Explain the ability of small states to survive wars with major powers

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Who Started the Great War in 1914?




T H I S I S A B O R Z O I B O O K P U B L I S H E D B Y A L F R E D A . K N O P F

Copyright © 2004. by David Fromkin

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.,

New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.


Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

All photographs are reprinted with the kind permission of the Illustrated London News

Library excerpt: “Colonel Edward House” and “Count GrafBerchtold” (Hulton-Deutsch

Collection/Corbis); “German General Erich von Falkenhayn” (Corbis); and “German

Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz” (Bettman/Corbis).

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Fromkin, David.

Europe’s last summer: who started the Great War in 1914? /by David Fromkin.—1st ed.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 0-3 7 5 – 4 1 1 5 6 – 9

1. World War, 1914-1918—Causes. I. Title: Who started the Great War in 1914?.

II. Title. D$ 11.F746 2004

940.3’n—dc22 2003027391

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition




The peremptory transition from an apparently profound peace to violent general war in a few mid-summer weeks in 1 9 1 4 continues to defy attempts at explanation.

— J O H N K E E G – A N , The First World War




Map xiii


(i) Out of the Blue 5

(it) The Importance of the Question 5

(Hi) A Summer to Remember 12

P A R T O N E E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

C H A P T E R 1 E M P I R E S C L A S H 1 7

C H A P T E R 2 C L A S S E S S T R U G G L E 2 1

C H A P T E R 3 N A T I O N S Q U A R R E L 2 5

C H A P T E R 4 C O U N T R I E S A R M 2 8

C H A P T E R 5 Z A R A T H U S T R A P R O P H E S I E S 3 9

C H A P T E R 6 D I P L O M A T S A L I G N 4 3


C H A P T E R 7 T H E E A S T E R N Q U E S T I O N 4 9


C H A P T E R 9 E X P L O S I V E G E R M A N Y 5 4





C H A P T E R 10 M A C E D O N I A — O U T OF C O N T R O L 67

C H A P T E R 1 1 A U S T R I A — F I R S T O F F T H E M A R K 7 0

C H A P T E R 1 2 F R A N C E A N D G E R M A N Y M A K E T H E I R P L A Y

C H A P T E R 1 3 I T A L Y G R A S P S ; T H E N T H E B A L K A N S D O T O O

C H A P T E R 1 4 T H E S L A V I C T I D E 8 7

C H A P T E R 1 5 E U R O P E G O E S T O T H E B R I N K 9 4

C H A P T E R 16 M O R E B A L K A N T R E M O R S 98

C H A P T E R 1 7 A N A M E R I C A N T R I E S T O S T O P I T 104

P A R T F O U R M U R D E R !

C H A P T E R 1 8 T H E L A S T W A L T Z 1 1 3

C H A P T E R 1 9 I N T H E L A N D O F T H E A S S A S S I N S 118

C H A P T E R 2 0 T H E R U S S I A N C O N N E C T I O N 129

C H A P T E R 2 1 T H E T E R R O R I S T S S T R I K E 132

C H A P T E R 22 E U R O P E Y A W N S 137

C H A P T E R 2 3 D I S P O S I N G O F T H E B O D I E S 144

C H A P T E R 2 4 R O U N D I N G U P T H E S U S P E C T S 146


C H A P T E R 2 5 G E R M A N Y S I G N S A B L A N K C H E C K 153

C H A P T E R 2 6 T H E G R E A T D E C E P T I O N 162

C H A P T E R 2 7 B E R C H T O L D R U N S O U T O F T I M E 168

C H A P T E R 2 8 T H E S E C R E T I S K E P T 170

P A R T S I X C R I S I S !


C H A P T E R 3 0 P R E S E N T I N G A N U L T I M A T U M 185

C H A P T E R 3 1 S E R B I A M O R E O R L E S S A C C E P T S 1 9 5





C H A P T E R 3 2 S H O W D O W N I N B E R L I N 201

C H A P T E R 33 J U L Y 26 206

C H A P T E R 3 4 J U L Y 2 7 2 1 2

C H A P T E R 3 5 J U L Y 2 8 2 1 7

C H A P T E R 3 6 J U L Y 2 9 225

C H A P T E R 37 J U L Y 30 229

C H A P T E R 3 8 J U L Y 3 1 234

C H A P T E R 3 9 A U G U S T 1 257

C H A P T E R 4 0 A U G U S T 2 243

C H A P T E R 4 1 A U G U S T 3 247

C H A P T E R 42 A U G U S T 4 249

C H A P T E R 4 3 S H R E D D I N G T H E E V I D E N C E 2 5 1


C H A P T E R 4 4 A S S E M B L I N G I N T H E L I B R A R Y 257

C H A P T E R 4 5 W H A T DID N O T H A P P E N 259

C H A P T E R 4 6 T H E K E Y T O W H A T H A P P E N E D 269

C H A P T E R 4 7 W H A T WAS I T A B O U T ? 276

C H A P T E R 4 8 W H O C O U L D H A V E P R E V E N T E D I T ? 282

C H A P T E R 4 9 W H O S T A R T E D I T ? 286

C H A P T E R 5 0 C O U L D I T H A P P E N A G A I N ? 292

C H A P T E R 5 1 S U M M I N G U P 295


C H A P T E R 52 A U S T R I A ‘ S WAR 299

C H A P T E R 53 G E R M A N Y ‘ S WAR 303

Appendix 1: T h e Austrian N o t e 3 0 7

Appendix 2: T h e Serbian Reply 313

W h o Was W h o 5 1 7

Notes 319

Bibliography 331

Acknowledgments 5 5 7

Index 339








P R O L O G U E :

( i ) Out of the Blue

Shortly after eleven o’clock at night on Sunday, December 29,1997, United Airlines Flight 826, a Boeing 747 carrying 374 passengers and 19 crew, was two hours into its scheduled trip across the Pacific from Tokyo to Honolulu. It had reached its assigned cruising altitude of between 31,000 and 33,000 feet. Meal service was about to be completed. It had been an uneventful trip.

In a terrifying instant everything changed. The plane was struck, without warning, by a force that was invisible. The aircraft abruptly nosed up; then it nosed down into a freefall. Screaming bodies were flung about promiscuously, colliding with ceilings and with serving carts. A thirty-two-year-old Japanese woman was killed and 102 peo- ple were injured. Regaining control of the jumbo jet, the captain and cockpit crew guided Flight 826 back to the Japanese airport from which it had taken off hours before.

What was so frightening about this episode was its mysteriousness. Until the moment of impact, the flight had been a normal one. There had been no reason to expect that it would be anything else. There had been no warning: no flash of lightning across the sky. You could




4 P R O L O G U E

not see it coming, whatever “it” may have been. Passengers had no idea what had hit them and airline companies were in no position to assure the public that something similar would not happen again.

Experts quoted by the communications media were of the opinion that Flight 826 had fallen victim to what they called “clear air turbu- lence.” They likened this to a horizontal tornado, but one that you could not see. Some of the experts who were interviewed expressed the hope that within a few years some sort of sensing technology would be developed to detect these invisible storms before they strike. Transparency, the public learned from this episode, signifies little; a pacific sky can rise up in wrath as suddenly as can a pacific ocean.

Something like such an attack of clear air turbulence is supposed by some to have happened to European civilization in 1 9 1 4 during its passage from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. The world of the 1890s and 1900s had been, not unlike our own age, a time of inter- national congresses, disarmament conferences, globalization of the world economy, and schemes to establish some sort of league of nations to outlaw war. A long stretch of peace and prosperity was expected by the public to go on indefinitely.

Instead, the European world abruptly plunged out of control, crashing and exploding into decades of tyranny, world war, and mass murder. What tornado wrecked civilized Old Europe and the world it then ruled? In retrospect, it may be less of a mystery than some of those who lived through it imagined. The years 1 9 1 3 and 1 9 1 4 were ones of dangers and troubles. There were warning signs in the early decades of the twentieth century that catastrophe might well lie ahead; we can see that now, and military and political leaders could see it then.

The sky out of which Europe fell was not empty; on the contrary, it was alive with processes and powers. The forces that were to devas- tate it—nationalism, socialism, imperialism, and the like—had been in motion for a long time. The European world already was buffeted by high winds. It had been traversing dangerous skies for a long time. The captain and the crew had known it. But the passengers, taken completely by surprise, insistently kept asking: why had they received no warning?



P R O L O G U E 5

(i i) The Importance of the Question

In the summer of 1 9 1 4 a war broke out in Europe that then spread to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. Known now, somewhat inaccurately, as the First World War, it ended by becoming in many ways the largest conflict that the planet had ever known. It deserved the name by which it was called at the time: the Great War.

To enter the lists, countries of the earth ranged themselves into one or another of two worldwide coalitions. One, led by Great Britain,* France, and Russia, was called the Triple Entente;* the other, led by Germany and Austria-Hungary, was known at first as the Triple Alliance.5 Between them the two coalitions mobilized about 65 million troops. In Germany and France, nations that gam- bled their entire manhood on the outcome, 80 percent of all males between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine were called to the colors. In the ensuing clashes of arms they were slaughtered.

More than 20 million soldiers and civilians perished in the Great War, and an additional 21 million were wounded. Millions more fell victim to the diseases that the war unleashed: upwards of 20 million people died in the influenza pandemic of 1 9 1 8 – 1 9 alone.

The figures, staggering though they are, fail to tell the whole story or to convey the full impact of the war on the world of 1 9 1 4 . The consequences of the changes wrought by the crisis of European civi- lization are too many to specify and, in their range and in their depth, made it the turning point in modern history. That would be true even if, as some maintain, the war merely accelerated some of the changes to which it led.

On August 8 , 1 9 1 4 , only four days after Great Britain entered the war, the London Economist described it as “perhaps the greatest tragedy of human history.” That may well remain true. In 1979 the

‘Beginning in 1801, the official title of Great Britain was the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”; for short, the United Kingdom. Called “the Allies” during the war. HVith Italy as the third member in peacetime. Called “the Central Powers” during the war.



6 P R O L O G U E

distinguished American diplomat and historian George Kennan wrote that he had “come to see the First World War, as I think many reasonably thoughtful people have learned to see it, as the grand sem- inal catastrophe of this century.”

Fritz Stern, one of the foremost scholars of German affairs, writes of “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the Great War, from which all other calamities sprang.”

The military, political, economic, and social earthquakes brought about a redrawing of the map of the world. Empires and dynasties were swept away. New countries took their place. Disintegration of the political structure of the globe continued over the course of the twentieth century. Today the earth is divided into about four times as many independent states as existed when the Europeans went to war in 1 9 1 4 . Many of the new entities—Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are examples that come to mind—are countries that never existed before.

The Great War gave birth to terrible forces that would plague the rest of the century. To drive Russia out of the war, the German gov- ernment financed Lenin’s Bolshevik communists, and introduced Lenin himself into Russia in 1917—in Winston Churchill’s words, “in the same way that you might send a phial containing a culture of typhoid or of cholera to be poured into the water supply of a great city.” Bolshevism was only the first of such war-born furies, followed in years to come by fascism and Nazism.

Yet the war also set in motion two of the great liberation move- ments of the twentieth century. As Europe tore itself apart, its over- lordship of the rest of the planet came undone, and over the course of the century, literally billions of people achieved their independence. Women, too, in parts of the world, broke free from some of the shack- les of the past, arguably as a direct consequence of their involvement in war work—jobs in factories and in the armed forces—beginning in 1 9 1 4 .

Another kind of liberation, a wide-ranging freedom from restraint, came out of the Great War and has expanded ever since in behavior, sex life, manners, dress, language, and the arts. Not everybody believes it to be a good thing that so many rules and restrictions have gone by the way. But whether for good or ill, the world has traveled a long way—from the Victorian age to the twenty-first century—along paths that were blasted out for it by the warriors of 1 9 1 4 .

In searching for the origins of any of the great issues that have



P R O L O G U E 7

faced the world during the twentieth century, or that confront it today, it is remarkable how often we come back to the Great War. As George Kennan observed: “all the lines of inquiry, it seems to me, lead back to it.” Afterwards the choices narrowed. The United States and even Great Britain had a choice, for example, of whether or not to enter the First World War—indeed disagreement has persisted ever since as to whether they were wise to do so—but, realistically, the two countries had little or no choice at all about whether or not to join battle in the Second.

There was nothing inevitable about the progression from the ear- lier conflict to the later one. The long fuse could have been cut at many points along the way from 1 9 1 4 to 1939, but nobody did cut it. So the First World War did in fact lead to the Second, even though it need not have done so, and the Second, whether or not it needed to do so, led to the Cold War. In 1991 historians Steven E. Miller and Sean M. Lynn-Jones maintained: “Most observers describe the present period of international politics as the ‘post-Cold War’ era but in many ways our age is better defined as the ‘post-World War F era.”

From the start, the explosion of 1 9 1 4 seemed to set off a series of chain reactions, and the serious consequences were soon apparent to contemporaries: In the Introduction to The Magic Mountain (1924), Thomas Mann wrote of “the Great War, in the beginning of which so much began that has scarcely yet left off beginning.”

Nor has it entirely left off today. On April 2 1 , 2001, the New York Times reported from France the return to their homes of thousands of people who had been evacuated temporarily because of a threat from munitions left over from World War I and stored near them. These included shells and mustard gas. The evacuees had been allowed to return home after fifty tons of the more dangerous muni- tions had been removed. But a hundred tons of the lethal materials remained—and remain. So munitions from the 1 9 1 4 war may yet explode in the twenty-first century.

Indeed, in a sense they already have. On September 1 1 , 2001, the Muslim fundamentalist suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City destroyed the heart of lower Manhattan and took some three thousand lives. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist chieftain who seemingly conjured up this horror and who threatened more, in his first televised statement afterwards described it as vengeance for



8 P R O L O G U E

what had happened eighty years earlier. By this he presumably meant the intrusion of the Christian European empires into the hitherto Muslim-governed Middle East in the aftermath of—and as a conse- quence of—the First World War. Bin Laden’s sympathizers who hijacked jumbo jets had smashed them into the twin towers in pur- suance of a quarrel seemingly rooted in the conflicts of 1 9 1 4 .

Similarly, the Iraq crisis that escalated in 2002-03 drove journalists and broadcast news personalities to their telephones, asking history professors from leading American universities how Iraq had emerged as a state from the embers of the First World War. It was a relevant question, for had there been no world war in 1 9 1 4 , there might well have been no Iraq in 2002.

It was indeed the seminal event of modern times.

What was the First World War about? How did it happen? Who started it? Why did it break out where and when it did? “Millions of deaths, and words, later, historians still have not agreed why,” as the “Millennium Special Edition” of The Economist (January 1, 1000-December 3 1 , 1999) remarked, adding that “none of it need have happened.” From the outset everybody said that the outbreak of war in 1 9 1 4 was literally triggered by a Bosnian Serb schoolboy when he shot and killed the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones. But practically everybody also agrees that the assassination provided not the cause, but merely the occasion, for first the Balkans, then Europe, and then the rest of the earth to take up arms.

The disproportion between the schoolboy’s crime and the confla- gration in which the globe was consumed, beginning thirty-seven days later, was too absurd for observers to credit the one as the cause of the other. Tens of millions of people could not be losing their lives, they felt, because one man and his wife—two people of whom many of them had never heard—had lost theirs. It did not seem possible. It could not, everyone said, be true.

Because the Great War was so enormous an event and so fraught with consequences, and because we want to keep anything similar from happening in the future, the inquiry as to how it occurred has become not only the most challenging but also the biggest question in modern history. But it remains elusive; in the words of the histo- rian Laurence Lafore, “the war was many things, not one, and the meanings of the word ’cause’ are also many.”



P R O L O G U E 9

In the 1940s and 1950s scholars tended to believe that they had learned all that there was to be known about the origins of the war, and that all that remained to be disputed was interpretation of the evidence. Beginning in the 1960s, however, sparked by the research of the great German historian Fritz Fischer—of whose views more will be said later—new information has come to light, notably from German, Austrian, and Serbian sources, and hardly a year goes by now without the appearance of new monographs adding consider- ably to our knowledge. Fischer inspired scholars to comb the archives for what was hidden. What follows in this book is an attempt to look at the old questions in the light of the new knowl- edge, to summarize the data, and then to draw some conclusions from it.

When and where did the march toward the war of 1 9 1 4 begin? Recently, in a Boston classroom, I asked university students to pin- point the first steps—before 1908—along the way. From their responses, the following may illustrate how many roads can be imag- ined to have led to Sarajevo.

The fourth century A.D. The decision to divide the Roman Empire between the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East had lasting consequences. The cultural divide that ramified into two dif- ferent branches of Christianity, two calendars, and two rival scripts (the Latin and the Cyrillic) persisted. The Roman Catholic Austrians and the Greek Orthodox Serbs, whose quarrel provided the occasion for the 1 9 1 4 war, were, in that sense, fated to be enemies.

The seventh century. The Slavs, who were to become Europe’s largest ethnic group, moved into the Balkans, where the Teutons already had arrived. The conflict between Slavic and Germanic peo- ples became a recurring theme of European history, and in the twen- tieth century pitted Teuton Germans and Austrians against Slavic Russians and Serbs.

The eleventh century. The formal split between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christianity generated a conflict of religious faith along the same fault line as those of ethnic group, alphabet, and culture—Roman versus Greek—a fault line that threatened the




southeast of Europe and was followed by the political earthquake that struck in 1 9 1 4 .

The fifteenth century. The conquest of Christian eastern and cen- tral Europe by the Muslim Ottoman (or Turkish) Empire deprived the peoples of the Balkans of centuries of experience in self- government. That perhaps contributed to the violence and fractious- ness of that area in the years that led up to the 1 9 1 4 war—and perhaps contributed to bringing it about.

The sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformation split Western Christendom. It divided the German peoples politically, and led to the curious relationship between Germany and Austria that lay at the heart of the crisis of July 1 9 1 4 .

The seventeenth century. The beginning of the centuries-long Ottoman retreat from Europe meant that the Turks were abandon- ing valuable lands that the Christian Great Powers coveted. Desire to seize those lands fed the rivalry between Austria and Russia that set off war in 1 9 1 4 .

1 8 7 0 – 7 1 . The creation of the German Empire and its annexation of French territory in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War made another European war likely as soon as France recovered suffi- ciently to try to take back what it had lost.

1 8 9 0 . The German emperor dismissed his Chancellor—his prime minister—Prince Otto von Bismarck. The new Chancellor reversed Bismarck’s policy of allying with both Austria and Russia to keep the peace between them. Instead, Germany sided with Austria against Russia in the struggle to control the Balkans, which encouraged Aus- tria to follow a dangerously bellicose policy that seemed likely to pro- voke an eventual Russian response.

1 8 9 0 5 . Rebuffed by Germany, and seeing no other alternative, reactionary, monarchical Russia was drawn into an alliance with republican France. This convinced Germany’s leaders that war was inevitable sooner or later, and that Germany stood a better chance of winning if it were waged sooner rather than later.




1900^. Germany’s attempt to rival Britain as a naval power was seen in London as a vital threat.

1 9 0 3 . In a bloody coup d’etat in Serbia, army officers belonging to a secret society butchered their pro-Austrian king and queen and replaced them with a rival dynasty that was pro-Russian. Austrian leaders reacted by planning to punish Serbia—a plan that if carried out threatened to lead to a dangerously wider conflict.

1 9 0 5 . The First Moroccan Crisis was a complicated affair. It will be described in Chapter 1 2 . In it Germany’s aggressive diplomacy had the unintended effect of unifying the other countries against it. Britain moved from mere friendship with France—the Entente Cordiale—to something closer to informal alliance, including con- versations between the two governments and military staff talks, and later to agreement and conversation with France’s ally Russia. There was a hardening of European alignments into rival and potentially enemy blocs: France, Britain, and Russia on one side, and an isolated Germany—with only halfhearted support from Austria-Hungary and Italy—on the other.

To some extent all of these were right answers. Other dates—among them 1908, which is discussed in the pages that follow—also served as the starting points of fuse lines that led to the explosions of 1 9 1 4 . All of them can be said to have contributed something to the coming of war.

Yet, in a sense all of them are wrong answers, too, to the question of why the conflict came. Thirty-seven days before the Great War the European world was comfortably at peace. Europe’s leaders were starting their summer vacations and none of them expected to be dis- turbed while away. What went wrong?

All of the fuse lines identified by my students had been as danger- ous to the peace of Europe in 1 9 1 0 and 1 9 1 2 as they were in 1 9 1 4 . Since they had not led to war i n i 9 i o o r i 9 i 2 , why did they in 1914? The question is not only why war came, but why war came in the European summer of 1 9 1 4 ; not why war? but—why this war?

Why did things happen as they did and not otherwise is a question that historians have been asking ever since Herodotus and Thucy- dides, Greeks of the fifth century B . C , started to do so more than




twenty-five hundred years ago. Whether such questions can be answered with any accuracy remains debatable; often so many tribu- taries flow into the stream that it is difficult to say which is its real source.

In its magnitude and many dimensions, the First World War is perhaps a supreme example of the complexity that challenges and baffles historians. Arthur Balfour, a prewar British Prime Minister, longtime Conservative statesman, philosopher, and named sponsor of the Jewish state in Palestine, is quoted somewhere as having said the war was too big to be comprehended. , Not merely, therefore, is the explanation of the war the biggest

question in modern history; it is an exemplary question, compelling us to reexamine what we mean by such words as “cause.” There were causes—many of them—for Europe’s Great Powers to be disposed to go to war with one another. There were other causes—immediate ones, with which this book is concerned—for them to have gone to war when and where and how they did.

(i i i) A Summer to Remember

To the man or woman in the streets of the Western world—someone who was alive in the vibrant early years of the twentieth century— nothing would have seemed further away than war. In those years men who dreamed of battlefield adventure had been hard pressed to find a war in which they could participate. In the year 1 9 0 1 , and in the thirteen years that followed, the peoples of western Europe and the English-speaking Americas were becoming consumers rather than warriors. They looked forward to more: more progress, more prosperity, more peace. The United States at that time (commented an English observer) “sailed upon a summer sea,” but so did Great Britain, France, and others. There had been no war among the Great Powers for nearly half a century, and the globalization of the world economy suggested that war had become a thing of the past. The cul- mination of those years in the hot, sun-drenched, gorgeous summer of 1 9 1 4 , the most beautiful within living memory, was remembered by many Europeans as a kind of Eden. Stefan Zweig spoke for many




when he wrote that he had rarely experienced a summer “more luxu- riant, more beautiful, and, I am tempted to say, more summery.”

Middle- and upper-class Britons in particular saw themselves as liv- ing in an idyllic world in which economic realities would keep Europe’s Great Powers from waging war on one another. For those with a comfortable income, the world in their time was more free than it is today. According to the historian A. J. P. Taylor, “until August 1 9 1 4 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state.” You could live anywhere you liked and as you liked. You could go to practically anywhere in the world without anyone’s permission. For the most part, you needed no passports, and many had none. The French geographer Andre Siegfried traveled all around the world with no identification other than his visiting card: not even a business card, but a personal one.

John Maynard Keynes remembered it, with wonder, as an era without exchange controls or customs barriers. You could bring any- thing you liked into Britain or send anything out. You could take any amount of currency with you when you traveled, or send (or bring back) any amount of currency; your bank did not report it to the gov- ernment, as it does today. And if you decided to invest any amount of money in almost any country abroad, there was nobody whose per- mission had to be asked, nor was permission needed to withdraw that investment and any profits it may have earned when you wanted to do so.

Even more than today, it was a time of free capital flows and free movements of people and goods. An outstanding current study of the world as of 2000 tells us that there was more globalization before the 1 9 1 4 war than there is now: “much of the final quarter of the twenti- eth century was spent merely recovering ground lost in the previous seventy-five years.”

Economic and financial intermingling and interdependence were among the powerful trends that made it seem that warfare among the major European powers had become impractical—and, indeed, obsolete.

One could easily feel safe in that world. Americans felt it at least as much if not more than Europeans. The historian and diplomat George Kennan remembers that before the 1 9 1 4 war Americans felt a sense of security “such as I suppose no people had ever had since



1 4 P R O L O G U E

the days of the Roman Empire.” They felt little need for govern- ment. Until 1 9 1 3 , when an appropriate amendment to the Constitu- tion was ratified, the Congress was deemed to lack even the power to enact taxes on income.

Stefan Zweig, the Austrian-Jewish author, remembering those antebellum years decades later, remarked that “When I attempt to find a simple formula for the period in which I grew up, prior to the First World War, I hope that I convey its fullness by calling it the Golden Age of Security. Everything in our almost thousand-year-old Austrian monarchy seemed based on permanency.”

In the Western world, it was by and large true that ordinary people felt no apprehension. As will be seen, there were leaders who wor- ried, but in the winter and spring of 1 9 1 4 not even they expected war to break out in the summer.

France, it is true, would have liked to recover territories taken away by Germany decades before, but those well placed to judge were certain that France would not start a war to get them back. Rus- sia, as France’s ally, was well informed on French official thinking; and the Russian Prime Minister reported to the Czar on December 1 3 , 1 9 1 3 , that “All French statesmen want quiet and peace. They are willing to work with Germany.” These feelings seemed to be recipro- cated by the Germans. John Keiger, a leading scholar of the politics of those years, has argued: “There is no doubt that at the end of 1 9 1 3 Franco-German relations were on a better footing than for years.” Germany feared an eventual war with Russia, but in 1 9 1 3 , Berlin rec- ognized that Russia was in no condition to wage a war, and would not be able to do so for years to come. It was axiomatic that Britain wanted peace. So, as Professor Keiger writes, “the spring and sum- mer of 1 9 1 4 were marked in Europe by a period of exceptional calm.” None of the European Great Powers believed that any one of the others was about to launch a war of aggression against it—at least not in the immediate future.

Like airline passengers on United Airlines Flight 826, Europeans and Americans in the glorious last days of June 1 9 1 4 cruised ahead above a summer sea and beneath a cloudless sky—until they were hit by a bolt that they wrongly believed came from out of the blue.




E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S



C H A P T E R 1 : E M P I R E S C L A S H

t the start of the twentieth century Europe was at the peak of human accomplishment. In industry, technology, and science

J L . JL.it had advanced beyond all previous societies. In wealth, knowledge, and power it exceeded any civilization that ever had existed.

Europe is almost the smallest of the continents: 3 or 4 million square miles in extent, depending on how you define its eastern fron- tiers. By contrast, the largest continent, Asia, has 17 million square miles. Indeed, some geographers viewed Europe as a mere peninsula

Yet, by the beginning of the 1900s, the Great Powers of Europe— a mere handful of countries—had come to rule most of the earth. Between them, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Russia dominated Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and even substantial parts of the Western Hemisphere. Of what little remained, much belonged to less powerful European states: Belgium,

of Asia.



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Holland, Portugal, and Spain. When all of its empires were added together, Europe spanned the globe.

But the European empires were of greatly unequal size and strength, an imbalance that led to instability; and as they were rivals, their leaders were continuously matching them against one another in their minds, trying to guess who would defeat whom in case of war and with whom, therefore, it would be best to ally. Military prowess was seen as a supreme value in an age that mistakenly believed Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest to refer to the most murder- • ous rather than (as we now understand it) to the best adapted. i

The British Empire was the wealthiest, most powerful, and largest of the Great Powers. It controlled over a quarter of the land surface and a quarter of the population of the globe, and its navy dominated the world ocean that occupies more than 70 percent of the planet. Germany, a newly created confederation led by militarist Prussia, commanded the most powerful land army. Russia, the world’s largest country, a backward giant that sprawled across two continents, remained an enigma; enfeebled by a war it lost to Japan in 1904-05, and by the revolution of 1905, it turned itself around by industrializ- ing and arming with financial backing from France. France, despite exploiting a large empire, no longer was a match for Germany and therefore backed Russia as a counterweight to Teutonic power. The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary ruled a variety of nationalities who were restless and often in conflict. Italy, a new state, as a late- comer aspiring to take its place among the powers, hungered to be treated as an equal.

It was commonly believed at the time that the road to wealth and greatness for European powers was through the acquisition of more colonies. The problem was that the Great Powers already controlled so much of the world that there was little left for others to take. Repeatedly, in going forward, the European powers ran up against one another. Time and again, war threatened, and only skilled diplo- macy and self-restraint enabled them to pull back from the brink. The decades before 1 9 1 4 were punctuated by crises, almost any one of which might have led to war.

It was no accident that some of the more conspicuous of these crises resulted from moves by Germany. It was because Germany’s emperor—the Kaiser, or Caesar—in changing his Chancellor in 1890 also changed his government’s policy. Otto von Bismarck, the




iron-willed leader who had created Germany in 1 8 7 0 – 7 1 , was skepti- cal of imperialism.* Far from believing that overseas colonies bring additional wealth and power, he apparently viewed them as a drain on both. In order to distract France from thoughts of recovering territo- ries in Europe that Germany had seized—in Alsace-Lorraine— Bismarck encouraged and supported France in seeking new acquisitions in North Africa and Asia. As such a policy would bring France into frequent collisions with imperial England and Russia, thus dividing Germany’s potential rivals, it suited all of Bismarck’s purposes.

Post-Bismarck Germany coveted the overseas territories that the Iron Chancellor had regarded as mere fool’s gold. It positioned itself to take part in the coming partition of China. But the rulers in Berlin had come to the game too late. Germany no longer could win an empire on a scale proportioned to its position as the greatest military power in Europe. There was not world enough. No more continents were there for the taking: no more Africas, no more Americas. Nonetheless—heedlessly—Wilhelmine Germany displayed an inter- est in overseas land.

As France moved deeper into Morocco at the beginning of the twentieth century to round out its North African empire, Germany, instead of offering encouragement and support, as Bismarck would have done, stepped in to oppose. These German moves misfired and sparked two of the more high-profile international crises of those years: the Morocco crises of 1905-06 and of 1 9 1 1 . To the German government these maneuvers may have been mere probes, but they caused genuine alarm in Europe.

In retrospect, it is clear the problem was that Germany’s post-1890 hunger for empire could no longer be satisfied except by taking over- seas territories away from the other European countries. This was not something likely to be accomplished by peaceful means. Could Germany therefore content itself with remaining the leading military and industrial power on the Continent but with African and Asian empires smaller than those of England or France? Germans them- selves disagreed, of course, about what the answer to that question ought to be, and the climate of opinion was changing. Germany in

*For reasons not entirely clear, Bismarck briefly departed from this policy in the early 1880s, when Germany acquired a small number of colonies.



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I 914 was the only country on the Continent with more industrial than farm workers, and the growing strength of its socialist and working-class masses suggested that the nation might be compelled to focus its attention on solving problems at home rather than on adventures abroad. Alternatively, it suggested that Germany’s leaders would have to pursue an aggressive foreign policy in order to distract attention from problems at home that remained unsolved.




C H A P T E R 2 : C L A S S E S S T R U G G L E

Nor was Germany alone in being divided against itself. Europe before the war was in the grip of social and eco-nomic upheavals that were reshaping its structure and its politics. The Industrial Revolution that had begun in eighteenth- century France and England continued, at an accelerated pace, to effect radical changes in those two countries, as well as in Germany, and was making similar changes in others. Agrarian Europe, in part still feudal, and smokestack Europe, bringing modernity, lived liter- ally at the same time but figuratively centuries apart. Some still were living as though in the fourteenth century, with their pack animals and their slow, almost unchanging village rhythms, while others inhabited the crowded, sprawling cities of the twentieth century, driven by the newly invented internal combustion machine and informed by the telegraph.

At the same time, the growth of an urban factory-working popula- tion in the Industrial Revolution brought conflict between that pop- ulation and factory owners over wages and working conditions. It



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also pitted both workers and manufacturers, on the one hand, who could expand their exports only in a free-trade world, against farm- ers, who needed protection, and the cash-poor landed gentry on the other. Class became a line of division and loyalty—the chief line according to many. Domestic strife threatened all the countries of Western Europe.

In Britain, the Labour party was formed to speak for a working class no longer content to be represented by the Liberal party, which sympathized with wage-earners but spoke as the voice of the profes- sional classes and even some of the well-born. On the Continent, labor also turned to socialism, with growing success at the polls: in the German elections of 1 9 1 2 , the Social Democrats emerged as the largest single party in the Reichstag. It should have been some con- solation to German and British conservatives that workers in their countries usually expressed their socialism peacefully by voting rather than (as Syndicalists did in France, Spain, and Italy) by strikes, riots, and terrorist attacks. But governments, in these times of fre- quent war crises, worried that their peoples might not support them if war broke out. The issue had another side to it: foreign adventures could distract from class and social conflict and bring the people instead to rally around the flag. Which would it be? Would class and social clashes divide, or would international conflicts unite?



C H A P T E R 3 : N A T I O N S Q U A R R E L

To socialist internationalism, the rival was nationalism, a pas-sion that increasingly was taking priority over all else in the minds and hearts of Europeans as the nineteenth century departed and the twentieth arrived. Even Britain contracted the fever. Ireland—or at any rate its Roman Catholic majority—agitated violently for autonomy or independence, and clashed with the Protestants of Ulster who prepared to take up arms to defend the union with Great Britain.

Edwardian England already was a surprisingly violent country, torn by such issues as industrial wages and working conditions and also by the cause of woman suffrage. It was rocked, too, by a consti- tutional crisis that was also a class crisis. The crisis focused on two interrelated issues: the budget, and the power of the hereditary House of Lords to veto legislation enacted by the popularly elected House of Commons. Between them these conflicts eroded the sense of national solidarity.

Now that the country also was polarized on the question of home

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rule for Ireland, large sections of the army and of the Unionist- Conservative party seemed prepared to defy law and government in order to hold on to the union with Ireland. The precedent set by the United States in 1861 was troubling. Would there be a British civil war?

On the continent of Europe the flames of nationalism threatened to burn down even structures that had endured for centuries. Hapsburg- ruled Austria, a holdover from the Middle Ages that until recently had been headed by the so-called Holy Roman Empire, remained, as it had been in the nineteenth century, the principal enemy of Euro- pean nationalism. The two great new nations of Germany and Italy had been carved out of domains that the Hapsburgs once had domi- nated. At universities, coffeehouses, and in the dimly lit hiding places of secret societies and terrorists, in the Balkans and Central Europe in the early years of the twentieth century, plans were being hatched by ethnic groups that aspired to achieve something similar. The nation- alists were in contact with one another and with nihilists, anarchists, socialists, and others who lived and conspired in the obscurity of the political underground. It was there that Serbs, Croats, Czechs, and others plotted to disrupt and destroy the Austrian Empire.

The Hapsburgs were a dynasty that over the course of a thousand years had come to rule a motley collection of territories and peoples—a multinational empire that held no prospect of ever becoming a homogeneous national state. Centered in German- speaking Vienna, Austria-Hungary encompassed a variety of lan- guages, ethnic groups, and climates. Its 50 million people comprised perhaps eleven or so nations or parts thereof. Many of its lands orig- inally had been dowries that had come with marriage to territorial heiresses: whatever else you might say about them, the Hapsburg family wedded well. At its height in the sixteenth century, when it included Spain and much of the New World, the Hapsburg family holdings comprised the largest empire in the world. Hapsburg roots went back to Christmas Day 800, when Charlemagne the Frank was crowned emperor of the Roman Empire in the West by the pope. As Holy Roman Emperor, a post to which a Hapsburg was almost always elected from the fifteenth century until it was abolished in the early nineteenth century, the Hapsburgs dominated Central Europe, including its many German- and Italian-speaking political entities.




In the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions, they lost their Italian pos- sessions to the newly unified Italy, and they were excluded from Prussian-organized, newly unified Germany in 1 8 7 0 – 7 1 . Once the leader of Europe’s Germans and Italians, the Hapsburg emperor was left as the odd man out.

Left alone with a German core—of Austria’s 28 million inhabi- tants, only 10 million were German—and a restive empire of Central European and Balkan peoples, mostly Slavs, the Hapsburg ruler Franz Joseph found himself presiding over a political entity that arguably was not viable. The solution that he found in 1867 was a compact between Austria and a Hungary that was ruled by its Magyar minority, in which Franz Joseph served both as emperor of Austria and king of Hungary. The Dual Monarchy, as it was called, was a state in which Austria and Hungary each had its own parliament and its own Prime Minister, but there was only one foreign minister, one war minister, one finance minister—and, of course, only one monarch of both the Austrian empire and the Hungarian kingdom. The peoples who ruled were the minority Germans of Austria and the Magyar minority in Hungary. What they attempted to rule, in the words of one Hapsburg statesman, was “eight nations, seventeen countries, twenty parliamentary groups, twenty-seven parties”—and a spectrum of peoples and religions.

Europe was rapidly becoming a continent of nation-states. As it entered the twentieth century, a chief weakness of Austria-Hungary was that it was on what looked to be the wrong side of history. But what was threatening to bring it down was a force that was not entirely progressive either; nationalism had its atavistic aspects.

Whether considered to be a political philosophy or its contrary, a type of mass delirium, nationalism was ambivalent. It was the demo- cratic belief that each nation had the right to become independent and to rule itself. But it also was the illiberal insistence that nonmem- bers of the nation should assimilate, be denied civic rights, be expelled, or even be killed. Nationalism was hating some as an expression of loving others. To add to the murkiness, there was no agreement on what constitutes a nationality. The 1 9 1 1 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica calls it a “vague term” and remarked that “a ‘nationality’… represents a common feeling and an organized claim rather than distinct attributes which can be comprised in a strict def-



2 6 E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

inition.” So there was no general agreement on which groups were nations and which were not. It was one more issue for Europe to fight about. Some thought—some still think—that it was the main thing that Europe had to fight about.

In the absence of scientific measurement of public opinion through polls, historians are unable to tell us with any certainty what the peo- ple of Europe thought or felt in the pre-1914 age. This leaves a gap in our knowledge. It is not so great a gap as it would be today, for a century ago the public played little role in the formation of foreign policy. But public opinion was of some significance, in that decision- makers presumably did take it into account—to the extent that they knew what it was.

Evidence suggests that the most widespread feeling in Europe at the time was xenophobia: a great deal of hostility toward one another. The ethnic groups of the Balkans provided a conspicuous example of mutual hatred, but countries far more advanced exhibited such ten- dencies too.

England is a case in point. It had been in conflict or at war with France on and off since the eleventh century—in other words, for about a thousand years. Anti-French feeling remained high well into the twentieth century. Even during the First World War, in which the two countries were allies, British and French officers schemed and maneuvered against one another to take control of the postwar Arab Middle East.

Britain came into collision with Russia much later than it did with France, but once they did clash it was all across the board. The two countries opposed each other on one point after another, economi- cally, politically, militarily, and ideologically, until Britons grew to object to Russians not merely for what they did but for who they were. The story is recounted at length in a classic: The Genesis ofRussophobia in Great Britain by John Howes Gleason.

Germany came into existence as a state only in 1 8 7 1 , and seemed to be a possible ally—the idea was discussed at the highest levels more than once—but the British became suspicious of Germany and then antagonistic. This was for a variety of reasons, thoroughly dis- cussed in Paul Kennedy’s definitive account, The Rise of the Anglo- German Antagonism.

So the British, though they believed themselves to be open-




minded, detested the peoples of the next three ranking Great Pow- ers: the French, the Russians, and the Germans.

The questions that European statesmen attempted to resolve at the dawn of the twentieth century therefore were being faced against a background of peoples who harbored hostile, sometimes warlike, sentiments.

The rise of independent mass-circulation newspapers in the nine- teenth century in such European countries as England and France brought to bear upon decision-making yet another powerful influ- ence impossible to calculate precisely. Appealing to popular fears and prejudices in order to win circulation, the press seems to have exacer- bated hatred and divisions among Europeans. Of the anti-German British press and the anti-British German press, the German emperor wrote to the King of England in I Q O I : “The Press is awful on both sides.”



C H A P T E R 4 : C O U N T R I E S A R M

“ationalism, as preached by Giuseppe Mazzini and his disci- ples in nineteenth-century Europe, was supposed to bring

_1_ ^| peace. Instead it brought war. So it was with an even more profound development of the time: the energy revolution that was made possible when Michael Faraday learned how to generate elec- tricity.

Practically limitless power was the new thing that made almost all else possible. Henry Adams, historian and prophet, the American Janus who saw both behind and ahead, identified it. Marveling at the dynamos he saw at the Chicago (1893) and Paris (1900) world fairs, he speculated that they might render all past human history obsolete. It would “upset schoolmasters,” he observed, but “professorial necks” had been “broken” a few times before since Europe began, and of these few times, “the nearest approach to the revolution of 1900 was that of 3 1 0 , when Constantine set up the Cross.” Indeed the rays of electricity were something that Adams found almost supernatural: an “energy like that of the Cross.”

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C O U N T R I E S A R M 2 9

It was natural that Adams should be optimistic; he was a child of the century that believed history was the story of progress. Before the nineteenth century began men had looked backward to a golden age. Now they looked forward to it.

Europeans and Americans were fascinated by speculations about the future. A new genre of fantasy fictions catered to their tastes. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were the pioneers in creating tales of scientific and technological marvels: of flying machines, life below the oceans, and interplanetary travel.

The focus on all the wonders that the future held in store for an empowered humanity may have been somewhat unbalanced. Only a few saw that the dark side of the otherwise Promethean story was that the human race made use of its amazing possibilities by calling forth explosive new powers of destruction.

In an often-quoted letter written when war came in 1 9 1 4 , Henry James, the famous American novelist resident in England, wrote: “The plunge of civilization into this abyss of blood and dark- ness . . . is a thing that so gives away the whole long age during which we have supposed the world to be, with whatever abatement, gradu- ally bettering, that to have to take it all now for what the treacherous years were all the while really making for and meaning is too tragic for any words.” Science had not made human beings more peaceful and civilized; it had betrayed such hopes and instead had made it pos- sible for armies to be more savagely destructive than warriors of ear- lier times could have dreamed of being.

What Europe was building up toward was not a better world, but a giant smashup, as, in the first twentieth-century war among modern industrial societies, the accumulated explosive power that advanced science had developed was concentrated on the goal of mass destruc- tion.

Why did contemporaries believe that they were headed for a more peaceful world? How could they dismiss the possibility of a war among European powers from their fears and their minds? Why were they taken by surprise by the outbreak of war? Did they never look to see what their leading industry was manufacturing?

Looking back, perhaps the most remarkable feature of the prewar international landscape was the accelerating arms race. The German armaments firm Krupp was the largest single business in Europe. Its giant rivals—Skoda, Creusot, Schneider, and Vickers-Maxim—also



3 ° E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

were enormous. In large part, in the new industrial age, Europe’s business had become the business of preparing to fight a war. In ret- rospect the intense arms race was the most visible feature of Europe’s political landscape in those antebellum years. It is odd that the man in the street did not see this with equal clarity at the time.

The European war economy had become immense in scale, but it did not bring security. A technological breakthrough such as Britain’s development of the Dreadnought, rendering all existing battleships obsolete, not merely forced a country to write off its previous efforts and investments, but risked leaving it naked before its enemies dur- ing the years required to catch up.

Each adjusted its military manpower requirements—its blend of regular army, conscripts, and reserves of one sort or another—to at least match the levels of its potential adversaries. The unrelenting competitiveness achieved the opposite of what was intended. The buildup in the armed forces was intended to achieve national security, but instead undermined it: the arms race, driven by mutual fears, ended by making all the Great Powers of Europe radically insecure.

All the Great Powers—even Russia, after the 1905 revolution— were relatively open societies in which the appropriation of funds by parliaments for military purposes could be scrutinized by rival states, whose analyses were not infrequently colored by alarmism. As mili- tary programs mandated by legislation embodied schedules, countries were aware of one another’s production timetables for armaments and therefore could be tempted to launch a preemptive strike.

An innovation dating from the nineteenth century was that the armed forces of the respective countries now routinely prepared con- tingency plans for making war on their rivals should hostilities break out. These, of course, were secret, although governments usually had at least an idea of what each other’s overall strategy would be.

There was no great mystery as to who potential enemies were likely to be. France and Russia, despite major ideological differences, were known to be allies, driven together by Germany’s threat to both of them. Germany was closely bound up with Austria-Hungary, and also was allied with the unreliable Italians, even though the Italians still harbored territorial claims against Austria. Great Britain, though preferring to remain neutral, was being impelled by the growth of German ambitions to draw closer to France and—for France’s sake— to Russia.




The various war crises of the early twentieth century jolted the Great Powers into initiating joint staff talks with the armed forces of their allies. Secret army and navy discussions between Britain and France in 1905-06 and 1 9 1 1 dealt with how to meet an attack by Germany. In 1908-09 similar talks were begun by the chiefs of the German and Austro-Hungarian general staffs and were focused on a possible war with Russia. Secret naval talks between Britain and Rus- sia were authorized by the British cabinet in May 1 9 1 4 and, when Berlin learned of them, terrified Germany. Such joint talks did not commit the European governments in a formal sense, yet in trans- forming theory into practice Europe’s governments somehow took a further giant step on the road that led to 1 9 1 4 . And as it happened, they did define the war to come. They produced a script that in fact was to be followed. They provided a good indication of who would stay with which coalition: Germany and Austria would stick together, while Britain would decide to back France and Russia.

Whether or not their accelerating arms race made conflict inevitable, as British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey claimed, the Great Powers of Europe somehow brought the event closer by engaging in what were essentially dress rehearsals for war—and not just for any war, but for the opening stages of the very war they were indeed about to wage.

Was it fear of one another, driven by the arms race, and feeding on itself, that was pushing Europe to the brink? Or was it inborn aggres- sion, pent up during the unnaturally long four decades of peace among the Great Powers, that now threatened to explode? Or were governments, as many were to say, deliberately maneuvering their countries toward war in order to distract attention from domestic problems that looked to be insoluble? Or were some governments pursuing aggressive or dangerous policies they should have known that other countries would be obliged to resist by force of arms? Whatever the reasons, as Helmuth von Moltke, chief of Germany’s general staff, told the civilian Chancellor in a memorandum dated December 2 , 1 9 1 2 : “All sides are preparing for European War, which all sides expect sooner or later.”

War plans were criticized and changed in the light of experience gained in war games. They were updated in response to changing cir- cumstances and to new information about enemy plans gleaned from



E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

espionage by the intelligence services. France was exceptional in that, on the eve of war, it modified its war plans in the light of a fashionable philosophy. The new French doctrine was that morale was the key to victory. It was a view derived from the teachings of military officers Ardant du Picq (1821-70)* and Ferdinand Foch ( 1 8 5 1 – 1 9 2 9 ) . That it was the moral rather than the material that ought to be emphasized seemed to be confirmed by the philosophy of Henri Bergson ( 1 8 5 9 – 1 9 4 1 ) , who saw in the elan vital—the life force—the energy that propelled evolution. These views lent themselves to the glorifi- cation of the attack—at the expense, perhaps, of prudence—and that manifested themselves in the bias toward the offensive that many were to criticize later in Plan XVII, the organizational and strategic plan adopted by France in May 1 9 1 3 .

Of all the strategies explored in advance by the military chiefs of the European powers, the one that was to figure most largely in later thinking about the war was the scheme named after Count Alfred von Schlieffen, the German general to whom the design was attrib- uted. Schlieffen ( 1 8 3 3 – 1 9 1 3 ) served as chief of Germany’s Great General Staff from 1891 to 1906. The general staff of the Prussian army had been called “Great” since 1 8 7 1 , to distinguish it from the general staffs of other states in the German confederation: Bavaria, Saxony, and Wurttemberg. An elite body of about 650 officers, the Great General Staff served as the brains and nerve center of the army.

In its first hypothetical war plan after German unification in 1 8 7 1 , the Great General Staff imagined a conflict in which the enemy con- sisted of a coalition of France, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. This, the most dangerous of possibilities, corresponded to the German nightmare of being surrounded: the “Slav East and the Latin West against the center of Europe,” in the words of Helmuth von Moltke—known as Moltke “the elder”—then chief of the general staff. From 1879 on, following the alliance agreement with Austria- Hungary, Germany’s planning always made provision for a war against France and Russia: an unlikely combination on ideological grounds, for France was an advanced democracy and Russia was a backward tyranny. Driven together—against the odds—by the Ger-

*Some sources give his date of birth as 1 8 3 1 .




man threat, in 1894 France and Russia did indeed enter into an alliance, and Germany’s war plans stopped being hypothetical. Suc- cessive chiefs of the Great General Staff asked not whether such a war would occur, but when. The difficult challenge that they faced— how to fight a two-front war successfully—had arisen because of the ineptness of their country’s leaders in foreign policy.

Moltke the Elder and his successor, Count Alfred von Waldersee, planned to fight Russia in a limited war that would compel the Czar to make peace quickly, while at about the same time battling France with the objective of negotiating peace on favorable terms. It was a moderate strategy, defensive in spirit, aimed at coming out ahead. But it did mean splitting forces in order to fight both enemies at the same time.

Count von Schlieffen took over as chief of the general staff on February 7 , 1 8 9 1 . He was appointed despite his lack of combat expe- rience. Lonely since the death of his wife, he was a solitary figure with narrow professional interests. He was a sarcastic officer whose twisted monocle made him look like the caricature of a Prussian.

Schlieffen conducted what was almost a university for the officers under his command. He put them to work testing and reworking deployment plans annually in the light of what was learned in fre- quent war games and in horseback rides to study the terrain. Under his supervision staff officers prepared forty-nine different overall strategic plans for the European war they believed was coming: six- teen against France alone, fourteen against Russia alone, and nine- teen against them together.

In the event of a two-front war, Germany essentially had three choices. One of them—fighting France and Russia at the same time—seemed a risky strategy for an outnumbered Germany. Deal- ing with Russia first seemed impractical; the Russians, even if defeated, could retreat into the almost endless interior of their vast country: they could not be dealt a quick knockout blow. Moreover, the Russians were arming and building armies and railroads at a rapid pace; they were becoming more formidable opponents all the time. On the other hand, Schlieffen, as of 1905, held a low opinion of Rus- sian military capabilities.

A number of factors pointed to a strategy of engaging France first, and to the military mind, the only practical way for Germany to attack France was through neutral Belgium. Some officers in



3 4 E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

the French high command understood this. In Britain, Winston Churchill knew..it; he had learned it at a confidential briefing of Britain’s Committee of Imperial Defence in 1 9 1 1 . The reasons for it had been explained to the committee by Major General Sir Henry Wlson, Director of Military Operations at the War Office.

At the end of Schlieffen’s tenure as chief of staff, he composed an informal memorandum outlining for his successor how such an inva- sion of France through Belgium might be done. The memorandum assumed that Germany had at its disposal for the hypothetical attack ninety divisions—at a time when only seventy were available. Does this mean that the memo was not really a proposal? Does it mean that it really was only a demonstration on paper that Germany needed a larger army than the war ministry was willing to raise? Was it a doc- ument meant to persuade the war ministry to change its mind? Whatever else it may have been, it served as a scenario and probably is best viewed as such.

The Schlieffen memoranda of 1905-06 remain subjects of intense controversy. After the First World War came to an end, German generals who survived the war claimed that it had been lost only because dead colleagues had failed to follow to the letter an alleged secret Schlieffen plan that would have proved a guide to victory.

Their claim was in large part accepted. The plan supposedly called for almost the entire German army to constitute a right arm—a right flank—that would drive to the Dutch and Belgian coasts, and then sweep down to envelop western France, then turn and scoop up Paris on the way to a decisive victory east of Paris: a victory over a French army that at that point would be completely surrounded. France would be destroyed forever as a Great Power. It all would have taken a matter of weeks, and the German army would then have been transferred east to deal with Russia.

Throughout the twentieth century, and now into the twenty-first, historians have debated the consequences of the so-called Schlieffen plan. Its rigid timetable supposedly forced Germany to initiate the war when and as it did. The course of events in the summer of 1 9 1 4 often is pictured as an example of automation, as though the gov- ernment of Berlin were caught up in the grip of its own unchange- able secret plan. We now can see that any such account is a distorted one.

We have scholarly resources not available generations ago. Schlief-




fen’s papers, carried off by Americans, were discovered in Washing- ton, D.C., in 1953 in the National Archives. After the pioneering research of Gerhard Ritter in the 1950s, lucidly seconded in 2001 by John Keegan, it became clear that, whatever else it might have been, the Schlieffen memorandum of 1905, with its 1906 supplement, was not a plan. It was not operational. It did not go into details or issue orders. It can be viewed in context by reading a selection of Schlief- fen’s military writings, which has just appeared in English translation by Robert T. Foley.

A further challenge—mounted as this is being written—is the pub- lication of Inventing the Schlieffen Plan by Terence Zuber. Based on archival material that he tells us has not been used before, Zuber argues that even the memoranda we speak of as embodying the Schli- effen strategy proposal do not express his actually proposed strategies and his war plans and ideas.

Of course Germany did invade France through Belgium, as Schlieffen’s memorandum imagined it would do. But that was pur- suant to what with more accuracy should be called the Moltke plan, for it was during Moltke’s tenure of office that the operational document—the actual plan for invading France—was promulgated.

Reviewing the Schlieffen memoranda some five years later, in 1 9 1 1 , Moltke indicated in his notes that he agreed that France should be invaded through Belgium. The decision exercised a sort of multi- plier effect on Germany’s quarrels. In the context of Germany’s post- 1890 foreign policy, it created the very encircling coalition Germans professed to fear. It also automatically transformed a German war into a European war that as a result would become a world war. If Germany attacked Russia, Germany would start by invading Bel- gium, Luxemburg, and France, thereby bringing them, too, into the war, thus also bringing Great Britain into the war, bringing in, in addition, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and others too, possibly including Britain’s Pacific ally, Japan.

All of this rousing up of additional enemies was undertaken in pur- suance of a strategy that even in the words of a scholar who believes in the existence of the Schlieffen scheme, “never achieved the final, perfected form that is sometimes imputed to it.”

Schlieffen envisaged violating the neutrality of Luxemburg, Belgium, and Holland in invading France. Moltke decided instead to leave



3 6 E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

Holland alone. In the first place, Dutch armed resistance might tip the scales against the invaders; in the second, if a war of attrition developed, Germany would need a neutral Netherlands as a conduit for supplies. These were both good reasons for respecting Dutch neutrality.

One of the consequences of doing so, however, was to narrow the invasion route through which the German forces were to move. It would be a corridor twelve miles wide. It could be dominated by the Belgian fortifications at Liege. So, relying on total surprise and a sprinter’s speed, German forces would have to seize Liege before the enemy even knew that war was upon them. All this would be possible only if there was complete secrecy. Moltke therefore did not allow even Germany’s other military leaders—let alone the civilian ones— to share this information.

One other point later—in the summer of 1914—assumed great importance. The increased speed of Russia’s mobilization ability, and the strengthening of its armed forces, meant that in the event of war, Germany on its own might not have the ability to ward off Russia’s first blow. It would have to call on Austria-Hungary to help. That was to prove a key to understanding the crisis of July 1 9 1 4 .

In the unified German federation that Prussia had organized into a single power in the wars of the 1860s and 1870s, the armed forces played a disproportionately large role and—through it—so did the King of Prussia, who served not only as German emperor but also as military chief. As Chancellor—Germany’s civilian leader—Otto von Bismarck wore a military uniform, seeking to identify himself with the military service and thereby indicating where he, who had cre- ated the new state and was the author of its constitution, believed that power rested.

Vested in the Kaiser were almost dictatorial powers in the great matters of war and peace: almost, but not quite. His was the power to declare war or to make peace—so long as he could obtain the coun- tersignature of the Chancellor. But as the Chancellor was appointed by the Kaiser and served at his pleasure, this did not provide much of a check on the monarch’s power.

In the Imperial German army, the Kaiser served as supreme war- lord. Immediately below him were three distinct bodies that some- times competed with one another: the Prussian War Ministry, the




War Cabinet, and the Great General Staff. Their functions were sep- arate but sometimes overlapping. They, too, were appointed by the Kaiser.

It often was said, after he was made chief of the Great General Staff in 1906, that the younger Moltke had been chosen because Wil- helm liked him. Moltke’s biographer, Annika Mombauer, in a recently published work based in part on previously unknown pri- mary sources, tells us that he “had been the Kaiser’s friend as well as his long-term adjutant,” that as a young man he was “a tall dashing military figure,” and that “his pleasant manners and varied cultural pursuits made him an appealing candidate.”

Born in East Prussia, Moltke came of the right stock. His candi- dacy cannot have been hurt by the fact that he was a nephew of the great Moltke—Moltke the Elder, as he was known subsequently— the commander of Bismarck’s armies who, in defeating Denmark, Austria, and then France, had been the general whose victories cre- ated modern Germany. The nephew knew what he owed to his uncle’s name. On the occasion of his general staff appointment, he asked Wilhelm: “Does Your Majesty really believe that you will win the first prize twice in the same lottery?”

Big and heavy, he was fifty-eight years old at the time of his appointment. Although he painted, played the cello, and took an interest in spiritualist matters, he held conventional military and political views. Goethe’s Faust is said to have been “his constant com- panion”; but it would have taken much more than his rather ordinary intellect to suspect that Faust might bear some relevance to the bid for total power that Prussia was mounting in his time.

Appreciating that Austria was of vital importance to his plans, Moltke worked with his Austrian counterpart, Franz Conrad von Hotzen- dorf, to strengthen the Austro-German alliance. He succeeded in restoring warmth to a relationship that had been strained. Both chiefs of staff, it transpired nonetheless, held back and failed to give their entire confidence to one another. Moltke did not reveal the extent of his need for Austrian assistance in meeting the initial Rus- sian attack that he expected. Conrad, in turn, did not admit that Aus- tria was going to focus on destroying Serbia and would hope Germany—by itself—would assume full responsibility for dealing with the Czar’s armies.



3 8 E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

Until recently, the common view among scholars, especially in Germany, has been that Moltke was inadequate, weak, and of less than major importance. The appearance of Mombauer’s biography should change that view. Moltke was a figure of considerable signifi- cance both for what he did and for what he did not do.

As a favorite of the Kaiser’s who therefore was in a position to get a hearing for his views, Moltke took the lead in advancing two propo- sitions: first, that the alliance with Austria was absolutely central to Germany and had to be given top priority; and second, that war against the Triple Entente—Britain, France, and Russia, three coun- tries that had pledged mutual friendship—was bound to break out not much later than i o i 6 o r i o i 7 , and that Germany would lose the war unless it launched a preventive attack immediately. Certain that war would come, Moltke wanted it sooner rather than later. He wanted it even though, like many of his colleagues, he feared that it would bring European civilization to an end.



C H A P T E R 5 : Z A R A T H U S T R A P R O P H E S I E S

The greatest arms race the world had known was not only waged among mutually hostile nations, busily planning to destroy one another, but took place in a civilization in which it was widely believed that only destruction could bring regeneration. The prophet of the age was the powerfully eloquent, though unsys- tematic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (i 844-1900). Nietzsche preached the values of the irrational. Though he was German, his message struck a chord in many countries. He was a European figure, not a parochial German one. Fittingly, he made his home in Switzer- land and Italy.

The French Revolution of 1789 had ushered in a century of revo- lutions that had failed to achieve the dreams they embodied. Unful- filled revolutions and revolutions betrayed had left Europe frustrated, and in a mood—following Nietzsche—to smash things. Rejecting Europe’s inherited values, Nietzsche had proclaimed in Thus Spake Zarathustra that “God is dead!”

The debut of the Stravinsky-Nijinsky ballet Le Sacre du Printemps

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4 ° E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

on May 29, 1 9 1 3 , at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, is often taken as the symbol of the Nietzschean rebellion in all the arts. Crowds hating the ballet—a pagan celebration with deafening disso- nances—screamed their protests against what they regarded as sav- agery exalted in the place of civilization. Hysteria and frenzy seemed to be the order of the day.

It may well be that the European sense of frustration—the sense of stalemate in life, art, and politics—led to a violent sense of abandon, of letting go: a sense that the world ought to be blown up, and let the consequences be what they may. Europe’s Nietzschean mood seemed to play some sort of role in making the Great War possible.

As A. J. P. Taylor writes: “Men’s minds seem to have been on edge in the last two or three years before the war in a way they had not been before, as though they had become unconsciously weary of peace and security. You can see it in things remote from international politics—in the artistic movement called Futurism, in the militant suffragettes. . . , in the working-class trend toward Syndicalism. Men wanted violence for its own sake; they welcomed war as a relief from materialism. European civilization was, in fact, breaking down even before war destroyed it.”

In the opening years of the twentieth century, Europeans glorified violence, and certain groups among them, at least, felt a need for rad- ical change. Across the whole spectrum of existence, change was overcoming Europe at a pace faster than ever before—and far faster than Europe knew how to cope with. A panoramic view of Europe in the years 1900 to 1 9 1 4 would show prominently that the Continent was racing ahead in a scientific, technological, and industrial revolu- tion, powered by almost limitless energy, that was transforming almost everything; that violence was endemic in the service of social, economic, political, class, ethnic, and national strife; that Europe focused its activities largely on an escalating, dizzying arms race on a scale that the world never had seen before; and that, in the center of the Continent’s affairs, powerful, dynamic Germany had made strategic arrangements such that, if it went to war, it would bring almost all Europe and much of the rest of the planet into the war for or against it.

Given these conditions, does not the question “How could war have broken out in such a peaceful world?” rather answer itself?



Z A R A T H U S T R A P R O P H E S I E S 4 1

Would it not have been more to the point to ask how statesmen could have continued to avoid war much longer? How had they managed to keep the peace for so long? Which is not to say that war could not have been averted, but merely that, by 1 9 1 4 , it might have taken extraordinary skill to keep on averting it.

Today, we take it for granted that governments hope to keep the peace. It is our often unarticulated assumption. Since the develop- ment of weapons of mass destruction, everybody would lose, we say, if war were to break out among the Great Powers. The human race, we are told, might not survive such a conflict. Our principal interna- tional institution, the United Nations, is described as a peacekeeping organization because preventing war is the primary reason that the countries of the earth have joined together.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that a century ago world leaders would have shared such a view. Their thinking at the time was well expressed in what has been called “the first great speech” in the political career of Theodore Roosevelt, newly appointed assistant secretary of the navy in the incoming administration of U.S. Presi- dent William McKinley. Addressing the Naval War College in 1897, Roosevelt claimed: “No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war.” War, he declared, was a fine and healthy thing. “All the great masterful races have been fighting races; and the minute that a race loses the hard fighting virtues, then . . . it has lost its proud right to stand as the equal of the best.” He argued: “Cow- ardice in a race, as in an individual, is the unpardonable sin.” Some- day circumstances might be different, he said, but until they were, war would continue to be needed. “As yet no nation can hold its place in the world, or can do any work really worth doing unless it stands ready to guard its rights with an armed hand.”

The speech was reprinted in full in all major American news- papers, and the chorus of approval from the press all around the United States made it clear that Roosevelt was not speaking for him- self alone. He lived in a world in which war was considered desir- able—even necessary.

Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, chief of staff of the Dual Monarchy’s armed forces, was another leader who frequently expressed his opin- ion that war was “the basic principle behind all the events on this



4 2 E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

earth.” It also, as he saw it, was the key to personal success. He was carrying on a love affair with a married woman, and was of the view that if he could come back from the battlefield as a war hero, his mis- tress could be persuaded to leave her wealthy husband.

The pursuit of “honor” was a frequent theme of the times. In Con- rad’s personal vision, a warrior’s nobility wins him the love of women and the acclaim of men. Heads of state and government in the con- flicts of 1 9 1 4 were to argue that their country’s honor compelled them to join in the fray; U.S. President Woodrow Wilson used the concept in his address to Congress in 1 9 1 7 asking for a declaration of war against Germany. Some—Conrad was one, and his octogenarian emperor Franz Joseph was another—at times felt that they had to lead their country into a war because of their code of honor, even if they were likely to lose.

These views—held by warriors and aristocrats on the one hand, and by many artists and intellectuals on the other—were not neces- sarily shared by the masses, including workers, farmers, and the peace-loving commercial and middle classes. But the public played no role in the war-and-peace decisions: decisions that they did not even know were being made behind closed doors.

The several dozen leaders who did discuss and decide these mat- ters lived in a world of their own, and it was a world in which war and warriors were glorified.



C H A P T E R 6 : D I P L O M A T S A L I G N

mong the Great Powers of Europe, peace had prevailed from 1 8 7 1 to 1 9 1 4 . It was a long run. It is at least arguable that

JL A-what had made that achievement possible was not only the skill but also the character and the outlook of Europe’s statesmen. In large part they were a sort of extended family: monarchs and aristo- crats whom the French Revolution had failed to sweep away. Shaped by the tolerance and the values of the eighteenth century, they had kept their positions and their system throughout the nineteenth. They were bound together by ties of education, of culture, and, in many cases, of blood. The conduct of foreign affairs was their shared vocation. Cosmopolitan and disinclined to prejudices, they tended at times to put the welfare of Europe as a whole ahead of that of their own country. Indeed, it was not unusual for a diplomat to take service with a foreign country: for a German or a Corsican, for example, to serve as foreign minister of Russia. Once—a long time before, it is true—an Austrian, the Count of Stainville, had been Vienna’s envoy to Paris at the same time that his son was Paris’s envoy to Vienna.

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4 4 E U R O P E ‘ S T E N S I O N S

Hans Morgenthau (1904-80), the great twentieth-century theorist of international relations, describes the way it used to be in terms that exude nostalgia:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to a lessening

degree up to the First World War, international morality was the con-

cern of a personal sovereign—that is, a certain individual prince and his

successors—and of a relatively small, cohesive, and homogeneous group

of aristocratic rulers. T h e prince and the aristocratic rulers of a particu-

lar nation were in constant, intimate contact with the princes and aristo-

cratic rulers of other nations. T h e y were joined together by family ties,

a common language (French), common cultural values, a common style

of life, and common moral convictions about what a gentleman was and

was not allowed to do in his relations with another gentleman, whether

of his own or of a foreign nation.

In other words, they played the game of world politics as though it had rules. The loss of aristocratic values and the weakening of ties were what made the behavior of some of the statesmen in July 1 9 1 4 possible.

In our democratic age, we tend to forget how great a role contin- ued to be played by kings and emperors and by the hereditary aris- tocracy as recently as a century ago, not merely by their values and their codes of conduct, but by themselves. We have been reminded of it by a study that has just been published, Royalty and Diplomacy in Europe, 1890-1914, by Roderick R. McLean. Personal friendships among monarchs could help to bring countries together. The reverse could also be true. Both possibilities could be seen at work in the ambivalent relationship between the two most powerful Continental emperors, Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany. Each could exercise almost absolute powers within his country in matters of war and peace.

Czar Nicholas II succeeded to the Russian throne at the end of 1894 and was crowned the following year. Deferential and inexperi- enced, he had been described only shortly before by his father as inadequate: “He is nothing but a boy, whose judgments are childish.”

Kaiser Wilhelm II undertook to guide his young relative through the jungles of world politics. There was nearly a decade’s age differ- ence between the two. Moreover, Nicholas was hesitant where Wil-




helm was assertive. The young Czar was so polite that the Kaiser believed he was hearing agreement even when he was not. Wilhelm initiated a secret correspondence with him that lasted for nearly two decades. At first Nicholas welcomed the letters.

In 1896 the two emperors met for a conference in Breslau, in what now is Poland. Agreements between them were reached easily. But Wilhelm’s desire to tutor and dominate turned Nicholas against him. From then on, the Czar regarded the Kaiser with a dislike bordering on hostility. Nicholas decided that he wanted to break off their corre- spondence. Ignoring Nicholas’s desires, Wilhelm continued to write to him for a further eighteen years. On occasion the two rulers did hold meetings. After one such, in 1902, Nicholas commented: “He’s raving mad!”

From time to time the Kaiser did seem to exert some influence; he may have played a part in persuading the Czar to involve his empire in a war against Japan (1904-05), a war that proved to be a disaster. Mostly, however, Nicholas preferred neither to see nor to hear from his tiresome relative. In this he was not alone.

Queen Victoria, the Kaiser’s grandmother, warned Nicholas against Wlhelm’s “mischievous and unstraight-forward proceed- ings.” To her prime minister, Victoria described Wlhelm as “a hot- headed, conceited, and wrong-headed young man.” She did not invite Wilhelm to her Diamond Jubilee (1897) or to her eightieth birthday celebration (1899). In his own version of history, the Kaiser described himself as Victoria’s favorite grandson.

For all of the German emperor’s failings, he was a blood relative and was treated as such. This solidarity among cousins was a senti- ment that made for peace and stability between the Czar and the Kaiser. McLean tells us: “Until at least 1908, both monarchs remained convinced that neither would undertake a hostile act against the other.”

These personal relationships played their role in the story of how Europe managed not to have a war among the Great Powers in the opening years of the twentieth century. But ultimately family ties did not succeed in relaxing the tensions that arose among the powers. Indeed it would have taken statesmanship of a high order to guide the countries of Europe through the explosive issues with which they had to deal. It was like walking through minefields.









C H A P T E R 7 : T H E E A S T E R N Q U E S T I O N

Ever since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the states-men of Europe—the handful of prime ministers, foreign sec-retaries, and chancellery officials who dealt with arcane issues of foreign policy—remained convinced that they knew how (though not when) their world would be brought to an end. The war among the advanced industrial Great Powers, they believed, would be occa- sioned by the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, as its vast and valu- able territories excited the predatory instincts of the rival expansionist European empires. There had been a time, centuries before, when the Turks had ruled not just the Middle East but much of North Africa and Balkan Europe as well—all the way to the gates of Vienna. Now the Sultan’s backward and demoralized forces were in full, if slow, retreat before the Christians. Which European powers would take, in particular, southeastern Europe for themselves—”the Eastern Question”—was commonly seen as the most explosive long- range issue in international politics. “One day the great European

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5 0 W A L K I N G T H R O U G H M I N E F I E L D S

War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans,” Bismarck was quoted as saying at the end of his life.

Fearing the cataclysm, with its incalculable consequences, Great Britain traditionally tried to postpone facing the issue by propping up the decaying Turkish empire. On the opposite side, Austria, later joined by Russia, pursued expansionist policies at the Sultan’s expense, looking toward an eventual partition of the Ottoman domains.

As so often happens when the political world focuses on a particu- lar threat, the threat in question failed to materialize; the danger was averted. Over the course of the nineteenth century, one Christian people after another in southeastern Europe threw off the shackles of Ottoman rule without then being absorbed by a Great Power. By the first decade of the twentieth century Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece all had become at least de facto free coun- tries. They were quarrelsome nations; some at times were aggressive rivals; and each set its own course in world affairs. They coveted the territories remaining to the Turks in Europe. By the beginning of the twentieth century Constantinople mostly had to fear these local states rather than the Great Powers. The greatest of the Great Pow- ers—Britain, France, Germany, and even Russia—now preferred the Ottoman frontier to remain where it was. In April 1897, Russia and Austria-Hungary agreed to preserve the status quo in what remained of the Ottoman Balkans.

In this respect, the chancelleries of Europe could breathe a sigh of relief. For a century they had been walking through a minefield, and they had emerged from it not merely alive but relatively unscathed.



C H A P T E R 8 : A C H A L L E N G E F O R T H E A R C H D U K E

The Hapsburgs had served as a ruling dynasty in Europe for so long that it could easily be forgotten that the country they ruled in 1914—Austria-Hungary, or the Dual Monarchy— was of quite recent origin. It was so new that the man who created it—the emperor Franz Joseph—was still alive and ruled. In 1 9 1 4 , Austria-Hungary was forty-seven years old; Franz Joseph, eighty- four.

The Dual Monarchy was an improvisation. There had been an urgent need of it in the 1860s when the Germans of Austria, expelled from the world that Prussia consolidated, found themselves cut off from other Germans and unable to stand on their own. A permanent alliance with the Magyar rulers of Hungary was Franz Joseph’s solu- tion in 1867. The economic provisions of the agreement were not permanent; they came up for renewal every ten years.

But Austria and Hungary had interests and ambitions that some- times were antithetical. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Franz Joseph’s nephew and heir presumptive, had devoted much thought to the

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5 2 W A L K I N G T H R O U G H M I N E F I E L D S

question of how he would reconstitute the Hapsburg lands when he ascended the throne. One plan ascribed to him was to create a triple monarchy, joining Slavs to Germans and Magyars as a governing people of the empire, enabling Austro-Germans to play the Slavs off against the Magyars. He seems to have dropped that scheme in favor of others, all aimed at restoring Austrian greatness.

Franz Ferdinand deplored the consequences of his country’s Hun- garian connection. His feelings in this respect were both known and reciprocated. It was not unreasonable to predict that when Franz Joseph died and Franz Ferdinand ascended the throne with radical constitutional changes in mind, disturbances would ensue.

Austria-Hungary was a ramshackle structure, then, only with diffi- culty holding itself together, and maintaining its formal ranking as a Great Power in part by courtesy of the others. So in retrospect the Eastern Question—the issue of what to do with the European pos- sessions of a collapsing Turkish empire—overlapped an emerging Austrian question: what to do with the shaky Dual Monarchy. There were those who asserted that, after the Sultan of Turkey, the Haps- burg emperor was the new Sick Man of Europe. In the deadly game of world politics, Austria-Hungary continued to hunt, but also was being hunted. The Eastern Question had been turned upside down and stood on its head. The Hapsburgs had coveted Balkan lands; now Balkan peoples coveted Hapsburg lands.

Austria-Hungary was in area one of the largest states in Europe. Two of its perhaps eleven nationalities, Germans and Magyars, exer- cised most of the political power. In Austria the one-third of its pop- ulation that was German tended to dominate the two-thirds that was not; in Hungary, the 40 percent that was Magyar ruled the 60 percent that was not.

Nationalism had been sweeping Europe since the days of the French Revolution. It inspired a literature in which a repressive Aus- tria was singled out as a villain. Thus, sinister and unbending, and an implacable enemy of the liberties of mankind, Hapsburg Austria casts a dark shadow over Europe in such works as Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma. Some, and maybe most, of the leading ardent nationalities’ movements in Europe—those of the Czechs, for example, and a number of ethnicities in the Balkans—aimed at breaking up the Hapsburg Empire, or at least decentralizing it.




One of Austria-Hungary’s weak spots was that it ruled so many Slavic peoples—members of the largest ethnic group in Europe— and that Slavic Russia, it was feared, could exert a pull on their loyal- ties by sponsoring pan-Slavism.

Historians tell us that the Austrian army was strong, although it had an astonishing record, going back more than a century, of losing battles and wars.

The generals of the Dual Monarchy knew that they could not fight, on their own, on equal terms against Russia, with its vast expanses and enormous population. In order to stand a chance Austria-Hungary would require the protection of Germany.



C H A P T E R 9 : E X P L O S I V E G E R M A N Y

s it entered the twentieth century, the German state was still in its infancy. Yet in many ways it already had become—or

JL JL_perhaps had been from the start—out of date in its political structure. In the thirty years of its existence, Germany had stopped being an essentially agricultural country and had surged ahead to become the Continent’s most dynamic commercial and industrial power. One result was that the country was now divided against itself.

As noted before, farming interests still demanded protective tar- iffs in order to survive, while industry now pushed for the free trade it needed in order to thrive. This was but one of the many contradic- tions that made Kaiser Wilhelm IPs Reich so difficult to fathom— and to govern. At the cutting edge of the modern world in some respects, Germany was obsolete in politics, and therefore unable to reconcile the diverse trends to which modernism gave rise.

According to Volker R. Berghahn, “the salient feature of German domestic politics before 1 9 1 4 was . . . an almost total impasse.” He quotes Gustav Schmidt to explain: “The notion of several groups

5 4




blocking each other and hence blocking a way out of the deadlock offers ‘the key to an understanding of German politics in the last years before the war.’ ” Some, under the spell of Nietzsche, believed that the solution was to dynamite society. It was not easy to identify an alternative that did not involve violence.

Until the nineteenth century the German peoples of Europe had been fragmented. In the former Holy Roman Empire alone, they dwelt in hundreds of principalities, cities, and other quasi- sovereignties. Napoleon restructured them. The Allies who defeated Napoleon tried their hand at restructuring too. In the end, unifica- tion came from within the German-speaking world.

The country we know today as Germany derives from the Ger- man Empire, which was created through a series of wars culminat- ing in 1870-71 by militarist, Protestant Prussia, led by Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck’s new unified Germany contained less than half the German peoples of Europe. It consisted of the kingdom of Prus- sia, three other kingdoms, eighteen duchies, and three free cities. But Bismarck deliberately excluded Austria, which had led the Ger- man states of Europe. He did so, of course, in order to secure Prus- sia’s own leadership in German Europe. This also had the effect of ensuring a Protestant majority in the German federation. A later Chancellor of Germany, Prince Bernhard von Bulow, reminded his government’s representatives abroad in 1906 that if the German- speaking Austrians were to be incorporated into Germany, “We shall thereby receive an increase of about fifteen million Catholics so that the Protestants would become a minority . . . the proportion of strength between the Protestants and the Catholics would become similar to that which at the time led to the Thirty Years War, i.e., a virtual dissolution of the German empire.” In Germany, Bismarck had chosen to bring into the political world a smaller country that he and his fellow Prussians could control rather than a larger one that they could not, and that continued to be Berlin’s preference.

Yet it became Germany’s belief that, in case of war, Austria would be indispensable as an ally, even though Austria was weaker than Germany. The continued existence of the Hapsburg Empire was viewed in Berlin as a vital German interest, indeed, perhaps as Ger- many’s main vital interest in international politics.



5 6 W A L K I N G T H R O U G H M I N E F I E L D S

Prussia, undemocratic and militaristic in its culture, was controlled by its army and the largely impoverished landowning Junker class that led its officer corps. In turn, Prussia exerted considerable con- trol, and in time of war almost total control, over the rest of Ger- many. Germany, by industrializing rapidly, made itself into the economic leader of the Continent, but in doing so necessarily con- verted much of its population into an industrial proletariat. The workers could not be admitted into the officer corps of the army without diluting the aristocratic Prussian character of the corps—and the regime it supported. So Germany, despite harboring ambitions to dominate Europe and perhaps even the world, deliberately chose not to increase the size of its army to the extent that would be required to realize such expansionist dreams.

Admiral Alfred Tirpitz explained in 1896 that in the end the armed forces existed “to suppress internal revolutions.” The very industrial revolution that was making Germany the greatest country on the Continent was at the same time generating forces that were threaten- ing the regime. It was only one of the many contradictions in Ger- many’s policies.

Driving Germany’s industrial growth was the country’s educa- tional system. Here, too, was a contradiction. The best-educated general public in Europe was unlikely in the long run to tolerate an archaic government structure or a leadership drawn exclusively from a narrow pool.

Long after the Great War, sympathetic foreign observers were to make the argument that Germany’s increasing greatness should have been peacefully accommodated by the other powers: that they should have appeased Berlin. Put this way, the responsibility for the outbreak of war falls on the shoulders of the main countries—Britain, France, Russia, and the United States—that eventually stood in the way of Germany’s rise to world power. They gave Germany, the argument runs, no way to assert itself other than through war. As the French historian Elie Halevy understandingly put it in the 1930s: “But sup- pose that, presently, one nation is found to have gained immensely in military or economic strength at the expense of one or many of the others . . . for such a disturbance of equilibrium man has not yet dis- covered any method of peaceful adjustment…. it can be rectified only by an outburst of violence—a war.”

Again, however, one arrives at a contradiction. As will be shown



E X P L O S I V E G E R M A N Y 5 7

presently, the Kaiser and other German leaders in 1 9 1 2 and 1 9 1 3 believed that their country was becoming weaker, not stronger, rela- tive to the other powers. As will be seen, the chief of the general staff felt that Germany ought to launch a war as soon as possible precisely because the chances of winning it would be less every year. War was necessary, in other words, not to accommodate German strength, but to accommodate German weakness.

For a time, the arms race seemed to offer a way out. Germany, in the process of overtaking Britain as Europe’s leading economy, ought therefore to have been able to outspend its rivals for military pur- poses. But an archaic constitutional structure and the consequent lack of a progressive tax system kept Germany from translating a growing economy into growing government revenues. By the start of the twentieth century Germany had reached the limits, spending all that it could, and more than it should, on the military. In his authori- tative study of pre-World War I Germany, Berghahn writes: “Ger- man armaments policy was almost exclusively responsible for the Reich’s financial plight. Over the years a relatively constant figure of about 90 per cent of the Reich budget had been spent on the Army and Navy” (emphasis added).

A leader like Franklin D. Roosevelt might have lifted the eyes of Ger- mans to some higher vision, and brought people together through sheer charisma. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II seemed to aspire to play such a role. He wore glittering uniforms and mounted noble chargers, and, at times, uttered dramatic pronouncements. But he fell short: he had no aptitude for the role.

Through the many years of his reign his support dwindled among the German people, and plunged during several public scandals of which more will be said later. It is curious that in foreign countries he was taken as the embodiment of the Prussian Junker military tradi- tion, when his popularity was so low among Prussian military Junkers.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was half English; his mother was Queen Victo- ria’s daughter. He exhibited strange attitudes toward England—a kaleidoscope of love, hate, envy, admiration, and a desire to be accepted as at least an equal—and these contradictions are explained by many biographers on the basis of his feelings for either his mother or his grandmother.



5 8 W A L K I N G T H R O U G H M I N E F I E L D S

At birth he was found to be in a breech position in his mother’s body. The attending physicians were not fully capable of dealing with this: at the time less than 2 percent of breech babies were born alive. Wilhelm survived—barely—but with permanent injuries.

It seems likely that Wilhelm II was emotionally unbalanced because of the various injuries suffered in childbirth. It remains an open and controversial question whether he suffered brain damage. His left arm remained permanently paralyzed, and the reactions of others to his withered limb may have affected him in one way or another. John Rohl, the leading student of his life and times, has con- cluded, on the basis of considerable medical evidence, that Wilhelm was deprived of oxygen during childbirth and suffered all his life from the results: personality defects such as a lack of objectivity and excessive sensitivity. This, in Rohl’s view, was aggravated by the rig- ors of his childhood, including the treatments of his twisted neck by such methods as the use of a “headstretching machine” and the treat- ment of his arm by inserting it into a freshly slaughtered hare. His love of military uniforms, his devotion to hunting, and his identifica- tion with Achilles suggest that he yearned for a martial glory that he could never achieve.

In 1888, Wilhelm ascended the throne as King of Prussia and Ger- man Emperor. By 1 9 1 3 , at the age of fifty-four, he therefore had reigned for a quarter century. During that time he had presided over affairs in a number of international crises that had threatened to bring about a European war, and in all of them war had been avoided, with Wilhelm himself in each case eventually coming down on the side of peace. The decision was his to make. The constitution of the German federation gave him the power to declare war. He often toyed with the idea of doing so.

His was a disturbing influence. He was nervous, high-strung, and mercurial. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, he would threaten and posture, playing the warlord who would lead his nation into battle; later he would take it all back. Military and civilian offi- cials who worked with him learned never to rely on the decisions he announced off the cuff; there had been too many false alarms.

The accounts left to us by his associates show an undisciplined and inconsistent figure, on the childish side, emotionally taut, often on the verge of breakdown, broadly ignorant but with no hesitation about making unqualified announcements about any number of mat-




ters about which he knew nothing. Egotistical and inclined to mega- lomania, he often spoke and even acted as though he were an absolute ruler. This was particularly true in foreign affairs. To Britain’s Prince of Wales he once boasted: “I am the sole master of German policy and my country must follow me wherever I go.” He might have exercised more influence over policy had he not been so capricious and unpredictable, and had he not reversed himself so often. As it was, ministers learned to disregard what the Kaiser told them much of the time, and, as one does with a child, to “manage” him. This was made easier because he was so rarely around; most of the time he was away hunting or yacht-cruising. He was in residence in Berlin only from January to May of a normal year.

Until Wilhelm II became the Kaiser, German policy was set largely by the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Wilhelm, an untried young monarch, felt uncomfortable with the elderly veteran and his policies. He disagreed with Bismarck on such matters as how to deal with industrial strife: at the time Wilhelm sided with striking factory workers, Bismarck with factory owners. In 1890, Wilhelm asserted his authority by dismissing the Iron Chancellor.

In 1890, after Bismarck had been dismissed, the Kaiser’s new min- isters allowed the Reinsurance Treaty, a Bismarck creation, to lapse. It had been an essential element in German policy, affirming German friendship with Russia after already having affirmed friendship with Austria-Hungary. In Bismarck’s vision, it bound the three empires together in such a way as to keep the rivalry in the Balkans between Russia and Austria under control. Germany would throw its weight against whichever of its two allies threatened to upset the delicate balance between them. Berlin would keep both of them as allies, pro- viding Germany with security on its eastern front. The treaties were kept secret: Russia did not know of Germany’s treaty with Austria; Austria did not know of Germany’s treaty with Russia.

For a century historians have blamed the Kaiser for allowing the Reinsurance Treaty to lapse. Scholars now have shown that the responsibility was not entirely his. On March 2 1 , 1890, Wilhelm assured the Russian ambassador that he planned to renew the treaty. On March 27, told that his foreign policy advisers were opposed to it, he said, “then it cannot be done. I am extremely sorry.” It was typical of him, while claiming to be an absolute monarch, to allow himself to be overruled.



6 O V A L K I N G T H R O U G H M I N E F I E L D S

Fro- A Bismarck, power passed within the German government to those who looked east: who perhaps dreamed of expanding territory, influence, or markets via the Balkans and perhaps Russia into the Middle East and on to China.

‘ Behind this policy vision lay their dark historical vision of a fated clash between Teutonic peoples, on the one side, and the peoples of the East, Slavs and Orientals, in which the Easterners, if defeated, were to become servants or slaves. It was the counterpart of the pan- Slav ambitions animating some of the policymakers in St. Peters- burg.

A question still debated is whether Wilhelm II played a great part in formulating policy. One area in which his judgment did have a con- siderable determining influence was in the shift of emphasis in grand strategy in the late 1890s: Germany’s new focus on naval policy.

The main figure with whom that strategy was associated was the state secretary of the Naval Office, the newly ennobled Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. Tirpitz represented, in a sense, the rising middle classes. His plan seemed to solve several problems at once. It called for the creation of a major battleship fleet. Building it might bring high employment and prosperity, and thus buy off, as it were, a sec- tion of the hitherto socialist working class.

This naval program consumed more and more money, and was made possible only by the peculiar order of priorities of the army ministry. According to Berghahn, “From the mid-1890s onwards, naval expenditure increased enormously while, at the same time, the expansion of the Army came to a virtual standstill. . . . There fol- lowed two decades of stagnation.” The funds were available to expand the navy only because the army chose not to expand; “it was the leadership of the Army itself that had called a halt to expansion.” The generals had done so in order to avoid opening the ranks of the officer corps to what they regarded as unreliable elements: persons lacking a Junker Prussian background.

As Berghahn writes, a function of the officer corps was “guarantee- ing absolute loyalty to the existing order and its supreme military commander, the monarch.” Rather than enlarge, the better to com- bat enemies abroad, the ministry of war chose to remain at current force levels in order to combat enemies at home.

The naval expansion launched by Tirpitz supposedly would enable Germany to compete against the other powers for colonies. It would




allow Germany to extend its reach anywhere in the world and not just in and around Europe. Germany would engage in world politics, not merely in continental politics. By its very nature the program posed a challenge to Great Britain, against whom, in fact, it was directed. In building a major navy, in attempting to obtain a colonial empire, and in trying to play a role on the global stage, Germany was setting out either to rival England or to take England’s place.

In retrospect, this was a self-defeating policy. Germany, along with its Austrian ally, is situated in the center of Europe. It has neighbors on all sides. Geographically it is encircled. The German nightmare has always been that of being encircled by a combination of hostile powers. It was Wilhelmine Germany itself that translated that night- mare into a reality, with its aggressive foreign policy and its unwise alliance decisions.

To the west there was France, estranged by the loss of Alsace and parts of Lorraine to Germany in the war of 1 8 7 0 – 7 1 . Bismarck, in his day, distracted the French by backing their quest for empire; under Wilhelm II, Germany instead deepened the-rift by opposing French imperialism, notably during the Moroccan crises of 1906 and 1 9 1 1 .

To the east was Russia, which Berlin deliberately estranged by let- ting the Reinsurance Treaty lapse. Germany made the fateful choice to back Austria against Russia. Thus it had enemies on both sides, east and west, conjuring up the very two-front war that haunted its generals.

To the south, Italy had territorial assertions against Austria that made it likely that Rome would rally to the other side. The German- Austrian alliance might well have to fight on a southern front, too.

Now, in the early 1900s, the Tirpitz program estranged Great Britain as well. England, France, and Russia, which were in many ways natural enemies of one another, and had been in conflict for more than a century as rivals for empire in Asia and elsewhere, were given no choice but to band together. So the hostile encirclement that Germany so much feared was achieved by Germany itself. But the Kaiser and his entourage, including the country’s military leaders, chose instead to blame everyone else.

Insofar as he remained steady in support of any policy, the Kaiser consistently backed Tirpitz and his naval policy. This brought the monarch into alignment with a broad segment of the middle class favoring expansion of trade, creation of a fleet to back up the drive



6 2 W A L K I N G T H R O U G H M I N E F I E L D S

for trade, and recognition by foreign powers of Germany’s growing greatness. It was a policy that aroused fear in Germany’s neighbors. On the other hand, it did not lead Germans to feel more secure.

Given the relative consistency with which he pushed navalism, the Kaiser might well have been convicted of responsibility for the 1 9 1 4 war if it had come about as a result of the naval challenge that he mounted against Great Britain. But it did not. Germany dropped out of the naval arms race several years before the war began; navalism then lost its relevance as a German world strategy.

It was the other and rival military party, the Prussian-led army, that eventually led Germany along the road it took in 1 9 1 4 . To be seen clearly, German militarism at that time has to be understood not as a single phenomenon with two aspects but as two rival programs: that of the navy and that of the army. Paradoxically—a word that, along with “oddly,” has to be used often in discussing Wilhelmine Germany—Tirpitz and Wilhelm, whether they knew it or not, headed the party of peace. This was because the navy, in the Tirpitz grand plan, would take years to be ready for any possible confronta- tion with England. And the navy did not want to fight until it was ready. So Tirpitz was for peace now and war so much later as to have little relevance to the politics of his time. To the navy, the enemy was the British Empire; to the army, it was Russia.

The army was less than enthusiastic about the Kaiser. His backing of the navy threatened Junker control of the German Empire; among other things, it opened up paths for advancement to new men from the professional and middle classes. Moreover, his tendency to retreat from international confrontation whenever there appeared to be a real risk of war was seen as cowardly through army eyes.

Gloom brought about by the Kaiser’s inadequacies fed into a larger worldview pessimism characteristic of pre-1914 Germany and affecting such leaders as the younger Moltke. This pervasive gloom was due, Fritz Fischer tells us, to devotion to the ideals of a vanishing pre-capitalist world and its values, which could never be restored.

No portrait of Germany as it was a century ago would be complete without mention of its cultural and academic preeminence. “Ein- stein’s Germany,” as Fritz Stern has called it, was poised to lead the world in learning and in the sciences. It produced great literature and great music. German was the language of scholarship. Those who hoped to pursue a serious career in classical studies, philosophy, soci-



E X P L O S I V E G E R M A N Y 6 3

ology, or the natural sciences were well advised to enter German uni- versities. Germans, arguably, were the most accomplished people in the world.

An advanced country inside a backward governmental structure, broadly humanist yet narrowly militarist, Germany was a land of paradoxes. Outside observers saw it as the coming country, the land of the future, while its own leaders believed that its time was running out. It was dazzlingly successful but profoundly troubled, powerful but fearful to the point of paranoia. It was symbolized by its ruler, who was both physically and emotionally unbalanced. Located in the heart of Europe, Germany was at the heart of Europe’s problems.

In retrospect, it seems odd that observers—the observers who were surprised by the outbreak of war in 1914—did not see that many of Germany’s leaders were spoiling for a fight, and sooner or later—if they could get around the Kaiser—might well have their way. An American, Edward House, saw it, but many Europeans did not.*

If House were to be believed, everything pointed to a war in which Europe would go up in flames. The difficulty was in predicting when and where the first step would be taken. In retrospect, a strong case can be made for the proposition that the first step was taken in Ottoman Turkey in 1908.

*For House, see p. 104.



J j







C H A P T E R 1 0 : M A C E D O N I A – O U T O F C O N T R O L

The most difficult, Complicated, and long-lived problem faced by .. . [the Turkish Sultan] was the Macedonian Question. … From the Congress of Berlin until World War I the issue occupied Ottoman and European statesmen alike more than any other single diplomatic problem.

—Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey

It looks very much as though the drift toward war began, insofar as any movement in history has a beginning, in the old imperial city of Constantinople: yesterday’s Byzantium and today’s Istan- bul. Dominating the straits that separate Europe from Asia, it occu- pies a site that has been at the center of world politics since the fabled, and perhaps fabulous, Agamemnon, Ulysses, and Achilles embarked for nearby Troy. For more than a thousand years after the fourth century A . D . , Constantinople had served as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. For five hundred years afterwards it was the capital of the Ottoman (or Turkish) Empire. It had outlived two civilizations and in the early 1900s seemed poised to outlive a third.

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It was, however, at a low point in its fortunes. Its glory was faded, as was its beauty. It had not kept up with the times. Most of its streets remained unpaved; the shoes and boots of its million inhabitants were covered with mud when it rained and with dust when it did not. Electricity had not yet been introduced. The city was known for its powerful winds, blowing sometimes from one direction, sometimes from another. That the winds of change would blow its empire away sometime soon was a view commonly held, but it was less easy to pre- dict from which quarter the winds would blow.

It was in Macedonia, a Turkish territory in the center of the turbulent Balkans coveted by Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria alike, that the dis- ruptive forces were unloosed. Macedonia was frontier country, law- less and out of control; it resisted efforts to police it. It was a prey to brigandage, guerrilla warfare, blood feuds, terrorism, assassinations, massacres, reprisals, uprisings, and almost every form of violence and bloodshed known to humankind. The Ottoman Third Army, charged with the duty of pacifying it, was infiltrated by members of one of Turkey’s many subversive secret societies: the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P.), known as the Young Turkey party. The Young Turks advocated modernization. Their goal was to reform the empire in order to stop Europe from taking any more Ottoman terri- tory.

For Bulgaria, too, which regarded Macedonia as its southern half, the fighting was an experience that gave rise to clandestine and mur- derous ultra-nationalist military societies. Much later—in the 1920s and 1930s—they would ally with Italian fascism and leave a blood- stained trail through Balkan history.

Macedonia played much the same role for Serbia, another claimant to the province. Serbian officers and other volunteers underwent the same experience of guerrilla fighting and dirty war- fare. In Serbia, too, one result of the turmoil was the creation of secret societies by ultra-nationalist army officers. As will be seen later, it was such a group in Serbia, the Black Hand, that often has been blamed for starting the First World War. Macedonia was the school that shaped the Serbian ultra-nationalists. Emerging from a past that was incendiary, they played a direct role in setting their world on fire. Like the Bulgarians, the Serbs took to assassination to achieve their ends, and, like the Bulgarians, they turned on their own



M A C E D O N I A — O U T O F C O N T R O L 6 9

governments and politicians. The Turkish, Bulgarian, and Serbian secret military societies were similar to one another except that each wanted Macedonia for its own. And it was the Young Turks who sur- faced first to achieve their aims.

The Young Turks were spurred to act by the news, in June 1908, of a proposal by Russia and Britain to restore order in Macedonia by sending in European officers to serve as a police force. If imple- mented, which, in retrospect at least, seems to have been highly unlikely, this would have meant that Turkey might well lose one more province.

The Young Turks, surfacing briefly, contacted the European pow- ers to protest against the proposal. Amidst great confusion, the Sul- tan sent officials to arrest various C U T . leaders, but the Young Turks evaded arrest and went on to spark a rebellion. Responding to the mounting disorder, the Sultan, on July 24, 1908, decreed restoration of the constitution, which was the main Young Turk demand. The next year the Sultan abdicated in favor of his brother.

A new phase had opened up in Ottoman politics. It was not clear who would lead or in which direction the leaders would go. Not until 1 9 1 3 did the Young Turks find themselves securely in control of the Ottoman Empire. But Europeans were on notice that change might finally be in the air.

To Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, the foreign minister of Austria- Hungary, it seemed possible that the Young Turk rebellion might represent a genuine revolution in Ottoman affairs. It might mean that the reform and modernization that the Young Turks advocated might actually be attempted—and might endanger Hapsburg inter- ests in the Balkans.

Viewed in that way, a signal had been sounded. Now, it could be argued, was the moment to act—or never. Time was running out. Either the Young Turks would reinvigorate their empire and put a stop to further annexations by European powers or the Ottoman state would continue to disintegrate. The accession to power of the Young Turkey party seems to have conveyed a message to Vienna: to strike immediately while Turkey was still weak and before some other European power struck first.



C H A P T E R 1 1 : A U S T R I A – F I R S T O F F T H E M A R K

As of 1908 the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary adminis-tered the dual Balkan provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose nominal ruler continued to be the Ottoman Sultan. Turkey had been in the process of losing the provinces in the 1870s to a native rebellion and then a war with Russia when the other Great Powers of Europe stepped in to settle matters and preserve the bal- ance of power among themselves.

At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the powers had split the owner- ship of the provinces in two: legal title to remain with Turkey, but with the actual right to occupy—provisionally—being awarded to the Dual Monarchy. The settlement did not, in fact, settle matters. The Hapsburg Empire was obliged to send in an army of between 200,000 and 300,000 troops to quell the local fighters for indepen- dence. The provinces were coveted by many; indeed each of the part- ners in the Dual Monarchy, Austria and Hungary, wanted them for itself, so a decision had to be postponed indefinitely in order to pre- serve the Dual Monarchy’s domestic balance of power. A decision as

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to who eventually would replace the Ottoman Sultan as legal ruler had to be similarly postponed to preserve the even more fragile bal- ance of power among the states of Europe. Meanwhile the largely Slavic inhabitants of the provinces cherished ambitions of their own for national independence, while their fellow Slavs, in neighboring Serbia, across the river, dreamed of annexing them.

Baron von Aehrenthal, foreign minister of the Dual Monarchy (1906-12), elevated from Baron to Count in 1909, gloried in his rep- utation as the most highly esteemed foreign secretary of his time. At the foreign office, he surrounded himself with a staff of aristocratic young aides who became his disciples. Admirers thought him clever; detractors, too clever.

Aehrenthal saw in the Young Turk rebellion an opportunity to score a dazzling success in the continuing rivalry among imperial Great Powers. Whether taking the Balkan provinces proved to pro- vide the first—or the last—chance to dismember the Ottoman Empire hardly mattered; in either event Austria-Hungary would move ahead of the other powers by striking first. It was a propitious moment: Russia, formerly Austria’s chief rival in the Balkans, was so weakened by losing the war against Japan (1904-05) and by the revo- lution of 1905 as to be practically hors de combat.

On October 6, 1908, the Dual Monarchy announced its annexa- tion of Bosnia-Herzegovina. To distract attention from the procla- mation, Aehrenthal encouraged Bulgaria, which nominally had remained until then under Turkish sovereignty, to proclaim legal independence the day before. Further throwing dust into the eyes of Europe’s other foreign ministers, he also proposed to withdraw Hapsburg troops that he regarded as useless from the neighboring Turkish district of Novibazar. Aehrenthal, who kept his own monarch, Franz Joseph, in the dark about these maneuvers, lied repeatedly to other European governments about what he was doing and what he was pushing Bulgaria to do. It was an example of the ero- sion of the aristocratic code of conduct that formerly had typified European leaders.

The most violent reaction came from the small but vigorous Balkan monarchy of Serbia, champion of South Slav rights. Serbia long had regarded Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of its heartland. Many elements in the government, in the military, and in the population thought immediately of mobilization against Austria or of going to



7 2 D R I F T I N G T O W A R D W A R

war. Narodna Odbrana, a Serbian nationalist paramilitary organiza- tion, sprang up to champion the Serbian cause.

Even the Kaiser was appalled, terming the annexation “fearful stu- pidity” and lamenting, “Thus my Turkish policy, so carefully built up over twenty years, is thrown away.” He learned of the Austrian move only from the newspapers and expressed himself as “deeply offended in my feelings as an ally” by AehrenthaFs secrecy; to which Ger- many’s Chancellor responded: “Our problem could be stated as fol- lows: we must not risk the loss of Austria—with her fifty million inhabitants, her strong and efficient army, but still less must we let ourselves be dragged by her into the midst of an armed conflict which . . . might lead to a general war, in which we certainly had nothing to gain.”

Alexander Izvolsky, the foreign secretary of Russia, which was Austria’s main rival in the region, initially made no objection to the Austrian grab. He believed that Aehrenthal had promised him that the Hapsburg Empire would help secure compensation for the Czar: free passage for Russia through Constantinople and the Straits. Indeed, Izvolsky believed that he had a definite promise from Aehrenthal in this regard and felt cheated that it was not kept. But a bullying note in undiplomatic language from Berlin dissuaded the Czar from championing the Serbian cause. Germany’s acting foreign minister, the aggressive Alfred von Kiderlen-Wachter, on Biilow’s behalf used menacing language—that of ultimatums—in communi- cating with Izvolsky: “we expect a definite answer: yes or no; any eva- sive, involved, or vague answer would have to be regarded by us as a refusal.” Russia, reeling from defeat and revolution in 1905, had little choice but to submit. It was all the more humiliating to Izvolsky because other leading figures in his government who did not share his goals at the Straits were astonished that he had let Aehrenthal get away with taking Bosnia.

Austria’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina upset the fragile bal- ance of power in the Balkans. Izvolsky, whether to hit back at Aehrenthal or for some other reason, sent Nicolai Hartwig as minis- ter to Serbia (1909-14). Hartwig was a pan-Slav militant with a fol- lowing of his own in Russia. He set out to bring Balkan states into a common front to take some or all of the lands still occupied by the Ottoman Empire in Europe. This was a difficult task—getting the quarrelsome rival states of the Christian Balkans to agree on any-



A U S T R I A — F I R S T O F F T H E M A R K 7 3

thing seemed hopeless at times—but, as Hartwig showed, it was not impossible.

Hartwig began by forging an alliance between Serbia and Bul- garia, and then joining that alliance to an accord with Russia. Arrangements with Greece and Montenegro followed.

Chancellor von Biilow had approved the use of humiliating language in dealing with Russia. Perhaps it was because he wanted to score an evident triumph. He needed one.

Biilow had been appointed to his position largely through the influence of Philipp Eulenburg, the Kaiser’s best friend. Following a series of homosexual scandals and prosecutions, Eulenburg had been obliged to retreat into exile. Tales of transvestite follies and decadent parties seemed to implicate the Kaiser himself.

As Chancellor, Biilow had been obliged to recognize that Ger- many could not keep up the naval arms race with Britain, a contest that had been central to the Tirpitz policy that he and the Kaiser had embraced. He himself realized the difficulty of supporting the budget and saw no way of raising the taxes that were needed to do so.

As the Bosnian crisis was playing itself out, Biilow faced another scandal: a controversial newspaper interview given by the Kaiser that had been cleared in advance by the Chancellor.

The interview had been granted by Wilhelm to a British friend, who worked up his notes into an article that was published by the London Daily Telegraph in October 1908. The article meant to show that the Kaiser was pro-British and that England therefore had noth- ing to fear from Germany. Wilhelm claimed that during the recent Boer War in South Africa (in which German interests and sympathies lay with the Boers and against England) he personally had prevented other European powers from combining against Britain. Even more, the Kaiser claimed to have devised and delivered strategic plans for Britain that had enabled Britain to win the war. The British were enraged, and in this they were not alone.

The German people, the German parliament, and all German parties denounced Wilhelm. There was a question as to whether the Kaiser might be forced to abdicate. Of course he had not, as he claimed, provided the British generals with their campaign plans. But Biilow, who had failed to adequately vet the indiscreet remarks of his monarch, now failed to defend him. To save himself he lied and did




not admit that he had cleared the interview. In 1909, Biilow resigned. A new Chancellor took office, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, a civil servant, but of an old and wealthy Rhineland family. Bethmann knew he was not Wilhelm’s preferred choice for the office, and his willingness to stand up to the Kaiser was questioned then and is ques- tioned still. Bethmann was an outsider—not Prussian, not military— who did not have, nor did he ever develop, personal relationships with the leaders of the armed forces or with the emperor.

For the Prussian military, demoralized by the discrediting of Wil- helm, it seemed evident that the only way to save the monarchy and therefore their way of life was to go to war. The chief of the Military Cabinet, General Moritz von Lyncker, claimed that war was needed in order to get Germany “out of the internal and external difficul- ties.” But he added that the Kaiser probably would not have the nerve to adopt this solution.

Moltke, chief of the Great General Staff, believed that war was inevitable, and the sooner the better. He was disappointed that the Bosnian crisis was resolved peacefully; such an opportunity of war, he warned, “will not come so soon again under such propitious circum- stances.”

Having completed the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Aehren- thal set out to preserve the new status quo in the Balkans. He wanted no further changes. He tried to persuade the powers that Austria did not intend to take Macedonia next. But Russia viewed what he had done as aggressive and therefore believed that Austria-Hungary had become expansionist. To counter that expansionism, Russia felt impelled to organize pro-Russian, anti-Austrian sentiment in the Balkans. In turn, the Dual Monarchy saw this as Russian expansion- ism, requiring defensive measures of its own.

The treaty of 1879 between Germany and Austria had been a defen- sive alliance: if either country were attacked—but only if it were the country that was attacked—the other was bound to come to its aid. But in January 1909, at the climax of the Bosnia-Herzegovina crisis, Conrad, Austria’s chief of staff, had asked Moltke, his German coun- terpart, what Germany would do if Austria invaded Serbia and thereby provoked Russia into intervening. Moltke replied that Ger- many would protect Austria anyway, even though Austria would have



A U S T R I A — F I R S T O F F T H E M A R K

started it. Moreover, Germany would go to war not only against Rus- sia, but also against France, since France was Russia’s ally.

In his history of Germany, Gordon Craig notes that Austria there- after relied upon Moltke’s pledge as a binding commitment: “In effect, Moltke had changed the treaty of 1879 from a defensive to an offensive treaty and placed his country at the mercy of the adventur- ers in Vienna.” It should be added that Moltke’s pledge was backed by the Chancellor.



C H A P T E R 1 2 : F R A N C E A N D G E R M A N Y M A K E T H E I R P L A Y

,or a long time France had been eyeing Morocco. It was the last territory in North Africa that remained independent, and it

_M_ would nicely complement the nation’s holdings in Algeria and Tunisia. France was moving to assert a presence in Morocco when, in 1905, Germany unexpectedly intervened. The Kaiser, albeit reluc- tantly, was sent by his government on a trip—by ship, through a Force 8 gale—to champion Moroccan independence. On Germany’s part this was a pretext aimed at disrupting the newly formed Entente of Britain with France. But the German maneuver failed: Britain sided with France. An international conference convened and sympa- thized with France, too. The conference awarded France the leading role in Moroccan affairs by a treaty signed at Algeciras in 1906. At Germany’s insistence the treaty pledged the Europeans to uphold the rule of the Sultan, not to undermine Morocco’s independence, as France (or at least its colonialist party) actually aimed to do and in fact went ahead to do.

In March 1 9 1 1 , according to French authorities, rebel tribes



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brought disorder to the interior of Morocco and threatened one of the capital cities, Fez. The Sultan of Morocco appealed to France to send troops and to restore order. In Berlin it was believed that the tribal uprising had been fomented by the French in order to provide them with an excuse for occupying the country. Even if the uprising were genuine, it was safe to assume that once French troops were installed in Morocco, they would remain. The new German foreign secretary, Alfred von Kiderlen-Wachter, decided to spring a trap. Until the French acted he did nothing but remind them that to do so would abrogate existing treaty arrangements and lead to negotiations to replace them. His aim was to force France to offer Germany sub- stantial compensation: enormous tracts in Africa. In turn, such a diplomatic triumph would shore up the Berlin government’s position in the forthcoming parliamentary elections of 1 9 1 2 , where prospects otherwise were quite bleak.

French troops occupied Fez on May 2 1 , 1 9 1 1 . Without consulting even such key members of his own government as the armed forces chiefs, Kiderlen sent a naval cruiser, the Panther, to anchor in the har- bor of Agadir on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. He then asserted Ger- many’s claims on July 1. Apparently he assumed that England, as France’s longstanding imperialist rival, would stay out of the conflict. So would Russia, unwilling to risk war for a country as far away and unimportant as Morocco. Austria-Hungary was an ally and so, at least in theory, was Italy.

Kiderlen’s calculation was that an isolated France would give way. But it turned out that France was not isolated. Great Britain rallied to its support: Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George, though of radical, pacifist-leaning, anti-imperialist political origins, made that clear in a rousing speech at a Mansion House banquet on July 2 1 . Russia, too, with some ambiguity, seemed to sympathize with France, while Austria-Hungary refused to extend even diplomatic support for Germany. Italy was of no help.

The Kaiser and his political friends, reluctant from the start to let the foreign secretary play out his risky hand, weighed in on the side of peace. Germany backed down. Austria had gotten away with annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina due to German support, so France had gotten away with taking Morocco due to Britain’s aid. France, which already held Algeria and Tunisia, now received Germany’s recognition of its protectorate over Morocco too. In return, Ger-



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many was awarded compensation in Africa that it deemed to be inad- equate. All was agreed November 4 , 1 9 1 1 .

Everything seemed to fall into place in the wake of the Agadir cri- sis. The outlines of a future war, although not its cause, became increasingly clear. Germany had been put on notice that Great Britain might well come in on France’s side, and that Russia would do so too if what was at stake was France’s survival rather than a mere colonial issue.

Germany could not rely on Italy, a nominal ally, nor even on the Dual Monarchy. Regarding the Austrian alliance as vital, Germany learned at Agadir that it was a one-way affair: Berlin would help to pursue Vienna’s interests, but Vienna would not help to pursue Berlin’s. Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg had known it even before the crisis; he had told the Kaiser: “If it comes to a war, we must hope that Austria is attacked so that she needs our help and not that we are attacked so that it would depend on Austria’s decision whether she will remain faithful to the alliance.” In other words, a conflict would have to be Austria’s in the first instance or else Vienna would sit out the war.

The Agadir crisis alerted Germany to another danger: financial vulnerability. It decided to collect all the cash that was owing to it. Beginning in mid-summer 1 9 1 1 , Germany’s central bank, the Reichsbank, systematically called in foreign debts, a program that if continued would have been completed within five years and would have turned Germany into a total debtor. By 1 9 1 6 , Berlin would have repatriated all of its own money. But it also would be holding hoards of cash that it had borrowed from other European powers, and that now would finance a war against them.

German deeds and words in the summer of 1 9 1 1 — t h e dispatch of the Panther to Morocco and the language used in communicating with the Great Powers—alarmed Europe and brought about a sharp reaction. There is irony in this because they were the work neither of the Kaiser nor of the Chancellor, but of a somewhat out-of-control foreign secretary who died at the end of the year after downing six cognacs.

David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain’s Liberal government, was one of those former anti-imperialists whose mind was changed by and about the Germans. Hence the Mansion



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House speech in which he pledged to spend whatever it took to maintain England’s supremacy. His young political protege Winston Churchill, home secretary and a leading friend of Germany’s as late as the spring of 1 9 1 1 , reversed his position too and foresaw the com- ing world war.

Churchill later recalled that on the afternoon of July 24, 1 9 1 1 , as he walked with Lloyd George by the fountains of Buckingham Palace, a messenger caught up with them to bring the Chancellor in all urgency to see the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. In his room at the House of Commons, Grey told them: “I have just received a communication from the German Ambassador so stiff that the Fleet might be attacked at any moment.” And indeed, the Royal Navy was put on alert immediately.

Grey, Lloyd George, Churchill, and other interested ministers met irregularly during the summer as the crisis in Morocco played itself out. Under the pressure of events, government leaders became aware that Britain was unprepared for war. Secret staff talks with Bel- gium and France in 1905-06, renewed from time to time along with some exchanges of information, and discussions within the armed services and within government committees, had arrived at contrast- ing and inconclusive results.

A whole-day top-level conference of the Committee of Imperial Defence convened August 23, on the initiative of Director of Mili- tary Operations Major General Henry Wilson. It seems that this was the only time before 1 9 1 4 that the two armed services, army and navy, outlined their respective and competing strategies for waging war. At the conference a decision was made between the two: Britain would not merely fight the war at sea; it would also send an army—an expeditionary force—to fight a land war on the continent of Europe alongside France and against Germany.

Participants were shocked to discover two great failings on the part of the Royal Navy. The fleet was not prepared to transport the expeditionary force from Britain to the Continent, and it refused to create the equivalent of the army’s general staff. To ride roughshod over the entrenched admirals, it would be necessary to find a new civilian head of the Admiralty: someone dynamic. In October, Prime Minister Asquith appointed controversial, energetic young Winston Churchill a month before his thirty-seventh birthday. Churchill, in a



8 o D R I F T I N G T O W A R D W A R

memorandum that he prepared and circulated, already had discerned the main outlines of the coming world war and threw himself into a frenzy of activity as he prepared to win it.

In Britain’s war plans, Germany was the enemy. The ally was France.

To tell of France in the world politics of 1 9 1 4 is to speak of its leader, Raymond Poincare. His policy was—and remains—widely misun- derstood. It was and is assumed that he aimed at reversing the results of the Franco-Prussian War: that he sought to lead a crusade to recover the lost territories, above all, territories in the land of his birthplace, Lorraine. This was not so, according to his most recent biographer, John Keiger. Rather, he was a moderate centrist who preferred peaceful accommodations.

Remarkably little was known of his conduct of affairs until quite recently. As late as the 1980s, his two biographers in France were unaware that Poincare’s private papers existed; indeed, the more recent of the two claimed in 1984 that the French statesman had destroyed his papers. It remained for Poincare’s first English- language biographer, Keiger, whose work was published in 1997, to study and make use of these materials.

Raymond Poincare, born in the town of Bar-le-Duc in western Lorraine on August 20, i860, a person of formidable weight and solidity, grew to be the dominant public figure in the French politics of his time. On his father’s side, he came from a family of profession- als distinguished in the sciences and in education for more than a century. His mother’s ancestors were judges and politicians. His cousin Henri became one of the leading mathematicians of the twen- tieth century.

Virtuous, cautious, abstemious, middle-of-the-road, and essen- tially nonpartisan, he nonetheless was driven by a fierce competitive- ness: by an ambition to win all of life’s contests. At the age of twenty he became the youngest barrister in France. At twenty-six he was elected the youngest member of parliament. At fifty-two, on January 1 7 , 1 9 1 3 , he was the youngest person ever elected to be President, a seven-year position. He also was the first to be elected directly from the office of Prime Minister to that of President. As President, he was a dominating figure. By the summer of 1 9 1 4 , he had taken almost full control of French foreign policy. With regard to Germany, he stood



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in a typically middle position among the center-left forces, between his pro-German colleague Joseph Caillaux and the lone wolf Ger- man-hating Georges Clemenceau. But an observer at the time might have discerned a tilt in favor of Berlin. On January 2 0 , 1 9 1 4 , Poincare dined at the German embassy—the first time a President of France had done so since 1870.

Keiger suggests that Poincare’s increased friendship with Ger- many was the product of confidence, stemming in part from the results of the First Balkan War, in which the Balkan forces, trained and armed by France, defeated the Ottoman armies, trained and armed by Germany. Moreover, Poincare took up the cause of the French colonialist alliance, the Comite de l’Orient, which sought control of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine should the Turkish empire collapse—an objective which might well pit France against its allies England and Russia.

Yet it transpired that as France set about rounding off its colonial designs, Britain, its traditional rival, offered not opposition, but sup- port. And Germany, which once had encouraged France’s imperial ambitions, now stood in the way. New alliances and alignments were in the process of formation. Change was in the air.

Germany, having once again alienated the other powers in the Pan- ther episode, now took measures to defend against the hostility it had aroused. In the words of David G. Herrmann, an authority on the pre-1914 arms race, “The most significant military consequence of the second Moroccan crisis remained the German decision to embark on an extraordinary program of land armament in the expec- tation of a future war…. The resulting German army law started an international spiral of land-armaments construction. The Germans regarded themselves as responding to a threat from all sides, b u t . . . they took the plunge in full expectation that their rivals would react” in the same way, by a massive new arms buildup “and that war would only be a matter of time. In due course, the prophecy fulfilled itself.”

As the Moroccan crisis drew to a close, another European power staked out a claim to parts of the Muslim world: Italy, the peninsula that stretches from central Europe to the middle of the Mediter- ranean Sea. It had never been unified since the fall of Rome nearly




1,500 years before. Its more than 30 million people now were search- ing for a role in world affairs.

Italy was a geographical entity that had become a country only recently, in the war of 1859. It had acquired its capital city of Rome in the early 1870s. It claimed to rank as a Great Power and felt the need to win colonies, such as older, more established countries possessed. Italians harbored even more ambitious goals: they dreamed of their ancestors in ancient Rome and hoped to win similar glory. Austria- Hungary’s move in the Balkans followed by France’s in North Africa jolted the Italians into pursuing such aims.



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The territory of Tripolitania, now part of Libya, was Italy’s first target. Under the indolent sway of the Ottoman gov-ernment, Tripolitania, along with adjoining Cyrenaica, was ruled minimally and defended inadequately. For years, Italian diplo- mats had been clearing the way for a future takeover. In 1900, France had waived any objections it might have had in return for Italy’s sim- ilar waiver in regard to France’s hoped-for annexation of Morocco.

Later the Italians made similar arrangements with the Austrians in regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina and with the Russians in respect to the Straits of the Dardanelles. To keep Italy as an ally, Germany agreed to the Tripoli venture; Britain concurred in hopes of detaching Italy from that alliance.

So once Austria had moved on Bosnia, and France on Morocco, the Italian press and public urged their leaders to go ahead before it became too late. In a leisurely fashion more Mediterranean than modern, the Italian government then gave the other powers notice of its intention to go to war—some two months in advance.

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As a young Italian diplomat later remembered it, ” I . . . expected that the communication itself would create a stir. Nothing of the kind! Nobody took the slightest notice. . . . People thought that we were bluffing.”

On September 29, 1 9 1 1 , Italy declared war, accusing Turkey of injuring Italian interests. Italy occupied the Libyan coastline quickly, but then was bogged down in the interior. Fighting continued for about a year. A cease-fire took effect October 1 5 , 1 9 1 2 , followed by a peace that left Italy in possession not only of Libya but also of Rhodes and other Dodecanese islands off the shore of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Italian war was a signal to Hartwig’s Russian-inspired Balkan alliance that their time had come to strike—and to preempt Austria. The pace of conflict was accelerating; the clashes began to overlap. The Italo-Turkish war started before the Second Moroccan Crisis was resolved, and now out of the embers of countless local blood feuds, the First Balkan War caught fire in 1 9 1 2 before the Italian colonial war was concluded. Indeed, the main reason that the Turkish government accepted Italy’s terms for concluding hostilities was its need to focus on southeastern Europe. There was a revolt in Albania, a border conflict with Montenegro, continuing guerrilla warfare in Macedonia, and, above all, turmoil in Constantinople, where oppo- nents of the Young Turks briefly had come to power.

As seen earlier, on March 1 3 , 1 9 1 2 , Bulgaria and Serbia had been brought together by the pan-Slav Russian Nicolai Hartwig, who inspired them to take advantage of the Italian war to press their own claims against a distracted Turkey. Greece joined later. So, by verbal agreement, did Montenegro. Russia did not, at first, apprise France of what was afoot; even later Russia did not keep France informed fully. But even St. Petersburg may not have been kept advised: Hartwig was running something close to a rogue operation. Izvolsky and other leaders of the Russian government “denounced the dan- gers of Hartwig’s ‘incurable Austrophobia’ ” and what the historian Dominic Lieven has recently called “his disloyalty to overall Russian foreign policy.”

The Balkan peoples harbored murderous hatreds against one another, and asserted rival claims to territories and frontiers, but they acted together in order to strike at Turkey before it could make peace



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with Italy. Mounting a crusade to free all that remained of the Ottoman Empire in Christian southeastern Europe, Montenegro declared war on Turkey on October 8, 1 9 1 2 , followed by its allies Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece on October 1 7 . Turkey immediately brought the war with Italy to an end.

The Ottoman forces were, to everyone’s surprise, quickly and utterly defeated. They were driven from almost all of Turkey-in- Europe. In a month of lightning warfare, the Balkan states had prac- tically brought the Eastern Question to a close. This was a role that the Great Powers had always imagined that they themselves would play. Now they scrambled to make sure that whatever settlement was reached—by others—would not threaten their vital interests. Their task was complicated by a change of personnel: the foreign secre- taries of Germany and Austria died, the foreign secretary of Russia resigned, and their replacements did not carry the same weight.

In December 1 9 1 2 a conference of ambassadors convened in Lon- don. Sixty-three sittings ensued. Macedonia was partitioned. Bul- garia felt cheated of its share by Serbia and Greece. A peace treaty was signed May 3 0 , 1 9 1 3 , but did not last. A month later, on the night of June 29-30, Bulgaria turned against its former allies, Serbia and Greece, in a surprise attack ordered by King Ferdinand I without consulting even his own government. It led to the so-called Second Balkan War, in which Bulgaria was defeated by Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and Romania.

The Treaty of Bucharest, signed on August 10, and negotiated by the local states rather than by the Great Powers, brought the First and Second Balkan Wars to an end. Austria-Hungary was taken by surprise. It had wanted to see Serbia crushed—hoping and believing that Turkey would win the first war and Bulgaria the second—and might well have intervened to dictate different results had there been time. As it was, the Hapsburg Empire feared for its future. The fears centered on victorious Serbia and its sponsor, Russia.

Austrian fears were not unjustified. During the Balkan wars, Rus- sia’s new foreign minister, Serge Sazonov, told the Serbian ambassa- dor in St. Petersburg that “we shall shake Austria to the foundations,” and that in winning as much as possible in the peace negotiations “we must be content with what we shall receive, regarding it as an install- ment, for the future belongs to us.”

It was Austria-Hungary itself, having annexed Bosnia-



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Herzegovina, that had provoked Russia and Serbia to seek revenge. It was possible that Serbia, which had doubled in size, and its allies Rus- sia and the forces of pan-Slavism would continue their advance. Aehrenthal had upset the Balkan balance of power in 1908 in Aus- tria’s favor. Now Hartwig had upset the balance in Russia’s favor. In turn, would the Dual Monarchy riposte? Or would Germandom continue to retreat before Slavdom?



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Times had changed. In the nineteenth century, when foreign policy alignments and readjustments tended to focus on ide-ology, Russia and the Germanic states of Austria and Prussia had been the closest of allies. In 1 9 1 2 they still shared the same out- look, the same reactionary politics, and the same values. But their solidarity, based on common beliefs, gave way to a life-or-death con- flict based on a clash of interests and a power rivalry.

The clash of interests was in the Balkans, where it was believed that Austria, in order to survive, would have to put down all chal- lenges by Slavic peoples. In turn, Austria’s survival as a Great Power was a vital German interest. Moreover, the sheer size of Russia, and its startlingly rapid growth in power as it industrialized with French financial backing, turned the czarist empire into Germany’s potential rival for supremacy on the Continent. The Teuton versus Slav aspect of that potential contest reflected race hatred. Moreover in seeing Germany’s future in terms of penetration and exploitation of the

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Middle East and Far East, the Kaiser imagined yet another goal that could be achieved only by overcoming the Slavic world.

Inconsistent as he so often was, the Kaiser also was a latecomer to these views. In the early days of the Balkan wars he found it unobjec- tionable that the Ottoman Empire should be defeated. Its Young Turks, he decided, deserved to be “flung out of Europe” for having overthrown “my friend the Sultan.” The future of the Balkans should be determined by its peoples, he believed, and for the Great Powers to intervene to “keep the peace” would only backfire: the peoples would turn against the powers. Instead the powers should form a “ring” within which the local forces could fight it out. “Let these people get on with it,” he wrote in his irresponsible, thoughtless, and typically ambiguous marginal notes (which lend themselves therefore to various readings). “Either they will take some blows or they will deal some out. . . . The Eastern Question must be solved with blood and iron.” Decisions would be made on the battlefield. Blood would be spilled; that was inevitable. But only after that could negotiation play a role. “Afterwards there will be time to talk.” But this process— the Balkan ethnic wars, followed by a peace conference at which terms were dictated largely by the local victors—in order to produce an outcome acceptable to the German powers must occur “at the right time for us! And that is now!”—while France and Russia remained unprepared for war.

Shortly after scribbling these marginal notes, the Kaiser ordered his foreign office not to “hinder the Bulgars, Serbs, and Greeks in their legitimate quest for victory.” In a marginal note he foresaw the possible creation of a “United States of the Balkans” that might serve politically as a buffer between Austria and Russia, thus solving that problem. It also might provide an important market for German exports.

As crisis loomed ahead in the final months of the First Balkan War, with victorious Serbia and Montenegro seeking an outlet to the sea— Scutari, on the Adriatic in formerly Ottoman Albania—and with Austria opposing that claim, the Kaiser wrote to his foreign secretary: “I see absolutely no danger for Austria’s existence, or prestige, in a Serbian harbor on the Adriatic” and “I think it unadvisable needlessly to oppose the Serbian wish.” He denied that the terms of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, and Italy) required his country to do so; the alliance only “was intended to guarantee the integrity of current



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territorial possessions.” He added that “to be sure, some of the changes wrought in the Balkans by the war are inconvenient and unwelcome for Vienna, but none [is] so important that we ought on that account to expose ourselves to a military involvement. I could not carry the responsibility for that before my conscience or my peo- ple.”

He restated his position often: he would “under no circumstances be prepared to march against Paris and Moscow on account of Alba- nia.” In a memorandum to the foreign office he called it absurd to risk an “existential struggle with three Great Powers, in which Ger- many may possibly perish” simply because “Austria doesn’t want to have the Serbs in Albania.”

Among many other messages, Wilhelm cabled his foreign secre- tary on November 9 , 1 9 1 2 : “have spoken in detail to the Reich Chan- cellor along the lines of my instruction to you and have emphasized that under no circumstances will I march against Paris and Moscow on account of Albania.”

The Kaiser wanted to make clear to Austria that only if Russia attacked—and if Austria had not provoked the attack—would Berlin back Vienna. He was dissuaded. Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg, perhaps stiffened by the view of Admiral George Alexander von Miiller, the Kaiser’s naval aide, apparently argued that Austria would lose faith in the German guarantee if such a message were sent to Vienna and that the German public would be furious. Instead, the government should urge Austria to demonstrate moderation so as to make a German intervention “comprehensible to the German peo- ple.” (But if public opinion would be furious if Austria were aban- doned, was not the Austrian case already “comprehensible”?)

In the last half of November, having met with service officers and civilian officials, the Kaiser was satisfied. Public opinion, he decided, now regarded Austria as the provoked party; “the position which I wanted has been reached.”

On November 21 the Kaiser’s great friend Archduke Franz Ferdi- nand, heir to the Hapsburg throne, arrived in Berlin and received from Wilhelm and from Moltke assurances that Germany would back Austria “in all circumstances” even at the risk of war with Britain, France, and Russia. The Kaiser apparently was persuaded that Austria now was the provoked party and that England and France would not intervene. These may have been his conditions,



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albeit unspoken. And German foreign office opinion was that “today both Italy and England are on our side”: the risk was far less than might appear. Whether for that reason or another, the German lead- ers made their secret commitment public. The foreign minister told the parliament on November 28: “If Austria is forced, for whatever reason, to fight for its position as a Great Power, then we must stand by her side” (emphasis added). In London the British foreign secre- tary was startled: did Germany, he asked, really mean to give Austria “a blank cheque,” and to support Vienna in whatever it did, even if it were in the wrong, and even in a war of aggression that it had started? Sir Edward Grey told the German ambassador that “the conse- quences of such a policy” would be “incalculable.”

Grey acted to make sure that the Kaiser did not misunderstand England’s position. If Germany would not let Austria disappear as a Great Power, neither would England let France disappear as such. Grey apparently spoke to R. B. Haldane, the Lord Chancellor, who as war minister had remade the British army, and the result was a message from London that sparked a fresh crisis.

The date was December 8 , 1 9 1 2 . On short notice, the Kaiser con- vened a meeting in his Berlin quarters with a number of his military leaders: four, according to one account, and six according to another. They met at n a.m. to consider the import of the telegram from London. In addition to Wilhelm the participants included Admiral Muller, chief of the Kaiser’s Naval Cabinet; Admiral von Tirpitz, the naval leader; General von Moltke, the army chief of staff; Vice Admi- ral August von Heeringen, head of the admiralty staff, and perhaps also his brother General Josias von Heeringen, Prussian minister of war, and the chief of the Military Cabinet, Moritz Freiherr von Lyncker. Not present were the civilian leaders: Chancellor von Beth- mann Hollweg and the foreign secretary, Gottlieb von Jagow.

This secret conference was drawn to the world’s attention only a half century later, when the historian Fritz Fischer showed that it could have been evidence of a deliberate plan by the Kaiser and his military chiefs to bring about a European war in June 1 9 1 4 . The interpretation of the 1 9 1 2 conference remains an open question, although most leading historians today tend not to accept Fischer’s views without at least some qualification. John Rohl, perhaps the closest in his views to Fischer, makes the persuasive point that we now have additional documentation in unusual abundance to help us




understand the notes by Admiral Miiller that, in an earlier garbled version, had been our only source.

The Kaiser called the conference because Germany’s Anglophile ambassador in London, Prince Karl Max von Lichnowsky, had cabled him with news of a conversation he had just held with Lord Haldane, Britain’s Germanophile former minister of war. According to the Kaiser, Haldane apparently spoke for Sir Edward Grey. Given the channel of communication chosen—Lichnowsky and Haldane, two men devoted to the cause of improving relations between En- gland and Germany—it would have been safe to infer that Grey was supplying medicine that, despite its apparent bitterness, was pre- scribed for the patient’s own good. The message from Grey brought to the Kaiser’s attention something that any student of international relations ought to have known: that it was in Britain’s vital interest to maintain the balance of power in Europe. If Germany were to attack France, Britain would intervene on France’s side, for preserving the independence and Great Power status of France was one of En- gland’s vital interests. Implied in the cable was the message that Lon- don did not object if Germany increased its lead as the wealthiest and most militarily powerful country on the Continent so long as other powers, especially those of Western Europe, were allowed to retain their independence. In his angry marginal notes on the text of the telegram, Wilhelm described the English principle of the balance of power as an “idiocy” which would make England “eternally into our enemy.”

The Kaiser, according to one secondhand version, was “in a most agitated state” and “in an openly war-like mood.” In Admiral von Miiller’s firsthand account, Wilhelm welcomed Haldane’s message as providing “a desirable clarification” of Britain’s intentions, showing those among Germany’s planners who had wanted to allow for the possibility of England’s neutrality the error of their ways. In the light of Haldane’s message, Germany, if it went to war, should plan on fighting Britain as well, and to that end, the navy should speed up such measures as building its U-boat fleet.

According to the Kaiser, speaking in December, in the middle of the Balkan wars, Austria “must deal energetically” with Serbia; and “if Russia supports the Serbs, which she evidently does . . . then war would be unavoidable for us, too.” Moltke said, “I believe a war is unavoidable and the sooner the better.” But—and it was to prove a




significant “but”—Moltke added that “we ought to do more through the press” to build up popular support for a war against Russia.

The Kaiser and Moltke urged immediate war. Tirpitz, speaking for the navy, agreed in part but asked “postponement of the great fight for one and a half years.” The fleet needed time to complete widening and deepening the Kiel Canal and work on the base at Heligoland. Moltke objected that the navy would not be ready even then, and that the army, which was running out of money, would be in a worse position.

The meeting seems to have disbanded in a show of pro-war senti- ment but without arriving at an agreed decision. A target date had been mentioned but had not been firmly set. A disappointed Admiral von Miiller noted in his diary: “The result” of the conference “amounted to almost o.” Miiller wrote to the Chancellor that after- noon, reporting what had been said and decided at what became known as the “war council.” Miiller transmitted the Kaiser’s order to use the press to prepare the people for a future war with Russia. In the week or so following the conference, the Kaiser spoke often of the coming war in excited terms, repeatedly describing it as a racial conflict.

Ever since Fritz Fischer publicized evidence of the council, histo- rians have wondered whether it could be a coincidence that one and a half years later the war did in fact break out. (Shortly after the coun- cil ended, Wilhelm told the Swiss minister that the racial struggle “will probably take place in one or two years.”)

In the nearly two years that followed the war council, Germans started a new and more frantic arms race, but it had been decided upon and set in motion long before. According to a leading student of the arms race, David Herrmann, it had been undertaken, in part, in an act of interservice rivalry, in which the army made a preemptive strike against the navy, seeking a rise in funding large enough so that an increase for the fleet too would be out of the question. Another reason was that both the public and the army had been jolted by the Moroccan crisis of 1 9 1 1 into an awareness that Germany would face real challenges in a war against a European coalition.

But the First Balkan War, ending in December 1 9 1 2 at the time of the war council, “had an even more galvanizing effect,” we are told by Herrmann, that “transformed the atmosphere of tension into one of emergency.” The Slavs seemingly were moving ahead, and




Austria-Hungary, in a paralysis of policy and power, was doing noth- ing to stop them. German party leaders spoke openly of the possibil- ity of a world war.

The war ministry persevered in trying to limit the army’s numbers in order to preserve Prussian Junker control of it, while the alarmed Moltke proposed a nearly 50 percent rise in its size. The army bill of 1 9 1 2 was large, but that of 1 9 1 3 was the largest in German history. The German peacetime military machine was running at full capac- ity; the increases could not be fully digested until 1 9 1 6 .

As the German leaders were aware, their frantic arms buildup would inspire other countries to try to match it. But they had arrived at some kind of limit. As Germany was then constituted, it probably was not possible to expand any further. The political organization was too ramshackle; the taxation system too archaic and unprogres- sive. Germany could not afford to continue its military expansion for much longer. The only thing that could justify military expenditures at their 1 9 1 3 level was to go to war in the immediate future. But Ger- man public opinion was not ready for it. Moltke wrote to Conrad, chief of the Austrian General Staff, in February 1 9 1 3 that it would be hard to find a rallying cry that would persuade the German public to go to war—yet.



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Between 1908 and 1 9 1 3 the Young Turk revolt had been fol-lowed by one European intervention after another in lands that once had been or still were Ottoman. The uprising in Turkey had led to Austria’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. France then had made its move in Morocco, inspiring Italy to strike at the Ottoman Empire in Libya and the Aegean, while Serbia, Mon- tenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria attacked it in the Balkans. In those five years the Great Powers had managed to steer clear of one another, averting one clash after another, while at the same time moving ever closer to ultimate collision. Total arms spending by the six Great Powers between 1908 and 1 9 1 3 went up by 50 percent.

Taken together the events of those years worked a change in the face of European politics.

• Britain, in the Agadir crisis, indicated that it would abandon its traditional isolation in order to stand by France if France were threatened by Germany—even if it were France’s fault.

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• France, in the Balkan wars, showed that it would go beyond its purely defensive treaty to back Russia in a conflict with Germany started by Russia.

• Germany, isolated in the Agadir crisis despite its defensive treaty with the Dual Monarchy, moved in the direction of supporting the Hapsburg Empire—supporting it (as Moltke pledged to Conrad in the Bosnia-Herzegovina crisis) even in an act of aggression— rather than be isolated again.

• Italy, unpredictable militarily even against the slow-moving Ottoman Empire, was not to be relied upon.

• Turkey-in-Europe, liberated by the Balkan peoples themselves rather than (as had been expected) by the Great Powers, fell prey therefore to the volatile violence and passions of its rival ethnic groups, rather than enjoying the stability that Great Power bal- ance of power might have brought.

• Serbia, exulting in its lightning victories in two Balkan wars, looked forward to expanding.

• Austria, mortally afraid of Serbian designs, came to believe that striking first might be its only hope. Austria, regarding the Balkan states as potentially a single bloc—and, as such, the equivalent of a new Great Power—worried that it might become a Slav and Greek Orthodox entity, aligned with Russia, which therefore might fun- damentally shift the balance of forces in Europe in favor of France/Russia.

• The Kaiser, for a time, saw the shift in the balance of power as cre- ating a buffer that might solve the problem of Austro-Russian rivalry, while allowing Christians to unite in expanding eastward against Islam.

On October 23, 1 9 1 3 , Wilhelm described the outcome of the Balkan wars to the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister by saying: “What was taking place was an historic process to be classed in the same category as the great migrations of people, the present case was a powerful forward surge of the Slavs. War between East and West was in the long run inevitable.” He continued by saying: “The Slavs are born not to rule but to obey.” His bizarre conception at the time was that Serbia could be persuaded to accept Austria’s leadership and save the West. Under Teutonic leadership, Christianity would look eastward for expansion as once the tide of Islam had flowed westward.



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Of all the shifts in inclination and perception that took place in European international politics during the years before the war, per- haps the one most at odds with our perceptions today was the belief, widely held in Berlin, that Germany was growing weaker. In retro- spect, what strikes us is that, to the contrary, Germany was surging ahead industrially and militarily; it was growing stronger. The indus- trial and other figures are there to prove it, and at the time such astute British politicians and businessmen as Joseph Chamberlain saw British decline vis-a-vis Germany as a reality. But Moltke spoke for many in seats of power in Germany who regarded an eventual war as unavoidable—and who were convinced that it could be won only if fought sooner rather than later. If Austria needed a war today, Ger- many needed one, in Moltke’s view, no later than tomorrow.

Although, as the Kaiser’s new perspective indicated, Europe was pulling back from the brink, the brink remained close. Between 1908 and 1 9 1 3 , Europeans had moved the line permanently closer to it. Earlier, the powers were bound by secret treaties of alliance that pledged them to help each other in case of an attack. Now the alliances no longer were defensive. France would fight for Russia, and Britain might well fight for France, right or wrong, as would Germany for Austria. The question that the war would settle would be: which of the Great Powers would remain a Great Power? As of 1 9 1 4 , only one of them felt its status—and existence—immediately threatened unless it took prompt action, and that power was Austria- Hungary.

Encirclement was Germany’s nightmare, and Germany had brought it upon itself. Located in the heart of Europe, the country had so effectively terrified its neighbors that they had banded together in self-defense. In turn, what its neighbors had been driven to do had further reinforced Germany’s paranoia. What had started as a dark fantasy was converted by Germany’s own actions into a real- ity. France, England, and Russia had no intention of attacking Ger- many, but they were making contingency plans for combining against the Kaiser’s empire if and when it attacked them.

Culturally, in every way the most and best educated population in Europe—that of Germany—was telling itself that it was being suffo- cated by a European civilization that was pressing in on it from all sides. It was not evident then nor is it now why the Germans felt that way, but it is clear that they did.



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Such sentiments were certainly apparent in military and political matters. Historians believe there was an easing of tensions between England and Germany in 1 9 1 4 as they settled such conflicts as those relating to the German plan to build a Berlin-to-Baghdad railway and to appoint a German general officer, Otto Liman von Sanders, to reorganize the Ottoman army. But when Germany’s Anglophile ambassador in London sent home a message urging Germany and Britain to stick together, a high Berlin foreign policy official could only imagine that the ambassador had been duped by the British: “again put into swaddling clothes” (June 27, 1914). When a Russian newspaper urged Entente preparedness, “Against us” was the Kaiser’s marginal note; “they are working on high pressure for an early war with us.” To the newspaper’s assertion that “Russia and France want no war,” the Kaiser scribbled “Twaddle!”



C H A P T E R 1 6 : M O R E B A L K A N T R E M O R S

In the turbulent Balkans of the early twentieth century, peace treaties seemed to be no more than temporary truces during which the parties schemed at realignment for the next round of fighting. So it was in mid-June 1 9 1 4 , as Kaiser Wilhelm II held dis- cussions with his friend Archduke Franz Ferdinand. These talks were followed by a far-ranging conversation between Franz Ferdinand and Count Berchtold, foreign minister of the Dual Monarchy. These, in turn, led to the drafting by several hands within the Hapsburg foreign ministry of a memorandum outlining a grand strategy for Austria-Hungary.

Wilhelm and Franz Ferdinand met at the Archduke’s country estate, Konopischt, in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic). No tran- script survives, but there is evidence that Franz Ferdinand had been asked by his emperor, Franz Joseph, to obtain from Wilhelm a com- mitment to continue to back Austria unconditionally, such as he had given in November 1 9 1 2 , and that Wilhelm had avoided providing

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such a statement. The Austrian government believed that Serbia posed a mortal danger, but the Kaiser disagreed.

The political relationship between Wilhelm and Franz Ferdinand was far more complex than it appeared on the surface. For the Kaiser, it was, at least in part, a friendship of convenience. He had set out to form a bond with the Hapsburg heir apparent. In some respects that was easy to do because of their shared tastes, including a passion for hunting. Wilhelm made a point of treating Sophie, Franz Ferdi- nand’s wife, as an Archduchess, a position denied to her in her own country. He dealt with the Archduke as though he were the political partner that, upon the death of elderly Franz Joseph, he might well become. He worked at making a friend of Franz Ferdinand, but Franz Ferdinand may not have been entirely fond of Wilhelm. There were tensions within the Austro-German alliance.

Both were men of autocratic temperament. They were impatient and held strong biases. But Franz Ferdinand was Roman Catholic while Wilhelm was Lutheran. And the Archduke deeply resented the descent of the Hapsburg Empire from its first place among the pow- ers of Europe to its position in 1 9 1 4 as a junior partner to Wilhelm’s Germany. He detested Hungary, and deplored the weakness that drove Austria to make the Magyars a partner in government. Wil- helm, on the contrary, spoke highly of Count Istvan Tisza, the Hun- garian Prime Minister, but failed to convince Franz Ferdinand.

Both men entertained hopes of an eventual detente with Russia, whose Czar shared their belief in royal absolutism. But just as Wil- helm allowed his anti-Slav racism to overcome his monarchist ideol- ogy, Nicholas subordinated his ideology to his country’s national interest. And it should be noted that the Kaiser had a paranoid fear that Russia was planning a war against Germany.

Time and again, during the frequent war crises that were so con- spicuous a feature of their time, both men chose peace, and were dis- trusted by the military in their respective countries for having done so. Both men were intemperate in their use of language: Franz Ferdi- nand in dealing with people, Wilhelm in dealing with politics.

Though in theory they were closest allies, the Kaiser’s Germany pursued ambitious economic plans in Asia, and even in the Balkans from which Franz Ferdinand’s Dual Monarchy was excluded. Austria-Hungary would not back Germany in Morocco; Germany



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would not support Austria-Hungary in Albania. Regarding the bel- ligerents in the Second Balkan War, Germany was for Greece and Austria was for Bulgaria. Austrians could not understand how Ger- many could fail to see why Serbia, which had just doubled in size, ter- rified them. Serbia exercised a powerful magnetic pull on the substantial Slavic population of the Hapsburg Empire.

In policy planning in June 1 9 1 4 , the question for the two empires was which country should be their main Balkan ally: Romania or Bul- garia? Germany chose Romania while Austria chose, once again, Bul- garia. But on this issue Franz Ferdinand parted company with his government; he, like the Kaiser, was for Romania.

Here they were in counsel together, two of the most disliked men in European public life, yet, within the ranks of their own governments, perhaps the only ones of consequence who again and again favored pulling back from the brink of war. They were misunderstood by the outside world. The Kaiser, who loved to talk tough, often ranted and raved like a belligerent adolescent trying to impress his peers, but while his tirades were bellicose, his decisions—when the time to act arrived—by and large were not. There was no reason to misunder- stand Franz Ferdinand, however; he spoke as well as worked to achieve peace.

General Conrad, sometime Austrian chief of staff, recalled Franz Ferdinand’s aide-de-camp as saying in 1 9 1 3 , “The Archduke has sounded the retreat all along the line, he will on no account have war with Russia, he will not allow it. He wants not a plum tree, not a sheep from Serbia.” Berchtold, Austria’s foreign minister, said to Conrad, “The Heir Apparent is all on the side of peace.” Reportedly Franz Ferdinand told dinner guests that Austria had nothing to gain from conquering Serbia; going to war would be “a bit of nonsense.”

On March 1 6 , 1 9 1 4 , Conrad spoke, as he so often did, of going to war as soon as possible against Russia. He was speaking to the Ger- man ambassador in Vienna, who explained why it could not happen: “Two important people are against it, your Archduke Franz Ferdi- nand and my Kaiser.”

A secret truth about the politics of 1914—something of which the outside world had no suspicion—was that if these two men continued to work together in pursuit of their common policy goals, the Great




Powers of Europe might well have remained at peace. The wars of 1 9 1 4 would not have taken place.

Count Berchtold had come to Konopischt the day after Wilhelm left. It was Sunday, June 14, two weeks before Franz Ferdinand’s sched- uled trip to Sarajevo. The two men and their wives spent the day together. Afterwards Berchtold put his foreign ministry officials to work on questions that were at issue. It was not really his staff. It con- sisted of a clique of talented firebrands he had inherited from Aehrenthal, who had known how to control their high spirits. Now Berchtold was giving them their head. His aim was to summarize Austria’s current thinking on world affairs: where the Dual Monar- chy was and where it hoped to go.

One concern was Albania, a country created by the European powers as a buffer to contain Serbian expansionism. The assumption had been that it would be Austro-German in orientation; indeed, Albania had been provided with a German monarch. Yet Italy—nom- inally the ally of Austria and Germany in the Triple Alliance—was maneuvering to achieve hegemony in the newly created country. Italy was becoming a rival and perhaps an enemy.

Was Russia a concern? Wilhelm and Franz Ferdinand tended to think not, and favored a thaw in relations with the Czar. However, some in the foreign office in Vienna feared that, as in 1 9 1 2 , pan-Slav Russians would be able to unite all the Balkan countries—only this time against Germany and Austria instead of against Turkey.

Wilhelm thought that the Balkan states would remain disunited. The trick was to back the right combination of them. Romania was at the top of his list. Its monarch had secretly pledged—personally—to support the Triple Alliance. That did not bind his country. Wilhelm and Franz Ferdinand hoped for a public and secure commitment.

A problem was that Austria was bound to Hungary in the Dual Monarchy, and Hungary and Romania had an apparently irreconcil- able conflict—one that endures today. Franz Ferdinand was fiercely anti-Hungarian, and wanted to ally with Romania at Hungary’s expense. The Kaiser would not face the issue; he admired Hungary’s premier, Count Istvan Tisza, and felt that the Hungary-Romania conflict could somehow be made to go away. He also wanted to bring in Greece as an ally, but lacked convincing evidence that Greece



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would wish to do so. Finally, he hoped to reconcile Serbia and Austria—much to the disgust of the Austrians, who tried in vain to convince him that Serbia was a menace that somehow had to be elim- inated. In effect, the Kaiser was proposing to re-create the victorious alliance of the Second Balkan War, but this time have it led by Ger- many and the Dual Monarchy. He argued for going with what had been the winning side.

Berchtold saw things the other way around. The Dual Monarchy’s foreign minister did not believe that Romania would be an ally of Austria’s; it would not back Austria-Hungary because of the Hungar- ian conflict, and the Dual Monarchy would therefore have to ally with Romania’s enemy, Bulgaria. Bulgaria had ties with Turkey, so Greece would have to be thrown on the other side. Therefore Berch- told would essentially reconstitute the alliance pattern of the Second Balkan War too, but he would take over what had been not the win- ning, but the losing side.

On the eve of the world crisis, there was no agreement in Berlin or Vienna as to who was the enemy or what was the quarrel in the trou- blesome Balkans.

As regards Europe as a whole, the two empires were reasonably clear as to who was on what side: they themselves, maybe joined by Italy, on one side; Russia and France, maybe with England, on the other. Moreover, the two chiefs of the general staff, Helmuth von Moltke in Germany and Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf in Austria- Hungary, were in close touch with one another and sometimes discussed their respective war plans. Both generals often urged launching preventive war.

Indeed, in the words of Hew Strachan, “Conrad first proposed preventive war against Serbia in 1906, and he did so again in 1908-9, in 1 9 1 2 – 1 3 , in October 1 9 1 3 , andMay 1 9 1 4 : between 1 January 1 9 1 3 and 1 January 1 9 1 4 he proposed a Serbian war twenty-five times.”

But the generals were subordinated to monarchs who opted for peace. And in Germany, Moltke also was opposed by Tirpitz, who wanted a cold war—at least for many years to come—rather than a hot one, and whose focus was on a conflict with England rather than with the land powers of France and Russia. Then, too, lobbying against Moltke was the ministry of war, which wanted to keep the officer corps small enough to ensure Prussian control of Germany— which was a level too low to win a war.



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Eve|i Moltke, in the circumstances of 1 9 1 3 , had cautioned against launching a war because it was the wrong time to do so. He contin- ued to believe “that a European war is bound to come sooner or later, in which the issue will be one of a struggle between Germandom and Slavdom.” But, in his view, a war should not be initiated until public opinion could be rallied around the cause. In Moltke’s words: “When starting a world war one has to think very carefully.”

As the twentieth century dawned, Europeans were richer and more powerful than anybody ever had been before. They should also have felt more secure than anybody had felt before. But they did not. They—or at least their governments—were in the grip of fear. They sensed the tremors. Where or when, they did not know, but they were convinced an earthquake was going to strike.

Across the ocean, at least one American statesman was sufficiently attuned to European realities to feel the same thing. His name was Edward House. He could speak for the President, and he decided to try his hand at preventing the cataclysm that threatened.



C H A P T E R 1 7 : A N A M E R I C A N T R I E S T O S T O P I T

“ew York City, May 1 6 , 1 9 1 4 . An immense crowd gathered at the docks to witness the departures of passengers on the

– 1 – ^1 transatlantic ocean liner Imperator bound for Europe. Among those who could be observed boarding the vessel was Edward House: Colonel House, to give him his honorary Texas title.

House, aged fifty-five, was described by the New York Sun as “a slender, middle-aged man with a gray, close-cropped moustache, well dressed, calm-looking” who walked quietly but firmly. He spoke qui- etly too, at times in tones that seemed silken.

He was a lifelong insider in politics, although he was never a can- didate for public office. He was someone to whom others confided their secrets. He may have been the best listener of his time. Those who spoke with him came away with the conviction that he had understood them, which usually was true, and that he fully sympa- thized with them, which often was not.

A man of independent wealth, on familiar terms with the great fig- ures of Wall Street, he lived in Manhattan while maintaining a resi-

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dence and his political power base in his home state of Texas. When needed, he commuted by train to Washington, D.C., to meet at the White House with his best friend and closest associate, the first- term, reform-minded American chief executive Woodrow Wilson, whom House had helped elect to the presidency in the freak election of 1 9 1 2 . In that election the two Republican candidates, former Pres- ident Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive, and incumbent President William Howard Taft, had split the Republican majority between them, allowing Wilson—the candidate of the minority party, the Democrats—to slip through to victory with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, though far more than half of the elec- toral college.

Woodrow Wilson was one of the oddest men ever elected to the presidency. A recluse who felt at ease only with women and children, he lacked a taste for politics or a liking for politicians, finding deals and compromises distasteful, and political ambition—except his own—sordid.

Serendipity brought Wilson together with House in the 1 9 1 2 election. House became his alter ego. Once Wilson was elected, to a large extent House took charge of the political aspects of the presi- dency: the chores that Wilson either could not or would not do for himself. House often interviewed those who wanted jobs or favors from the new administration. If there were deals to be made or trades to be transacted, he did them. Scholars continue to dispute the respective contributions of the two men to the positive accomplish- ments of the Wilson administration, but House played a key role in such important matters as the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank, tariff reform, and the institution of the income tax.

In the field of foreign affairs, at least in the opening two years of the Wilson presidency, it was House, a gifted student of international politics, who took an interest in European developments, while Wil- son, who had no background in the field, did not.

House noted, in the spring of 1 9 1 4 : “the President had given very little thought to the existing situation in Europe.” He himself was quite concerned by what he saw and foresaw. House apparently was almost alone among American statesmen in understanding the impli- cations of the Balkan wars, in sensing that they could end by threat- ening the peace and stability of the world.

To head off the dangers that he perceived ahead, House proposed



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to go to Europe to negotiate the creation of a new international structure that would bring a lasting peace among all the Great Pow- ers. Wilson gave his full and admiring support to the endeavor. House’s own private name for the mission on which he was to embark was “the great adventure.”

House’s effectiveness, and his value to the President, were due in large part to his discretion. Secrets were confided to him because it was believed that he could be trusted not to reveal them. Of course, this aroused widespread popular curiosity. Picturing House as a man of mystery, a newspaper editor told one of his reporters: “House sees nobody. He can’t be reached. Nobody knows his address, and his telephone number is private.” But that was an exaggeration; House made himself available, as good politicians do. Thus aboard the Imperator, and although preoccupied by thoughts of his secret mis- sion, he found time to deal with a cable from a woman asking that her husband, a U.S. consular official, be promoted from a posting in Rio to one in London. “Even at sea there is no rest from the office seek- ers” was House’s comment.

The mission with which House had entrusted himself was to per- suade Germany and Britain to join with the United States in an alliance to keep the peace. It was a long-held idea of his that the chief powers of Europe had accumulated so much power in their hands that, together with America, they could prevent major wars.

It was an idea that was, so to speak, in the air. Theodore Roosevelt at one time had envisaged the creation of a cartel of perhaps five Great Powers to keep the world at peace. Ideas for a league of nations also surfaced from time to time in Great Britain’s Liberal administra- tion.

Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate who had become one of the world’s wealthiest men, had pursued a project not unlike House’s a few years earlier. Aiming at an alliance of “Teutonic nations,” Carnegie asked rhetorically, “Why should these Teutonic nations ever quarrel?” He imagined that he had lined up the support of the British government, notably of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, for his plan. For it to come into existence, Carnegie believed all that was required was that Kaiser Wlhelm II should take the lead.

“It lies today in the power of one man to found this league of peace,” Carnegie explained in 1907. “It is in the hands of the German



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emperor alone of all men, that the power to abolish war seems to rest.” For reasons not entirely clear, Carnegie thought his plans were ruined by the death of England’s King Edward VII in 1 9 1 0 .

Like Carnegie, House believed that he had the support of the British government for his scheme and that the key to its viability was to gain the support of the Kaiser. In the spring of 1 9 1 4 , immediately upon disembarking in Europe, House therefore made his way to Germany. Aboard ship and on arriving in Germany, House sounded out opinion among well-placed and well-informed Germans and what he heard boded ill for the cause of peace. From Berlin he wrote to the President on May 29 that what he had learned thus far “tended to confirm the opinion as to the nearly impossible chance of better- ing conditions.” Indeed, he wrote, “the situation is extraordinary. It is jingoism run stark mad.” House predicted “an awful cataclysm” unless he or Wilson took a hand in events because “No one in Europe can do it. There is too much hatred, too many jealousies.”

In Russia there was a violent press campaign against Austria. In Austria there was a violent press campaign against Russia. The Pan- German League, a well-connected pressure group in Germany, announced (April 1 9 , 1 9 1 4 ) that “France and Russia are preparing for the decisive struggle with Germany and Austria-Hungary and they intend to strike at the first opportunity.” A newspaper headline (March 1 1 , 1 9 1 4 ) warned Germans that “a war, the like of which his- tory has never seen, is approaching.”

In House’s analysis Russia and France would “close in” on Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary if Britain gave the word. But Britain hesitated to do so: if Germany were crushed, who would be left to restrain Russia? Still, if Germany continued to threaten English naval supremacy, London would have no choice but to meet Berlin’s challenge.

Hence, House’s peace plan: an agreement between Britain and Germany to limit the size of their respective navies, the agreement to be brokered by the United States. This could bring about the essen- tially peaceful world that America desired, but—always the realist— House cautioned that there might be “some disadvantage to us” in Britain and Germany getting together.

Tirpitz pointed to a different flaw in House’s plan. “He disclaimed any desire for conquest, and insisted that it was peace that Germany



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wanted, but the way to maintain it was to put fear into the hearts of her enemies.” House wanted Germany to stop expanding its navy, but Tirpitz desired instead “to increase its expansion.”

House’s main goal was to set up a meeting with Germany’s ruler, and he achieved it. On June i, in the course of a day-long festival that included religious ceremonies, parades, and the awarding of medals, House was accorded a private personal meeting with the Kaiser that lasted a half hour.

House’s diary entry indicates that the two men discussed “the European situation as it affected the Anglo-Saxon race.” In the Kaiser’s expressed view, England, Germany, and the United States represented Christian civilization. Latins and Slavs were semi- barbarous, he believed, and also unreliable, so England was wrong to ally with France and Russia. On the other hand, the Teutonic core— Germany, Britain, America—should ally with all the other Euro- peans in defense of Western civilization “as against the Oriental races.”

House tried to persuade the Kaiser that Germany should abandon its challenge to British naval power. Britain then would no longer have to ally itself with Russia. It was only the threat posed by Ger- many that drove Britain into Russia’s arms. Russia was, if anything, Britain’s natural enemy. In other words, it was within the Kaiser’s power to accomplish what he claimed to want: England to detach itself from the alliance with Russia and France, and instead to ally itself with Germany.

House “spoke of the community of interests between England, Germany and the United States and thought that if they stood together the peace of the world could be maintained…. However, in my opinion, there could be no understanding between Germany and England so long as he continued to increase his navy.” The Kaiser responded that he needed a strong navy, but that when his current enlargement program terminated he would stop.

House said that his idea was that an American—he or the Presi- dent—might be in a better position than a European to bring the European powers together. The Kaiser agreed. House said he had wanted to see the Kaiser first, and now would go directly to London to try to secure Britain’s agreement, too, to an initiative by the United States along these lines.

House left Germany hopefully. From Paris he reported on June 3



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to the President that he had spoken with almost every German of consequence at his meetings and that “I am glad to tell you that I have been as successful as anticipated and have ample material to open negotiations in London.” The German emperor had “seemed pleased that I had undertaken to start the work” and “concurred also in my suggestion that whatever program America, England, and Germany agreed to would be successful.”

The heart of the matter, as House saw it, was that “both England and Germany have one feeling in common and that is fear of one another.” His task, he believed, was to dispel these fears by bringing together the leaders of the two countries and encouraging them to get to know and to trust one another. House believed in face-to-face resolution of problems at the top. He considered it “essential that principals should get together” to iron out misunderstandings. He felt that he was “in a fair way to a beginning of the great task that I have undertaken.”

House traveled to London on June 9. He noted in his diary that Walter Hines Page, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, “was kind enough to say that he considered my work in Germany the most important done in this generation.” Page arranged for House to meet with Sir Edward Grey. It was not easy. House explained to Wilson: “I find here everything cluttered up with social affairs and it is impossi- ble to work quickly. Here they have thoughts on Ascot, garden par- ties, etc., etc.”

On June 27 the meeting with Grey finally took place over lunch. Although others were present, House and Grey did almost all the talking. They had a wide-ranging discussion of the troubled Euro- pean political situation. They agreed that France’s leaders had given up all thought of recovering the territories in Alsace and Lorraine, or of taking revenge on Germany. The French people still harbored such a dream, but statesmen in France recognized that the continu- ing growth of the German population vis-a-vis France made that goal an ever more remote possibility.

As to Russia and Britain, Grey remarked that the two came into contact with each other at so many points around the world that it was important to keep on the best of terms. Grey claimed to under- stand Germany’s felt need to build a large fleet. It was House who warned Grey—and not Grey who warned House—”of the militant war spirit in Germany and of the high tension of the people. . . . I



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thought Germany would strike quickly when she moved. That there would be no parley or discussion. That when she felt that a difficulty could not be overcome by peaceful negotiations, she would take no chances, but would strike. I thought the Kaiser himself and most of his immediate advisors did not want war because they wished Ger- many to expand commercially and grow in wealth, but the army was military and aggressive and ready for war at any time.”

Yet the two men agreed—less than twenty-four hours before Arch- duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated—that “Neither England, Germany, Russia, nor France desire war.” Looking presciently to a less visible but more long-term threat to global stability, House urged the four European powers to enter into an agreement with the United States whereby, acting together, they could provide credit at lower interest notes to “the undeveloped countries of the earth.”

As the month of June drew to a close House continued to meet with European leaders in pursuit of his American dream for the world.

A decade later, Grey wrote: “House had just come from Berlin, and he had spoken with grave feeling of the impression he had received there; howthe air seemed full of the clash of arms, of readi- ness to strike. This might have been discounted as the impression which would naturally have been produced on an American seeing at close quarters a continental military system for the first time. It was alien to our temperament as to his, but it was familiar to us. We had lived beside it for years; we had known and watched its growth ever since 1870. But House was a man of exceptional knowledge and cool judgment. What if this militarism had now taken control of policy?”

In the spring of 1 9 1 4 , as House pursued his mission, the chiefs of staff of Germany and Austria, Moltke and Conrad, took the baths together at Carlsbad in Bohemia. They discussed war plans. Moltke also held talks that spring with Gottlieb von Jagow, Germany’s for- eign minister. Jagow noted that Moltke told him that in two or three years the “military superiority of our enemies would . . . be so great that he did not know how he could overcome them. Today we would still be a match for them. In his opinion there was no alternative to making preventive war in order to defeat the enemy while there was still a chance of victory. The Chief of the General Staff therefore proposed that I should conduct a policy with the aim of provoking a war in the near future.”




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C H A P T E R 1 8 : T H E L A S T W A L T Z

Although Franz Ferdinand von Osterreich-Este, nephew of the elderly emperor Franz Joseph and heir apparent to the Hapsburg thrones of Austria and Hungary, was neither con- sistent nor coherent in his vision of his empire’s future, the pieces of his thinking did to some extent fall into place. They took on the hue of a historical mission of restoration, for, if all his political preferences and desires were gratified, it would have amounted to that. Deeply Roman Catholic and anti-Italian, he wanted to undo the unification of Italy that had been achieved under secular auspices a half century earlier; he would have broken up the Italian state and restored papal and Austrian rule. He would have liked the Hapsburg Empire to return to its position in the front row and rank at least equally with Germany in the European power equation. He would revoke Hun- gary’s equal partnership in the Dual Monarchy, and instead would have returned to a central power structure in which all the other nationalities (or at least the numerous Slavs) exercised an equal lim- ited autonomy Finally, he would have repaired the breach with Rus-

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sia that dated from the last half of the nineteenth century and would once again combine with the Czar and the King of Prussia to pro- mote the cause of monarchism and traditional values in European and world affairs, as they had, for example, in 1 8 1 5 as the Holy Alliance.

In the spring of 1 9 1 4 the heir apparent was fifty years old. He appeared to have recovered from the illnesses that had plagued him in earlier years. He was of medium height and on the heavy side. His fierce black upturned handlebar mustache was thicker than that of the Kaiser, but it turned up a few degrees less sharply.

Franz Ferdinand maintained his own para-governmental military chancellery, with the consent of the emperor: Franz Joseph had extended official recognition to it in 1908. With the aid of this per- sonal staff, Franz Ferdinand, in the words of a recent historian, “came to enjoy influence, even power, and to have a say if not a veto over the posts of war minister or chief of the general staff.”

The Archduke took a lively interest in his country’s armed forces, but his tendency, in the many international crises that erupted in his lifetime, was to draw back and avoid warfare. In this (though not in much else) he would have been the true political heir of Franz Joseph, who had seen his empire lose crucial wars and whose prefer- ence, in the international crises of the early twentieth century, seemed to be for peace.

Franz Joseph, as 1 9 1 4 began, was eighty-four years old. He had ascended the throne in 1848. Most of his subjects could remember no other ruler. In his old age his image was that of a kindly older gen- tleman: a grandfather figure. He symbolized continuity with the past and with its values and virtues. While the night still was dark, he arose to perform his duties. He started work each day at 5:00 a.m. and put in twelve or more hours on the job.

W t h the dutifulness and devotion came a certain stiffness: an unwillingness or inability to give; a lack of flexibility that seemed to characterize the arthritic Hapsburg regime as a whole. Its literature suggests that frustration and repression lay behind the excessive for- mality of Viennese life; and that the city’s most famous psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, may not have been entirely wrong in suggesting that unacknowledged lusts, illnesses of which people were ashamed, and practices then regarded as perverse were widespread beneath the sur- face. Franz Joseph, the virtuous emperor, himself infected his beauti- ful wife with a venereal disease, and spent his life with the actress




Katharina Schratt, a mistress—if that is the accurate word—whom, scrupulously, he never touched except on her shoulder. His only son, his then heir, the Crown Prince Rudolf, died together with a young ballerina of gunshot wounds that it was hard to believe were suffered (as the official version would have it) in a hunting accident. Mayer- ling, a motion picture of the 1930s starring Charles Boyer, told a story that sounded more plausible: a suicide pact between doomed lovers whose society would never permit them to marry one another.

Franz Ferdinand, a cousin who succeeded Rudolf as heir to the throne, was another royal figure who was penalized for marrying the woman he loved.

Tall, dark, poor but proud, Countess Sophie Chotek von Chot- kova und Wognin was employed as a lady-in-waiting in an archducal household that Franz Ferdinand visited often. It was assumed that he was courting one of the daughters of the house. Their mother was aghast to discover that this was not so—that it was a mere “blind”— and fired Sophie, the true object of his pursuit. Franz Ferdinand pro- posed to marry Sophie. The Emperor objected.

Sophie was indeed of the ancient nobility, but her impoverished family had lacked the money to perfect their claim to be included in the list, prepared by the European powers in 1 8 1 5 (after the Con- gress of Vienna) of those eligible to marry and transmit royalty. Insisting on marrying Sophie anyway, Franz Ferdinand took her as his spouse in 1900. He was thirty-seven, she thirty-two. Franz Ferdi- nand was forced to settle for a morganatic marriage, forswearing for- ever the right of his children to succeed to the throne, and excluding Countess Chotek (later Duchess of Hohenberg) from a position by his side at formal functions (she was banished to a relatively lowly sta- tus). Prince Alfred Montenupvo, the Imperial Lord Chamberlain, was the official in charge of court etiquette, and as such seemed to make himself her particular enemy.

Emperor Franz Joseph apparently feared that once Franz Ferdi- nand became emperor in his turn, he would go back on his word, per- haps obtaining a papal dispensation to do so, and would make Sophie his rightful empress, upgrading the rank of their three children as well as putting them in line of succession to the throne. In the light of that probably justified fear, it seems all the odder that the court offi- cials dared carry on their petty persecutions of Sophie, administering protocol in such a way as to repeatedly humiliate her in public. One



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day she might well have been able to pay them back; indeed, Franz Ferdinand might have enjoyed doing so himself.

The heir apparent was not likable. Few of his contemporaries had a kind word to say for him. The one thing about him that was (and remains) attractive was his love for his wife and children. When he was asked in 1 9 1 3 to inspect the armed forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina in maneuvers scheduled for late June 1914—an unappealing request in some respects—one of the reasons he may have accepted was that, because of the special status of Bosnia-Herzegovina—it was in a sort of limbo while Austria and Hungary contested its ownership— Sophie would be allowed to take her place next to him during official proceedings. Ceremonies were planned in the provincial capital of Sarajevo on June 28, their wedding anniversary.

It also should have been not merely noted but underlined by the Hapsburg officials responsible for the planning of events that June 28—at least according to the modern Western calendar—was the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo (1389), at which medieval Serbia supposedly lost its independence to the Turks. The Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina, restive in any event because of having been annexed by Austria, might well have been expected to take exception to a display of Austrian government on that particular date.

Austrian officialdom had a reputation for efficiency belied by its record in arranging this particular trip. The electricity failed as the Archduke boarded the railroad car. Footmen hastened to light can- dles. Normally ill-tempered, Franz Ferdinand instead made a joke of it; it looked, he said, as though he were entering “a tomb.”

The Archduke and his consort departed in the rain early the morning of Wednesday, June 24. They traveled from Vienna sepa- rately, by different routes, and rain followed them. Sophie arrived first at their destination: the spa of Bad Ilidze, outside the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Franz Ferdinand came late the afternoon of Thursday, June 25. They stayed at the Hotel Bosna, which had been taken over for the duration of their stay by the authorities. Towns- people had loaned furniture and furnishings to the hotel so that it would look its best for the visitors.

That evening, on the spur of the moment, the visiting couple decided to go into town, shopping. In Sarajevo they browsed along a market street where artisans made and sold their handicrafts and



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merchants plied their wares. They spent time in a rug shop. The crowds that followed them seemed friendly and welcoming.

The following two days Sophie visited schools, orphanages, and churches, and Franz Ferdinand, as inspector general, supervised war games in which one army simulated fighting another through the unending rain. As the Archduke reported to the Emperor in writing, all performed excellently. Afterwards, Franz Ferdinand invited Haps- burg army and civilian officials and local dignitaries to a formal ban- quet at his hotel the night of Saturday, June 271a dinner dance. It was a night to remember.

The hotel served Franz Ferdinand and his guests a cream soup, then souffles of some sort, and then trout from the local river that had been jellied. Main courses were beef, lamb, and (accounts differ) either chicken or goose, followed by asparagus, salad and sherbet, and then cheeses, desserts, ice creams, and candies. A great range of wines and spirits were served, including champagne, white wines from the Rhine, red wines from Bordeaux, Madeira, Hungarian Tokay, and, penultimately, a vin du pays: a full, rich white Zilavka from nearby Mostar, drunk just before the cognac.

It was a summer night, and the windows of the Bosna’s dining room were open. On the grass below the Sarajevo garrison band was playing a concert of light music. Through the open windows diners could hear the strains of Strauss’s The Blue Danube, perhaps the most familiar of Viennese waltzes.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had met in Prague, all those years ago, at a dance. Now it was at a dance that they were spending their last night together.



C H A P T E R 1 9 : I N T H E L A N D O F T H E A S S A S S I N S

Franz Ferdinand, as remarked earlier, was a reactionary: he would have liked to turn back the calendar by a century. The Slavs who plotted against him were more reactionary still; they looked back more than five centuries, as remarked earlier, to the First Battle of Kosovo, at which, they believed, the greatness of Serbia had been lost. On June 2 8 , 1 9 1 4 , the conspirators proposed to redeem the defeat of 1389 at the cost of their own lives. Of course it was not really the 1389 battle that had doomed the Christian Balkans; it was the Second Battle of Kosovo—in 1448—that had done so. But the apprentice terrorists who dreamed these terrible dreams may not have known that. There were no scholars among them.

Denizens of the revolutionary underground tend to be thought of as belonging to the political left. But terrorists often occupy a time warp of their own: sometimes they look not forward but backward. They seek to restore kingdoms long since crumbled into dust. They rally to the banners of forgotten causes. They hearken to prophets who preached to the people of a bygone age.

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Hence religious fanatics in the caves of Tora Bora in the opening years of the twenty-first century seeking to revive a religion as it was taught in the seventh century. Hence schoolboys in the primitive vil- lages of the Balkans a century ago, hoping to become assassins like the legendary figures of whom they had heard tell in patriotic poetry.

These groups in the terrorist underworld were much the same in format, if not in message. They swore terrible oaths of fidelity, were subject to frightening tests, underwent initiation ceremonies at which blood was drunk from skulls, had a pistol put to their head and obeyed an order to pull the trigger, used code names, and were organized into cells in which only the leader knew members of the other cells. Though their aims differed, they sometimes assisted one another and often borrowed ceremonies, practices, and procedures from one another.

What distinguished terrorists from ordinary assassins was that they did not necessarily desire the immediate consequences of their violence. They killed people that often even they regarded as inno- cent. Their unique strategy—the strategy of terrorism—was to frighten society into doing something that the terrorists wanted soci- ety to do. An ordinary assassin shoots John Doe because he wants John Doe dead. A terrorist assassin shoots John Doe, whose life or death may be a matter of indifference to him, because he wants the authorities to react in a certain way to the killing.

At a time when the rulers of Eurasia repressed free political expression, many young idealists were driven underground. Beneath the empires of old Europe and eating away at their foundations throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were net- works of secret societies. Their members were visionaries, national- ists, army officers, romantics, patriots, idealists, fanatics, or madmen. The societies were illegal and the life they offered was dangerous, but for young people that often was an attraction rather than a drawback: life underground sounded glamorous and looked romantic. Some of the youthful terrorists believed in bombing and assassination, while others believed that individual violence was less effective than mass organization; but a belief they held in common was that society as it existed had to be blown up and blown away before construction of a better world could begin.

Undoing the consequences of the Industrial Revolution was a goal that many of them sought, though they would have put it differently,



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and to that end they fomented strikes and undertook sabotage. Oth- ers were intoxicated by the heady brew of nationalism: overthrowing alien rule. As Z. A. B. Zeman has pointed out, population pressures lent an intensity and an urgency to nationalists’ demands. The Haps- burg and other multinational empires were a breeding ground for young political criminals and deranged radicals of right and left.

Kings, presidents, prime ministers, and other leaders of govern- ment and society were murdered promiscuously, without exciting as much surprise as such events would cause today. That was particu- larly true in the backward, semi-tribal southeast of Europe, where peasants lived with their animals, blood feuds were common, and vengeance killings were the norm.

Through the imaginative fiction of a Joseph Conrad or a Dosto- evsky, one can try to picture this secret-society world of long ago in the far-distant Balkans. It was the world from which Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, emerged: an untalented, but serious-minded teenager whose career choice was to be a martyr. He was an adherent of the Young Bosnia movement, a loose grouping of youthful nation- alists. Villagers, products of a feudal society, the Young Bosnians, who belonged to the first literate generation in their province, read and discussed relatively up-to-date and sometimes subversive litera- ture: Walt Whitman, Alexander Herzen, Oscar Wilde, Maxim Gorky, and Henrik Ibsen were among the authors whose works they read. It is difficult to imagine what these schoolchildren, with their emotional roots in Serbian fourteenth-century martyrdom and their economic roots in the Middle Ages, made of Victorian and Edwar- dian modernism. They were acquainted with the writings, theories, and actions of the Russian revolutionary underground, and of the Nihilists of a half century before, but found it difficult to relate the various socialisms that animated the Russians to the peasant world of the Balkans. However, Princip himself owned a small library of anar- chist literature that included the works of Michall Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. The verses of Nietzsche often were on his lips. A solitary figure, he lived among books rather than people.

Princip was born July 1 3 , 1894, in the hamlet of Gornji Obljaj in the high woodlands of the Grahovo valley. It was in what Zeman has called “the poorest part of a poor province”; it was the Krajina, in western Bosnia, near Dalmatia. The Princip family had lived there for centuries, during which time frontiers and states had come and



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gone. They were Serbs of Bosnia, closely attached to their land, their church, their communal organizations, and their clan. Gavrilo left the valley when he was thirteen years old to attend school in Sara- jevo, the capital of Bosnia.

A slight, dark, curly-haired boy, on the frail side, an ascetic who neither smoked nor drank, he grew a mustache that made him look older but also made him look a bit like an organ grinder. He rejected religion, fought with his teachers, and attended schools only fitfully. He wanted to be a poet, feeling the sorrows of others. It bothered him that he was physically unprepossessing. When he volunteered for Serbian military service in the Balkan wars of 1 9 1 2 – 1 3 , he was turned down by a recruiting officer who said, “you are too small and weak.” The remark stung him. He never forgave that officer.

During the twenty years of Princip’s life, assassination had been a frequent and characteristic manifestation of the split between society and its underworld. Among those killed had been the President of France (1894), the Shah of Persia (1896), the President of Uruguay (1896), the Prime Minister of Spain (1897), the President of Guatemala (1898), the Empress of Austria (1898), the President of the Dominican Republic (1899), the King of Italy (1900), the Presi- dent of the United States (1901), the King and Queen of Serbia (1903), the Prime Minister of Greece (1905), the Prime Minister of Bulgaria (1907), the Prime Minister of Persia (1907), the King of Portugal (1908), the Prime Minister of Egypt (1910), the Prime Min- ister of Russia ( 1 9 1 1 ) , the Prime Minister of Spain ( 1 9 1 2 ) , the Presi- dent of Mexico ( 1 9 1 3 ) , and the King of the Hellenes ( 1 9 1 3 ) . On average, one head of state or head of government was murdered every year.

When the nineteen-year-old Princip read or heard in March 1 9 1 4 or thereabouts that the heir to the Hapsburg Empire was to visit Bosnia in June, he hit upon the project (he claimed) of organizing an assassination. To the end of his life he insisted that it was his own idea. Be that as it may, other restless nationalists had plotted to kill Franz Ferdinand without success on many occasions, most recently in January 1 9 1 4 . There are those who believe that it was not so much that the Archduke was hated by the Young Bosnians—indeed they were badly informed and, in a number of respects, quite mistaken about his views—but that he was an outstanding symbol of the exist- ing order that the students wanted to frighten and to overthrow.



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According to another set of informants, it was the belief of the conspirators that Franz Ferdinand advocated “trialism”; he intended to make the Slavs full partners in government along with Austro- Germans and Hungarians. This policy might defuse Serb national- ism and deprive Young Bosnia and the others of their issue.

A contrary theory is that the Serbian nationalists had received false information that Austria-Hungary was on the point of attacking Ser- bia. The maneuvers in Sarajevo (they told one another) were a mere dress rehearsal. After the Balkan wars, everybody knew that Serbia was exhausted and would require several years to recuperate. Franz Ferdinand (they whispered) planned to take advantage of this help- lessness by launching an invasion. They wrongly claimed that in Vienna, in the inner circle of government, the Archduke was the leader of the war party. In fact, he was the leading advocate of peace.

Princip asked friends to join in the plot. The friends agreed. He requested lessons in the use of firearms; again, friends agreed. One friend—a certain Milan Ciganovic—knew “a gentleman”—no name supplied—who could and did supply weaponry: bombs, revolvers, and poison with which to commit suicide after killing their targets. The same “gentleman” ranked high in a secret organization that promised to smuggle them across the frontier from Serbia into Aus- trian-occupied Bosnia in time for Franz Ferdinand’s visit.

The revolvers were four Belgian automatic weapons, the latest issue. The six bombs were of a special Serbian manufacture, tiny, lightweight, and easy both to conceal and to use. The poison was cyanide.

Why did the “gentleman”—Major Voja Tankosic, right-hand man of the head of the Black Hand, a secret society within the Serbian army of which more will be said presently—choose to facilitate the assassination? Is it possible that his organization, through him, recruited Princip and his friends rather than vice versa? Or, if the plot really did originate with Princip, did Tankosic back it because he seri- ously meant what he said years later: that he did it “to make trouble for Pasic,” the Prime Minister of Serbia?

Another of the many versions of the story of the Sarajevo murders supposedly was told by the Black Hand leader Apis to a friend in 1 9 1 5 . The friend published it in 1924. In this account, Tankosic



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complained to Apis one day: “Dragutin, there are several Bosnian youths who are pestering me. These kids want at any cost to perform some ‘great deed.’ They have heard that Franz Ferdinand will come to Bosnia for maneuvers and have begged me to let them go there. What do you say? . . . I have told them they cannot go but they give me no peace.” To this, Apis responded something like: why not give them a chance? But then, sometime later, reflecting upon it, Apis began to think that it was important to kill Franz Ferdinand, and that the schoolboys lacked the requisite skills. So he sent a message to Princip to abort the mission, intending to send someone more sea- soned instead. But Princip insisted on going ahead.

There have been three trials in which magistrates have sat in judg- ment on the Sarajevo affair: Austrian (1914), Serbian ( 1 9 1 7 ) , and Yugoslav (1953). All three were politically motivated, and of their findings, none compels credence. Even the exhaustive research and interviews undertaken by and for the great Italian historian Luigi Albertini in the interwar years resolved nothing. Witnesses saw a chance to settle a score or to advance a cause. Some forgot or con- fused things. Serbian nationalists have remained proud of the mur- ders; many have wanted to take credit for them, or others perhaps wanted to make themselves seem important by knowing how they really happened. Apis, in asserting that he was personally responsible for the killing, may have believed that he was absolving his country from blame. Or he may have believed that, for one reason or another, he would not be condemned by the Serbian tribunal that tried him in 1 9 1 7 if the judges realized that he was the patriot who killed Franz Ferdinand. Or the tribunal may have ordered Apis’s execution in order to keep him from telling . . . we do not know what.

In the end, all that we know with certainty is that Princip fired the gun.

The sinister group that aided Princip was called Ujedinjenje Hi Smrt (“Union or Death”). Later it became known as “the Black Hand.” It was founded March 3, 1 9 1 1 , by seven nationalists who continued to protest the results of the Bosnian crisis of 1908-09. When the Ser- bian government accepted, albeit reluctantly, the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, so did the existing government-



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sponsored nationalist organization, the Narodna Odbrana (National Defense). From being a military-oriented anti-Austrian grouping it converted itself into a largely cultural society.

Dissenters from the decision to accept the annexation later formed the ultra-secret Black Hand in order to carry on the strug- gle. One of its founding members was a student of the history of European secret societies in France, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere. A self-conscious traditionalism (some might call it imitation) is evi- dent in the constitution (in thirty-seven articles) and bylaws (in twenty-eight articles) of the elite secret society that formally came into existence in May 1 9 1 1 . It modeled itself largely on the Freema- son lodges and on Mazzini’s Young Italy movement in the nine- teenth century.

The Black Hand infiltrated Narodna Odbrana and perhaps other organizations, but it was not widely known itself outside of govern- ment circles. Its existence, however, was known to a number of for- eign countries. It constituted a leading faction within the military, and was represented within the government. The organization con- sisted of extremist army officers and extreme nationalist politicians. Its dominating figure (though perhaps never its formal leader) was an army officer, now the powerful chief of military intelligence, named Dragutin Dimitrijevic, a bull-like man code-named “Apis.” In 1903, Apis had led a murder party that slaughtered the King and Queen of Serbia in their palace, then threw their mutilated corpses out of the window. During the reign of the murdered king, Serbia had been a satellite of Austria. Under the dynasty that Apis and his colleagues restored to the throne, successive administrations pursued anti- Austrian policies, but not sufficiently so for Apis. Consenting to the Bosnian annexation in 1908-09 was, in his view, “treason.”

The Black Hand pursued ultimate goals that were different from Princip’s. Apis and his colleagues wanted Serbia to rule all the lands in which Serbs lived. Princip dreamed of creating a federation in which Croatia, Slovenia, and other southern Slavic peoples were united. These differences were not necessarily relevant in the spring of 1 9 1 4 ; they were long-range goals.

Whether he knew it or not, however, in the short term, Princip was walking into a political crossfire. The Serbian government and even the Serbian army were split in two. Apis was in the grip of a fierce conflict with the sixty-eight-year-old Prime Minister, Nicola



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Pasic, a veteran politician who, like Apis, was a Serb nationalist but, unlike Apis, was cautious. Each led a faction in a fight that was cli- maxing as Princip initiated his project. In May 1 9 1 4 , Apis persuaded the reigning monarch, King Peter, that Pasic ought to be dismissed. Then Russia intervened. As Serbia’s sponsor among the Great Pow- ers, Russia could, to some extent, lay down the law. Nicolai Hartwig, the Russian minister in Belgrade, intervened to retain Pasic as Prime Minister. Hartwig recognized that Serbia needed years of rest in which to recover from the Balkan wars and to consolidate its gains. It was no time for reckless adventurism.

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