EUROPE BEFORE THE GREAT WAR – THE PERIOD OF PEACE IN ARMS

Wars create, cause and start economic conflicts and are led by brutes looking to gain an advantage.
Ernest Hemingway

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Europe and the world were stricken by economic turmoil, political discord and unresolved conflicts. Full of distrust towards their neighbours, countries engaged in concluding new and terminating existing alliances, attempting to provide themselves with the best strategic position possible. The competition in industrial and capitalistic development demanded a fairer division of the world, while nations in multi-national states formed alliances, demanding an enhanced scope of rights. All this led to insecurity and covert fear, which, when further substantiated with new technical inventions, subsequently culminated into the arms race and the mass reinforcing of military forces.

In Austria-Hungary, militarism boomed following the end of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. Austria’s defeat put the focus on military issues, which soon became the focal point of public interest. The first important and ambitious measure introduced by the government in 1868 was the implementation of a new military act and the general draft. Among Slovenes, the news was greeted with hearty approval. Nonetheless, the increasing hatred and expansion of armies resulted in the foundation of various pacifist movements and initiatives, which never really succeeded in gaining momentum. The general opinion among the population was that the war was the driving force behind progress, while world peace was considered an unattainable objective. War was accepted and understood as an inevitability of civilisation, that would lead to a more prosperous world.

Therefore, the reasons and causes for the outbreak of the war cannot be based merely on the final years before its beginning. Actually, it had already begun years before, during the era of peace and prosperity. The industrial revolution saw the introduction of numerous material advantages while destroying the then power relations and re-distributing goods previously accessible to merely a small section of the population. This resulted in technologically developed but socially archaic European societies pestered by unanswered questions. As well as in the accumulated power of the military and the war. “The apparatus, which, in a single month, added a further sixteen million soldiers to the existing four million in the beginning of July 1914, and which managed to wipe out tens of thousands of soldiers, simply could not have come into being overnight. Its birth dates from long before the first battle.”