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The origins of World War One are a long standing point of contention among historians. The immediate trigger is obvious and well known: the murder of Franz Ferdinand, but really this is only a single manifestation of a wider set of problems sometimes known as the M-A-I-N causes (Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism). Among the warring nations 4 tend to stand out as most likely to have been responsible.
In many ways Serbia’s conduct in the early days of the war makes it seem an innocent victim of Austrian aggression; they mostly accept Austria’s ultimatum, they’re unjustly accused of sponsoring the terrorists who killed Franz Ferdinand and finally they are invaded by a much stronger power.
Serbia, however, had been a focal point for nationalist agitation in the Balkans for a long time. It had already gone to war with the Ottoman Empire to expand its territory and the young nation’s exuberant nationalism made those around it nervous.
A drawing of Achille Beltrame depicting Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo.
Germany is often blamed for World War One but usually for the wrong reasons. Contrary to the myth established in the War Guilt Clause of the Treaty of Versailles Germany’s interest in the war was not part of a wider expansionist programme nor was their militarism exceptional when compared to other nations.
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Instead Germany’s responsibility derives from their strategy in the first weeks of the war which brought in countries involved at that point. The clearest example of this aggressive strategy was the Schlieffen Plan which brought Belgium, France and eventually Britain into the war. Germany may not have been responsible for the war itself but it was instrumental in launching it onto a global scale.
Of all the countries involved in the war Austria is the most obviously culpable, after all they were the first nation to issue a declaration of war. They rejected offers of mediation from other countries in favour of an aggressive assertion of their imperial interests in the Balkans.
The Serbian Martyr, French postcard, 1919. Personifications of Germany and Austria-Hungary are shown attacking a defensive Hungary in front. Meanwhile the Kingdom of Bulgaria is shown about to attack Serbia in the back.
Although Austria was the first nation to declare war Russia was the first major power outside of the direct Austian-Serbian conflict to mobilise so can be seen as responsible for escalating the situation. Russia’s refusal to stand down its mobilised forces was in turn what caused Germany to declare war on Russia and consequently, its triple entente ally France.
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These countries are the ones with the clearest cases against them but almost every country involved has been held responsible for causing, escalating or prolonging the war at some point. As the M-A-I-N model explains the roots of the war lay in a particular political mentality which imagined war to be beneficial to the state and this kind of thinking was not at all restricted to any one nation.
World War One Causes
A lot of people have found World War One to be a little bit confusing sometimes. And the reason is the world was very different leading up to World War One than it is today. The world in which we live nowadays was made by World War One and then World War Two.
World War One started in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. It is also known as Great War. There is a list of events that caused the beginning of World War One.
The Mistake that Started World War One
World War One was started quite by accident. Literally. Plans had been made and people were in position to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, but after a failed attempt, the other conspirators abandoned the idea and their posts. Sadly, for the world, a lucky chance allowed one individual, Gavrilo Princip, the opportunity to complete his mission, and set in motion one of the deadliest wars in world history.
The first blunder
It was a beautiful Sunday morning on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand had spent the last few days walking around the shops of the city, taking in the sites. Crowds of people followed him, always in awe. Never once did anybody take a shot or attempt to take the Archdukes life. On 28 June, a day of celebration in Sarajevo (it was the 525th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo were Serb defenders lost against the Ottoman invaders, but single Serb had slain a Sultan), the Archduke pick up his wife from the train station and were heading to the town hall to give a speech and talk with the mayor. But the plans of others would upset that schedule.
Six revolutionaries, part of the Young Bosnians, were recruited by the Black Hand to assassinate the Archduke. The six, knowing the direction of the motor parade carrying the Archduke, positioned themselves along the path. Some had grenades, most had guns and cyanide pills to get the job done. The motorcade passed their first two conspirators without incident, who later blamed the large crowd for not attacking the Archduke.
However, the next conspirator, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, tossed a hand grenade at the Archduke, but the driver increased his speed, and the grenade detonated harmlessly away from its intended target, wounding over a dozen people, including two people from the Archdukes motorcade. The attacker was quickly arrested, and the other conspirators on the route lost their opportunity to attack the Archduke due to the increased crowed size around their target, and the increased speed of the cars.
The second blunder: a wrong turn that lead to war
After the motorcade made it to the Town Hall, the other five conspirators went their own way, believing their mission had failed. The Archduke arrived at the Town Hall, where he was quite shaken. After the meeting, he and his party left, but at the very last second, the Archduke wanted to head to the hospital to visit the wounded individuals from the failed attack. The driver, who knew the routes he was to take, and alternatives in case of attack, got lost heading to the hospital. The driver made a wrong turn at Appel quay and Franz Joseph Street where fate gave a 19 year old another chance.
Stepping out of a café, Princip was shocked to see the Archduke right before him, the car stopped as the driver tried to correct his mistake. With the car paused for just a moment, Princip took matters into his own hands. Taking a breath, Princip pulled his pistol, hitting a person in the street as he passed and at a range of five feet, fired two shots, one hitting the Archduke in the neck, and the other hitting Princess Sofia in the stomach. The assassin was quickly brought down while the driver raced to the hospital. Upon seeing his unconscious wife, the Archduke cried out “Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” He then fell unconscious. Upon arriving at the hospital, both the Archduke and his wife were pronounced dead.
Aftermath and conclusion
Despite having survived one assassination attempt just an hour before, the Archduke was slain due to bad luck and a wrong turn. In the next few weeks, Austria-Hungry would seek retribution for the death of the Archduke, while Serbia looked to Russia and France for support. On July 28th, Austria-Hungry and Serbia were at war, and by August 4th, Britain, the last European power, declared war on Austria-Hungry and Germany, officially sealing the world in a bloody four year world war.
All the conspirators would be arrested and tried. The young revolutionaries would get sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years (due to their young age, they were ineligible for the death penalty). Other individuals who helped smuggle the weapons and assassins into the country, as well as members of the Black Hand, would also get tried, some higher up individuals would be sentenced to death. Princip would die in prison on 28 April 1918 from tuberculosis.
Had the driver of the Archdukes car made the correct turn, then Princip would never have gotten the chance to assassinate him and his wife, meaning Europe and the world would have been spared the devastating effects of World War 1. But a wrong turn, a second chance and two shots were the final catalyst the brought on the horrors of trench warfare, and allowed the introduction of Hitler and a second devastating World War.
The Beginning of World War I
Frantic competition among European powers marked the late 1800s and early 1900s. The strength of a nation was measured by the scope of its wealth and resources, the amount of land it held, and the size of its army and navy. The leaders of many countries believed that a nation could only achieve its political and economic goals if it had a strong military, a belief known as militarism. Conscript armies grew in most countries, in which young men were required to undergo a year or two of military training and were then sent home as reserves to be mobilized or called to action when needed for fighting. Naval budgets increased every year, especially in Great Britain and Germany. No country wanted to be without allies if war broke out, so two major military alliances took hold. Germany, fearful of being hemmed in by enemies on its east and west, signed an agreement with Austria-Hungary to support each other in a European war. Russia and France reached a similar agreement.
Militarists increasingly viewed their nations’ armed forces as above criticism. And many greatly admired such military values as self-sacrifice, discipline, and obedience. War was increasingly seen as an adventure, an opportunity to fight and even die for one’s country. Karl Pearson, a British writer at the time, claimed that wars are necessary. He maintained that nations could establish their rightful position in the world “by contest, chiefly by way of war with inferior races, and with equal races by the struggle for trade routes and for the sources of raw materials and food supply.” 1
Others held similar views. Count Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the chancellor of Germany at the turn of the twentieth century, claimed that “the old saying still holds good that the weak will be the prey of the strong. When a people will not or cannot continue to spend enough on armaments to be able to make its way in the world, then it falls back into the second rank.” 2
For Pearson, Hollweg, and other Europeans, a nation was more than a country. To them, the members of a nation not only shared a common history, culture, and language but also common ancestors, character traits, and physical characteristics. Many believed, therefore, that a nation was a biological community and that membership in it was passed on from one generation to the next. In other words, belief in a nation was similar to what many believed about race.
Some historians refer to Europe in the early 1910s as a powderkeg (a barrel of gunpowder). European nations were eager for war to prove their superiority over other nations. They had growing militaries. And they had joined together to form opposing military alliances, pledging to support their partner nations in case of war. Like a barrel of gunpowder, the smallest spark could make everything explode.
The spark that set off World War I came on June 28, 1914, when a young Serbian patriot shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria), in the city of Sarajevo. The assassin was a supporter of the Kingdom of Serbia, and within a month the Austrian army invaded Serbia. As a result of the military alliances that had formed throughout Europe, the entire continent was soon engulfed in war. Because European nations had numerous colonies around the world, the war soon became a global conflict.
Who Started World War 1
World War 1 was started by Austria-Hungary by declaration of war on Serbia on July 28, 1914 because the latter did not accept two of ten terms of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum delivered to Belgrade following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. However, Vienna intentionally made the ultimatum unacceptable as the decision for the war was already made. Within a week after the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia, Europe was at war that grew into World War 1 by the end of the year.
The decisive move that plunged Europe and eventually most of the world into the war was made by Austria-Hungary but a great deal of responsibility for the outbreak of World War 1 also rests on Germany. The latter did not only support the Dual Monarchy in the war against Serbia but even encouraged it. The correspondence between Berlin and Vienna that summer clearly reveals that. Some historians speculate that Austria-Hungary and Germany perhaps had no intention of provoking a war with other European powers. They perhaps counted on a quick localized war in the Balkans and an international peace conference thereafter like in case of all other European conflicts since the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871.
The exact intentions of Austria-Hungary and Germany in the summer of 1914 remain a matter of debate but their statesmen were most certainly aware of the danger of a pan-European war. Serbia’s protector and the old Vienna’s rival, Russia could not afford not to support Serbia against Austria-Hungary which in turn would force Germany as Vienna’s ally to start a war against Russia. An eventual war between Germany and Russia would be undoubtedly followed by a French attack on Germany as the latter never got over the loss of Alsace and Loraine during the Franco-Prussian War. In addition, Franco-Russian alliance was joined by Britain in 1907 which had decided to prevent an eventual German domination on the Continent.
How well Germany was aware of the danger of a war with France and Russia clearly reveals the German military strategy for victory in case of a two-front war or the Schlieffen Plan that was developed as early as 1905. Berlin seems to have hoped that Britain would remain neutral although the Schlieffen Plan foresaw German invasion of France through Belgium which made the British nonintervention very unlikely as Britain was a guarantor of the Belgian neutrality. German historian Fritz Fischer even claims that Germany prepared for the war against France and Russia to establish itself as a world power and that it took advantage of the crisis following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to start a world war. Fischer’s theory is not widely accepted by the historical community due to lack of evidence but there is no doubt that the German foreign policy became more aggressive and expansionist after the ascension of Wilhelm II to the German throne in 1888 and dismissal of Otto von Bismarck as German Chancellor two years later.
Russia played a role in the outbreak of World War 1 as well. The Tsarist government decided to support Serbia even before the official declaration of war by Austria-Hungary but its role in the outbreak of the Great War was primarily a reaction to the Austro-Hungarian aggression on Serbia. What would happen if Russia would not support Serbia is a matter of speculation. Whether World War 1 was a “limited war” that went out of control or a deliberate act remains unknown but Europe was by 1914 a powder keg waiting to explode.
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World War I–How It Started
The beginning of the First World War marked a drastic change from the way people perceived battle, glory and the meaning of heroism. Until this point in history, men had headed into the battlefield with high-minded notions of making a name for themselves through battle, even if it meant death. “The Great War” changed all that. The nationalism and mechanized units of war made people question the underlying meaning of conflict and duty.
A History of Conflict
Over the previous centuries, Europe had been in a relatively constant state of warfare. Regional divisions and alliances stretched back hundreds, even thousands, of years. One such schism had built up in the Austro-Hungarian Empire holding of Serbia. Serbian nationalists had long antagonized the empire and sought a separate Slavic state. Serb nationalists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 28th of June, 1914. This assassination would set off a chain of events throughout Europe and, eventually, the world.
The initial Austro-Hungarian reaction was to deal directly with the Serbs, which brought Serbia’s Slavic brothers, the Russians, into the mix. Arguably, the first domino to fall was Germany, which sided with the Austro-Hungarians. The French declined to remain neutral in a conflict between Russia and Germany.
However, the Eastern borders of France remained heavily fortified after years of conflicts with Germany. As a result, the Germans decided to advance through neutral Belgium to attack the French from a more auspicious position. What came next was the most massive military mobilization the world had seen up to that point. Battalion upon battalion of German troops moved through Belgium as the Russian war machine slowly kicked into gear and headed toward Berlin. More importantly, Britain became involved at this point due to its own treaty obligations to neutral Belgium.
A Continent Divided
By this point, the lines had been drawn. The Central Powers of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire faced the Triple Entente, consisting of France, the United Kingdom and Russia. Eventually the Central Powers would strike a deal with the Ottoman Empire. The Italians and the Japanese arrived at agreements with the then so-called “Allies.” US forces joined the Allied powers near the end of the war.
Essentially, World War I came about due to an interlocking web of long-standing rivalries and treaty obligations in Europe and, by proxy, their colonies. While one shot did change the world in mid-1914, the real roots of the conflict had slowly bubbled up to the surface over the course of many years. In many ways, the world would not truly come to terms with these rifts until the end of World War II, which had its own roots in “The Great War.”
History of conflict: What Started World War 1?
We should start off by saying there is no easy answer to this question, a question that gets asked from time to time by people who are trying to figure out how the world could have allowed such destruction and suffering to take place.
The first World War claimed the lives of more than 17 million people, out of which 10 million were soldiers and 9 million civilians who either got caught in the fighting or died as a result of the inhumane practices that were allowed back then.
We could, of course, point out that hostilities began soon after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary, at the hands of Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip who was part of a military group known as the Black Hand. This fuelled the events that soon followed, events that propelled the major European powers towards war.
It is widely said that Franz Ferdinand’s assassination is what started WW1 because it led to a domino effect that caused the six major European powers at the time: Germany, France, Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Italy to enter various forms of conflict with one another.
Exactly 30 days after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Soon afterwards, the Ottoman Empire and Germany signed a secret alliance treaty, which prompted Germany to declare war on France the next day. One day after that, Germany invaded Belgium, which led to Britain declaring war on Germany. On August 10, Austria-Hungary invades Russia and by then, it looked like it would be just a matter of time until the whole of Europe gets drawn into conflict.
Over the next few years, other countries were drawn into the war by various acts of aggression, including the United States, Australia, most European countries, and all the colonies that major European power possessed at the time.
Due to the sheer size of the conflict, a conflict that engulfed a majority of all the countries in the world at the time, it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact causes for it not only to start, but to explain why it lasted as long as it did and why it destroyed so many lives.
The world was undoubtedly changed by the first World War, considering just the fact that more than 37 million lives were destroyed because of it, which allowed the victors to point fingers of fault at the central powers, thus leading to World War II. This type of obtuse, self-centered, and provocative reasoning led to many historians having different views on what exactly caused World War I.
Some say that it began because Germany and Austria-Hungary were to aggressive in pursuing their own geopolitical interests, to the point that they severely underestimated how committed the other European powers were to protecting theirs.
Although not intended as a war of conquest at any given time, the Central powers soon realized that neither France nor Britain would stand down, so they thought that the only way to secure their position would be to gain as much ground as possible before forcing their enemies to agree on the terms of a favorable peace.
This never happened, of course, and soon the whole of Europe was at war, each country fighting to secure their own interests. To some extent, once could argue that Germany and Austria-Hungary opened a Pandora’s Box of War that most historians will agree could have been closed much sooner if the decision-makers of all the parties involved weren’t so focused on gaining geopolitical advantages rather than trying to conduct themselves in a way that would bring an end to the conflict.
With this in mind, it would be quite harmful to point fingers at who might be to blame for World War I or in what exact moment it all started to unfold, yet it has to be said that Germany is a bit more to blame than others for its aggressive policies alone.
It is also believed that it was six people who could theoretically be blamed for starting World War I: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, David Lloyd George the British Chancellor, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Archeduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, Herbert Asquith the British Prime Minister, and Edward Grey, the foreign secretary who was ineffective at making the Germans understand what threatening Belgium’s neutrality would lead to.
All things considered, there are some scholars who claim that World War I started after Archeduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, others believe it started when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, while others believe it actually degenerated into worldwide conflict when Germany invaded Belgium.
This being said, the subject of World War I is too complicated to be summarized in a few words, which makes it very difficult for even the most knowledgeable of historians to pinpoint the exact cause of it all.
Tsar Nicholas II abdicates the throne after a week of riots in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. The Russian Revolution saw the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty and, ultimately, the rise to power of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
The United States declares war on Germany. In his address to Congress four days earlier, U.S. Pres. Woodrow Wilson had cited Germany’s practice of unrestricted submarine warfare and the “Zimmermann Telegram” as key reasons behind the abandonment of his long-standing policy of neutrality.
How Bad Directions (And A Sandwich?) Started World War I
World War I began 100 years ago this summer. It's a centennial that goes beyond mere remembrance the consequences of that conflict are making headlines to this day.
This illustration from an Italian newspaper depicts Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Achille Beltrame/Wikimedia Commons hide caption
To underline that, All Things Considered wanted to turn history on its head and ask historians and listeners alike: What if World War I had never happened? (Submit your answer in the form below.)
If that sounds like an unlikely exercise, compare it to an even more unlikely event — the one that occurred on June 28, 1914, in the city of Sarajevo. It was the spark that ignited a global conflagration, a moment in history that was dramatic, tragic and — in some ways — almost comic.
Christopher Clark is a historian who's spent a lot of time reviewing the events of that day in Sarajevo and what led up to it. He's the author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War.
"It's one of those subjects that — no matter how many times you go through it — it never loses its magnetism," he says.
Clark tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel that despite warnings of a Serbian plot to kill the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the archduke and his wife went on a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. They had minimum security, and their motorcade route through the city had been published.
Partway through the trip, one of the cars was bombed and several people were injured. The tour was supposed to take a new route (but no one told the Czech-speaking drivers, who carried on as before). Clark says the miscommunication took the royal couple right in front of Gavrilo Princip, one of the assassins who was stationed on the original path, but it's a myth that Princip had just stepped out of a general store after buying a sandwich.
"Suddenly the car is in front of him [Princip], and to his astonishment the car stops because someone in the car is telling the driver, 'You idiot, you're not supposed to go down this road. Stop the car and back up,' " Clark says. "And just as the car comes to a halt . he took these two shots."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Correction April 10, 2014
The audio of this story - as did a previous Web version - includes the myth that assassin Gavrilo Princip purchased a sandwich before firing the fatal shots.
Who Started World War I?
A s the Trumpet warns of an impending World War iii, we emphasize that it was Germany that instigated both the previous world wars. Our critics tell us that it is absurd to believe that Germany started the First World War.
So what of it? What is the truth about World War i ? Was it caused by Germany? Or Austria-Hungary? Perhaps the British, knowing they had to contain Germany before Berlin upset the power balance on the Continent? Was it the Russians—after all, didn’t they support the Serbs and mobilize their troops before Germany did? Or was it the assassination of Habsburg’s archduke in Sarajevo that prompted it all—91 years ago last month? Or was it the result of an unintended chain reaction on a continent where every country wanted peace but was tangled in alliances that had to be honored?
Even though so many records concerning events in the summer of 1914 have mysteriously disappeared (more so in Germany than anywhere else), historians over the past half century have been able to piece together evidence that gives us a clear picture of how this war came about.
A German historian in the 1960s, Fritz Fischer, was the first to compile evidence that implicated Germany’s military leaders in the outbreak of Europe’s Great War. His book, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, created such controversy that he released another book several years later to back up his findings: War of Illusions: German Policies from 1911 to 1914.
His conclusions are further substantiated in a modern volume by historian and author David Fromkin: the critically acclaimed book Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?
This book, published last year, argues that avenging the archduke’s assassination was merely a pretext for Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia—and that Austria-Hungary going to war with Serbia was merely another pretext for Germany to go to war with Russia.
Let us briefly examine this history. It is vital for us to understand the track record of a nation that is destined once more to plunge the world into war!
The facts prove that World War i was not somehow an inevitable chain of events. Rather, deliberate moves by certain countries initiated a somewhat planned chain of events. The warning signs were there. Flare-ups in the Balkans and in North Africa—along with an accelerated arms race—should have alerted Europeans to the rising danger. But then again, Europe hadn’t experienced a major war for half a century—and never a war of this magnitude.
Since the creation of the German Empire in the 1870s, Germany had been making attempts at continental domination. It annexed bits of French territory after the Franco-Prussian War. It attempted to rival Britain as a naval power in the early 1900s, and sought colonies in other parts of the world. Unfortunately for Berlin, those parts of the world had already been colonized—so it sought to gain territories by taking them from other European powers. Though no one had Morocco yet, France had been eyeing it for a while. When Germany went after Morocco in 1911, Britain came to France’s aid—and Germany’s alliance with Italy proved no help whatsoever.
Also of no help was Austria-Hungary—which, when it had annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany had supported.
At this time, Germany’s leaders awakened to two facts. One: Its alliance with Austria-Hungary was one-sided. Berlin was prepared to back Vienna, but Vienna, it seemed, wouldn’t necessarily back Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm ii said, “If it comes to a war, we must hope that Austria is attacked so that she needs our help and not that we are attacked so that it would depend on Austria’s decision whether she will remain faithful to the alliance” (James Joll, The Idea of Freedom, 1979).
Germany also awoke to the fact that it was weaker, not stronger, than the other powers. “[T]he chief of the general staff felt that Germany ought to launch a war as soon as possible precisely because the chances of winning it would be less every year. War was necessary, in other words, not to accommodate German strength, but to accommodate German weakness” (Fromkin, op. cit.). To Germany, not liking its position in the European order, the necessity of war was a given—it was just a question of timing.
It is well documented that Germany’s army chief of staff at the time, Helmuth von Moltke, believed a European war was inevitable. Given Germany’s ambitions on the Continent, German policy-makers knew that the only path to take was war. In that sense, it was inevitable. According to the movers and shakers in Germany, the longer Berlin waited to go to war (considering the growth of Russian, British and French forces), the smaller were Germany’s chances of emerging victorious. Not only that, they realized that to improve its chances of success, Germany must somehow get Austria-Hungary onside.
After the Moroccan crisis, Germany began focusing on developing its land armaments. Its arms spending in 1913 was at record levels, but it couldn’t afford such expenditures much longer—unless, of course, it went to war.
But public opinion wasn’t ready for it, and this was important, according to Moltke. The people had to be rallied around the cause. As he said the year before war broke out, “When starting a world war one has to think very carefully” (Imanuel Geiss, July 1914—The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents, 1967 emphasis mine throughout).
According to Fromkin, backing up Fischer’s research, the German kaiser convened a meeting Dec. 8, 1912. “This secret conference was drawn to the world’s attention only a half century later, when the historian Fritz Fischer showed that it could have been evidence of a deliberate plan by the kaiser and his military chiefs to bring about a European war in June 1914” (op. cit.).
The kaiser had called the meeting after hearing from his London ambassador about which side Britain would be on were Germany to attack France. The kaiser, according to one account, left the meeting extremely agitated and “in an openly war-like mood.” He realized that, if Germany went to war, it would have to plan on fighting Britain too.
Additionally, that December, during the Balkan wars, the kaiser stated publicly that Austria “must deal energetically” with Serbia, and “if Russia supports the Serbs, which she evidently does … then war would be unavoidable for us, too” (John Röhl, The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm ii and the Government of Germany, 1994). In other words, the kaiser went on record as pushing Austria to take action against Serbia—even though he knew this would result in Russia and Germany getting involved in a war!
Fromkin wrote how General Moltke said that “‘we ought to do more through the press’ to build up popular support for a war against Russia.” Even though the meeting didn’t seem to produce any concrete decisions, one German official did, in fact, transmit to the chancellor “the kaiser’s order to use the press to prepare the people for a future war with Russia” (op. cit.).
Röhl concludes about this conference, “Ever since Fritz Fischer publicized evidence of the council, historians have wondered whether it could be a coincidence that one and a half years later the war did in fact break out. (Shortly after the council ended, Wilhelm told the Swiss minister that the racial struggle ‘will probably take place in one or two years’)” (op. cit.).
It Wasn’t the Assassination
Just about every schoolchild in the West learns how World War i started with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, by a Bosnian Serb nationalist on June 28, 1914. But when you understand how Europe reacted to the news of the assassination, you see that this is faulty logic—based not just on an over-simplified explanation, but a flat-out erroneous one.
The media throughout Europe recorded little public excitement over the assassination. French papers were more interested in a scandal involving a former prime minister.
Least outraged, amazingly, was the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Emperor Franz Joseph didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with Ferdinand, the heir apparent, and didn’t want the archduke to succeed him on the throne. So, though being no friend of Serbia, the emperor in one sense considered the act a favor.
Even among the Viennese, where one might have expected the biggest outcry, the reaction was largely apathetic.
In and of itself, the assassination would not have provoked retaliation.
Enter Germany. Exploiting Austria-Hungary’s hostility toward Serbia, together with the death of the archduke, Germany encouraged Franz Joseph to take things further.
Kaiser Wilhelm ii , who had been fairly close with Ferdinand (making his actions appear all the more legitimate), gave Austria a blank check—pledging Berlin’s unconditional support for whatever Austria-Hungary’s actions against Serbia would be—even if Russia intervened. By doing so, Germany was essentially spoiling for a fight with Russia.
Had Vienna’s actions against Serbia been caused by the double murder of Ferdinand and Sophie, surely Vienna would have acted either immediately in a hasty retaliation, or much later, after a full investigation could have implicated Serbia as part of the plot. But here is what happened: One month later (at the end of July), Austria, with German backing, gave a list of demands to Serbia—demands so stringent they were practically impossible to accept. The note was composed “so that the possibility of its acceptance is practically excluded”—according to a message sent from Vienna to Berlin (Geiss, op. cit.). (Realize too that Austria had been drafting a plan to crush Serbia two weeks before the killings in Sarajevo.)
Nevertheless, Serbia more or less accepted the list of demands, sending back a marked copy that tweaked the language.
But Austria—under Germany’s influence—wasn’t planning on accepting Serbia’s response no matter what it was.
Enter the British, who tried to come to the rescue as negotiators. When they approached the Germans, Berlin forwarded London’s mediation proposals to Austria-Hungary so it wouldn’t appear to dismiss any option—all the while privately telling Austria-Hungary to ignore London’s offer. German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg said, “If we rejected every attempt at mediation, the whole world would hold us responsible for the conflagration and represent us as the real warmongers. That would also make our position impossible here in Germany, where we have got to appear as though the war had been forced upon us ” (Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, 1967).
On July 28, 1914, through a telegram, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. On July 29, Russia partially mobilized in response a day later, the Russian czar ordered a general mobilization.
Almost immediately, Germany began issuing ultimatums: one to Russia, asserting it was mobilizing against Germany, not just Austria, and ordering it to stop (Germany was hoping and waiting for Russia to mobilize for this very reason) one to France, telling it to stay neutral and another to Belgium, ordering it to stay out of the way if Germany marched into France.
On August 1, Germany seized a railroad station in Luxembourg and—without giving St. Petersburg any time to respond to the ultimatum—declared war on Russia.
So here was Germany fighting Russia, France, Britain, Luxembourg and Belgium—all supposedly in support of Austria, while Germany was not actually fighting Serbia, the only nation Austria was at war with.
So Who Started It?
A clique of generals was plotting, long before 1914, to launch Germany into a position of power on the Continent, and war was the only way this could happen. The time would be right—for a while: Russia was weakened from a war with Japan in 1905 France, Russia’s ally, was also weak Britain was about to erupt in civil war over Ireland. And these generals were able to rally their nation behind their grand designs.
The war was not caused, as some have described, by the system of alliances that came about before 1914. Italy—tied to Germany and Austria—remained neutral until it eventually joined the Allies. Britain, which had no alliance whatsoever with France or Russia, came to their aid.
But the key to figuring out who started it lies in the understanding that there were in fact two wars being waged—not one: Austria’s war against Serbia, and Germany’s war against Russia. The start of aggressions hinged on one possibility: If Germany could encourage Austria to declare war on Serbia and get Russia to mobilize, then Germany could declare war on Russia.
The German strategy was to get Austria involved in a war and then try to convince Vienna to change its enemy—to drop the Serbian campaign and go after the Russian Army—that is, to support the real German cause. One war did not grow into the other. Rather, one was an excuse to start the other!
The Great War of 1914 was not an inevitable chain of events that no one could have foreseen. It wasn’t dumped into the laps of leaders who only wanted peace. “A question asked throughout the 20th century … why, since ‘war had been avoided in the immediately preceding crises—1908, 1911, 1913’—was it ‘not avoided in 1914?’ One answer is that in the previous crises none of the Great Powers had wanted to have a war. In 1914, two of them did. And one reason that Germany did not want to go to war in those previous crises was that it could not count on Austria—and Germany’s generals were convinced that without Austrian troops holding back the Russians during the opening weeks of the war, they might not win” (Fromkin, op. cit.).
It is not paranoia and conspiracy theories that motivate the Trumpet to keep reminding the world of Germany’s responsibility in both world wars. Herein lies the real basis of our concern: The Bible reveals that another empire will rise out of Europe, with Assyria—modern-day Germany—at the helm, and with the guidance of a dominant religion: that is, a final revival of the Holy Roman Empire.
This war will not be within Europe. The world is much smaller these days, thanks to modern technology. Germany—unlike the nation of the early 20th century—has sought to rally Europe into becoming one dynamic power. Under the banner of a united Europe, Berlin already has a great deal of power on the Continent—something we will see increase dramatically. Soon, as a united continent—under one faith, led by a new pope—Europe will set its sights on world domination, which it will attain for a short time.
Within that period, it will wreak unspeakable havoc on the world—including conquering the American and British peoples. So says your Bible.
Far from us “bashing” the Germans, it is God who says that—for a season—they are His instrument to correct the English-speaking peoples (Isaiah 10:5). God says that this is a “bitter and hasty nation” (Habakkuk 1:6). History—and the previous world wars are just two examples—demonstrates how Germany fits this description.
When you understand all this, it becomes impossible to view Germany’s and Europe’s present conditions without grave concern.