World War I
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INTRODUCTION World War I, military conflict, from 1914 to 1918, that began as a local European war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia on July 28, 1914; was transformed into a general European struggle by Germany's declaration of war against Russia on August 1, 1914; and eventually became a global war involving 32 nations. Twenty-eight of these nations, known as the Allies and the Associated Powers, and including Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States, opposed the coalition known as the Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria.
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had spread throughout most of Europe the idea of political democracy, with the resulting idea that people of the same ethnic origin, language, and political ideals had the right to independent states. The principle of national self-determination, however, was largely ignored by the dynastic and reactionary forces that dominated in the settlement of European affairs at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Several peoples who desired national autonomy were made subject to local dynasts or to other nations.
Notable examples were the German people, whom the Congress of Vienna left divided into numerous duchies, principalities, and kingdoms; Italy, also left divided into many parts, some of which were under foreign control; and the Flemish- and French-speaking Belgians of the Austrian Netherlands, whom the congress placed under Dutch rule. Revolutions and strong nationalistic movements during the 19th century succeeded in nullifying much of the reactionary and anti-nationalist work of the congress.
Belgium won its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, the unification of Italy was accomplished in 1861, and that of Germany in 1871. At the close of the century, however, the problem of nationalism was still unresolved in other areas of Europe, resulting in tensions both within the regions involved and between various European nations. One particularly prominent nationalistic movement, Pan-Slavism, figured heavily in the events preceding the war.
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