World War I
The Great War: A Primary Source Analysis of the Cause of the First World War
"I always hear Caesar did, Caesar conquered. Was not there at least a cook along?"—Bertolt Brecht
In 1914, the world witnessed one of the most terrible and bloody wars in the history of mankind to that date. World War One, at that time entitled the Great War, began as a result of the conflict between the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Serbia. On the surface, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, seemed to be the cause of the events that led to a European and, eventually, a world war. Although the assassination precipitated the events that led to war, the true causes of the Great War were much deeper and much more convoluted than a gunshot and the death of a statesman. In order to fully grasp the causes of the First World War, and in order to eventually determine responsibility for the war, the state of affairs before its inception, including the events and intellectual climate in the previous century, must be recognized and acknowledged as vital components in the shaping of events that led to hostility and mobilization.
The prevailing intellectual state in the mid to late nineteenth century was one of change. New ideas were brought to the fore by scientists and expounded upon by philosophers to forge innovative and rather radical notions concerning Man and his place in nature and among his fellows. Although new philosophy is not a new or even rare event in history, the ideological changes occurring in the latter half of the nineteenth century were markedly different from those in the past because science enhanced their credibility.
In 1859, Charles Darwin presented what was to be one of the most revolutionary theories in biological science when he published his On the Origin of Species. Although his theories concerning the evolution of species, containing such invariably difficult concepts, such as mutations, were complex and often misunderstood, the general population understood the fundamental idea concluded in his work:
I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection. . . . The expression used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the Survival of the Fittest, is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.
Also contained in Darwin's theories was the notion of the "Struggle for Existence." In this struggle, the strong dominated the weak in acquiring the necessities of life: food, shelter, etc.. This theory eventually fostered the notion that aggression and war were not wrong or evil; on the contrary, these destructive characteristics of mankind were indeed natural and even necessary.
The idea of "Survival of the Fittest" coupled with the notion of the "Struggle for Existence" not only influenced the realm of science, but also profoundly influenced philosophical thought, especially concerning Man's relationship with his fellows. The new philosophies which evolved from Darwin's theories were decidedly secular, not unlike Darwin's theory itself. One of the most influential social and ethical philosophies associated with Darwin's theory was that of the British philosopher, Herbert Spencer. Popularly dubbed "Social Darwinism," Spencer first conceived the phrase "Survival of the Fittest." His theories proposed that human society progressed as a result of competition, and that it was ethically incumbent upon the strong members of society to avoid helping their weaker counterparts, lest the society, in its entirety, should suffer. According to Spencer, this ethical indifference to the plight of the weak serves to eventually strengthen the society. He argued that, over time, the weaker constituents of society, without the help of the strong, will not be able to survive and, therefore, reproduce, thus preventing the continuation of their weak lineage:
The poverty of the incapable, the distresses that come upon the imprudent, the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many "in shallows and in miseries," are the decrees of a large, farseeing benevolence.
The ideas first presented by Darwin and later extrapolated to include human society and ethics by Spencer, took a distinctly anti-religious tone in the writings of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Infamous for his decree that "God is dead," and that religion is no longer useful, Nietzsche also questioned established morality. He proposed that morality is determined by each individual; there is no absolute. Not only did his work attack religion and morality, but it also presented the idea of a "ubermensch," or the "superman:"
I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the out of the dark cloud man.
Nietzsche's idea of the "ubermensch" gave rise to a number of notions concerning the superiority of certain races over others and strengthened the argument for eugenics, where society or the government should intervene to assure the procreation of the strong in order to produce the "superman." Although these ideas were rather extreme, they did foster a sense of nationalism based on the idea of the superiority of a race. This is especially true concerning the alleged superiority of the Aryan race.
Sigmund Freud, a contemporary of Nietzsche, contributed to the secularization of human nature through his work in psychology. Freud developed a theory of psychoanalysis in which the individual is governed by the conflict between the subconscious, base desires of the "id" and the socially imposed morality of the "superego." This conflict is mediated by the "ego," which constitutes the largest part of the conscious human mind. Through his work, Freud internalized the human struggle, taking it out of the realm of the supernatural and placing the responsibility of Man's actions on his own experiences:
Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual internal impulses.
As the nineteenth century came to a close, Europe had been exposed to new ideas, made credible through scientific evidence, and began to think differently about themselves and about their nations. War was no longer the evil result of the work of evil men, but rather something that stemmed from man's natural instinct and need for aggressive and violent behavior. In fact, war became a useful tool, in the eyes of many, to expedite the survival of the fittest. These changes in the general attitude, coupled with the questioning of established religion and morality, paved the way for the events that would eventually lead to the Great War.
One of the most striking influences of these revolutionary ideas was the rise of nationalism among the European nations. As national pride began to blossom in each country, there was an increasing belief in a national destiny in many of the countries that would play a significant role in initiating the First World War. All of the Powers involved in the Great War began to stake claims in Africa after 1870, eventually creating an animosity that would lead to the creation of the alliance systems; the very alliance systems that were a fundamental catalyst in the outbreak of war.
When the recent history of each of the major contributors to the outbreak of war is examined, a interest for war, based on increased nationalism, can be discovered for each. While some countries experienced sweeping movements to unite a people or cultures, others maintain what could be considered national grudges over embarrassing events in the past.
Possibly the most influential form of nationalism involved Serbia and the movement which has often been referred to as Pan-Slavism. The fundamental motive behind this Pan-Slavism was to unite all the Serb peoples under one government. Serbia had already liberated those under Ottoman rule, but many remained in some of the provinces of Austria-Hungary. In this sense, Serbian nationalism became a direct threat to Austro-Hungarian national integrity. If Serbia succeeded in its goal, Austria-Hungary would not only lose a number of provinces, but it would also lose its respect as a major European Power. Russia was also heavily involved in the Pan-Slavic movement, and encouraged Serbia in its efforts by offering its support. Russia was also interested in maintaining a Slavic presence in the Balkan states; a presence without the Dual Monarchy.
Germany was affected by the idea of Pan-Germanism in a slightly different manner than Serbia was by Pan-Slavism. Germany, under Otto von Bismarck, was not interested in gaining new territories and redefining its borders. Bismarck's goal was to maintain the balance of power in Europe, at least until Germany was stronger, and to avoid a war on two fronts, which would involve France on the west and Russia on the east, at all costs. When Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power in 1888, however, the idea held by many in his country, which involved a Germany destined to be a world power, was finally embodied in their king:
We want to be a World Power and pursue colonial policy in the grand manner. That is certain. Here there can be no step backward. The entire future of our people among the great nations depends on it. We can pursue this policy with England or without England. With England means in peace; without England means—through war.
This statement, made by the moderate historian and publicist Hans Delbrück in 1899 in his Preussische Fahrbücher, not only represents the general prevailing opinion in Germany, but it also foreshadows Germany's desire to pursue its goals at almost any cost—even war.
France's nationalist interest, on the other hand, involved both reclaiming what were perceived to be expatriated French lands and embarrassing memories over earlier military defeats. Both of these factors directly involved Germany. After the humiliating defeat of France at the hands of Prussia at Sedan, France was forced to surrendered the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to German annexation in 1871. This gave rise to the notion that Bismarck wanted to create the German Empire on French soil. Many French had the impression that Germany was created at Versailles where the terms of peace were dictated to France, at the expense of the French. When the French Assembly ratified the treaty at Bordeaux, surrendering Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans, the deputies of the provinces proclaimed, in protest, the France's rightful claim to the provinces:
We proclaim forever the right of Alsatians and Lorrainers to remain members of the French nation. We swear for ourselves, our constituents, our children and our children's children, to claim that right for all time, by every means, in the face of the usurper.
The loss of French land was a decisive injury to France, but the treaty also added insult to injury by demanding a march down the Champs Elysées by the triumphant German Army. Like many of the French, future Prime Minister Clemenceau, upon witnessing the march, vowed "neither to forgive nor forget."
Britain's nationalist interests were not as well defined as those of the other Powers. Britain's interests mirrored those of the other European Powers in that she was deeply involved in imperialism and the colonization of Africa. In terms of her relations with the continent, Britain chose to maintain, what was commonly referred to as her "splendid isolation." One marked British interest, however, involved Russian aspirations in the Mediterranean. Russia wanted control of the Dardenelles, which would give them unrestricted access to the Mediterranean and which would lead to competition with Britain's interests there. This conflict was one of the few to be resolved later, in the formation of the Triple Entente.
The result of increased nationalism and its influence on the new imperialism was unmistakably important in the future formation of the alliance systems. Never before in the history of Europe was the continent so clearly divided into separate camps as it was before the Great War. This was a direct result of the agreements between France, Britain and Russia in the Triple Entente and the alignment of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy in the Triple Alliance.
The Triple Alliance was essentially established through the work of Bismarck between 1873 and 1890. After 1871, Bismarck insisted that Germany was satisfied with her position and wanted no new territorial gains. Bismarck feared another war that might threaten what Germany had gained. In his policies and in his words, Bismarck tried to assuage French resentment toward Germany by exercising generally benevolent conduct in his relations with them and even by encouraging their colonial expeditions. Despite these precautions, Bismarck needed to maintain France's isolation to avoid what he feared most for Germany: a war on two fronts.
In 1873, Bismarck established the Three Emperors' League between Germany, Austria and Russia. The league soon collapsed, however, because of Russian and Austrian conflicts in the Balkans. Despite the collapse, the seeds for large scale alliances were sown and Germany continued to try to protect itself through alliances with Austria and Russia. In 1879, Germany concluded a treaty with Austria to form the Dual Alliance. The treaty stipulated that either nation would come to the aid of the other if one were attacked by Russia. This stipulation paralleled and preceded the treaties between the members of the later alliances which would fight in the war. The formation of the Dual Alliance proved to be a sage move on the part of Bismarck because, although it was supposed to have been secret, the Alliance made the Russians uncomfortable and their diplomats approached Germany in 1881. The Three Emperors' League was restored. When, in 1882, it grew discontent with France's occupation of Tunisia, Italy approached Germany and asked to join the alliance. When another Balkan war erupted, the Three Emperor's League was crippled once again and Russia was lost. However, Bismarck was able to maintain Austria and Italy as allies and the Triple Alliance was formed. Also, in 1887, Bismarck was able to forge the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, which dictated that, if either Power were to be attacked, the other would maintain neutrality. Thus, Bismarck, through his masterful use of diplomacy was able to ensure Germany's security by encompassing it in alliances and maintaining friendship with Russia, thereby isolating France as planned.
Despite his success, Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by Kaiser Wilhelm II because of the aforementioned differences in their visions of Germany's future. General Leo von Caprivi succeeded Bismarck, but he was not nearly as effective in maintaining the alliances, the most pivotal of which would prove to be with the Russians. Caprivi refused to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia because he did not feel that he could handle the system of alliances as efficiently as Bismarck had, and he also believed that, by severing his ties with the Russians, he would improve his relations with Britain. The latter reasoning was a result of the fact that Russia had ambitions toward the Dardanelles which alarmed the British. Britain feared Russia's rise as a Mediterranean power. Caprivi incorrectly assumed that ideological differences would prevent an alliance between France and Russia, thereby protecting Germany from two hostile fronts. Unfortunately for Germany, France and Russia's mutual isolation drove them to seek an alliance, and in 1894 a defensive alliance against Germany was signed. Now only Britain remained as the final peace to the alliance puzzle.
Wilhelm II had always admired Britain's navy and her economic success, and he tried to persuade her to join the Triple Alliance. When Britain chose to maintain her "splendid isolation," Wilhelm's policy changed. He greatly desired that Germany's navy rival that of Britain's. The Kaiser felt that, if Germany's navy was strong enough to pose enough of a threat to Britain's, Britain would recognize Germany's power and agree to become allies. Wilhelm II thought that, even if Germany's navy did not match that of Britain's, it could become strong enough to potentially weaken the British to the point where they became vulnerable to the navies of the other Powers. This complex and seemingly backward strategy failed, and Britain eventually sought France as an ally. The alliance with France did not occur immediately, however. Britain did at first feel threatened by the prospect of a strong Germany navy, but the Germans, seemingly nonsensically, rejected British treaty proposals between 1898 and 1901, expecting greater concessions in the future.
The end result of these maneuvers was the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain, which was not a formal treaty, but rather a series of agreements which intertwined British and French interests, especially concerning defense, until after the war. At this point, it made sense for Britain to tighten relations with France's ally, Russia, and, in 1907, an agreement similar to the one between France and Britain was concluded between Britain and Russia. The Triple Entente was complete, and the two camps in Europe were established.
On July 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, and his wife were assassinated by a young Bosnian in Sarajevo. The series of events that occurred between the twenty-eighth of June, 1914, and the fourth of August of the same year, are referred to as the "July Crisis." The events that occurred in this one month essentially determined the outbreak of the First World War. Through an analysis of these events and the actions of the nations involved, the justice and propriety of the "Guilt Clause," Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles signed at the conclusion of the war, can be determined:
The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.
The assassination of the Archduke outraged Austria, as well as much of the rest of the continent. All eyes turned to Austria to see how they would respond to the crisis. Austria's response would eventually dictate the course of events that led to the war. This response came on the twenty-third of July in the form of an ultimatum to Serbia to accept and meet ten demands set forth by the Austrian government. The Austrians demanded a response within forty-eight hours. When the ultimatum was not, in the eyes of the Austrians, fully complied with, Austria mobilized and declared war on Serbia. Though this appears to be the cause of the war, it is a far too narrow a view of the events that took place. Germany's role, as well as Russia's, must be taken into account in order to establish responsibility for the war.
Directly following the assassination, Austrian officials were scrambling in an effort to determine the proper course of action. One of their major considerations involved the position of the other members of the Triple Alliance. Italy was not yet a factor, and really never was in the cause of the war, so Austria conferred with the Germans in order to establish a plan of action. On July fifth, Count Alexander von Hoyos, secretary for Balkan affairs at the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, traveled to Berlin to discuss Germany's position with Alfred Zimmerman, the German undersecretary of foreign affairs, and was told that Austria was correct in believing that it should no longer tolerate Serbian aggression. Zimmerman acknowledged that, although the decision was ultimately that of the Kaiser and Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, he saw no impediment to Germany's unconditional support of any action taken by Austria-Hungary:
We at Vienna—he [Zimmermann] said—have the defect of arguing too much and changing our minds. Once a decision was taken, there should be no time lost in going into action so as to take Serbia and the chancelleries of Europe by surprise. Austrian reprisals were amply justified in the Sarajevo crime.
In fact, according to Hoyos, Bethmann-Hollweg made Zimmermann's statements German policy the next day in Telegram 113 to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at Vienna:
The Emperor Franz Joseph may, however, rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship.
Hoyos probably did not understand how true Zimmermann's words, concerning the necessity of promptness in action, would ring. According to Hoyos, Zimmermann also remarked that if this plan was pursued, the conflict would remain localized, but that, if Russia and France were to become involved, Germany, with her enhanced military strength, could successfully oppose both Powers.
This apparent hubris on the part of Zimmermann and the Germans was a result of the Schlieffen Plan, Germany's sole battle plan if the war should become continental. The Schlieffen Plan called for a rapid German assault on and defeat of France before she was fully mobilized, and then a sweeping change of fronts to face Russia, which should take even longer to mobilize and would not, therefore, be fully prepared. This statement demonstrates Germany's willingness to involve the continent in war over the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary.
Another important consideration in determining responsibility for the war involves Germany's behavior during its relations with Austria-Hungary concerning their position on the Serbian Question. According to Hoyos' narrative, "Our design of a decisive settlement of accounts with Serbia met with no objection." It appears that Germany failed to advise Austria-Hungary of any option which involved withholding action against Serbia. Instead, the Germans only spoke of the necessity of taking immediate action. This attitude, combined with the notion that Germany could handle a war on two fronts, strengthens the perception that Germany was fully prepared to risk a continental war.
In the report of the Chargé d'Affaires at Berlin for Austria-Hungary to the Ministerial Council, sent on the eighteenth of July, the Chargé d'Affaires conveyed the summary of his conversations with Zimmermann, the Foreign Office reporter for the Balkans and the Triple Alliance, and with the counselor of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy. In the report, the Chargé d'Affaires cites three points, as described to him by Zimmermann, which would constitute the general contents of the ultimatum. He also states what both Germany and Austria-Hungary already knew, even before the ultimatum was finalized:
It is perfectly plain that Serbia can not Accept any such demands, which are incompatible with her dignity as a sovereign state. Thus, the result would be war.
In the final version of the ultimatum, which contained ten separate points, the fifth point proved to be pivotal in Serbia's rejection of the ultimatum:
5. to agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy.
Serbia was of the opinion that this clause gave Austria-Hungary too much power and even threatened their integrity as a sovereign state, just as the Chargé d'Affaires had stated in his report. Many of the Powers, including Britain, agreed with this opinion, and in his telegram to the British ambassador at Vienna, Sir Edward Grey, British secretary of state for foreign affairs, offers a sound summation of what the fifth point entails:
Demand No. 5 might mean that the Austro-Hungarian Government were to be entitled to appoint officials who should have authority in Servian territory and this would hardly be consistent with the maintenance of independent sovereignty of Servia.
Germany was also deceptive in the presentation of their position to the rest of Europe. According to the same report made by the Chargé d'Affaires on the eighteenth of July, Germany planned to conceal any prior knowledge of Austria-Hungary's actions in an attempt to sway the other Powers' views to help maintain the locality of the war:
It [the German administration] will claim that the Austrian action has been just as much of a surpass to it as to the other Powers, . . .It will lay stress upon the fact that it is a matter of interest for all the monarchical Governments that "the Belgrade nest of anarchists" be once and for all rooted out.
The corroboration of the German government in the formation of the Austrian Ultimatum, knowingly unacceptable to Serbia, coupled with its deception and manipulation afterward is certainly another testament to their guilt in causing the Great War, but the guilt is not theirs to bear alone. Austria was integral in the outbreak of war, as well.
One of the most obviously aggressive maneuvers on the part of Austria-Hungary involved their actions after receiving Serbia's response to their Ultimatum. Serbia's response to the Ultimatum was so conciliatory in its manner, that even Germany began to question whether cause for war still existed. In his letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on the twenty-eighth of July, the Kaiser discusses his opinions in light of the Serbian response:
I am convinced that on the whole the wishes of the Danube Monarchy have been acceded to. . . .It contains the announcement orbi et urbi of capitulation of the most humiliating kind, and as a result, every cause for war falls to the ground.
Although Germany, or at least the Kaiser, began to reconsider their position and pretense for war, the attempt to pull in the reins came too late, and Austria-Hungary plunged ahead into war, anyway.
One of the reasons for Austria-Hungary's move to war, despite belated, and somewhat half-hearted (since not all of the German government was in agreement over this) German efforts to intervene and restrain them, revolved around the issue of respect. Austria still believed that a stern response to Serbia's crime was necessary to maintain their status in the Balkans, and also to maintain the appearance of strength for their ally, Germany. Germany, whether intentionally or not, seemed to have the effect of forcing Austria-Hungary's hand, since Austria-Hungary felt that a display of strength was necessary to impress and to, therefore, maintain their ally:
From other utterances of the [German] Ambassador I could see that Germany would interpret any compromise on our part with Serbia as a confession of weakness, which would not remain without repercussions on our position in the Triple Alliance and the future policy of Germany.
This statement, written by Berchtold, the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Tisza, his Hungarian counterpart, conveys the pressure that Austria was under to act definitively against Serbia. The final decision, however, was Austria-Hungary's, and their perception of Germany's position may have been exaggerated, and the account given by Berchtold may have been purposely biased to lessen the Austro-Hungarian responsibility for their actions.
Another important factor in the outbreak of war were the actions of Russia. On the twenty-first of July, before the transmission of the Ultimatum, the German Ambassador to Russia, Pourtalès, sent his report of the Russian position on the assassination to Bethmann-Hollweg:
The Minister [Sazonoff] met these arguments with the assertion that the support of the Greater-Serbia propaganda in Austria-Hungary by Serbia or by the Serbian Government in any way, had in nowise been proved. A whole country could not be held responsible for the acts of individuals.
According to Ambassador Pourtalès, Sazonoff, the Russian Foreign Minister, also believed that Serbia "was behaving itself with entire propriety," and "that in no case should there be any talk of an ultimatum." It was the Russian position that Austria-Hungary's interests in Serbia extended beyond retribution for the assassination. Russia believed that "their [Austria-Hungary] object was the annihilation of Serbia."
After the Austrian Ultimatum, Pourtalès issued another report informing the German Foreign Office of the Russian response to the Ultimatum. It was Russia's position that "it was for Europe to investigate as to whether Serbia had lived up to these obligations" because "Austria could not be both accuser and judge in her own case." Although this seemed like the prudent option, as Pourtalès points out, Austria would not agree to any suggestion of a council which would have the power to determine issues which were vital to both her national prestige and to the maintenance of her own sovereignty. The final key to Russia's position lies in the statement made by Sazonoff during the course of his discussion with Pourtalès. Sazonoff exclaims that "If Austria-Hungary devours Serbia, we will go to war with her." The difficulty with Russia's position, however, involves a German counter-mobilization. The Germans threatened that if Russia were to begin a total mobilization, which would be recognized as the equivalent of a declaration of war, Germany would respond through war. A potential problem here was determining whether or not the Russian army was fully or only partially mobilizing. It does not seem to have mattered, as the Germans took any mobilization as cause enough for war. This maneuver by the Germans was a direct result of their reliance on the Schlieffen Plan, which necessitated a quick strike against both France and Russia before either had achieved total readiness.
The affirmation given to Austria-Hungary by Germany, pledging their total support in any case, is often referred to as the equivalent of a "blank check," which gave Austria-Hungary free roam in terms of deciding a course of action. The same can be said of France's attitude toward Russia. In telegram No. 195, Isvolsky, the Russian Ambassador at Paris, recounts the claims made by Germany concerning the potential conflict between Austria-Hungary and Russia:
1. "Austria has declared to Russia that she is not seeking territorial acquisitions and will respect the integrity of Serbia. Her only aim is to assure her own security;
2. "The prevention of war consequently rests upon Russia;
3. "Germany and France entirely united in the ardent desire to maintain peace, ought to press Russia to be moderate."
According to Isvolsky, the French interpreted the use of the term "united" as a German attempt to undermine the trust between Russia and France. Isvolsky states in his report that he was impressed with the French decision "to give us the most complete support and to avoid the least appearance of divergence of view between us." This essentially meant that if Russia were to go to war, so too would France on Russia's behalf. This would also draw England into the war because of her allegiance to Russia and, more importantly, to France.
In light of the evidence presented, the merits of the War Guilt Clause can be evaluated. It seems unreasonable to argue that Germany should be held accountable for both her actions and for those of her allies. Germany was responsible for giving Austria-Hungary what Lutz described as the "curse" of a free hand, and the Germans deliberately risked war in order to achieve their goals, but the final decision to act fell upon Austria-Hungary. Despite the conciliatory response from Serbia, which made even the Germans hesitate about the soundness of the grounds for war, Austria-Hungary mobilized and declared war on Serbia anyway. A partial explanation for this can be found in the structure of the alliance systems. Germany felt that if they tried to restrain Austria-Hungary, they might somehow offend and possibly lose their only viable ally, thereby worsening the potential situation of a war on two fronts to one of encirclement. Austria-Hungary, ironically, felt that a lack of decisive action on their part would cost them Germany's respect and threaten their allegiance. Austria-Hungary could not afford isolation any more than Germany could.
Also, in their communications with Austria-Hungary, Germany urged the Austrians to act immediately against Serbia, in order to take advantage of state of outrage and shock that the other Powers were in. If Austria-Hungary had taken this advice and acted promptly, instead of nearly a month later, a continental war might have been avoided. But, again, Germany, instead of suing for reconciliation, advised Austria-Hungary to retaliate, thereby threatening the peace.
The Triple Alliance's opponents are not free from blame, either. Russia's actions seem to have been a result of her unwillingness to allow Austria-Hungary to gain any more territory or influence in the Balkans. Russia was also rather constrained because of the support she had promised Serbia. If Russia were to renege on her promises, she would lose face in the volatile Balkans. The alliance between Russia and France also played a pivotal role in determining Russia's actions. The Russians forged the alliance with France in order to avoid political and military isolation. This seemed to be a concern in their decision to act because alienating France would mean the political isolation that Russia had sought to avoid. France, who also feared isolation, assured the Russians of their full support in order to assuage any fears they might have had concerning the stability of France's allegiance.
If the award for the least blame in causing the Great War were given, it should probably go to Britain. Because of their aloof position, the only charge that can be brought against Britain is one of not doing enough to ensure peace. War could have been avoided if Britain had given a stern warning to Germany that in the event of a continental war, Britain would take the side of France and Russia. If this were done early enough in the sequence of events, Germany may have attempted to preserve the peace between Serbia and Austria-Hungary more fervently than they did in the few days preceding Austria-Hungary's declaration of war. Similar steps could have been taken in Britain's relations with France and Russia. If Britain had categorically stated that, if Russia and France became involved in war, Britain would remain neutral, France would not have been as eager to give her support to Russia, since her defense relied so heavily on Britain. Russia, then, may have been hesitant to mobilize against Austria-Hungary.
It seems that if blame were to be assigned it should fall on the shoulders of the system of alliances, which eventually managed to plunge everyone involved in them into war. Blaming an inanimate system, however, does not resolve the question of the propriety of the War Guilt Clause. In all fairness, each country should have realized their own responsibility in causing the war and been less eager to place the blame on Germany. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia should have taken the brunt of the punishment, but by no means was any country completely innocent. Since this, however, is not a realistic expectation, as the victors rarely blame themselves as the instigators of war, Austria-Hungary should have at least taken some of the responsibility, along with Germany.
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