Causes of war

A portrait of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is a starting point for exploring how the assassination of this one man could begin the First World War.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Carl Pietzner. The Library of Congress.(external link)

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Carl Pietzner. The Library of Congress.

Context

The First World War began shortly after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated while on an official visit in Sarajevo, Serbia. Because the archduke was heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the empire declared war on Serbia, and then more countries became involved in the war to support their allies. In the years before the assassination, two groups of countries had created alliances, and tensions between these two groups had
been increasing.

New Zealand became involved in the war because it was part of the British Empire, and Great Britain was part of the Allied Powers with France, Russia, and other countries. In the other group, the Central Powers, the main alliance was between Germany and Austria–Hungary.

Key questions

  • What can we observe?
  • What do we already know?
  • How might people view this portrait in different ways?

Possible discussion questions

  • What can you tell about this man from this picture? What do you notice about his clothes? What do you notice about his hair?
  • Why do you think that the death of one man started such a big war?
  • Have you played any games where people have taken sides, or formed alliances? How do the alliances affect the game? Do people always keep their alliances? (a relationship formed for mutual benefit).
  • What groups of people do you know that are loyal to each other? How do they show their loyalty?
  • How do you think conflicts can start between groups of people? How have conflicts started between you and other children? How is that different to how conflicts start between adults?
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