European countries had, for many years, been divided by a system of alliances. Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary had created the Triple Alliance in 1882. Russia, Great Britain, Belgium, and France formed alliances between 1894 and 1907. The countries in these alliances pledged to offer support and aid if one of their partners was attacked by another country. These alliances were designed to ensure peace and protection, but they may have increased tension in Europe.
- On June 28, 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferninand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife. The nationalist was angry about Austria-Hungary’s control of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
- In retaliation, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. Germany and Italy sent troops to support Austria-Hungary. France and Great Britain went to war in defense of Russia. Soon, almost all of Europe was at war.
- Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, and Albania did not belong to either of the alliances and did not go to war. These countries remained neutral.
- In August, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson released a letter stating that America would remain neutral. He asked Americans to be calm, but the American people were not neutral. Most Americans wanted the allies (France, Russia, and England) to win. Many Americans did not like the Germans because of press accounts of their extremely cruel behavior during the war.
- In May, 1915, a German U-boat used torpedoes to sink the British ship, Lusitania. In the past, military people tried to keep civilians from harm. The Lusitania was carrying weapons, which is why the Germans sunk it, but it was also carrying civilian passengers. 1,198 people died, including 128 American citizens. Americans were outraged. President Wilson sent a series of messages to Germany in protest and the country began making preparations for war.
- Alliance: an agreement of support
- Retaliation: the act of striking back
- Neutral: impartial, not taking sides
Questions and Answers
Question: What would have happened if Russia and Austria-Hungary hadn’t had support from other countries?
Answer: It’s hard to say, but it seems likely that, without the military support from other countries, they would have settled their dispute peacefully; if they engaged in war, it probably would have been much shorter.
To read more about World War I, visit National Geographic Kids.
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Tobin, Declan. (2020). Fun Facts for kids about World War I: The Beginnings. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/world-war-beginnings/