, essentially, declare war. So they declare war on both of these characters, Germany against Russia. Germany is declaring war on France. Now, the easiest way for them to move into France-- so they're literally going on the offense here-- is for them to go through Belgium. But the Germans were aware. They're aware that there's this 75-year-old treaty, the Treaty of London in 1839, Article 7 said that Britain was to protect the neutrality of Belgium. And Germany was in no interest to get into a war with the British. The British had a powerful military, especially a very powerful navy. The Germans said, hey, let's just take on the Russians and the French for now. And so they actually reached out to the British and said, hey, this little treaty that you got here from 1839, this 75-year-old treaty, you don't really take this seriously, right? I mean if we have to go through Belgium, you're not really going to hold true to this treaty? And the British said, no, we actually take that very seriously. Obviously, the British didn't want the Germans to be aggressive here. The British didn't want the Germans to be able to invade France. And so on August 4 when Germany, essentially, rolls through Belgium, Germany invades Belgium to get to France, this gave the legal justification for the British to declare war on Germany. And so in a matter of only-- I mean not even, we're talking a few months here from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand of Austria, you essentially have all of the major powers of Europe. And then as we'll see because they had these empires, in not too long most of the world is at war with each other.