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A School History of the Great War - Chapter 7

The Beginnings of the Great War


Germany's Responsibility. - Germany's tremendous increase of armaments, her opposition to arbitration, her hostility to the purpose of the Hague Conferences, her building up of the Triple Alliance, her challenge to England's naval supremacy and her refusal to accept England's suggestion that both nations should limit their expenditures on naval armaments, the glorification of war on the part of her teachers and writers, all make it clear that the present Great War was of her planning. For years she prepared herself to inflict a crushing blow with all the weight of her powerful army and navy and establish herself as the mistress of the world. On this she was willing to stake her very existence. To use a phrase made famous by one of her leading military writers, Germany had decided upon "world power or downfall."
German militarists all looked forward to the day when her years of preparation would at last reap their reward through the crushing of Germany's rivals. England particularly, with her vast trade, her colonial empire, and her control of the sea, they planned to lower to a subordinate position in the world. "Der Tag" (dr tahkh), "the day" when the long-awaited war should burst upon the world, was a favorite toast
in the German army and navy. As long ago as the end of the Spanish-American War, a German diplomat said to an American army officer: "About fifteen years from now my country will start her great war. She will be in Paris in about two months after the commencement of hostilities. Her move on Paris will be but a step to her real object - the crushing of England. Everything will move like clockwork. We will be prepared and others will not be prepared."

Final Preparations. -In 1913 the German government decided upon a large increase in her already tremendous standing army. Immense sums were also appropriated for aircraft and for huge guns powerful enough to batter to pieces the strongest fortresses. To pay for this extra equipment additional heavy taxes were voted. The new arrangements were all to be completed by the fall of 1914. Alterations were also hurried on the Kiel Canal. This waterway, connecting the Baltic with the North Sea, had been opened in 1895 and was of great naval importance. The new German battleships, however, were so large that the canal was not large enough to admit them. The work of widening and deepening the passage was undertaken by the government, and was finally completed on July I, 1914. Preparations for the Great War were complete at last, both on land and sea. The gunpowder was ready. All that was needed was a spark to bring about the explosion.

The Austro-Serbian Question. - For years before the war the Serbs and other Jugo-Slavs in the southern
provinces of Austria-Hungary bad been dissatisfied with Austrian rule. The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina (her-ts-go-vee'nah) were especially aroused when those provinces, after a long temporary government by Austria-Hungary, were formally annexed by that power in 1908. Their wish was for union with the adjoining Serbian kingdom. Their aspirations did not cause very much trouble while Serbia was small and weak; but when, as a result of the Balkan wars, Serbia was revealed to the world as a warlike nation with extended boundaries and growing national ambitions, the Austrian Serbs grew restless. There is little doubt that Serbs of Serbia bad much to do with the anti-Austrian activities that rapidly spread among their brothers within the Austrian Empire. The Austrian government, much disturbed by a movement that threatened to spread among her other subject populations, began to seek a pretext for crushing her southern neighbor and so settling the troublesome Serbian question once for all.
In 1913, at the close of the second Balkan war, Austria-Hungary informed her allies, Italy and Germany, of her intention to make war upon Serbia, and asked for the support of those countries. Italy refused to have any part in the matter. Germany, realizing that Russia would probably come to the assistance of Serbia and that a general European war might follow, no doubt prevailed upon Austria to stay her hand. Germany's preparations at that time were not quite complete.

The Assassination of Francis Ferdinand. - In the early summer of 1914 occurred the event that was destined to plunge the world into war. Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, made a visit to the southern provinces of the monarchy. On June 28, while he and his wife were driving through the streets of Serajevo (sr'a-ya-vo), in Bosnia, three pistol shots were fired into the carriage, mortally wounding the archduke and his wife. The assassin was an Austrian Serb, a member of a Serbian secret society which bad for its aim the separation of the Serb provinces from Austria-Hungary and their annexation to the kingdom of Serbia. The crime caused great excitement and horror throughout Europe. But the deed had given Austria the opportunity to settle its account with Serbia and thus put an end to the Serb plottings within the Austrian borders.

The Decision for War. - There is evidence that on July 5, one week after the murder at Serajevo, a secret meeting of German and Austrian statesmen and generals took place in the Germane emperor's palace at Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. Probably at this conference it was definitely decided that the assassination of the Austrian crown prince should be used as a pretext for crushing Serbia. Austria, it was expected, would thus permanently settle her Serbian problem. Germany must have known that this action would probably lead to a general European war, since Russia would come to the rescue of Serbia and France would stand by Russia.
But Germany was ready at last, and so the terrible decision was made.

The Austrian Ultimatum. - On July 23, the Austro-Hungarian government sent a note to the government of Serbia holding her accountable for the Serajevo murder and making a number of humiliating demands. Serbia was told she must suppress all newspapers inciting enmity to Austria, that she must dissolve all societies that were working toward "Pan-Serbism," that she must dismiss from the Serbian public service all officials whom the Austrian government should officially accuse of plotting against Austria, that she must accept the help of Austrian officials in Serbia in the putting down of anti-Austrian activities and in searching out accessories to the plot of June 28, that she must arrest two Serbian officials who had been implicated by the trial in Serajevo, and that she must put a stop to the smuggling of arms from Serbia into Austria.
The demand that Serbia admit Austrian officials into Serbia to take part in the work of investigation and suppression was an intolerable invasion of Serbia's sovereignty within her own borders. But the most threatening part of the note was its conclusion: "The Austro-Hungarian government expects the reply of the royal [Serbian] government at the latest by 6 o'clock on Saturday evening, the 25th of July." In other words, the note was an ultimatum giving Serbia a period of only forty-eight hours in which to agree to the Austrian demands.

Serbia's Reply. - Serbia's answer to the Austrian ultimatum was delivered within a few minutes of the time set. She agreed, practically, to all the Austrian demands except those which required that Austrian officials should conduct investigations and suppress conspiracies in Serbia, and she even went part way toward accepting those. Serbia went on to suggest that if Austria was not entirely satisfied with the reply, the points still in dispute should be referred to the international tribunal at The Hague. This reply the Austrian government considered unsatisfactory. Forty-five minutes after the Serbian note had been placed in the hands of the Austrian minister to Serbia that official handed a notice to the Serbian government stating "that not having received a satisfactory answer within the time limit set, he was leaving Belgrade" (the Serbian capital). Austria-Hungary made immediate preparations for the invasion of Serbia and on July 28 declared war.

Efforts for Peace. - Meanwhile Great Britain, France, and Italy were putting forth every effort to preserve the peace of Europe. In these efforts the lead was taken by Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign minister. As early as July 26 he urged a conference at London of the representatives of France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain to find some solution of the problem which might be satisfactory to both Austria and Russia. Italy and France agreed at once, but Germany raised objections. Germany's only suggestion for preserving the general peace of Europe was that Austria should be permitted to deal with Serbia as she pleased, without interference from any other power. And so it continued through those critical days. Every effort made by England looking toward a peaceful settlement of the quarrel was baffled by Germany's refusal to cooperate. This is not difficult to understand in the light of our later knowledge of the plans and aims of the German government.

The Declarations of War. - Austria's declaration of war on Serbia (July 28) was followed by the general mobilization of Austria's troops. Austria maintained that all her armies were for the war on Serbia, but her preparations were so extensive that it was clear she was getting ready to fight Russia also. In reply Russia began to mobilize her troops, partly to prevent the destruction of Serbia, but also to defend herself from possible Austrian attacks. Russia definitely notified Germany tbat her mobilization was directed against Austria only. Meanwhile England continued her efforts to bring about a conference of the powers, a plan which Germany continued to foil. The Czar in a formal telegram to the Kaiser on July 29 suggested that the Austro-Serbian problem be given over to the Hague Tribunal, a suggestion which would have led to peace. Nothing came of this proposal.
On July 31 the German government, on the ground that Russia~ s mobilization was a threat of war, sent ultimatums to both Russia and France. The ultimatum to Russia gave that government twelve hours in which to stop all war preparations against both Germany and Austria. The ultimatum to France informed that government of the message just sent to Russia, and demanded a reply within eighteen hours as to whether France would remain neutral in case of war between Germany and Russia. The crowds in the streets of Berlin went wild with joy over the news of the two ultimatums. There were cries of "On to Paris" and "On to St. Petersburg." The Kaiser addressed his people from the balcony of his palace. In the course of his speech, he said, "The sword is being forced into our hand." The government of Germany had decided to make its people believe that they were about to fight in self-defense. Russia would not demobilize her armies under a German threat. Consequently the next day, August I, Germany declared war upon Russia. Two days later, August ~, Germany declared war on France because that country had refused to desert her ally in this time of danger. The greatest war of all history had begun.

Great Britain Enters the War. - The German military leaders felt sure that Great Britain would remain neutral in case of a general European war. They based this belief on the peaceful temper of the English
o people, upon the serious domestic problems she was facing, such as the question of woman suffrage, Irish Home Rule, and the threatening labor situation. Germany regarded England as a nation of shopkeepers who would not fight unless they were attacked. After Germany had made herself supreme on the Continent England's turn would come.
Great Britain's agreement with France and Russia, the other members of the Triple Entente, did not go so far as to require her to join them in case they should be involved in war. It is difficult to say whether or not Great Britain would have decided to enter the conflict at this time if a new element had not been introduced into the question by Germany's invasion of Belgium. Of this invasion more will be said in the following chapter. All that need be mentioned here is that Germany, in spite of a long-standing treaty to observe Belgium's neutrality, had decided on marching through that country as the best route to Paris. Great Britain, as one of the nations which had promised to _ protect the neutrality of Belgium, immediately demanded of the German government that it withdraw its plan of invasion. Germany refused, and on Au-gust 4 Great Britain declared war. So one week after _ Austria's declaration of war against Serbia all the powers of the Triple Entente - commonly called the Allies - were in arms against Germany and Austria. Italy, the third member of the Triple Alliance, on August 1 declared herself neutral, much to the disappointment and anger of the Central Powers, her former allies. Her treaty with them provided that she should come to their aid only in case they were attacked, and so did not apply to the present war, in which Germany and Austria were the aggressors.

Suggestions for Study. -1. Locate the Kiel Canal. What is its other name? When and why was it constructed? 2. Locate Potsdam, Belgrade, Serajevo. 3. Define ultimatum; mobilization; "Der Tag"; Jugo-Slavs. 4. What is the meaning of the prefix "pan" in Pan-Slavism, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Serbism? What do you know about each of these movements? 5. What is a declaration of war? Who has the power to declare war in the United States? In Germany? 6. Where are the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina? How were they governed before 1878? Between 1878 and 19o8? Since 19o8? 7. Review the efforts for peace made by the British government between the Austrian ultimatum and Germany's final declarations of war. Explain the attitude of Austria, Russia, France, and Germany during these days.
References. - War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.); Study of the Great War (C. P. I.); The Government of Germany (C. P. I.); Davis, The Roots of the War.