Often we hear how the shot that killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the cause of The Great War, but I am not certain that it was the cause. More likely it was the final part of a long process. More gifted academics than myself have argued this point since the opening shots of the war in books and thesis. These arguments have been ever changing. The textbooks that I used in the 1980s are way out of date pertaining to this discussion.
What I find stranger still is the similarities to two early participents in the conflict and how they helped bring about this World War. You see, it can be argued that the war could have been contained to the region of the Balkans or even Eastern Europe if one of these two countries had remained neutral.
The countries, or more accurate, governments were of the Kingdom of Serbia and the Ottoman Empire. While Serbia was unable to escape the war, they were very much part of the tensions in the region. Fighting in two Balkan Wars and covert operations in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Bosnia, the Serbian operations read like a bad spy novel set in the more modern Cold War. They were looking to expand into a greater Serbia taking over were ever the ethnic Serbs lived. The Kingdom and government were both counting on nationalism to aid them as well as support from Russia.
While a protector of all Slavs, Russia could have easily sided more with Bulgaria than Serbia. Bulgaria having a border with the Ottomans is an easier ally to use against the Ottomans. The straits are within striking distance of the Bulgarian forces and access to the straits was what Russia was after.
The Ottomans also were looking to expand the empire, which is strange to modern day westerns as we are taught this was “the sick man of Europe”. But the Young Turk Revolution was to bring to power those that were willing to use nationalism and support for the Muslim religion to expand as far afield as western India, Afghanistan and back into North Africa.
Was this possible, probably not, Britain was not going to allow for an expansion into Egypt or Afghanistan. The two colonial adversaries of Russia and Britain were united in keeping the Turks out of Persia. Persian is another fascinating chapter in The Great War.
Yet by getting involved in the July Crises the Ottomans and the Committee of Union and Progress were to help expand the war. Germany and the Ottoman representatives were in negotiations during the lead up to the war. While the seizer of the battleships by Britain makes good press, they were white elephants unusable by the contemporary Ottoman Navy. Without crews or support, they would have remained in port. While Germany would have preferred to obtain them, it is hard to see how the Royal Navy would stand aside as the two ships would have headed to the Baltic instead of the Mediterranean.
The Ottoman did try to expand the war and paid for it with their empire. They added a new part to the conflict that was not planed for by either the British government or the government in India. Participation by all sides was done quickly and without the correct forces and forethought needed.
So what brings these two nations to mind as important to the conflict. The Serbs are needed no matter what. The Ottomans hurt British prestige in the Middle East by capturing the largest army until the fall of Singapore in 1942. This was to effect nationalistic movements into the 1950s. Forces needed on the Western Front were tied down fighting the Ottomans. Troops were needed in Egypt, the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia.
So it is nationalism, both were trying to create “greater” versions of themselves that brought defeat to one and the formation of a mini empire with subject races that had little in common. And the people paying for it were the soldiers and citizens trying to live up to these grandiose boosts.