(EUROPE'S SLIDE to WAR – continued)
Late in the day of the assassination, the news reached Serbia's capital, Belgrade, where people had been enjoying a Sunday holiday. They began marching, expressing their joy with the assassination and singing patriotic songs. The Serbian government wanted no such demonstrations and ordered shops and theaters closed and people off the streets. The following day the government of Serbia wired its condolences to Austria-Hungary.
The Germans and Austrians put no blame for the assassination on the lack of security for the Archduke or Austria's oppression of Bosnian students. Instead they blamed Serbs in general. Serbia was accused of encouraging nationalism. Austrians believed that the Serbs should be punished, and in some areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina – such as Trebinje in Herzegovina – Austrian police hanged numerous Serbs. In Sarajevo, Moslems and Croats attacked Serb shops, hotels and homes, damaging property and injuring Serbs.
Among the chiefs of state of Europe – who had the power to choose whether there would be war or peace – the emperor Franz Joseph chose to go along with those around him who wanted war. Here was a crucial decision for the coming war.
Franz Joseph's diplomats went to Germany seeking Wilhelm's support for a military move against Serbia. Wilhelm had been a close friend of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, and he was outraged by their deaths. Without being specific, he gave his backing to Austria-Hungary, saying that the Serbs had to be punished. Wilhelm had little respect for the Serbs, having described them as Asiatics and as a part of the Asiatic threat to Western civilization. Here was another crucial decision in the creation of the coming war.
Wilhelm assumed that his cousin, the Russian tsar, Nicholas II, would agree with the Habsburgs punishing the Serbs, the tsar's family having been the victim of regicide. Indeed, Nicholas had proclaimed twelve days of mourning for Archduke Ferdinand. But for Kaiser Wilhelm it as important policy based on assumption and political naivete.
Wilhelm went on a vacation, sailing off the coast of Norway, believing that no crisis was in the making. To the rest of the world – unaware of Austria-Hungary's plan for war – the crisis over the assassination seemed to have ended. Poincaré, now president of France, and the French prime minister, Viviani – a socialist and advocate of peace – traveled to Russia's capital, St. Petersburg, where Poincaré reassured the Russians that they had French support. But no evidence exists that Poincaré tried to push the Russians into attacking Germany. No evidence exists that he assured the Russians that if the Russians went to war without first being attacked that France would join the war on their side.
When the French leaders began their return to France on July 23, Franz Joseph's government released its ultimatum to Serbia, stating that Serbia either give up its sovereignty or face war. Virtually everyone in Europe was surprised, including Wilhelm, who by now saw no need for war. Wilhelm started his rush to return to Germany, but, given the slowness of transportation during those times, this would take him a few days – a crucial delay.
Meanwhile, when Russia's Foreign Minister, Sazonov, heard of Serbia's ultimatum he was frightened. He declared that it meant there would be a European war ("C'est la guerre European"). He had begun to confront other powers with news of Russia's intent to support Serbia. Sazonov failed to receive any assurance of support from Britain.
During these first days of the crisis, Britain appeared to be sitting on the fence.The British government did not want a European war, and recently British relations with Germany had been improving, to the chagrin of hawkish Frenchmen. The British fleet had been in Germany's Kiel harbor when Wilhelm passed through on his way to his vacation, and there had been much cheering, salutes and good feeling between the British sailors and the Germans. But now, faced with Austria's ultimatum, the British government agreed that Serbia should be punished for the assassination, and hoping to prevent war, on July 23 Britain's Foreign Secretary Grey called for an ambassador's conference to meet in London.
Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.