Volume 82 Issue 3 | The American Historical Review | Oxford Academic
This report, when received in Berlin on 2 July, was greeted by Kaiser Wilhelm II with a characteristically irate outburst. That is very stupid. He was genuinely struck by the loss of his friend, and the idea of a regicide was particularly abhorrent to him. The assassination was a crime that had to be avenged. From now on, the government in Vienna would only receive encouragement from its ally. However, early in the crisis Austria-Hungary could not be certain how Germany would act in the event of an Austrian-Serbian war. In Berlin, the possibility of a Balkan crisis was greeted favourably by military and political decision-makers, for it was felt that such a crisis would ensure that Austria would definitely be involved in a resulting conflict unlike during the earlier Moroccan crises , for example.
They were still confident that a war, should it break out, could be won by the Triple Alliance partners Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy , while in the long run, the Entente Powers Russia, France and Great Britain would be come invincible. The worry was in particular that Russia would increase its army and improve its railway infrastructure to such an extent that in the near future it would become impossible for Germany to fight a successful war against Russia.
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This occurred in an important meeting of the Joint Council of Ministers on 7 July. All participants were aware of the fact that any action against Serbia could not only lead to a war with that country, but had the potential of escalating into a war against Russia Russia saw itself as a protector of Slavic people and might not be prepared to look on as Serbia was crushed by Austria-Hungary.
Following long discussions the meeting agreed that a war with Serbia needed to be provoked with an ultimatum, so that, at least outwardly, Vienna appeared to be acting reasonably and moderately, rather than simply declaring war on Serbia immediately. The delay was necessary for a number of reasons. This was the time of the annual harvest leave of soldiers. Not only would it have looked suspicious if these had all been recalled to their barracks, but also the harvest could not be jeopardised.
And furthermore, an additional problem was posed by a planned state visit of the French President and other members of the French government to Russia. Between 21 and 23 July the two allies would be able to discuss their joint response to any Austrian provocation of Serbia. He would not step on French soil until 29 July, leaving the French government essentially without effective leadership. As Berchtold informed Kaiser Franz Joseph:. The text of the ultimatum was decided in a further ministerial council meeting on 14 July, as well as details about its delivery.
It was to be deliberately unacceptable in character, and only forty-eight hours would be given to Belgrade to respond. While most decision-makers in Vienna and Berlin did not actually want a European war, the available evidence shows that they were certainly willing to risk it.
Neither France nor Britain felt they could abandon Russia for fear of what would happen if she emerged victorious from the war. The Italian alliance partner was also deliberately kept in the dark, save for some indiscretions of the German Ambassador Ludwig von Flotow Despite such deliberate deception, Russian, French and British leaders expected a reaction by Vienna and used this time to co-ordinate their stance e.
Petersburg — though when details of it finally emerged, the harsh nature of the ultimatum surprised everyone. It is due to this deception that the other major powers did not play a decisive role in the July Crisis until 23 July, the day when the ultimatum was finally presented in Belgrade. While increasingly suspicious of the intentions of the Austrian government and aware that some action was being planned, the governments of the other European powers expected that Austria-Hungary would seek redress of some kind, but they were largely unaware of the extent of the secret plotting in Vienna and Berlin.
The harsh nature of the ultimatum confirmed to the decision-makers in St. Petersburg, Paris and London that they needed to work together to prevent a war from breaking out, or if that proved impossible, to be in the best possible position to wage it. For St. Petersburg and Paris, this meant co-ordinating their response with each other, as well as trying to ensure that London would declare its support for the Entente in case of war.
Hopes that an amicable solution might be found were dashed at 6 p. Petersburg at the time the Austrian demands were handed over. It is, however, doubtful that even the fullest acceptance of the Austrian terms would have secured a different outcome for Belgrade. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey took heart from the Serbian reply and suggested repeatedly that the issue could be resolved at the conference table, but his mediation proposals were only given half-hearted support by Berlin and not taken up by Vienna. Both sides hoped their hand would be strengthened with a clear declaration from London as to whose side it might be on.
It is important to bear in mind that from the delivery of the ultimatum onwards, this was no longer a crisis dominated by the decision of the Dual Alliance partners. Whereas until this point the Entente partners conferred with one another in the face of rumours and small amounts of intelligence gleaned from spies and careless diplomats, now France, Russia and Great Britain had to react and make decisions which would affect the outcome of events.
However, despite being pressed by its Entente partners, the British government , at this point still preoccupied with the Irish question and determined to stay out of a continental quarrel, refused until the very end of July to commit to its allies.
Into the Abyss of War and Exile, 1900–1941
In an effort to try and prevent an escalation of the crisis, the British Foreign Secretary kept his cards close to his chest and refused to commit Britain one way or the other. It has been argued that Britain could have played a more decisive role by declaring its intentions to support France earlier, and that the outcome of the crisis might have been different as a result. Certainly Berlin worked on the misconceived assumption that British neutrality was possible, and even likely.
By then, he was so convinced that Britain needed to declare its support for France and Russia that he threatened to resign over the issue. We can of course only speculate if an earlier declaration of British involvement would have changed the minds of decision-makers in Vienna or Berlin and made them more inclined to accept mediation instead of war.
The prospect of British neutrality, based on an a misunderstanding by the German Ambassador in London, Prince Karl Max von Lichnowsky , certainly led to last minute attempts in Berlin to change the deployment plan for one that only sent German troops to the East, suggesting that British neutrality was a coveted outcome in Germany and might have changed how it began the fighting. In France, decision-making was hampered by the fact that the senior statesmen were abroad on their state visit to St.
Petersburg for many of the crucial days of the crisis as we have seen, the ultimatum was timed to be presented at the least opportune moment for French decision-makers. Petersburg and if war-guilt can thus be attributed to France an argument advanced, for example, by revisionists in the interwar years. France was caught uncomfortably between two stools, wanting to reassure Russia that it could count on support from Paris while needing to appear conciliatory to keep Britain on side. Its desire to ensure British support even affected its military plans.
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Nothing should suggest to the Entente partner that France might be responsible for the onset of hostilities, and mobilisation measures had to be postponed until reliable news had been received of German moves, while French troops were deliberately withdrawn ten kilometres behind the border to ensure that hostile acts would not even result accidentally.
Nonetheless, the decision was made to advise Serbia not to offer any resistance to any armed invasion, while Vienna was to be asked to extend the time limit, and permission for mobilisation was to be sought to cover all eventualities. Much has been made of this early decision by historians who attribute responsibility for the war to Russia.
Public opinion would arguably not have condoned such an outwardly visible expression of weakness, even if the Prime Minister had been inclined towards acceptance. The demand of an Austrian-led enquiry was unacceptable because it would have revealed that the Serbian government, while not the instigators of the plot, had nonetheless had prior knowledge of it, and had failed in its attempt to prevent the murder from taking place. Only at the very last minute, when it was clear that Britain, too, would become involved if war broke out, did German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg try to restrain the Austrians, but his mediation proposals arrived far too late and were in any case not forceful enough.
Historians have argued over the origins of the First World War for over a hundred years, and the July Crisis is a particularly controversial aspect of this long debate.
Oh no, there's been an error
This was not helped by the fact that even before the war had broken out, lies were told about who had caused the crisis to escalate, as all sides tried to appear as though they had been attacked. No government could hope to sweep away millions of volunteers for a war of aggression.
Their positioning and deceptions during the July Crisis and subsequently have obscured our view and have allowed historians to indulge in an unprecedented debate over the interpretation of the minutest of detail. Today there is still no consensus on the origins of the war, but there is continuing interest in examining the crisis from every conceivable angle and in new ways. However, while it is possible, based on the available documentary evidence, to construct an account which attributes some responsibility to any one or all of the major players in July , nonetheless there were those, in Vienna and Berlin, who created a crisis following the assassination, and those, in St.
Petersburg, Paris and London, who reacted to the deliberate provocation of Serbia by Austria-Hungary which in turn reacted to a perceived provocation from Serbia. If all leaders are considered responsible, then arguably they were not equally so. So one of the joys of work included "pleasure from profit" to elevate society. According to one biographer he is said to have identified a sense of inferiority with his Jewishness, writing that he. One heavy criticism which he bore stoically was the implication that Jews could never put Germany first; the idea that the Jews were "our misfortune," as the German nationalist historian Heinrich Treitschke wrote, led to the proliferation from s of anti-Semitic parties.
Rathenau wanted to stand on a platform for one world order for a transcendental peace that banished anarchy. After Versailles he founded a "League for Industry", an offshoot of internationalism that blamed German defeat on a lack of industrial readiness. He wished to exculpate the blame for Germany's war guilt articulated through an acquaintance with Colonel House. Rathenau was a moderate liberal in politics, and after World War I, he was one of the founders of the German Democratic Party DDP , but he moved to the Left in the advent of post war chaos. Passionate about rights of social equality, he rejected state ownership of industry and instead advocated greater worker participation in the management of companies.
He was put forward as a socialist candidate for first President; but on standing in the Reichstag was dismissed amid "rows and shrieks of laughter" which visibly upset the man. Ebert's election by the Left failed to heal the deep rifts and social divisions in German society that occurred throughout the Weimar. Rathenau advised that a small town in central Germany was the wrong place for the capital and seat of Government.
But his own adequacy was under-appreciated; immediately giving rise to extreme right-wing organizations within months of the Communist-inspired Spartacist Revolt, "the product of a state in which for centuries no one has ruled who was not a member of, or a convert to military feudalism Rathenau was a natural central planner with an eye for economic detail.
He encouraged free traders, was honestly unrepentant believing in the efficacy of "preparedness and directional efficiency". But Hindenburg's technocratic rational economic Programme was borrowed; [ clarification needed ] while Rathenau, being democratic, warned against short-termism. Berlin's March Days was a consequence of the internal struggle between Finance and Economic ministries.