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HOW THE GREAT WAR BEGAN
HOW THE GREAT WAR BEGAN
Underlying Causes. The murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, on June 28, 1914, set in motion a train of events which culminated in the terrible catastrophe of a great world war. It was clear, however, to everyone familiar with history that this crime was not the real cause of the tremendous struggle which many of the statesmen of Europe had expected and feared for years. The underlying causes of this great world war reach far back into the past and cannot easily be reduced to simple statements. A thorough knowledge of the important political and economic forces which have shaped the history of Europe for a century past would be needed for a full appreciation of these causes. Of all this network of clashing interests and antagonisms, there are three causes which seem to have contributed most largely toward bringing about the war. These are (i) the clashing of national interests and ideals in Europe; (2) the maintenance of a system of secret military alliances; and (3) the economic rivalry of the nations of Europe.
National Antagonisms. The history of Europe since the downfall of Napoleon has centered around two movements: the growth of democracy and the realization of national ideals. Here we must distinguish clearly between the ambitions of Rulers in Europe and the national ideals and desires of the various groups of People having a common language and tradition. Italy achieved independence and unity between 1859 and 1870; German unity was accomplished between 1864 and 1871. The success of these two nationalist movements aroused other nationalities likewise to aspire to national unity and greatness. But there remained at the close of the nineteenth century a number of situations which clearly violated the principle of national sovereignty. The completion of German unity in 1871 had been accomplished by the forcible annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, two provinces inhabited largely by persons of French blood and language. This was an ever-present challenge to the French to attempt to regain these lost provinces. The Italians had a grievance against Austria because certain strips of territory inhabited by Italians remained in Austrian hands. Poland since the eighteenth century had been divided between Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Austria-Hungary herself presented the nationalist problem in its most acute form. The Hapsburg dynasty, with its capital at Vienna, rules over a great number of countries and provinces inhabited by many races speaking not less than ten distinct languages. One of its greatest difficulties has been to reconcile the interests of the German population of Austria proper with those of the Hungarians on the one hand and of the various Slavic peoples — Bohemians, Poles, Croats, Serbs, etc. — on the other. In 1867 the Empire was divided into two practically independent countries: Austria, dominated by the German element, and Hungary, where the Hungarians are the rulers. This arrangement has been bitterly resented by the Slavs in the Empire because it has kept them in an inferior political position. The Austrian authorities, realizing that the triumph of nationalism would mean the disappearance of the Empire and its parceling out among the surrounding nations, have been fearful of all nationalist movements, — especially that of the southern Slavs.
One of these groups, the Serbs, has been particularly active. Part of the Serbs lived in the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, since 1908, have been a part of Austria. Others lived in the kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, still others in Turkey in Europe. The ambition of the Pan-Serbian movement was to unite all these people of the Serbian race under one government—Greater Serbia. This Pan-Serbian movement was closely identified with the assassination of the Crown Prince of Austria. The fear of Austria that the movement might succeed was an important motive in causing her to declare war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.
Military Alliances. Bismarck, whose policy of "blood and iron" had brought about the German Empire, believed in a system of firm alliances as a guiding principle of statesmanship. In an effort to isolate France, he strove to unite Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary in a defensive alliance (1872). Russia withdrew from this alliance in 1878 because of differences with Austria-Hungary. Later (1882) Italy joined with the Central Powers to form the Triple Alliance. This organization of the states of Central Europe into a strong military alliance was an invitation to the other states of Europe to create an opposing alliance in order to maintain the balance of power. France and Russia, drawn together by common distrust of Germany, formed a Dual Alliance in 1891. Later, in 1904, Great Britain, aroused by the threatening naval policy of Germany, abandoned her policy of isolation and made an agreement with France, and later another with Russia, thus forming what is generally known as the Triple Entente. The existence of these two rival military groups created a situation whereby every political or diplomatic disturbance brought on a crisis.
The first of these crises came in 1905 in a dispute over Morocco. Germany, after the downfall of Bismarck in 1891, had abandoned his policy of opposition to colonial expansion and was looking about for such stray bits of undeveloped land as had not already been appropriated by France and Great Britain. Germany had to choose between two courses. Either she must accept the results of her late entrance into the field as a colonial power, or she must challenge the longer-established world powers and try to create for herself a "place in the sun." She chose the latter course. On March 21, 1905, the German Emperor, while on a voyage to Constantinople, stopped at Tangier and encouraged the Sultan of Morocco to reject the scheme for reform which had been proposed by France. Russia was in the midst of the political upheaval which accompanied the Russo-Japanese War and in no shape to aid France. So France was forced to submit to Germany's terms with reference to Morocco. A second Moroccan crisis occurred in 1911. France made disorders in Morocco an occasion for penetrating into the interior, and Germany sent a gunboat to Agadir in Morocco as if with hostile intent. Matters came very close to war, but were settled by a considerable cession of Congo territory by France to Germany.
Another phase of Germany's policy of expansion was the Drang nach Osten.1 This policy contemplated the creation, in conjunction with Austria-Hungary, of a great economic sphere of influence extending through the Balkans to Constantinople and thence through Turkey to the Persian Gulf. So the German Emperor cultivated the friendship of the Sultan of Turkey; German officers trained the Turkish forces; German engineers and German capitalists began to develop Turkish resources. The whole scheme was crystallized into a plan for a Berlin-to-Bagdad railroad, which was in process of construction when war broke out in 1914. Following the revolution of 1908 in Turkey, Austria-Hungary, in furthering this eastward expansion, took the opportunity to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia protested against this violation of the Treaty of Berlin (1878); but Germany stood by her ally, and Russia, unready for war, was compelled to submit.
For the neighboring state of Serbia this annexation was a serious blow. The annexed provinces were peopled with Slavs, and the Serbians had cherished the ambition of uniting with them and Montenegro in a new Slavonic state, Greater Serbia. Moreover, Serbia was now apparently shut off from the sea for all time to come, and so would be dependent for a market for her farm produce on Austria-Hungary. This would keep Serbia a weak and somewhat dependent state, which was what Austria wanted. In the Balkan War of 1912-1913, however, Serbia burst her boundaries to the south and gained considerable territory. But her ambition to secure a seaport on the Adriatic was blocked by her ancient enemy on the north. The Serbians were bitterly angry at this frustration of their plans by Austria.
Nevertheless, Serbia gained considerable territory and greatly increased her power and influence by the Balkan War. It was Turkey, the friend of Germany, and Bulgaria, the friend of Austria-Hungary, that were defeated and lost prestige. That Germany appreciated the serious blow which had been dealt Teutonic influence in the Balkans was indicated by the passage in 1913 of a new army bill appropriating over $250,000,000 to increase Germany's standing army to a peace footing of over 700,000 and a war footing of nearly 10,000,000. Then it was the turn of France to be alarmed. She lengthened the term of compulsory military service from two years to three. Russia and Austria made similar moves, none of them completed in 1914.
Economic Causes. Some people have declared that the present war is a dispute over pigs, meaning that Serbia's market for her principal product was under the control of Austria-Hungary. This is a very much exaggerated way of saying what many economists believe, that this war, like many others, has been produced chiefly by economic causes, and is, in essence, a struggle for markets. The Industrial Revolution, which introduced the factory system into England in the eighteenth century, had helped make Great Britain the leading commercial nation of the world. The effects of the Industrial Revolution were not felt in Germany until after 1880, since which time German industries have made marvelous progress, and goods "made in Germany" have appeared in every market. Great Britain and Germany thus became dangerous commercial rivals. Germany's Drang nach Oslen was interpreted as an effort to secure some or all of the rich trade with India. Germany's increasing navy was undoubtedly intended to dispute Great Britain's supremacy on the seas and help German merchants secure wider markets. Likewise, the hostility between Russia and Germany may be partly explained by the conflict of economic development. Russia, seriously needing more seaports to develop her resources, has long coveted Constantinople, whose control or possession was also a keystone in Germany's eastward expansion. In pursuance of her policy Russia has played the godmother to the various Balkan states and could hardly be indifferent to their humiliation or extinction.
What has been said ought to make it clear that the European situation in 1914 was a hair-trigger situation, which needed only a slight disturbance to produce tremendous effects.
Outbreak of the War. The hostility of the Serbs against Austria because of her annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 and her attitude toward Serbian expansion in 1912-1913, has been noted. In spite of this hostility toward everything Austrian, on June 28, 1914, the Austrian Crown Prince and Princess made a visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. While riding through the streets of this city they were both slain by the bullets of a young Austrian Serb, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Pan-Serbian ideals. This murder of the Austrian Crown Prince was interpreted in Austria-Hungary as a part of the Pan-Serbian movement, which aimed at the inclusion of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a Greater Serbia. In what followed, two motives actuated the Austrian rulers: (i) Serbia, much stronger as a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, lay in the path of the Drang nach Osten ambition; (2) the success of the Pan-Serbian movement might encourage other racial groups to seek independence and completely disrupt the Empire. Some have said that Austria's choice thus lay between a civil war and a foreign war. Austrian investigators "satisfied" themselves that the murder at Sarajevo had been planned in Belgrade with the knowledge and connivance of high Serbian officials. Wherefore, on July 23, 1914, Austria presented to Serbia an ultimatum, couched in the most vigorous language and demanding compliance within forty-eight hours. It was the sort of ultimatum which no nation presents to an equal unless it desires war; presented to a smaller nation like Serbia it could mean only war or the reduction of the smaller state to the position of a dependent vassal.
Realizing that another crisis had arisen, the statesmen of Great Britain, France, and Russia strove first to secure an extension of time. It is a striking fact that all three of these countries were confronted by serious internal difficulties. Great Britain was threatened with civil war in Ireland over Home Rule; Petrograd was involved in a great strike; in France a government scandal had called from the Minister of War a declaration that the army was in a deplorable state of unpreparedness. Austria flatly refused any extension of time, and the British and Russian ministers persuaded Serbia to make as great a concession as possible.
The Serbian reply was presented just two minutes before the expiration of the time limit. It yielded practically everything which Austria had demanded, so much so that the Russian minister declared that the crisis was over. The demand that Austrian officials should be allowed to sit in Serbian courts at the hearings was not yielded, but even this question Serbia offered to submit to the Hague Court for arbitration. Austria professed to find the answer unsatisfactory and on July 28 declared war on Serbia. In the meantime the Russian ambassador in Vienna had stated that "any action taken by Austria to humiliate Serbia could not leave Russia indifferent." Austria's action in declaring war, then, is explicable on only two grounds: either she was convinced that Russia was bluffing and would back down, or else Austria was prepared deliberately to bring on a general European war.
Germany and Russia. Throughout all these negotiations Germany had backed Austria fully, refusing to make any move which might have helped in preserving the peace. Now Russia began to mobilize her armies. It became plain that the only hope for peace was to secure some agreement between Russia and Austria. Many efforts to this end were put forth, and on July 31 Austria finally agreed to discuss with Russia the terms of the ultimatum to Serbia. This slim chance of preventing a break at the eleventh hour was immediately nullified by an ultimatum delivered by Germany to Russia at midnight on July 31, demanding that Russia should cease military preparations and begin to demobilize her armies within twelve hours. Russia made no reply; and at 5 P. M. on August i Germany declared war on Russia. This action necessarily involved war also on France, for France could hardly refuse to aid her ally.
Germany and Belgium. In 1839 Great Britain, France, Austria, Russia, and Prussia joined in guaranteeing the independence and perpetual neutrality of Belgium. Treaties between Great Britain and France and between Great Britain and Prussia, signed just before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, pledged Great Britain to aid in defending the neutrality of Belgium if either belligerent violated it. In July, 1914, when war again became imminent, Great Britain tried to secure a renewal of this agreement of 1870. France expressed a willingness to make such an agreement; but the German Government refused to agree to respect the neutrality of Belgium, and two days later, on August 2, demanded the right of passage through Belgian territory. Belgium returned a flat refusal and was invaded on August 4. Later, the same day, Great Britain declared war on Germany. That the German authorities realized the seriousness of this step is evidenced by the efforts of Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg and of the Kaiser to condone what each frankly admitted was a breach of international law and a wrong, insisting, however, that military necessity demanded it. Von Bethmann-Hollweg added "Necessity knows no law."
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