20 October 2014

Musing about the origin of WWI

From a "British History" column at the BBC:
lt was an act of regicide that catapulted Europe into war - an act that not unexpectedly took place in the Balkans. The region had been in a state of ferment for years, and the assassination of the heir to the Hapsburg Empire, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian nationalist, was the culmination of a train of events leading inexorably to war.

Yet at first the monarchs of Europe did not take the incident too seriously. lt was expected that the Hapsburg Emperor, Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, would demand and be given an apology from Serbia. By now, however, Europe's leading nations were locked in alliances - there was Serbia with Russia, Russia with France, France with Great Britain, Great Britain with Belgium on the one side, and Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other. With Serbia's apology not proving abject enough, relations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary were broken off. This finally alerted Europe's family of kings to the danger that threatened them.

As the alliances clicked inexorably into place, a positive snowstorm of telegrams between the crowned heads tried to avert the inevitable. Kaiser Wilhelm II (Willie) was particularly assiduous in keeping touch with his cousins Georgie and Nicky. But by now there was nothing they could do. Their constitutional powers counted for almost as little as their cousinhood. Although, technically, Franz Joseph, Nicholas II and Wilhelm II could perhaps have curtailed the coming hostilities, they were at the mercy of more powerful forces: the generals, the politicians, the arms manufacturers, and the relentless timetables of mobilisation. Ultimatum followed ultimatum. In the face of national pride, imperial expansion and military glory, the protestations of the crowned heads were swept aside. On such giant waves, they could only bob about like so many corks.
Boldface and italics added.  Sound familiar?


  1. Robert Newman's History of Oil claims WWI was all about an invasion of Iraq... to get oil... the Berlin Baghdad railway and such.

  2. I have heard the claim made that it was Austria-Hungary's slow response to the assassination (the assassination itself was in mid-June and Austria-Hungary made it's demands on Serbia more than a month later) which was the cause of the war. If Austria-Hungary had been quicker on the draw, then the Russians would not have felt compelled to come to the defense of Serbia.

    In response to the Russians going to the defense of Serbia, Germany then went to the defense of Austria-Hungary; but when the German Kaiser asked the Generals to send the mobilized units of the Army east against Russia, the General's are reported to have stated that it would greatly disrupt their mobilization plans, since they had only made plans to go to war against France, and not against Russia.

  3. I think you would like Ken Follett's 'Fall of Giants' if you haven't read it yet.


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