The Causes of World War I: Part 2 – Nationalism

A political cartoon illustrating the dangers of nationalism

The Causes of World War I: Part 2 – Nationalism

Nationalism is defined as patriotism and the spirit of a country. It also is defined as asserting that your country’s interests are separate from the interests of others. This second definition led to the belief that there is no greater and more honorable death than to die for one’s country.

In the pre-World War I years, nationalism took two forms: the desire to establish homelands independent of the major powers, and the desire for dominance and prestige.

Nationalist Fervor

Prior to the war, many ethnic groups were under the control of the great European powers.

These groups included people living in modern day:

  • Poland
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Croatia
  • All of Africa as well as parts of the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas

Many of these groups were involved in militant and anarchist activities. Their goal was to establish independent nations ruled by their people. This goal caused many smaller conflicts in the years leading up to the Great War.

Imperialist Powers

While ethnic groups were seeking independence, the great empires were determined to strengthen their power.

The great powers of the day were:

Many politicians as well as newspapers contended war was a natural way of preserving power.

Once war did erupt, the majority of people in the combatant nations viewed participation as their patriotic duty, that their nation’s cause was just and that the enemy was the aggressor. This belief would eventually contribute to the deaths of approximately 16 million people between 1914 and 1918, 60 million during World War II and countless millions during the conflicts which took place between 1919 and 1939.


Updated: 23 October 2020
Melina Druga
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Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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