I have become extremely interested in World War One and wanted to write a synopsis about the events that led to it. This is like writing those history essays we used to do back in school; I miss my favourite subject but I promise I’ll try to do this here more often from now on; ooh another resolution. P:
It is strange, on looking backwards a hundred years, to think about how easily World War One could have been prevented and how ironical the entire build up that led to it was.
The entire process began with the assassination of the Austria-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia where they had been invited to watch military troop maneuvers and later inaugurate a museum. The background of this assassination is interesting and can be traced back to Serbia. The Treaty of Berlin of 1878 was what recognized Serbia as a sovereign European state. However, in 1903, Serbian military murdered the king and queen and replaced them; forming a newer nationalistic nation which was keen to expand. This led to the souring of relationship with Austria-Hungary.
It was found that the Black Hand was responsible for the assassination. The Black Hand was a nationalist Serbian secret organization dedicated to anti-Austrian propaganda and sabotage. When the Austria-Hungary investigation rounded up the assassins, the Serbian government’s defiant response enraged them. As a result, they delivered what became known as the “July Ultimatum” to Sebia, three weeks after the assassination.
The ultimatum was tough-worded and implicated Austria-Hungary’s anger towards the Serbian toleration of machinations directed against their empire. They asked Serbia:
- To suppress any publication which incites to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy . . .
- To dissolve immediately the society styled Narodna Odbrana . . and to proceed in the same manner against the other societies . . which engage in propaganda against [Austria]
- To eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, both as regards the teaching body and the methods of instruction, all that serves or might serve to foment the propaganda against Austria-Hungary
- To remove from the military service and the administration in general all officers guilty of propaganda against [Austria–names to be given over by the Austrian govt.]
- To accept the collaboration in Serbia of organs of [A-H govt.] in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy
- To take judicial proceedings against the accessories to the plot of 28 June who are on Serbian territory; Organs delegated by [A-H] will take part in the investigations relating thereto
- To proceed without delay to the arrest of [two named persons implicated according to the preliminary investigation undertaken by Austria]
- To prevent by effective measures the cooperation of [Serbia] in the illicit traffic in arms and explosives across the frontier . . .
- To furnish [Austria] with explanations regarding the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian officials both in Serbia and abroad, who . . .have not hesitated since the outrage of 28 June to express themselves . .in terms of hostility towards [Austria]
- To notify [Austria] without delay of the execution of the[se] measures
Austria-Hungary’s main purpose was to generate an opportunity for themselves to attack Serbia. Serbia responded by agreeing to the clauses (they had little choice) but demanded clarification over some sub-clauses. However, that was the cue Austria-Hungary was looking for to declare war (they had already asked Germany to support them in case Serbia sought help from its powerful ally Russia and Germany had been encouraging). Finally thus, on 28 July 1914, A-H declared war on Serbia.
Examining the Russian point of view, not only were they bound by a treaty to support Serbia, A-H’s attack on Serbia threatened the Russian empire and so Russia, much to the surprise of other European nations, began to mobilize its huge army. Germany had, of course, been fully supportive towards Austria-Hungary from the very beginning and the Russian mobilization resulted in their declaring their support towards A-H. Also, France was bound to Russia by another secret treaty and besides, was eager to win back Alsace and Lorraine which she had lost in the Prussian war and so she too jumped onto the bandwagon that was going to war. Britain initially restrained from entering the war and Belgium vowed to stay neutral too. However, Germany requested a passage through Belgium in order to be able to attack France (Germany was easily squeezed between Russia and France. The Russian army was huge but also primitive, barbaric and undisciplined. However, Germany’s plan was to attack and occupy France while the Russians mobilized and then, once the threat from the south and south-west was minimized, to turn its forces northwards). Belgium was thus forced to give up its neutral stand and begged Britain for support. Britian, bound to both France and Belgium by treaties, had to agree. Italy refused to join the war despite being bound to Germany and Austria-Hungary by appealing to a clause that demanded support only during a defensive war, wheras this, she said was of a purely offensive nature. Japan supported the Allies as a result of another treaty. The United States of America, led by President Woodrow Wilson, was the only sensible superpower which remained entirely neutral.
However, America’s ultimate reasons for joining in the war and tipping the scales in 1917 are extremely interesting. Up until then, Germany was rather successfully keeping both the French-British as well as the Russian attack at bay. However, the Allies had one trump card up their sleeves. They had cut-off Germany’s trade with neutral nations by seizing or turning back all ships that made such an attempt. Thus Germany was slowly starving (German farms were not being worked because the farmers had been sent to fight too); the frontline soldiers had very little to survive on, whenever they launched an offensive, German officers had a hard time getting their platoons to move because the soldiers would simply stop to eat up the Allies supplies. Thus Germany also decided to give the Allies tit-for-tat by engaging in submarine warfare of their own. Despite the USA’s continuous demands asking them to respect international trade laws and consider the implications of the barbaric act of sinking innocent passenger and goods ships, Germany went ahead and sank the passenger liner Lusitania, which had 128 American citizens on board. USA’s public opinion was an indignant outcry but President Wilson still did not concede. He issued Germany an ultimatum which, at first, Germany complied with. The Kaiser was impressed by his naval fleet’s advice to use their U-boats to cut British supplies. Thus Germany miscalculated and made one of their biggest war mistakes: unrestricted submarine warfare. They calculated that in five months, the Allies would be starving. Meanwhile, by bringing up an old Mexican feud, they aimed to keep USA engaged long enough to win the war (also including American mobilization time). However, British intelligence intercepted and decoded German messages and this resulted in enraging the Americans enough to draw them into the war quickly.
I must, however, go back and mention the thing that I found to be most ironic about the start of the war: it was the dilly-dallying of the European rulers and the fact that most citizens of the involved nations were against the war; however the aristocracy drew them into it, enrolling young common men to the warfront. Hundreds of thousands of men, with no war experience were duly “trained” and handed guns they could barely shoot with; their leaders were incompetent and lost, leaving them more or less to fend for themselves once they were in the battlefield. The aristocrats were themselves more than eager to lead in the war despite their lack of military know-how. The real war heroes were the common men who found ways and means of surviving, devised tricks and techniques following common sense and logic. And their women back home, who were left to thier own means for the first time, had to do odd jobs against the injustices they faced, feed their elderly and children, take care of the wounded who returned and pray for those who were at the battlefield. For the British as well as the Russian, the good thing that came out of this was the women’s campaign for votes and the Russian revolution. The war made the common man finally decide to take a stand against the injustices being piled upon him; it hardened him and taught him to think. It taught him to look beyond his leaders, to look beyond right of inheritance and value right by merit.
Well, that’s it for now. ((: