Who Started World War I: Crash Course World History 210

Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World
History, and today we continue our discussion of how a regional conflict became World War
I. We’re also going to look at who started the war and although no one nation is truly
to blame, some nations are more to blame than others. Like America, for once? Blameless. Well, not
totally blameless. Largely blameless. Mr. Green, Mr. Green! That’s easy, the Germans
started the war. Well, Me from the Past, as it happens many
historians and British politicians would agree with you. I mean, you have an opinion that can be
defended. And I can’t wait for you to defend it. Uhh… maybe they just, like, really liked war? I’m
not really in the defending positions business, Mr. Green, I’m more in the like, bold proclamations
business. Yes, Me from the Past, noted. But it turns
out, there’s more to life than that. So the topic of who started World War I remains
one of the most controversial and interesting topics to discuss in World History, not least because,
you know, we’d like to avoid having another one. But in general, when we talk about World Wars,
as when we talk about World Cups, we pretty quickly end up discussing Germany. The idea that the root cause of World War
I was Germany, or more specifically, German militarism, continues to be popular. This
has been the case ever since the 1960s when this historian, Fritz Fisher, identified Germany
as the chief cause of the war. But Germany’s guilt for the war was also written into the
Versailles Peace Treaty, in article 231, and most of you will be familiar with the idea
that anger over that clause its incumbent debts helped lead to Hitler’s rise. Also, pretty much however you slice it Germany
was definitely responsible for starting World War II, and looking back that made it more
plausible that they would have also stated World War I, because, you know, they had a
history of starting wars. To be fair, the definition of a Western European nation is
“has a history starting wars.” Unless you’re the Swiss. Cue the Switzereel, Stan! Yeah okay, but the thing is attributing characteristics
like militarism or authoritarianism to entire national populations is a little problematic.
Also one nation’s militarism is another nation’s strong national defense, and when you live
in the country, as I do, that spends more on defense than any other nation, it’s probably
not that good of an idea to call people militaristic. There’s just something about that broad-brush
painting of an entire nation sharing a particular characteristic that feels a little bit propaganda-y.
Also, it wasn’t just Germans who were militaristic in 1914. The idea of “the glory of war” was
a very popular concept all over Europe, and really there’s no evidence that the German
people of 1914 were any more or less militaristic than the French or the Russians, They all
had poetry that celebrated heroic sacrifice and dying for the Mother and/or Fatherland. That’s not usually and. Maybe, though. I’m
gonna stay open minded. But there’s another problem with the whole
idea that the Germans were more eager for war than anyone else in Europe. That argument
relies a lot on the behavior of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German leader, and the Kaiser did
make some pretty bellicose and stupid public statements, which in turn made people fear
that Germans were eager for war. So Wilhelm became kind of a stand-in for German aggression,
a literal cartoon villain, upon whom the world, especially the English, could project their
stereotypes. So I would argue that the German character
isn’t to blame for World War I, and in fact no national character has ever been to blame
for any war. But I am not going to let the Germans off the hook entirely. So you will remember that Germany offered
the so-called “blank check” that Germans would always support Austro-Hungarians’ ultimatum
to Serbia. And in some ways this empowering by Germany’s support encouraged Austria’s
foreign minister Berchtold to behave as recklessly as possible, under the mistaken impression that
this is what the Germans wanted him to do. So basically, Austria thought that Germany
wanted a war, so they were like, “Oh, we’ll just behave really recklessly and we’ll give
the Germans the war they’ve been so excited about.” But the Germans were offering the
Austrians the assurance of support in the hopes that it wouldn’t lead to war. So you could argue that in fact most of the
blame for starting World War I should fall on the shoulders of the Austrians, after all,
they were the ones who issued the ultimatum to Serbia, and they were the first to declare
war, although only against Serbia. But, the Germans were the first to declare war on a
major power, Russia, on August 1st, and the German advance on France through Belgium is
what brought Britain into the war. And those are pretty solid arguments that Germany turned
the conflict from, you know, a regional thing in the Balkans, which isn’t unprecedented,
to like this big pan-European war. But I don’t think we’re done assigning blame,
because we didn’t just have a pan-European war, we had a world war. Russia. Now you’ll remember that of all the major
powers, Russia was the first to mobilize its massive army, and it was Russia’s mobilization that
drew Germany, France, and Britain into the war. Putin is looking at me, isn’t he, Stan. I’m
just trying to–ah! you so scary! Stan, can you please make Mr. Putin go away,
I’m just trying to talk about history, I’m not talking about any current conflicts. And it makes me nervous to say this, but there
was really no good reason for Russia to mobilize in the first place. I mean, when Austria declared
war on Serbia on July 28th, the Austrians could not mobilize their own troops for two
weeks, because they were on harvest break. I mean, if we’ve learned anything about agriculture,
it’s that it’s hard to have a large-scale war without it, so we can’t go to war until
all the wheat has been farmed. But even if Austria had mobilized and attacked
immediately, their initial plan was an attack on Belgrade, not Russia, which by the way
was called somewhat confusingly, Plan B. Now, Vienna did have a plan to mobilize against
both Serbia and Russia, but they never used it. But even if Austria had launched an all-out
attack on Russia, Russia had begun its pre-mobilization, the period preparatory to war, on July 25th,
and while I usually don’t care about dates, with the start of World War I, very important,
because July 25th was before the Serbs had even responded to the Austrian ultimatum. And just as a general rule, it’s hard to play
the blameless victim when you’re moving all of your troops to the border. Hey, why are
you here again, Putin? So here we have Austrians and Germans receiving
reports of Russian troops massing on their borders, and you know, that seems kind of
like war. A lot of it comes down to how you understand Russia’s period preparatory to
war. I mean, do you focus on the “period preparatory”, or do you focus on the “to war”? Regardless,
Russia became the first power to actually put its war machine into motion. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. So talking about Russia leads us to some of
the more meta arguments about the causes of World War I because it’s difficult to understand
what Russia was doing when it mobilized without trying to understand why they mobilized. After
all, an Austrian attack on Serbia was hardly an existential threat to Russia, I mean, look
at the map. Russia’s huge, and at the time, probably had the largest army in Europe, if
not the world. So why would they care about what was likely to be a skirmish on the Bosnian
border? Well, here’s where geo-politics and history
come in. So, looking at the map, you can see that the Balkans are right next to the Dardanelles,
the straits that give access to the Black Sea. Russia needed to maintain influence there
in order to ensure traffic through those straits, especially if the Ottomans were going to form
an alliance with the Germans, which they did. Also, at least in its own estimation, Russia
was in danger of becoming a laughingstock in European politics: their humiliating loss
to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War was followed by Russia’s inability to stop Austria from
annexing Bosnia from the Ottomans in 1908, and that was the event that sparked Serbia’s
drive to expand its own territory. Its history of prior weakness meant that Russia’s foreign
policy makers feared that without some decisive action, Russia wouldn’t be taken seriously
anymore. In the wake of Austria’s ultimatum, Russian
foreign minister Sazonov concluded that Russia, quote, “Could not remain a passive spectator
whilst a Slavonic people was being trampled down. If Russia failed to fulfill her historic
mission, she would be considered a decadent state and would henceforth have to take second
place among the powers…if at this critical juncture, the Serbs were abandoned to their
fate, Russian prestige in the Balkans would collapse utterly.” Thanks, Thought Bubble. So judging from what we just learned in the
Thought Bubble, it was really the Ottomans. If they could have just stopped Austria from
annexing Bosnia in the first place, none of this would have happened. And if I may go
a little further back, there wouldn’t have even been an Ottoman Empire without the stupid
Romans. And of course the Roman Empire was largely dependent upon constant expansion
and looting, so if only the Gauls could have defeated Caesar, none of this would have happened. In short, no wonder Caesar was assassinated,
he was about to start World War I in 1900 years. I bring that up because that’s the tricky
thing about the blame game. You can trace the causes of World War I back a bunch of
ways. I mean, I can’t think of anyone who you can’t at least partially assign blame
to – well, I mean except the Mongols. Actually you know what, if they’d just kept
control of Russia, probably no World War I. Anyway, all of this only scratches the surface
of the arguments about who’s to blame for World War I. I mean, I haven’t dealt with
stuff like the alliance system or European imperialism, or you often hear about the naval
rivalry between Britain and Germany, and then there are the ideological causes, like nationalism,
and the Social Darwinist thinking that led people to believe that war was a natural and
inevitable state of human affairs. You can tell all those origin stories of the
Great War, and they’re important, but ours centers on diplomatic history. There are a
few reasons for this, first, the decision to go to war was ultimately in the hands of
a very small group of diplomats. I mean, even in the most democratic countries, Britain
and France, popular opinion didn’t force mobilization. Also, in most countries that’s still the case.
It’s still diplomats who decide whether to go to war. So understanding what makes governments
and diplomats decide to go to war is very important. But looking at the diplomatic causes of the
war also reveals something to us about the pitfalls of writing history. I mean diplomats
are famous for keeping pretty detailed records of their dealings, both at the time and in
retrospect, and then historians have to sift through all these sources and make choices
about which ones to emphasize. And sometimes, even which ones to believe, because of course,
often these sources are in direct conflict. Now, I’m no historian, but in creating this
episode, we had to make choices that many of you will disagree with. Either because
you don’t think we gave enough evidence or because you don’t like the things that we
emphasized, and that’s great. It’s these constructive and critical conversations that lead us to
dig deeper, to consult more primary sources, to read more broadly, and that in turn leads
to a richer understanding of the world and a more engaged life. All that noted, the alliance system was certainly
important and I’m sure you’ll be discussing it in your classes, and in comments. Thank you for watching, I’ll see you next
week. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad and
Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, and it’s made possible because of these people’s
hard work and also because of your contributions on Subbable. Subbable is a voluntary subscription
service that allows you to contribute directly to Crash Course for the monthly price of your
choice and it allows us to keep Crash Course free for everyone forever, so thank you to
all of our Subbable subscribers, and thanks to everyone who watches. As we say in my hometown, don’t forget to
be awesome.

Comments 100

  • that is what trump wants to do is to start ww3

  • This dude is the literal definition of cringe

  • 4:43
    Wreslink Kaiju for Mozzer Russia!

    So… each stalk is actually two?

  • All most every body should know that Serbia started the war

  • No, Germany didn't start WW2. Stop with the slander and the libel!

  • crash course has biggest impact on the world in recent decade. it changes the way we see YouTube technology and education. thanks to green brothers.

  • Russia was responsiblenfor the war

  • I feel that the entente were responsible for the war, when the archduke was killed by a maybe sponsored assassin from Serbia Germany and Austria-Hungary were just defending the selves

  • Omg the Swiss reel. I was not expecting that

  • 4:23 you know, a regional thing in the Balkans, which isn't unprecedented

    so funny the way he said it =)))))))

  • 5:55 "hey why are you here again Putin?"

  • That dam cave man that found fire…

  • a friend of mine from serbia learned this history too. for the most part.

  • 2:10 Yes very much so especially since Germany sits in the middle of Europe and has borders with outer countries to defend in at least two directions (east and west) and one of those (east) has no natural boundaries to speak of, and when the country you border to that side (Russia) almost conquered your precursor (Prussia) just over 150 years ago but only failed to do so because of militarism, well the militarism seems like a pretty good idea, especially since Russia has only gotten bigger since then.

  • This is so weird watching this on my bed and not in a classroom

  • LOL – blaming Caesar for WW-1 still has me laughing. Great presentation!

  • oh man it's not Slavonic it's Slavic! 😂
    I'm from Serbia btw

  • I would put forward the idea that most of the blame lands squarely on Franz Conrad von Hotzendoff. PROVE ME WRONG.

  • I love this channel but i find everyone talks too fast and high at times

  • Thank you!

  • Two words: Nationalism and militrisim

  • Seems like all fought all the time. We crossed an ocean to join in the fray. Ahh the swiss army n their knives???

  • The first world war was started by the ruling class of Europe.

  • Franz Ferdinand's assassination? Russia's paranoia about losing prestige? Austrian imperialism? Nah.
    I'll tell you who started World War One.

    HMS Dreadnought.

  • Who caused WW1? It is Satan..because that was the time when our God forbid Satan from entering the Kingdom of Heaven..and he was so angry about it and he wants a revenge…

  • Everything you said is pretty much right except you left out a few details. One of the biggest reasons for starting WW1 was because of the French wanting to destroy Germany which is actually true. At that time Germany was at its economic peak and was actually doing better then any other country. It had the highest literacy rate in the world at that time and had the best universities the world could ever provide. Its trading fleet was growing and it came up to 3000 merchant ships. Germany was thriving and was actually the best country to live in. This is one of the reasons why WW1 started, everyone was actually becoming jealous of Germany and feared that it would be better then them. That's why the British clashed with the Germans about if they should have a navy. The Germans just wanted to have a navy to protect their merchant fleet and British wouldn't allow them. Same thing almost goes with the French except the French were the only ones who actually really wanted war and their reason was the Franko-Prussian war which they lost. So basically the French just wanted revenge. Now Germany in the middle of all of this didn't care about wars, or aggression, or even taking territory and there is proof of this. If you look on a map of the empires of that time Germany is the only one that doesn't have that much land. The only land it occupied was its own country and a few puny little colonies in Africa that were very small. Whereas the British have a huge and enormous empire scaling North and South of Africa with Australia and New Zealand along with the Philippines and Canada. Same thing again with the French except they had Africa east to west and colonies in Vietnam and in other areas. America also had a huge empire. Yet here is Germany occupying barely any land at all. Now the last thing I'll say is that Germany was probably the most innocent country of the war and the only one then actually tried preventing it. Kaiser Wilhelm II along with the prime minister at that time were the only ones who actually saw what was happening and tried to stop it before it was too late but no one listened. Kaiser Wilhelm II sent letters to Tsar Nicholas II telling him that he shouldn't mobilize his armies at all because he knew it would lead to war.  A lot of people blame the Kaiser especially for the war yet he was the only one who actually tried to stop it as I said. He was a modern and very good monarch who cared for his country and the people of Germany loved him for it. Germany was not aggressive in WW1 and did not want to take any land whatsoever and was the good guy of WW1 and that's proven by historians.

  • This guy goes on too many tangents

  • Switzerland started WW1.

  • Serbia started WW1 .

  • All wars are bankers' wars. Governments on all sides of the conflict are hijacked by the banking cartel of the Rothschild. All about greed. Go figure.

  • Austria started the war. Pretty simple answer.

  • The volume is lower than other YouTube videos. I am sad that I cannot hear your wise words.

  • I’d personally trace the causes of WWI back to the French Revolution

  • Russia made mobilisation in period after assassination and before start of the war with Central Powers…That was one of the reason why Germany declare war at Russia before starting the war with France. There even was a telegram from Germany to Russia which demand to stop mobilisation or Germany will start the war. And telegram with demands from Austro-Hungarians to Serbia was under direct control of Germans…So there is no any hard math, its clear that Germans start the war. Wilhelm was kinda insane in his war strategies(remember he is the one who wanted to do a D-day to America). Bismark himself said when Wilhelm fired him that if thing would go that way then after 20 years europe will colapse into the war.

  • Well then… The propaganda / militarism / national defense notions can go multiple ways huh?

  • Anyone wanna do an essay on why Russia is good. Thx. Reply back

  • Easy: the very important person who thought it was a good idea to go to Serbia and publish his arrival before hand

  • Yeah the alliance system was important, I mean: How else were the humans supposed to protect themselves against the coming horde and later burning legion. Oh wait, this is irl

  • how did the Austria-Hungarians act recklessly?

  • Your map made me very angry as a hoi4 player… the caucuses was part of Russia, Königsberg, Alsace-Lorane, and Memel were all part of Germany, the map of AH I don’t even want to talk about Bc it makes me the most mad, and Constantinople is part of the Ottoman Empire!

  • the mike was so low

  • For everyone out there Satan had started the war if he had never tempted Eve to eat the fruit, then we wouldn't have had any war, sin, or corruption, so there's an answer for you peeps.

  • 6:36 But what about Transcaucasia? That is, at that time he was not yet a part of the Russian Empire? Really? Well, ok.

  • Put a liberal monarch in Germany instead of Wilhelm II and you don't get WW1.

    It's that simple.

  • Austria Hungary started the war. They only needed a genuine cassus beli against Serbia(which emerged as the major Balkan nation after the Balkan wars). Austria saw Russia as a rival in the Balkans and wanted to eliminate its ally Serbia. This was certainly the case after the-assassination of the obrenovic dynasty that put Serbia on anti Austrian course. Additionally the ultimatum they sent to the Serbian government was DESIGNED to be rejected. They provoked a rejection for the reason to got war.

    Austria Hungary itself was a fragile state with a significant slav population and Serbia(in particular their nationalists) envisioned a pan south Slavic state(Slavs united under 1 banner) the inspiration being the wars of German and Italian unification.

    Serbia thus became the arc enemy. There were tensions beforehand as well, such as the pig war, the 1908 Bosnian crisis, political oppression of the orthodox in Bosnia(encouraged by Austria in response to Serbia’s oppression of its Muslim subjects)

    In fact Konrad von hotzendorf before the assassination advocates for war against Serbia 26(!) times! The fool envisioned for his empire to be a grand empire stretching from Vienna right into the Middle East (😂😂)

    Then you have the alliance systems, Germany emerged as the major power on the continent after the Franco Prussian war. Thus it’s policy was about isolating France this failed when Bismarck resigned and that fool wilhelm the second came in. He managed to isolate Germany by letting France and Russia sign an alliance, anger the British with the naval race, Berlin Baghdad railway line(direct threat to British interests in Persia) and he even personally hated the British(infamous interview with the mail) additionally Germany thought war with Russia now would be better now then later(when Russia fully industrialized) France wanted alsaise Lorraine back and Britain wanted to remain the dominant power . Important to note that the Bosnian crisis in 1908 was seen as a violation of the treaty of Berlin in 1878 by Britain France Russia and even Italy who later on joined the entente.

    The war only needed a trigger and that was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Important to note that the Serbian government warned that terrorists could strike the royal habsurgs in Sarajevo.

  • Am still waiting him to mention the assasination of the Archduke

  • Gavrilo princip Started the war

  • Wasn’t Wilhelm from Queen Elizabeth’s lineage?

  • No but after like ten years of smoking and hear-ing story's about …lol P2P ….and such ..man….!!! No the mescalero stopped the fighting between the AHA and some of the other clubs…

    Yah ….crazy….is the script….

  • Graco pump armor and a filthy bicycle bearing shop brush….lol…lol…ha…ha…"OHh"

  • Just dirty bong water people!?!

  • Now the thing in the bag on a wall???

  • So yah I'm pissed

  • Well you should listen to your local' ….Elcardixzeons ….
    But I Or Eye don't know?

  • it was austria

  • I love men

  • AFC Wimbledon > LFC. Chalk one up for Mr. Green From the Past.

  • WW1 started because Germany unified too late. France was warmonger not Germany

  • No it's gibby lol

  • A WIMBLEDON-shirt!?!? wow…

    Those norwegians sure ruined that club…. Drillo 🙂

  • The Great Games between Brittain and Russia predominantly caused the The Great War (WW1) as the Germans, Austro-Hungarians (realistically the Hapsburgs) and the Ottomans were boxed in. The Russians are to blame for Franz Ferdinand's death as they were supporting slavic terrorist and mobilizing their military. With that said the sociological responsible falls on
    Imperialistice governing bodies as ethnic pride and Nationalism, and the desire to govern themselves was growing among the ethnic majorities amidst the Empires and what were still kingdoms at the time.

  • Yeah the Mongols would NEVER start a war…. Very Dumb and like always on the net, negative towards the West. If only the Westerners were more like the Ensterners. PLEASE! Live in the East and you will change you mind immediately

  • I don't understand the way you keep blabbering your f*cking mouth

  • in my country it's always john bolton and john mccain starting the wars. the clear lesson is never trust anyone named john

  • Read
    The secret origins of the First World War

  • God started ww1, if he didn’t create humans, this wouldn’t happen

  • Oh let me tell you, everyone takes Russia seriously!

  • 7:52 Step Brothers reference Ha!

  • can’t believe this dude wrote the fault in our stars.

  • But war (is) indeed a natural and inevitable state of human affairs.

  • The two shorter books on the shelf are disturbing. I can't not look at them when they're on screen. Thank goodness for Thought Bubble.

  • Who started the first World War?


  • If I had to pick one country that is most at fault for WW1, I would pick Russia

  • The Serbs start it by Killing Archduke franz fedinant it’s not Germany’s fault.

  • It’s martians who started the world war

  • Two small bullets from the Serbian nationalist changed the future and the history of the entire World. Would WW2 happen without WW1 ? That is indeed an interesting question.


  • well the propangada speaks about how important their own people whereas the draft says lets join the conflict to get medal and live happily forever. Now chicken itself laying eggs all around but she knew that one day shes gonna be the part of a platter. Hence, all european chicken gets into the platter prepared by one propaganda and menu is planned by that country which doesnt wants to be the part of it.

  • what if US to blame somehow?? i wanna blame US, please shine some facts.

  • The Guns of August by Barbara Tuckman is probably still the best book about the first days of World War I. I read it years ago but recently bought a new copy to read it again.

  • mongols: were the exception!
    Swiss: hold my hot chocolate

  • WW1's starting Overly Simplified:
    Serbia: Hey you guys! How are we going to celebrate Slavic Nationalis?! Oh yeah lets pull a prank on Austria-Hungary and kill a special someone *giggles
    Austria-Hungary: Hey! Not cool! So now we're going to give you a huge list of impossible tasks…or else
    Serbia: scoffs or what…
    Austria-Hungary: smirks hang on a sec *calls Germany to help wage a war and gets a thumbs up
    Serbia: Jokes on you saw that coming! *has Russia ready to go behind them
    Germany:*fake tears* I tried to prevent it.. I really did! This is sad!… OH WELL! Its war time baby!

  • الي جاي من اجل الدحيح من العراق مرحبآ

  • اللي جاي من الدحيح يصف جنبي

  • I L💖ve me from the past!

  • I feel that when Germany annexed most of Europe during WW2, she was like "Who's laughing now, huh? HUH?!"

  • Long live Gavrilo Princip

  • And he doesn't even name the most obvious culprit, Serbia, and its Junta-monarcho-state (it was the head of the black hand Dragutin Dimitrijević who brought the Karađorđević family to power in 1903) which trained the assassins, ferried them into Bosnia and then gave them orders (Pozzi, Henry. Black hand over Europe) to assassinate the Archduke (when they also had previous plans to kill Emperor Franz Josef).

    Great job Crash course, 2/10 would not watch again.



  • people are saying we might have ww3 is that true?

  • John: America blameless
    America 2020: killed Iran's top general

  • WW1 was the result of Imperialism

  • Hi im from Serbia.

  • The correct answer to the root of the question is: the communist Bolsheviks.

    German villainy is simply a lie.

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