The nations slithered over the
brink into the boiling cauldron of war without any trace of
apprehension or dismay... The nations backed their
machines over the precipice ... not one of them wanted war;
certainly not on this scale.
David Lloyd George,
War Memoirs (1934)
Lloyd George was a minister
in 1914 and Prime Minister during the war.
There was no "slide" to war, no war
caused by "inadvertence," but instead a world war caused by a
fearful set of elite statesmen and rulers making deliberate
Book review in The
American Historical Review of
Richard F. Hamilton
Holger H. Herwig,
The Origins of World War I (2003)
Five weeks after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on
28 June 1914, there was a world war.
How did such a thing happen?
the Cold War - basic overview
All these links are quite hard:
The July crisis - how the assassination of Franz Ferdinand
caused a war
The Rush to
War - by the amateur historian Frank Smitha.
The Schlieffen Plan
How did the murder of Franz Ferdinand lead to a world war,
- Giles Hill on the outbreak of war in 1914
What was Austria-Hungary to do?
It is important to realise that
hated Serbia anyway.
Nationalism threatened the very existence of the 'polyglot
empire', and the Austrian Chief of Staff General Hotzendorf had
asked for a 'surprise' war to destroy Serbia more than 25 times
in the eight years after 1906.
So the assassination was used by Austria as an opportunity to
sort out the Serbs:
Austria-Hungary approached the Germans and got a promise (the
that they could rely on Germany's
The Austro-Hungarian government sent Serbia an
ultimatum containing ten really tough demands.
Failure to meet all of these demands, they said, would result in
war. (They expected Serbia to reject the ultimatum,
which would give Austria-Hungary an excuse to invade.)
But the Serb government did not reject the ultimatum.
Instead it sent a
reply in which it agreed to everything EXCEPT part of demand
6. It was SO conciliatory that, after reading it,
Kaiser Wilhelm wrote on 28 July: 'the reply amounted to a
capitulation in the humblest style, and with it there
disappeared all reason for war'.
declared war on Serbia.
The Austrian government was not much concerned to punish the crime of
Sarajevo. They wanted to punish a different crime - the
crime that Serbia committed by existing as a free national state.
AJP Taylor, Europe -
Grandeur and Decline (1967)
AJP Taylor was a
respected, but outspoken, historian
The historian Paul Schroeder, in
1972, suggested that the question should not be why war broke
out in 1914, but why not before? What snapped
in 1914? The answer, he argued, was Austria-Hungary.
6. The [Serbian] Government considers it its duty as a
matter of course to begin an investigation against all those persons who
have participated in the outrage of June 28th and who are in its
territory. As far as the cooperation in this investigation
of specially delegated officials of the [Austro-Hungarian] Government is
concerned, this cannot be accepted, as this is a violation of the
constitution and of criminal procedure.
Serbian Response to the
25 July, 1914
The Serbs had wrong-footed the
Austrians. Whereas, on 28 June, everyone in the
world had supported the Austrians, now they looked unfair,
unreasonable and war-mad. As the Austrian army
shelled Belgrade (the capital of Serbia) the Serbians called up
their army and asked their ally, Russia, for help.
What was Russia to do?
Russia did not want war. The Russian
Grand Council decided - if Serbia was invaded - not to
give military support, but to appeal to a conference of the
Even the mad Rasputin warned that a war would destroy Russia.
But the Tsar Nicholas
had already let down Serbia in the Bosnian crisis of 1908.
And - he told the Kaiser in a telegram - it was a matter of
right and wrong (see Source C). Nicholas decided to
mobilise (call up) his army.
At first, Nicholas hoped to mobilise only against
Austria-Hungary, but -when his generals told him that this was
impossible - he was forced to order a
mobilisation (against Germany as well as Austria-Hungary).
However, he sent a telegram to the Kaiser assuring him that the
mobilisation was NOT against Germany.
An unjust war has been declared
on a weak country. The anger in Russia shared
fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon
I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be
forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.
To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war I beg you
in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop
your allies from going too far.
Telegram, Tsar Nicolas to
Kaiser Wilhelm, 29 July
Nicholas and Wilhelm were
cousins, and had been great friends.
What was Germany to do? To allow a
country to mobilise against you without response, said the
Germans, was like allowing someone to hold a loaded gun to your
head without doing anything.
the Germans knew what they were going to do. They
had had a plan - called the
Schlieffen Plan after the German Chief of Staff Alfred von
Schlieffen Plan was Germany's Plan for mobilisation.
It was based on three ideas:
If there was a war,
Germany would have to fight France AND Russia.
France was weak
(Germany had defeated France in ten weeks in 1870).
Russia was strong but
slow (Schlieffen estimated that it would take Russia 6 weeks to
mobilise her army).
Schlieffen Plan, therefore, was developed as a huge hammer blow
at Paris, using 90% of the German army, which would take France
out of the war quickly (allowing Germany to
transport its army back across Germany to fight Russia).
It is important to realise that the Schlieffen
Plan for mobilisation was a plan of attack - so Germany
mobilising, and Germany going to war, were one and the same
And the Schlieffen Plan did not allow for a
situation like that in 1914. Things were going wrong
for Germany - Russia was mobilising, but France showed no sign
of going to war to help the Russians. Now Russia was
mobilising and was going to be ready too soon - every day that
passed gave the Russian army one more day to get ready.
When the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg asked General Moltke:
'Is the Fatherland in danger?' the reply was: 'Yes'.
1 August: The
Kaiser, therefore, gave the order to mobilise and Germany
declared war on Russia.
claiming that French planes had bombed the German town of
Nuremberg, Germany declared war on France.
with German troops on the march to invade France, the French
declared war on Germany.
In 1969 AJP Taylor published his
book War by Timetable. In it, he argued
that railway timetables played a key part in starting the
First World War.
Mobilising millions of men was a
hugely complicated job. Every country used the
railways, and spent years working out how to get all those
soldiers and all their supplies to where they needed to be -
eg the Schlieffen Plan took nine years to devise (1897-1906).
every country had only one Plan
- the Russians had 'Plan A', the
French 'Plan 17';
and it was too much to devise
So, when the crisis came -
although it didn't fit the situation that these Plans
envisaged - every country had to go ahead and implement
their Plans because they had no other plans of what to do, and
it was too late to make a new one. The Tsar HAD to
order a general mobilisation, even though he only wanted to
mobilise against Austria. And when, on
1 August, Kaiser Wilhelm tried to
pause the German mobilisation, his generals told that he
couldn't; 11,000 trains were on the move, and war could not
now be stopped.
This cartoon - 'A Chain of
Friendship' - appeared in the American newspaper the Brooklyn
Eagle in July 1914. The caption read:
Austria attacks Serbia, Russia will fall upon Austria, Germany
upon Russia, and France and England upon Germany.
The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey,
had spent the crisis trying to get the different countries to
negotiate - Lloyd George described him as being like the weak
chairman of tempestuous committee: 'calling out in an appealing
but not compelling voice: "Order! Order".'
The Schlieffen Plan had a error. It
planned for the German army, when it attacked France, to go
through Belgium. The day after
declaring war on Russia, therefore, the Germans asked permission
for their army to pass through Belgium. The Belgians
refused! So the next day, Germany invaded Belgium.
Britain was obliged (by the Treaty of Washington, 1839) to help Belgium in the
event of an invasion. Therefore, Britain sent
Germany an ultimatum demanding, by midnight, a German promise to
withdraw from Belgium. The Germans were amazed: 'For
a scrap of paper, Great Britain is going to make war?' asked Bethmann-Hollweg.
That night, crowds gathered in Parliament Square
in London. As Big Ben struck 11 pm (midnight in
Berlin) they sang God Save the King, and then ran home crying:
'War! War! War!' As Grey watched the crowds leave,
he commented: 'The lights are going out all over Europe: we
shall not see them lit again in our lifetime'.
a cartoon by
FH Townsend in Punch,
12 August 1914.
Notice how the cartoon
portrays Belgium as a threatened child, and the
stereotyped figure of Germany, as an aggressive military
man with sausages.
The greatest war of modern times, and
perhaps in the whole history of the human race, was begun by Germany
using the crime of a schoolboy as an excuse..
The Great War - the
Standard History (1914)
A patriotic magazine
published weekly in Britain.
All over Europe, people
greeted war with tremendous joy and enthusiasm.
'These people are very anxious to send our soldiers to face
death', commented Lloyd George to the Prime Minister as they
walked to the House of Commons.
Debate as a whole class: 'Who
was to blame for the outbreak of World War One?'
think of arguments
which justify your opinion
points which disprove any
arguments which might be presented against you.