The Prehistory of the First World War in 1914 Part II

The Prehistory of the First World War in 1914 Part II

The next big crisis, the Bosnian annexation crisis (1908/09), was located in the east: the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had only been occupied in 1878, by Austria-Hungary provoked a sharp protest from Serbia, which saw itself supported by Russia. With a veiled ultimatum, Germany forced Russia, which was still militarily weakened, to give in, which in turn caused Serbia to withdraw. What remained was the growing national bitterness in Serbia and the inner hopelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A first generation of intellectuals who were growing up protested against the persistent refusal of political self-determination or at least participation. These and other tensions made the Balkans the »powder keg of Europe« and promoted a Greater Serbian agitation, Black Hand «1914 organized assassination attempt in Sarajevo.

In the 2nd Morocco Crisis (1911) the German Reich was already maneuvering close to the edge of the World War, for the first time under the strong pressure of an angry public opinion from the Pan-German Association, which most of the bourgeois parties in the Reichstag joined. At the height of the crisis, the Reich government backed away from a British warning, but now it felt even more “encircled” and inhibited in its policy. The army had pushed for immediate war, the navy for restraint because it still saw armaments deficits. In the aftermath of the second Moroccan crisis, the last British attempt to restrict armaments on both sides failed in February 1912 (Haldane -Mission) of the German demand for British neutrality in a continental war, regardless of who the aggressor was.

According to, the last major conflict before the outbreak of World War I presented the two Balkan Wars as a logical continuation of the Oriental or Balkan Inquiry and the associated European crisis in the 19th century: the military collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1st Balkan War (1912/13) and the Bulgaria, protected by Austria-Hungary in the Second Balkan War (1913), indirectly amounted to a defeat for the German Empire and Austria-Hungary. A warning from Reich Chancellor T. von Bethmann Hollweg about the dynamism of the South Slav movement, which was represented by Serbia and from now on directed against Austria-Hungary, led to a message from British Foreign Minister Sir Edward Gray to the German ambassador in London that Germany could not count on Great Britain’s neutrality in a continental war.

In response to Grey’s statement, Kaiser Wilhelm II convened the “Council of War” on December 8, 1912, at which it became clear that the Chief of Staff H. von Moltke was determined to resolve the conflict, which was now regarded as inevitable, at the earliest opportunity. Armament-related constraints of the Navy, however, made the summer of 1914 at the earliest appear to be the most favorable point in time: The expansion of Heligoland into a submarine harbor and the expansion of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal (today the Kiel Canal) to accommodate battleships had to be awaited.

The crisis between the German Reich and Russia over the sending of a military delegation under O. Liman von Sanders to the Ottoman Empire to reorganize the Turkish army in 1913 intensified the dispute between the two states and again referred to a point of global political neuralgic for a century: Constantinople and the straits. In contrast, the agreements on a possible division of the Portuguese colonies in Africa (August / October 1913), the continuation of the construction of the Baghdad Railway and the Persian Gulf region (June 1914) marked a German-British détente on the eve of the First World War away.

After the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the initiative initially lay with Vienna. There a war party under Chief of Staff F. Graf Conrad von Hötzendorf and Foreign Minister L. Graf Berchtold urged the rapid exploitation of the assassination attempt for a military strike against Serbia, which had long since become politically uncomfortable. However, the German protection against Russia was indispensable for protection, which is why it was up to Berlin to give Austria-Hungary a signal to act by means of the “blank check” of July 5-6, 1914. Berlin dared to “leap into the dark” (Bethmann Hollweg ), so that Vienna could prove its status as a great power and its value as an ally of the German Reich through an immediate “expression of strength” in the Balkans. Germany hoped to be able to keep the great powers out of the conflict (localization of the war), but accepted the risk of a major war. Attempts to mediate by the other powers after the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was handed over to Serbia (23 July) was repulsed by Germany. Only when Great Britain submitted the proposal for a conference of ambassadors after the Austro-Hungarian bombardment of Belgrade (July 29), Berlin tried unsuccessfully to persuade Vienna to break off the war against Serbia. Now, in view of the partial mobilization in Russia from July 29th, the German military sat down. (Order for general mobilization on July 30th

The July crisis of 1914, after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia (July 28), developed within a week from the Balkan war aimed at by the German Reich over the calculated continental war with declarations of war against Russia (August 1), which was inevitable due to the rigidity of military planning. and France (3.8.) to the world war, which was undesirable for Germany and provoked by the march through neutral Belgium, which became reality with the British declaration of war on August 4, 1914.

The sole war guilt of the German Reich, enshrined in Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, sparked heated disputes both in public and in German and international historiography in the interwar period. With the so-called Fischer controversy (named after the historian F. Fischer ), this primarily political and emotionally charged debate experienced a no less controversial new edition in the 60s and 70s of the 20th century, with the result that a wealth of source-oriented studies have considerably enriched our knowledge of the First World War. In addition to traditional political historiography, there was economic and social history, the history of mentality and also the history of everyday life, i. H. the “story from below”, so that the Fischer controversy became the starting point of a modern German, internationally recognized historiography. The extent of German responsibility for the outbreak of war is still controversial among German historians to this day. To assess the question of war guilt not only the German actions, but also those of all belligerent powers before and during the July crisis are to be included.

In all of the states involved in the war, there were spontaneous demonstrations for the war, borne by nationalist enthusiasm. In the German Reich the “August experience” was transfigured; this pushed the anti-war rallies that were still carried out in numerous German cities at the end of July 1914 into the background.

Since Italy, as a member of the Triple Alliance, did not see the case of the alliance fulfilled and initially remained neutral, the following power constellation resulted: the original twin alliance Germany and Austria-Hungary, later expanded by the Ottoman Empire (November 1914) and Bulgaria (October 1915), as Central Powers against the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, Russia), Serbia and Belgium (after the German invasion on August 4, 1914) and Japan (August 23). The Triple Entente, an originally loose arrangement, only formed a formal alliance in the London Treaty on September 5, 1914, with a ban on separate peace, as provided for by the Dual or Triple Alliance. The other opponents of the Central Powers joined this war alliance of the Entente Powers as » Allies “, later also the USA, which as” Associates “kept a certain distance. The most important war participants on the side of the Allies were later Italy – with declaration of war on Austria-Hungary (May 1915) and Germany (August 1916) – as well as Romania, Portugal (1916), the USA, Greece, China, Brazil and most of the other Latin American countries (1917). Until recently, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Spain remained essentially neutral.

The Prehistory of the First World War 2

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