When I was in university I took a history course that focused on Europe in the period leading up to World War One.
Germany was one of the main combatants in that war, and what I remember from the course and some additional reading that I’ve done over the years is that up until the mid 1800s it was a collection of disorganized, and often fractious, states. Under the leadership of Prussian president Otto von Bismarck, those states finally coalesced into a unified country.
Italy went through a similar process under Giuseppe Garibaldi, but Germany’s industrial might was far greater than Italy’s, and thus it posed a formidable threat to Europe’s two reigning powers — Britain and France.
Then you had the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a chunk of eastern Europe, and the Ottoman Empire centred in Turkey and extending down to the Middle East. The latter had been around for several centuries, while the former was a relatively recent creation, but both were fading powers — as was Russia, at least as far as czarist rule went.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean you had the United States, which was an ascending power in the world, with economic and political interests spreading throughout North, Central and South America. For the European powers, colonies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East were a big concern. And at some point all the jostling for position led to an arms race and the eventual outbreak of hostilities.
There’s more to it than that, of course, not to mention conflicting positions on the war’s start depending on which side you were on. On Wednesday Sept. 10 University of Regina history professor Ian Germani will review different historical theories on the outbreak of WWI. His talk goes at Central Library at 7 p.m. You can register for it online or by calling 306-777-6000.