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The primary underlying cause of World War I was a series of alliances between European nations and a rising sense of nationalism by people of Europe who were denied a homeland. Poland had ceased to exist after it had been partitioned three times by European powers. Similarly, the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine (typically French) had been taken by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. This latter event had been particularly bitter for the French who never forgave Germany for the insult.
Otto von Bismarck, in an attempt to protect Germany's position, had created a series of alliances which resulted in the creation of still other alliances in opposition. Ultimately two great alliances were formed:
- Austria, Germany and Italy formed the Triple Alliance.
- Great Britain, France, and Russia formed the Triple Entente.
Actual fighting began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie by a Serbian nationalist in Bosnia. Austria thereafter declared war on Serbia in response to which Russia began a general mobilization. Germany, fearful of a large Russian army on its border, issued an ultimatum to Russia to cease mobilization, which was ignored. Germany then declared war on Russia. Germany then demanded that France state its intentions, and France stated it would look to its own interests. Germany then declared war on France. To invade France, Germany troops invaded Belgium, whose neutrality had been guaranteed by the British. In response to the violation of Belgian neutrality, Britain declared war on Germany, and the war was fully engaged.
Austria-Hungary, a dual empire, had gained the right to "occupy and administer" Bosnia and Herzegovina, a fact which was bitterly resented by the people there who were culturally close to Russia.
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