Militarism is defined as maintaining a large military and being prepared to use it to defend a nation’s interests.
In the early 20th century, this arms race led to disaster.
The years prior to the war saw a surge in industrialization. Manufacturing output grew, buildings were electrified, municipal water works were constructed, and railroad networks crossed Europe.
New inventions and scientific discoveries increased the human lifespan and led to a population explosion starting in the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1900, a quarter of the world’s 1.6 billion people lived in Europe. This population contributed to both the workforce and the military.
Along with discoveries that improved lives came inventions that took them.
Killing machines that were invented or perfected from 1875 to 1920 include:
- Machine guns
- Artillery guns
- Dreadnoughts, the first modern warship
- High explosives
- Smokeless propellants replace gunpowder
- Rapid fire rifles
Building an Arsenal
By August 1914, the major European powers had been preparing for war for years. Nations competed to see which could build the largest navy. New military technologies also meant armies had to be reequipped.
Conscription went into effect in many nations, requiring men to spend a compulsory amount of time in military service.
When the war began, nations were convinced it would end quickly. Kaiser Wilhelm, for example, promised his troops they would be home before the autumn leaves changed color.
Updated: 23 October 2020