(EUROPE'S SLIDE to WAR – continued)
With Prime Minister Poincaré, the French began building up their military forces, and the Germans reacted. A new arms race was underway. A few dissident intellectuals in Europe had been trying to warn how different a war among the great industrial powers of Europe would be from wars of the previous century. But Germany's military leaders continued to believe that the next war could be as short and sweet as their last victory – six months of war against France that ended in 1871 with only 28,000 dead.
The German army had a strategy for the next war, created with the belief that the best defense was an offense. Its leadership was confident that their plan to march to Paris across the shortest route – through Belgium – would bring victory within a few weeks. Marching through Belgium they believed was the best plan.
France's military had its idea as to how the next war should be fought. A commander-in-chief designate of France's armies, General Victor Michel, anticipated that Germany's drive against France would come through the lowlands of Belgium, and he advocated taking defensive positions against the Germans. But the dominant view among France's generals was that they should pursue an offensive strategy. Michel was ostracized and demoted. France's leading generals believed that victory would be achieved by fighting spirit that went with offensives, and this included putting aside machine guns because, they believed, machine guns were defensive weapons. And they were opposed to discontinuing the use of the army's red trousers and blue jackets, colors they thought that matched the army's élan and glory. Also they believed that Russia's vast army – the "Russian steamroller" – would provide effective help.
Amid the German and French confusion about waging war, Italy went to war against the Ottoman Empire and gained possession of Tripoli and Cyrenaica (today, Libya). The Ottomans appeared weak to Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, and these nations, in May 1912, thought it an opportune time to take territory from the Ottomans they thought of as theirs. Germany backed the Turks and France backed Serbia, which didn't help German-French or German-Russian relations.
Serbia triumphed against Turkey at the Battle of Kumanovo (in Kosovo province) in October 1912. The Serbs captured Alessio on the Adriatic coast in November, and Serbia's success aroused Serb nationalism in Austria-ruled Bosnia. Franz Joseph's Austria felt threatened, and it opposed Serbia's acquisition of a seaport on the Adriatic. Austria threatened Serbia with war. To defend Serbia, Tsar Nicholas of Russia called for mobilization of his armies. A Conference of Ambassadors in London calmed things down. Serbia wanted no war with Austria-Hungary and withdrew from the Adriatic coast.
In mid-June 1913, the Second Balkan War erupted. Bulgaria was dissatisfied with its share of the spoils of the First Balkan War and attacked its former allies, Serbia and Greece. Serbia emerged from these wars triumphant. Serbs in Bosnia were again elated. There, Austrian authorities followed a strategy of suppression. They seized local newspapers, expelled student leaders and put schools under direct military rule.
The year 1913 ended with leading strategists in Austria still favoring war against Serbia, and against Russia if Russia intervened. Austria-Hungary's military leaders feared Russia's growing military capability, and they favored getting the war with Serbia over with before Russia strengthened its military forces.
The hawks in Austria had an ally in Germany's supreme army commander, von Moltke, who wrote his Austrian counterpart that a war between "Germandom" (which included German Austrians) and "Slavdom" (the Russians and Serbs) was inevitable. Von Moltke believed that "eternal peace" was a "pipe dream" and that if war were inevitable it would be best to launch it at a most opportune time. He too was concerned about the growing strength of Russia's military, and he believed it would be opportune to have a war before Russia and France had time to reduce significantly the gap in military capability between themselves and Germany.
Germany's Admiral von Tirpitz also appears to have wanted war, but not with Britain. He believed that Germany should not go to war until it had completed widening the Kiel Canal for Germany's new fleet of submarines – estimated to be finished in 1916.
In Germany were those who were defensive and aggressive toward perceived enemies. They believed that Britain and its allies were bent on war against Germany, and they favored a "preventive war." There were also those who remembered with pride the German victory over France in 1871, and they looked forward to the next war engendering a spirit of heroism and self-sacrifice in the place of the materialism and moral rot that they saw around them. With optimism some of them looked forward also to the next war settling the disquieting differences that had risen among the European powers.
Politically their enemy was Germany's Social Democrats, the largest political party in the Reichstag (parliament) since 1912 and considered by those on the right as insufficiently patriotic. The Social Democrats were opposed to war, as were some businessmen who foresaw war among other things as a threat to international commerce. The Centre and Progressive parties failed to form a coalition with the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats would not be asked to form a government. Emperor Wilhelm was hostile to that idea. The position of chancellor remained with the conservative aristocrat von Bethmann-Hollweg, and some conservatives viewed war as helping them politically by drumming up patriotism.
In Russia was the tsar, the Kaiser's friend and first cousin, who favored peace with Germany, but those around the tsar who also favored peace were losing influence to those who were displeased by German and Austrian economic penetration into the Balkans and Germany's growing economic ties with the Ottoman Empire. Germany had sold weapons to Turkey in its recent wars, and following Turkey's defeat in August 1913, Germany began reorganizing Turkey's military, and they saw Germany support for Turkey as a threat to Russia's shipping passing through the Black Sea into the Mediterranean.
Copyright © 2004-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.