C O U R S E L E C T U R E
1914: From Balkan Crisis to War
Notes taken on July 27, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
it starts with an assassination in Sarajevo
Serbia, to the east, believes it should expand to include much if not all of Bosnia as well as other areas in the Balkans
Serbians are supported by their Slav kindred in the Russian Empire
Bosnians (1878 administrated by and 1908 annexed by Austro-Hungarian Empire) are also backed by the Germans
Italy was particularly hungry to gain territories extending to the other side of the Adriatic Sea
there was an agreement that if the Austro-Hungarians get into a conflict in the Balkans again, the Germans would back them 100%
none of this was known to the general public
Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914)
Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia
heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne
June 1914, Prinz Ferdinand planned to pay a state visit to Sarajevo
Bosnia Serb terrorists who were working with the chief of Serbia's intelligence service, planned to kill him
they killed the Archduke and his wife in their touring car
the terrorists hoped that this would start a war in which Serbia could gain territories
this was an act which we would today call "state sponsored terrorism"
wrote an extremely harsh ultimatum to the Serbian government
they made that move knowing that it might lead to a war with Russian
they did this because the Germans had given them a blank check to back them up in the event of a war
Russian Empire made its move
Russia's decision to take assassination of Prinz Ferdinand and the Balkan dispute in which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had some right on its side and threaten to escalate it into a general war was itself a very grave step which is hard for us to explain today.
Germany makes it clear that if Russia goes to war with Austria, that is a war with Germany, and Germany is aware that the alliance between Russia and France will be activated
What seemed to be a local conflict, another Balkan war, was about to escalate into a general war in all of Europe in which the main German military moves was not be to defend Austria, was not even be an attack on Russia or a defense against Russia, the irony of this domino effect of military alliances was that the main German response to a Balkan crisis was to attack France.
there was clearly a sense evident in the German leadership that the next war would be some kind of broader reckoning
the head of the German army, von
Helmuth von Moltke the Younger (1848-1916)
his role in the development of German war plans and the instigation of the First World War is extremely controversial
gave a talk a few months after the war began, "Germany is the only nation which can at present take over the leadership of mankind toward higher goals, the war will lead to new development in history and its result will determine in which direction the whole world will move for the next centuries"
Moltke sees that the ideals of Germany will drive and win this war
why was the world a shock to most people?
the Serbian intelligence chief and the Bosnian-Serb terrorists were not shocked, and a hand full of people in high command of a few governments
It's worth emphasizing that the choices that plunged the world into war in 1914 were made by fewer than a dozen people in Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Paris, those who were privy to the critical deliberations and key military assessments about the way the Balkan crises were intensifying.
Only a few people at top understood the sense of being at a crossroads. They were looking at war as a possible clarifying, unifying moment that will rally people behind them as the symbols of the nation at arms.
In previous crises in the Balkans, the British had played a critical mediating role, a kind of governor, but in the summer of 1914, the British government was preoccupied with Ireland.
Some were worried about going war.
Henry Adams, 1905: "Forces are being unleashed that are overwhelming to the humans who have created them. The technologies were much more advanced than the thinking of the rulers wielding them."
How did the people react when war broken out?
As if years of tension had lifted and it was now clear which side everyone was on.