Though there was a strong sense of nationalism in all of the countries of Europe that were now participating in the Great War by August 1914, there was also a strong sense of worry among the civilians. The warring nations also had some varying percentage of their population that was against the war, especially the populations that were minorities within their own country. The governments of these countries did their best to promote the idea that the nationalistic population was completely supportive of the war, and that people were standing on the streets cheering at the beginning of August. There was no unified reaction to the war, as with all wars. Each country believed it was acting in self-defense, whether it was Austria-Hungary avenging the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand or Russia trying to protect its smaller, weaker ally Serbia. Though each country claimed their participation in the war was out of their own self-defense, it was more because of the diplomatic and ethnic alliances each power had made.
Russia felt a sense of unity to Serbia ethnically, and because Serbia was not large or powerful enough to defend itself, Russia would act as “big brother” if it needed to. Germany was coming to the aid of its Austro-Hungarian ally against Russia while declaring pre-emptive war on France, who the Kaiser was sure would attack Germany when given the open chance. Great Britain declared war on Germany when its troops marched through Belgium to complete the Schlieffen Plan developed before the war had even begun, and France was honoring its defense treaty with Russia while Germany declared war on its rival, France. Because the countries believed that their war was one of self-defense, it was more influential to produce propaganda to plead a countries case to its own people and, later on in the war, to the United States. War stories and poems were produced in Germany to support the war, and the warring powers used self-defense as a motivation and mobilization tool to bring together its people in support of the war effort.
The sense of national defense and pride helped the war last as long as it did despite its horrifying brutality and toll on civilians, and it kept morale high for many civilians and soldiers alike during the war. Gaining the support of its people was possibly the most important for Germany, who had preemptively attacked its enemies and needed to make its case of self defense. Rallying its people was most important because it was now in a war against the most powerful navy on Earth, the British navy, and the civilians would be going through many difficult times if the British blockaded Germany. The Kaiser would need to rally the support of his people and keep it going even through the hard times the people would be exposed to during the blockade.
Rallying the people often meant they would have fear of the enemy put into them, and during the war a certain level of “ethnic cleansing” is seen, though not on the scale that would be seen in the decades to come. Foreign language learning and speaking was abolished if it was that of the enemy (St. Petersburg, Russia was even renamed Petrograd because its name was “too German”), and paranoia and panics often led to people being prosecuted for being spies. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, more commonly known as Vladimir Lenin, was exiled from Russia because of his socialist beliefs and forced to live in Austria-Hungary. There, he was arrested and prosecuted as a spy and allowed to flee for Switzerland. The brutality Russian soldiers faced during the war allowed Lenin to come back to Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution once its citizens wanted peace. Nonetheless, garnering men for the war effort was largely successful in a war that saw tens of millions of men mobilized for war.
Modris Eksteins – “Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age”