Britain with its most advanced technologies and largest colonization on Earth during the 1800s, had enjoyed its prosperity and fame for almost a century before WWI. The empire, with its 35-million square kilometres land, pned a quarter of the globe. Its colonies laid across India, Australia, Canada and South Africa, providing abundant resources for Britain to flourish. Being in a great condition, British rulers stuck with a “splendid isolation” policy to avoid war and maintain its prosperity. However, various political, social economical, and cultural causes fluctuated Britain's splendidness and finally led both pro-war and anti-war attitudes to start growing before and during WWI.
Politically, the change in political power and ideas all propelled more pro-war attitude and made many internal problems worse on the other hand. Thus, poverty and want of women’s rights fostered a growing voice against war. Hochschild indicts the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a short cause of WWI, as Kaiser Wilhelm II adopted expansionist policies and triggered the Serbian-Austrian conflict. However, such political turmoil could not have caused an war. It is the balance of power change, especially caused by the unification of Germany, alarmed Britain. As Germany unified, its rapid industrialization and political ideals started catching up the speed of Britain. This, war proved to be the most straightforward way to show its top position in industrialization and other technologies again to the world.
Besides the change of power, political ideas also started to change in the early twentieth century Europe. Started with Germany, European nation quickly embraced the idea of social darwinism and militarism. As every nation followed such ideals and are all in line to compete with each other; thus, many pro-war British felt Britain had no choice but to compete with other nations. Meanwhile, the strong nationalism-centered Germany, with its rapidly growing industry, trade, and military, had a promising chance of becoming the strongest power in Europe. As the British detected such a progress in Germany, along with other competitions in other nations, pro-war attitude started rising quickly among the public. With Kaiser Wilhelm II further incited such a deduction, Britain abandoned its neutral position and joined the Triple Entente alliance.
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However, anti-war attitude among the British remained strong among the crowd. Opponents of war thought Britain should fix domestic challenges, such as women’s right and poverty, first instead of focusing international ones. True, with the rapid industrial growth during the 1800s, the working classes suffered hard living and working conditions without any rights nor protection from the government. Besides poverty, Rapid industrialization and urban progression had also led to other serious social problems such as crime, prostitution , child labour, disease, and so on. Hence, many thought fixing these real domestic problems was much more urgent than fighting an unnecessary war. Besides poverty, the lack of concern of women’s right remained a big issue. Charlotte Despard, Sylvia Plath, and Emily Hobhouse were all representatives concerning about such an issue and actively engaged in society to make progress.
For example, Hobhouse’s “one-woman's crusade against Britain's Boer war concentration camps had sent reverberations around the globe”. With domestic issues centered around women’s right and poverty, voice against war began to cry out louder and louder began and throughout the war. Social-economically, difference in social and economic status among the British led to different anti or pro-war attitude among the public. Those in the upper class are much more among the poor-war attitude. Firstly, Britain held those who attended war in high regards, providing sufficient social subsidies. Thus, going to war hurt no one's financial situation; on the other hand, war benefited upper class financially.
Moreover, as the upper class does not need to worry about working hard to backup their own military supply nor suffering through poor living conditions, their focus are centered around individual and national reputation. Since the power change caused by Germany's industrial revolution served as a threat to Britain's superiority, the upper class found it reasonable to declare war in order to reprove its position as the strongest power in Europe. Besides thinking its reasonable to declare war, the advance industries started to developed in the early 1800s serves as a fundamental backbone to support such pro-war attitude. Industries are abundant with highest technologies and arms, such as tanks, gas, and shell batteries, to support any violent turmoil.
Nevertheless, as the demand for weapons and war supply started to increase, along with the British government's decentralized capital elsewhere, those who advocated against war had their adequate reasons for their living conditions were further harmed by the war. The opponents of war knew that the government was financially limited already as much more money flew into the Northern Ireland Conflict, which caused great damage to the British economy, and other previous international loopholes. Thus, the government needed to draw out additional money to support the war, which would in turn leave less for civilization usage. As poverty and other social problems brought by industrialization, which was not fastened because of this additional war, many thought it would be unwise to put additional spending into an unnecessary war without addressing pressing internal challenges first.
Hence, those who were against war quickly took action upon these domestic problems. Writers like Charles Dickens started criticizing these social issues through media. Reformers, such as Henry Mayhew and Matthew Arnold, and social groups, such as The British union movement in the 1850s and the British Labour Party in 1900, urged fundamental social and economic change.Culturally, those who held a pro-war attitude thought of war as honorable and brought excitement to daily life style, while those who are anti-war thought of war as unnecessary and biased towards the upper class. It is not until the war finally started did people finally realize the cruel nature of war. European nations were heavily influenced by the idea of militarism, “vied with each other to declare the war a crusade for the most noble goals” (92). Civilians send their son to war feeling honored. Even if they died in the end, people at home felt “their sons have died for something noble” (348).
With such noble mentality, the reason to fight the upper coming war was not only limited in protecting the British reputation but also giving reparations to each individual and noble families. Besides such an “honorable” reason to fight the war, those eligible men who supported war found it exciting, seeing war as a chance for them to leave the proper noble lifestyle. However, lower class people were angered. Because the economic status of the non-military family falls far behind that those families who attend war. Thus, people who held anti-war attitude thought the government not only did nothing to save them from the current hard living condition, but also is benefiting the upper class with such a war. Though Britain held neutral ideals previously, the competitive environment, change in political ideas and power, along with the ignorance of war all led the pro-war attitude started growing. In turn, those who concerned with their hard living conditions and challenges at home advocated against war.
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