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."
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
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 (sër'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.
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.
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.
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
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.