100 years after WWI, will we repeat history?

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

The complex web of alliances that led to World War I.

This past Monday marked the 100th anniversary of World War I, which began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, marked the occasion by calling for world peace and asking humanity not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Considering the delicate chain reactions that triggered World War I, where a small regional conflict erupted into all-out global war, the Pope’s words strike a powerful chord.

Warfare is currently ravaging the Middle East, where Islamic extremists are taking over large portions of Iraq and Syria, while Israel battles Palestine over the Gaza region. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is encouraging pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine to battle the democratically elected government that is allied to the USA and European Union (EU), while he and China look to establish military and economic power in Central America with the building of a Nicaragua Canal. This unofficial Chinese and Russian alliance against American and European interests reflects the decades of Cold War between the USA and Soviet Russia. Now, however, the majority of attacks are being carried out online in an era of cyber warfare, with hackers from China and Russia breaking into everything from business companies to oil and gas facilities.

Archduke Ferdinand
Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination was the straw that broke the camel’s back, triggering a series of events that led to World War I.

The complex web of alliances and territory disputes in today’s world share striking similarities to World War I, which was triggered by the Austria-Hungary empire squabbling with the Kingdom of Serbia over the Balkans, a region of Southeast Europe. On June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was slain by Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip. In response, Austrian authorities encouraged chaos and violence in Serbia, and delivered a list of 10 demands to the nation that were intended to provoke war. Sure enough, when Serbia agreed to only 8 of the 10 demands, Austria-Hungary declared war on July 28, 1914.

One day later, the Russian Empire mobilized troops in support of its longtime Serbian allies, causing Germany to do the same for its Austria-Hungary friends. Soon, other nations were drawn in the escalating war to defend their buddies, pitting the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria against the Entente Powers (often called the Allies) that eventually came to include the military forces of Russia, Britain, France, Japan, Italy, and the USA among others. The brutal conflict claimed the lives of over 9 million combatants,  featured the first major use of tanks, machine guns, submarines, and aircraft, and set the stage for a vengeful Nazi Germany in World War II by inflicting severe penalties on Germany after they lost World War I.

Featured image courtesy of Hohum on Wikipedia. Image of Archduke Ferdinand courtesy of Carl Pietzner on Wikipedia.