(EUROPE'S SLIDE to WAR – continued)

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EUROPE'S SLIDE to WAR (6 of 6)

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Finding Blame

Soon tons of paper would be consumed declaring innocence and blame regarding the war's origins. Franz Joseph was blamed for having given his approval to war against Serbia. Germany's army was accused of pushing Germany into a preventive war. Bethmann-Hollweg's predecessor as chancellor, Prince von Bülow, was upset that Germany had made itself appear as the aggressor, and he found fault in Bethmann-Hollweg giving Austria-Hungary a blank check to do as it pleased against Serbia. And he found fault in Bethmann-Hollweg believing that a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia would remain localized.

Fault was found with the British government's failure to warn Germany early enough to scare the German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg (while Kaiser Wilhelm was on vacation) into holding back German support for an Austrian war against Serbia. The British were accused of supporting France and Russia because they feared Germany as a growing power and wanted to contain or cripple Germany. Raymond Poincaré and the French were blamed for encouraging Russia, for wanting to win back Alsace and Lorraine, and for wanting war while circumstances were right. Russia was blamed for its hostility to Germany, for drawing its gun first by mobilizing against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Some would claim the Great War's cause was imperialism – the root of the conflict having been the forcing of empire onto people. Some would reduce the war's cause to autocracy. Some reduced it to capitalism's inevitable culmination in war – an inevitability defied by the example of capitalist powers living side by side without war. And a few would blame the war ultimately on Satan, some of them seeing Satan as having invaded the body of Wilhelm.

Before the war, people had not feared war as much as they would after the war. There had been a common misunderstanding of what the war would be like. Franz Joseph didn't see that his offensives would produce an end to his empire. Tsar Nicholas didn't foresee that it would end Romanov rule. The British didn't foresee almost a million war dead including almost an entire generation of young aristocratic men. While supporting their nation's offensives, Germans didn't foresee what lay ahead for their nation. Nations go to war expecting to win – especially when they believe God is on their side. Everybody was expecting to win while their best interest would have been served by diplomacy, compromise, restraint and in Germany's case if necessary defending its borders. Each nation believed that it was acting in its best interest, but the gods were not telling them what that interest was.

If Europe's Great War in 1914 can be reduced to a single greatest cause, it could be described as naivete – itself a product of various conditions.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

  W.B. Yeats, 1919


Helmuth von Moltke and the origins of the First World War, by Annika Mombauer, 2001

Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapters 1~6, 2009

The Road to Sarajevo, by Vladimir Dedijer, Simon & Schuster Inc., 1966

The Russian Origins of the First World War, by Sean McMeekin, 2011

The Kaiser, by Virginia Cowles, 1963

The Romanovs, by Virginia Cowles, 1971

Kaiser Wilhelm II, by Christopher M. Clark

Alfted von Tirpitz and German Right-Wing Politics, 1914-1930, by Raffael Scheck, 1998

The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, MacMillan, 1962

The Pity of War, by Naill Ferguson, 2006

The First World War: A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert, 1996

Francis Ferdinand, by,

The German Chancellor's view of the Origins of World War I. His "scrap of paper" comment. Posted by First World,

"Who Began the War and Why," The New York Times, Current History, 1915

Additional Reading

Who wanted war? The origin of the war according to dipolmatic documents, by E. Durkheim and E. Denis (Frenchmen), 1915

Germany Above All (über alles), by Émile Durkheim, 1915 (narrow)

1913: In Search of the World before the Great War, Charles Emmerson, 2013

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.