Skip to comments.Immediate Cause of World War One
Posted on 08/01/2014 5:14:17 PM PDT by Retain Mike
"The magnates of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff and Foreign Ministry now had their Pan-Slavic provocation. In one of the many pigionholes of the Ballplatz there lay a document three years old. This was the notorious ultimatum, drawn up to be used against Serbia when occasion should arise....So consistent had been Vienna's Great-Serbian grievance that a few minor changes in the phrasing of the ultimatum would bring it up to date....
The illustrious Count Leopold Berchtold ordered the ultimatum to be presented in Belgrade at six o'clock in the evening of Thursday, July 23. The ultimatum required Serbia's submission within forty-eight hours. And promptly at 6PM on Saturday, the twenty-fifth, the Serbian reply was handed to Baron Giesl, the Austrian minister. Well aware of the Austrian resolve to attack, the authorities a Belgrade accepted the demands with scarcely a whisper of protest....
Count Berchtold had the same Serbian reply but a wholly different set of conclusions. His power to darken the future of Europe and arrest the material progress of mankind was at that hour satanic. Almost at the moment Kaiser Wilhelm was congratulating himself that the danger of war was past and 'a great moral victory' won without need of firing a shot, Berchtold was telegraphing Belgrade that.... Austria- Hungary consequently considered herself henceforward in a state of war with Serbia....
To be sure, economic and colonial rivalries and many other influences had long been propelling Europe toward the abyss of war. But Count Berchtold, almost singlehanded, propelled the empires into this war. It was expected the old Emperor Franz Josef would prove reluctant to put his signature to the declaration of war....
Berchtold, however, had armed himself against the wisdom, conservatism or obstinacy of a venerable monarch. Together with the unsigned proclamation he took the liberty of laying before His Majesty a report that the Serbians had fired upon Austrian troop transports on the Danube....No Serbian attack had occurred....
After the emperor was moved to sign the document....Berchtold punctiliously erased the sentence that exploited the fictitious engagement at Temes-Kubin."
A short story in our local paper reminded me of one of a multitude of interesting pieces I ran across in two years of reading every book I could find about secret service, espionage, and cryptography. In the 1967 edition of 33 CENTRIES OF ESPIONAGE by R. W. Rowan and on pages 458 through 461 I note the above explanation about the start of WW I. I would trust the narrative to be accurate, because Allen Dulles wrote the forward to the book.
Never understood how you can order thousands of men to rush into artillery and machine gun fire and expect them to survive let alone win the battle. Order it once and you would think they would realize how stupid that is.
Top 10 Deadliest Battles of World War I
So... You trust it to be accurate because the head of the CIA endorsed it?
The assassination, according to a book I enjoyed by G.J. Meyer, "A World Undone", had little to do with the start of the war. Austria-Hungary started the war through duplicity, Germany was drug in due to treaties. Austria-Hungary (The Hapsburgs) was quickly dispatched leaving Germany holding the bag...a war they never wanted in the first place.
It is a comprehensive history, so there is no reason to obfuscate. I would be encouraged by endorsements of Stewart Menzies or Wilhelm Canaris as well.
And thanks for the link. I like to have something like that available as I revise my D-Day letter about the anxieties that Eisenhower had to be overcome from the experiences of WWI.
Never understood how you can order thousands of men to rush into artillery and machine gun fire and expect them to survive let alone win the battle.
Easy, in this kind of scenarios, they always send the newly recruited nationals from the previously occupied territories to the front lines. So, the Austrians were using the Hungarians, Slovaks, Croatians, and other nationalities to save Austrian blood.
Yes, Austria-Hungary wanted to go to war with Serbia, but the assassination was the 'Reichstag Fire' event that put the war on the fast track.
Many historians have dated this from an important meeting at Potsdam in December 1912. I believe war is unavoidable and the sooner the better, the Armys Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke announced at the War Council, and the Kaiser agreed. But Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, head of the navy, urged that war be delayed until the Kiel Canal was completed in July 1914. Moltke conceded that it might be a good idea to prepare public opinion for the war. A new Army Bill was introduced, increasing the number of effectives and funding new heavy artillery, and a press campaign was launched.
The French wanted war before their economic and population deficit to Germany became insurmountable.
“By August 4 1914 the primary belligerent parties had made their declarations of war based on events following the assassination of Archduke Francis and his wife. ...”
To give this discussion some timeline perspective, disagreements over whom to blame for the First World War have been dragging themselves out nineteen times longer than the war lasted, and more than twice as long as the prelude (dating the latter, in the roughest fashion, to the declaration of Koenig der Preussen Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck, of the founding of Imperial Germany).
In his single-volume history of WWI, the late Sir John Keegan concluded with the admission that the causes remained wrapped in mystery.
Learned opinion has veered this way and that. So has popular opinion.
In _The Guns of August_ (late 1950s), pop historian Barbara Tuchman laid it at the feet of Europe’s national leaders, their high officials, and a professional diplomatic corps who remained tied by custom and tradition and protocol, to the pace of events that might have been “normal” in Napoleonic times, but was slow and unwieldy by 1914. Steamships, railroads, telegraph and telephone, wireless communications permitted quicker strategic response (conscripted armies, industrial production, troop movements to the edge of the field); weaponry had advanced even more (steel, nitro propellant, automatic arms, long-range artillery), but tactical mobility remained yoked to the pace of the footsoldier - no quicker than 1800, or 1600.
After the war, many leaders denied they foresaw the scale of carnage, but even the quickest perusals of 1910-vintage tactical manuals bely it.
Robert K. Massie’s two-volume history of the naval arms race and the war at sea (_Dreadnought_, _Castles of Steel_) describes the speedy rise of Imperial Germany to international Great Power Status, and its challenge to British worldwide naval supremacy. Of central importance was the giant sea-change that came over Great Britain’s foreign policy; in less than a generation, the UK abandoned “splendid isolation,” resolved centuries-long hostilities with France, and sought accomodation with Czarist Russia. Then he documents how the Royal Navy strangled German trade, negated the U-boat threat, came that close to sinking the Kriegsmarine’s High Seas Fleet, and made it possible for the United States to bring its forces to France without loss.
With the most exhaustive documentation, he points out where the Germans led the Austrians on, promising limitless support against Imperial Russia, while urging Kaiser William II to conduct his annual summer cruise and pushing numerous high German officials out of town on vacation, to mislead the Allies that all was calm. When the ruses were partly uncovered, German officials lied about it to Allied diplomats, insisting they were trying to hold back overzealous Austro-Hungarians.
Some have condemned the UK for not standing with the French and Russians, earlier. In truth, the Imperial German General Staff had long since discounted the British Army in its entirety; formal records signed by the German officials themselves even welcomed early arrival of the BEF on the Continent - it could then be wiped out in nothing flat, a minor impediment to the German Forces then massed at the Belgian border, poised to grind the French into dust.
A number of thinkers have concluded that the Germans had years earlier decided that long-term trends were against them; since they (and everyone else) quite unremarkably believed war to be a legitimate instrument of national policy, they figured that they had better get on with it before their chances grew slimmer still.
Much has been made of Kaiser William II’s militarism, but there is little evidence he plotted events in advance. The eldest grandchild of Britain’s Queen Victoria (herself more German than anything else), he was by turns pleased with his numerous royal relatives in England, then vexed by British behavior.
Restless, craving aproval, less than mature - his own mother derided him as “a big baby” after he ascended to the throne of Prussia and assumed the kaisership in 1888 - the more he pursued the respect of “Englanders” (and everybody else) the more tiresome he seemed. The situation had remained (mostly) stable for decades before he became Kaiser, thanks in large part to the presence of Otto Von Bismarck, the towering intellect who dominated Continental politics in war and peace for half the prior century, crafting secret treaties and contingent alliances, waging limited wars, diluting hostilities, patching together alliances and dispelling disputes. William dumped him within a couple years, dismantled treaties, and flippantly ignored the complex web Bismarck had woven so tightly, even as it unraveled right before his eyes.
Journalist/historian Max Hastings has recently offered the opinion that Germany should not bear all the blame, but that it had certainly earned the major share.
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Thank you for the essay.
“Thank you for the essay.”
Save for air power, the Great War may have gone differently.
As the German Army’s right wing marched into France from Belgium in late summer 1914, Allied aerial observers (either from Britain’s RFC, or France’s Armee de l’Aire) spotted them approaching the Marne. French troops were rushed forward, including about half a division carried by the taxicabs of Paris (small in total numbers, monumental in propaganda value). The Battle of the Marne ensued; the Germans retreated and dug in, holding the best terrain. Stalemate for four years.
At almost the same moment, German airships (”Zeppelins”) spied two Russian armies entering East Prussia, seeking to merge and strike German forces. German leadership reckoned the Russians could not link up before the Germans could counter the move. German forces scrambled forward and struck first; the Russian defeat was so large and so complete, the field commander - Czar Nicholas’ uncle - committed suicide. Stalemate.
Eleven years after the first flight by the Wright brothers, aircraft had proven indispensable to military endeavor on the planet’s surface. Frantic efforts followed, to prosecute a technological arms race, to develop strategies and concepts of employment, to build up air forces and mesh their operations with everything else. On it went for four years of war and 20 years of peace, then six more years of the next war, during which air power proved decisive, delivering the final blows with a violence and on a scale no one could have possibly imagined mere years earlier. The logic is still working its way out.