The above title was from a Daily Telegraph headline to one of its recent articles concerning the causes of the outbreak of WW1 and I thought I may take a break from blogging chronologically about leading up to WW1 in order to focus on what I have seen.
If one wishes to discuss the causes, arguably one could stretch this to the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, which was designed to settle the so-called eastern question, i.e., what belongs to what within the context of the end of the Russian-Ottoman war of 1877–1878. Initially that question between Russia and the Ottoman had been resolved through the treaty of San-Stefano signed March 3 1878. That treaty ceded effective Ottoman control of the Northern Balkans and likewise allowed the Russians to increase their political influence upon the region, much to the chagrin of the great powers of the West, namely the British, who felt that an expansionist Russia could put her far-eastern colonies at risk and the Austria-Hungarian Empire who wanted to maintain their own diplomatic influence in the Balkans.
Whilst this treaty was designed to mitigate the effects of San-Stefano and in effect allow the Ottoman Empire to retain control of the Southern Balkans, crucially to my perspective, this treaty also allowed the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina to be occupied and administered by the Austria-Hungarian Empire through international mandate. In 1908 however, without any legal justification, the Austria-Hungarian Empire decided to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, triggering the Bosnian crisis and a subsequent amendment to the treaty of Berlin in 1909, recognising the Austria-Hungarian Empire’s governance of the region. This amendment denied nationalists within Serbia their ambitions to build a full “greater Serbia”, i.e., want of a restoration of the lands that once belonged to Serbia during the middle ages before the nation was subsumed by the Ottoman Empire.
Serbia for its part would go on to be a key player in the set of Balkan wars that played out just before the First World War. In the conclusion to the first Balkan War, Serbia practically doubled its territory, through expanding southwards into Kosovo and Macedonia. In the second Balkan War against Bulgaria, it consolidated these gains. This was perhaps enough for the govt but it certainly was not enough for the nationalists who were embedded within the army, such as the nationalist group “The Black hand” who had already possessed a track record for changes in Serb foreign policy through political terrorism, such as the changes in foreign policy caused by the assassination of King Alexander I for not being too belligerent enough with the Austria-Hungarian Empire, and also because he married to someone whom the Black Hand thought had a dangerous influence upon society.
But the Serbian govt wasn’t represented by terrorists and officially expressed little desire for war between itself and the Austria-Hungarian Empire in 1914. And this is what made the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand by the “Black hand” so tragic in retrospect. It wasn’t the first time that a major figure had been assassinated by nationalists either; In 1908 a Ruthenian nationalist murdered Andreas Potocki, the governor of Austria-Polish province of Galicia which was also contested for influence by both the Austria-Hungarian Empire and Russia. In this case however, the assassin was handed over and no war came about. Evidently the Galician and Sarajevo assassin events were clearly different. As of yet I have not seen anything to suggest that Austria-Hungary had suspicions that the event in Galacia was a state sponsored act of terrorism whereas with regards to Serbia they clearly did. On July 23 1914 Austria-Hungary presented to Serbia an extremely harsh ultimatum to Belgrade with the addition that a response should be delivered from Belgrade within 48 hours. And, although Serbia did say they would comply with most of the ultimatum, most wasn’t enough. On July 28 Serbia Austria-Hungary declared war and was invaded and so WW1 formally began.
It is then that the systems of entangling alliances both sides of the War had kicked in. Russia mobilised against Austria-Hungary as a response to the former’s ominous treatment of Serbia, but there was no declaration of war. Germany responded by declaring War on Russia anyway on August 1, and then on Belgium and France. Britain had an entente with France and a guarantee to Belgium that had existed since 1839 which promised, in short, that the British would go to war with whoever shall attack Belgium. On August 4 1914 that country happening to attack Belgium was Germany, and subsequently the British declared war on the Germans.
The above presents the history of the beginnings of World War 1 that I am sure most would be familiar with, and in this summation, German blame for WW1 is implied. But is this the most explicit of finger-pointing? What I will present you now are two recent articles centered around Max Hastings who has a new book coming out, who seems very much in the explicit finger-pointing camp, stating that the central powers are mainly to blame for WW1.
In addition to Germany’s foreign policy on its southern neighbour, whom she vowed to stand by like a knight “in shining armour”, and the subsequent reaction to this from Vienna as pointed out in these articles, another point I’ve seen is that the German rationale for aggression in the west was detached from Austria-Hungarian aggression against Serbia. Indeed, part of the reason Germany said on August 3 that it was going to war with France was that because the German city of Nuremberg had earlier been bombed by French aircraft, (this bombing raid seems a nonsensical story).
So, for all the above, how much relative blame should we point to Germany and Austria-Hungary? You tell me.
(PS: With regards to the Greater Serbia that the nationalists there wanted and their base being the medieval kingdom of Serbia, I am actually writing this on the anniversary of the Battle of Blackbird’s Field, which took place just 3 miles north of Prishtina in Kosovo in the year 1389. For the Serbs, it was at most a Pyrrhic Draw, in the long term it began a slow decay and splinter in Serbian Anti-Ottoman political elite, although that being said, it did take another 132 years for Belgrade itself to fall into Ottoman hands with that city finally being captured in 1521. However because of the losses on the Ottoman side this battle is often seen as delaying Ottoman advance into the rest of the Balkans, thus this battle forms part of the modern Serbian pride in that medieval kingdom. This is the Gazimestan monument, located on the modern day battle-site.
It commemorates those Serbs who fell in battle. It was also where the late dictator Slobodan Milošević made this notorious speech