DAVID BERLINSKI, PARIS
The historical literature about the First World War is vast and profoundly unsatisfying. Historians understand very well how the war came about, but they cannot fully fathom why. There is a moral, however, pertinent to contemporary events. Things can go badly very quickly, and when they do, they can go very badly.
… And a strange light began immediately, but by perceptible gradations, to fall and grow upon the map of Europe.
The Orient Express left Paris from the Gare de l’Est just after 18:30 every Tuesday evening, and it arrived in Vienna shortly before midnight of the next day. The train’s sixteen elegant wagon lits were pulled by a powerful steam-powered locomotive, its mushroomed stack puffing powdery gray smoke into the parabolic sky. The Great Powers were at peace. An attitude of optimism, if not general in the nineteenth century, was, at least, widespread. The French revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and the Congress of Vienna, with its gathering of spidery clerical conservatives, had receded into the past. Writing in 1830, Thomas Macaulay had looked to the future and found it good.See “The Best of Times,” Human Nature.
In 1850, the French engineer Eugène Belgrand had undertaken the modernization of the French sewer system, bringing those dark infernal tunnels to standards common in the Roman Empire. Horse-drawn wagons set off for Paris from the countryside early each morning carrying peas, carrots, beets, turnips, great slabs of beef, fish, squawking poultry, all drawn centrifugally toward the city’s center at Les Halles.See Emile Zola, Le Ventre de Paris, for a fine description of those rumbling wagons. The sewers reversed their flow, establishing the great equilibrium of civilization.
On her first voyage in 1854, the extreme clipper, Red Jacket, crossed the Atlantic in thirteen days. The steam engine had made train travel possible early in the century; and by the end of the century, the internal combustion engine had made possible the automobile. Electricity acquired widespread use. In 1882, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company lit up lower Manhattan, and interiors and streets both acquired a harsh radiance as gas lighting gave way. The Second International Congress of Mathematicians was held in Paris in 1900. Three years before, the mathematicians had met in Zurich and they had been well satisfied by Swiss efficiency, if not by German food. July had been warm in Paris. Temperatures had reached thirty-five degrees. The Seine was filled with swimmers paddling through the raw sewage with gusto, their ears sealed beneath rubber caps. Attendance at the Congress was desultory. Charlotte Scott wore her biscuity brown hair pinned back in a bun. An Englishwoman by birth, Scott had scored very well on the Cambridge Tripos examination, but she was denied her award as eighth wrangler because university officials, while appreciating her ability, could not abide her gender. Now she was in Paris to report on events. A Monsieur Poincaré, she reported, was elected President of the Congress, and a Monsieur Hermite, the président d’honneur, a position that he was unable to enjoy in person because honor demanded that he perform his functions in absentia. Having described the opening session of the Congress, which was held in the great Exhibition Hall, Charlotte Scott proceeded to discuss the separate sections, all of them held in the somnolent Sorbonne. Speaking in German, David Hilbert had offered mathematicians a list of ten open problems, referring members of his audience to his full list of twenty-three problems, which he had published elsewhere. Hilbert, Scott observed, seemed much concerned with the axiomatic foundations of mathematics, asking in particular for an account of the natural numbers. An “objection was taken to M. Hilbert’s remarks … by M. Peano,” a hoarse, rasping bulldog of a man, who claimed that such a system had already been established. No wonder. He had established it. David Hilbert was followed to the podium by Rikitarō Fujisawa, the official delegate from Japan, who gave “a very interesting account of the mathematics of the older Japanese school.” Some five years later, Albert Einstein laid the foundations of quantum mechanics and special relativity. By the time the Orient Express crossed the French frontier at Strasbourg, the sun had vacated the European continent and passengers, seated in chairs covered by buttery Russian leather, could see the snowfields of the northern Alps reflected in the sky, pink and pastel, gashed by gold.
The 19th century came to its end on August, 1914, and with it, the ascending trajectory of European civilization.The sense that the war would have a cleansing effect, rather like a brisk cold shower taken after exercise, was common. It is a sense that Arthur Conan Doyle assigned to Holmes in “His Last Vow.” … Continue reading “The war was an unprecedented disgrace to the human intellect,” R.G. Collingwood remarked in his autobiography, but whatever the disgrace, the war was a disaster for the civilization that made it possible.R.G. Collingwood, Autobiography (OUP, 1939). The European political order that had since 1815 and the Congress of Vienna seemed stable and robust was as events revealed neither stable nor robust. European powers had in the 19th century gone to war in the Crimea, Sardinia, Denmark, Austria, France, and in the Caucasus, and they had confronted, or contained, revolutions in 1830, 1848, 1871, and in 1905, but, as blood dries quickly, they had learned little from their mistakes, and the Balance of Power, in which so many of their suave diplomats had vested their faith, had served only to persuade European statesmen that their complicated and shifting system of alliances, no matter how many times they had failed to preserve the peace, would in the future prevent them from being again at war.See A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848-1914, passim, op. cit.
Unwilling to appear vacillating before von Moltke’s stern stupid gaze, Bethmann Hollweg gave his assent to Austrian action without asking overmuch what form it might take. Hoyos left Berlin with what he had come to fetch …
For more than a century, historians have endeavored to discover the causes of the First World War.With the publication of Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918 (Düsseldorf, 1961), the German historian Fritz Fischer affirmed, or admitted, that … Continue reading No event in world history has been studied with more effort and less effect. The cause of the war was, after all, there in plain sight: the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Their murder was as much an accident as an act of fate, the Archduke and his wife losing both their way and their lives owing to the incompetence of their chauffeur. Bad luck. Their assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was an ardent Serbian nationalist, tubercular, dull, dim-witted, determined, and short.Princip had determined to assassinate Franz Ferdinand when he did for no better reason, apparently, than the fact that the Archduke had chosen June 28 to visit Sarajevo. It was on June 28, 1389, that … Continue reading That the First World War was a tragedy, no one doubts, but that it was caused by a nineteen-year-old nincompoop, no one can abide. It is too much. What is intolerable has for this reason often been begrudged. The assassination was not necessary, so one argument runs, since other causes were sufficient, and it was not sufficient, so runs a second argument, since other causes were necessary.That the war might have been caused by some other event is true enough, if by the war is meant some other war. But if some other event caused the war as it was, then its cause must have been the … Continue reading If it was neither necessary nor sufficient, how could the assassination have been the cause of the First World War?That the war could have been caused by the cause that it had only if conditions were as they were implies that the war could not have been caused by the cause that it had if conditions were not as … Continue reading
A cause is one thing. There it is. It is the cause. What of the historical conditions, circumstances and forces that made it possible, history’s hidden hand?The real cause of an event, Mill argued, is the “whole of its necessary antecedents; and we have, philosophically speaking, no right to give the name of cause to one of them exclusively of the … Continue reading In a bleak little book devoted to the moral history of the 20th century, Jonathan Glover abbreviates an account that historians have already amplified.Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century (Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 177–199. Within the English-speaking world, it has been Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August … Continue reading European statesmen, and especially their foreign ministers, were crushed by a sense of their own impotence.“Well tell me, at least,” Prince von Bülow asked of Bethmann Hollweg, “how it all happened.” Bethmann Hollweg raised his arms. “If only I knew,” he said. Prince von Bülow, Memoirs, … Continue reading Their intentions were ambiguously expressed.Most notably by Sir Edward Gray, who on the first, third, and fourth of August occupied three inconsistent diplomatic positions with apparent indifference. On this point, see McMeekin, op. cit, p. … Continue reading Mobilization, once it had begun in Germany and Russia, could not be easily reversed. The German railway schedule was inflexible.A point emphatically denied by Tuchman, op. cit, p. 80. Tuchman cites General von Staab, chief of the German railway division, but does not specify a source. She was, perhaps, referring to H. von … Continue reading An arms race prevailed between Great Britain and Imperial Germany.For the connection between competitive armaments and the outbreak of war, see Michael D. Intriligator & Dagobert L. Brito, “Can Arms Races Lead to the Outbreak of War?” The Journal of … Continue reading And thereafter Glover’s list becomes progressively more general until it includes nationalism, social Darwinism,To draw the connection between Darwin’s thought and Nazi ideology is widely considered a profanation. Glover draws it. Good for him. He also indicts Nietzsche by quoting him, and thereafter … Continue reading national honor, and something so simple as a stubborn unwillingness on the part of Europe’s leaders to recognize that they were marching toward disaster. This is misleading. The diplomatic record indicates that every foreign office was aware of the threat of a general European conflict: What none quite realized was its likely magnitude, another matter … Continue reading
The Austro-Hungarian government considered the assassination of Franz Ferdinand an insult to its honor and a threat to its security: It was both. General Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austrian chief of staff, had for years thought to end every Balkan crisis by demanding that it be resolved by war. In July of 1914, he remained faithful to himself.When the war came, Conrad discovered the very considerable difference between calling for and using arms. Conrad’s memoirs, Aus Meiner Dienstzeit, published in four volumes by Rikola-Verlag, … Continue reading Determined to make war, but incapable of making it alone, Conrad endeavored to elicit the support, or encourage the acquiescence, of Count Leopold von Berchtold, the Austrian foreign minister. He need not have exerted himself. The door that he thought to push was open.Berchtold’s reputation for diffidence was unfair. In May of 1913, the Austrian foreign office, under his instructions, issued an ultimatum to Montenegro, demanding the withdrawal of Montenegrin … Continue reading Berchtold had often been thought weak by the Austrian military. Now he was seized by a sense of resoluteness. He came to life; he commenced to breathe fire.Historians once content to blame Imperial Germany for the outbreak of war have recently turned their attention gratefully to Austria. See Richard J. W. Evans, “The Habsburg Monarchy and the Coming … Continue reading
The men who made the First World War, or who allowed it to be made, were curiously modern in their outlook, their temperament, their education, and their training. They were mediocrities.
Under the very best of circumstances, the Austro-Hungarian Empire could propel itself forward by doing what it always did; it required an effort to act with dispatch, and to act with celerity was beyond its powers.Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faulen Leute, runs an old German proverb. Among Germans, the proverb is considered an admonition; among Austrians, an encouragement. Conrad and Berchtold were persuaded that war was necessary. Having secured one another’s assent with gratifying ease, they required in addition the assent of Count István Tisza, the prime minister of Hungary.Tisza was assassinated on the 4th of November, 1918, by Hungarian leftists who held him responsible for the outbreak of war. Tisza had few illusions about peace, but many reservations about war. At the very least, Tisza believed, it would be necessary to enlist the monarchy’s friends before engaging her enemies. Serbia did not stand naked in the international arena. Russia had since 1909 extended the shield of stolid Slavic solidarity to those whom its foreign office regarded as their little brothers. Suspicion was current in Austria that the Russian minister in Serbia, Nikolai Hartwig, had had a hand in inflaming the passions of men who needed very little encouragement to become as violent as they were already vicious.Men such as Voja Tankosic, one of the founding members of the Black Hand, or Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known generally as Apsis (the bull), the head of Serbian military intelligence and the leader of … Continue reading Hartwig died of a sudden heart attack four days after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, circumstance that the Serbians assigned publically to Austrian perfidy and the Austrians privately to God’s mercy. France had determined that it would be far better that Germany and Russia should fight one another than that France should fight either; it sought to make solid an alliance that for separate reasons each party found as useful as it was unnatural.The Franco-Russian alliance dated to 1891. It was the military convention between France and Russia of August 1892 from which the French took comfort. “If France is attacked by Germany,” its … Continue reading France was, moreover, Serbia’s international creditor, and so scrupled at compromising a state eager to borrow money and willing to repay it.It did them little good. Serbia defaulted on its French loans in 1918. France was in no position to argue and Serbia in no condition to pay. The French held no grudges and continued to support Serbia … Continue reading Although nominally a member of the Triple Alliance, Italy prompted in Austria the same sense of suspicious distaste that Austria prompted in Italy. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy had in the summer of 1914 a friend in imperial Germany. It was imperative to appeal tenderly to the sense of Brüderschaft that bound Austria to Germany by language, custom and treaty.Austria and Germany had signed a joint memorandum on September 24, 1879, and a treaty on October 7. The treaty was conceived as an alliance of “peace and mutual defense.” Volume I (Pribram, … Continue reading
Well before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, officials commanding Austria’s foreign affairs understood that the Balkans represented a threat to the monarchy’s stability. Regional and national identities were often at odds. The Serbians felt themselves Serbian and wondered why so many notional Serbians should be national Bosnians. For the whole of the 19th and early 20th century, no map of the Balkans appeared fundamentally stable. The receding and advancing tides of Ottoman, Austrian, and Russian influence, although always in motion were never in phase, and at moments of turbulence, they threatened to involve the great powers in a conflict that not one of them could justify and few of them could grasp. During the spring of 1914, Austrian officials entertained the hope, if not the prospect, of subordinating the Balkans to the domination of an empire that itself had no identity beyond its own existence. Berchtold asked his foreign office for an informed appraisal; he had in mind a new Austrian foreign policy, one full of mastery. On June 24, Berchtold approved the memorandum that he had himself commissioned.McMeekan assigns to Tisza the inspiration for the memorandum. McMeekan, op. cit. p. 95. There is no evidence that this is so. Clark refers to the Matscheko memorandum as a paranoid document, one … Continue reading Named after its author, Franz von Matscheko, the memorandum was designed to allow Austrian diplomacy the scope to deal with Austria’s problems in the Balkans; but its ostensible focus was Romania, and not Serbia, evidence that the Austrian foreign ministry was prepared to discount a danger in plain sight in favor of an alliance with a state that, then as now, had nothing to offer its allies beyond its wheat and nothing to frighten its adversaries beyond its space.See Ludwig Bittner and Hans Übersberger, editors, Österreich-Ungarns Aussenpolitik von der bosnischen Krise 1908 bis zum Kriegsausbruch 1914, 8 vols., Vienna 1930, Volume 8, Nr. 9918, 24, June … Continue reading In June of 1914, Romania seemed interested neither in the Triple Alliance nor in the Entente. It was content to loom large in the thinking of both without weighing directly in the calculations of either. Although it shared no border with either Austria or Hungary, Bulgaria appealed to the Austrian foreign office, if only because a case could be made for its strategic importance as a buffer absorbing and so dispersing the downward pressure of the Russian empire. Having been humiliated by Serbia in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria, it seemed reasonable to Austrian diplomats to suppose, was ripe enough to pick, if not to pluck, and in 1915, after a year spent in frustrating neutrality, it did fall overripe into the Triple Alliance. The Matscheko memorandum occupied itself in soliciting if not the alliance then, at least, the neutrality of a state having every reason to endorse, and no need to deny, its solidarity of interests with the Austro-Hungarian empire.
With the exception of its large and almost perfect irrelevance to current events, the Matscheko memorandum seemed providential to Berchtold; it had the great merit of having been written, circumstances of greater weight in diplomatic affairs than commonly supposed. To the original document, Berchtold added a postscript, one in which he addressed the Serbian threat that the memorandum had either discounted or dismissed. This he withheld from Tisza on the grounds that if Tisza approved of his postscript, its disclosure would be unnecessary, and if not, unwise. He persuaded Franz Joseph I to compose a handgeschriebene letter to Wilhelm II, remarking on what both men must have known in their bones: An attack on one monarch was an attack on them all. To this, Berchtold added his own Denkschrift, closing with a melodramatic assurance that the Austrian eagle was determined to tear the net in which it was being enveloped. This image, since it called on a bird to raise a claw above its head, was, perhaps, not inspired in conception. Count Alexander Hoyos of the Ballhausplatz, Austria’s foreign office, was dispatched to Berlin. He departed on the fifth of July, 1914.
Hoyos was charged with conveying the revised Matscheko memorandum to the German Foreign Office. He quite understood that his real task was to assure German officials that their suspicions of habitual Austrian Schlamperei notwithstanding, this time the Austrians meant what they said when they said they meant business. The Austrian ambassador in Berlin, Count Ladislaus Szögyéni, secured an audience with the Kaiser, who read Berchtold’s memorandum and Franz Joseph’s note over lunch, and to Szögyéni’s surprise, remained both measured and calm, signs, court intimates knew, indicating that shortly he would be neither. In the early afternoon, the Kaiser offered to Szögyéni the sense of encouraging indignation that so conspicuously he had withheld at lunch.
For all their differences, there trickled a stream of shy life between German and Austrian diplomatic and military figures. Like Berchtold, Bethmann Hollweg, the German chancellor, was widely thought lacking in martial ardor. The German military had seen no action in Europe in more than thirty years, a deficiency it was eager to make good, if not by winning a war then by waging one. It was a policy that the German chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke, had reason to revise, or to regret, on marching the German military into defeat at the Battle of the Marne. Unwilling to appear vacillating before von Moltke’s stern stupid gaze, Bethmann Hollweg gave his assent to Austrian action without asking overmuch what form it might take. Hoyos left Berlin with what he had come to fetch, and that was a blank check.See Szögyéni to Berchtold, Österreich-Ungarns Außenpolitik, op. cit., Volume 8, Document 10076, p. 320.
This seems more forthcoming than really it was. The amount of the check could be filled in at will, but not the date. German thinking was obvious. A sharp sudden Austrian blow might well catch Serbia’s allies unprepared to take action, and if delivered smartly enough, unwilling to take revenge. There would be a peace conference. Things would sort themselves out. But a delay would allow Russia to recall that having concluded an alliance with France, she had previously concluded an agreement with Great Britain, and was thus in the attractive position of being able to recall one lover while being fondled by another.See G.P. Gooch and Harold Temperley, editors, British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898–1914, 11 vols. (H.M. Stationery Office, 1926), ff. These agreements were not treaties and concerned … Continue reading
Hoyos returned to Vienna on the 6th of July. A fog now settled over the city. The Germans had asked for quick action, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire was by nature slothful and by habit dilatory. Recognizing his power to impede war while doing nothing to promote peace, Tisza suggested to Conrad and Berchtold that before it be confronted with a military strike, Serbia be presented with a diplomatic ultimatum, one that should it be accepted would avert the need for military action and should it be rejected would justify it. Sensing the demand was dubious, neither Conrad nor Berchtold could determine how it should be denied. They thought to satisfy Tisza by preparing an ultimatum designed to be rejected, an exercise in low cunning obvious enough to be regretted by Austria’s sympathizers and resented by her enemies.
Two weeks were occupied in the preparation of this squalid document. Although written by a reputed stylist, Baron Alexander von Musulin, the document that emerged was clumsy in its language and pointless in its effect, conveying not cool resolution but injured pride. Having scrupled over their ultimatum, Austrian officials neglected the fundamental caution of keeping what they were doing to themselves. They could see the need for secrecy, but while they could see the need, they could not satisfy the demand.
Apprised of events taking place in Vienna, British officials, vexed as they were by the issue of Home Rule, were indifferent to their implications, failing either to grasp Austria’s intentions or discounting them entirely; but Russian officials were determined to prevent an Austrian ultimatum from being delivered to Serbia, and to act on Serbia’s behalf should it be delivered and then rejected. Russian foreign policy was hardly a model of steadfast lucidity. Sergei Sazonov, Russia’s foreign minister, had acquired influence as Pyotr Stolypin’s brother-in-law, and in his access to power, he had been pushed from below as well as being pulled from above.The concepts of push and the correlative doctrine of pull explain an astonishing amount about 19th century diplomatic promotions. Maurice Paléologue, the excitable, ostentatious, unreliable, and … Continue reading If his supporters were unable and his detractors unwilling to admire his previous accomplishments, this was because he had few they could note and none they could admire. To some members of the Imperial Duma, he seemed preferable to his predecessor, Alexander Izvolsky, and to others worse. Izvolsky had achieved an understanding with Great Britain, but he failed to appreciate, or adroitly oppose, Austria’s annexation of Bosnia. His political opponents had regarded Austria’s Bosnian démarche as a provocation and were able to use a diplomatic provocation as a political pretext.
If Germany acted without hesitation, and apparently without reflection, this was owing to the morbid, indeed, the fatal, disjunction between the imbecility of its strategic appreciation and the sophistication of its tactical deployments.
Sazonov was energetic and dapper, but he was sometimes erratic and often a blabbermouth, and while as a professional diplomat he understood very well the ropes in play in the international arena, all too frequently he pulled on them all at once, and if he did not do so in fact, he gave the impression that he was doing so anyway.Thirteen years after the outbreak of the First World War, Sazonov published his memoirs in Paris, Les années fatales (Payot, 1927). They express the sentiment expressed by all memoirs about the … Continue reading Historians have remarked that Sazonov did much to provoke, while doing much to prevent, the outbreak of war. Both judgments are correct. Informed of the Austria ultimatum, now emerging in stages from various anxious or eager Austrian pens, Sazonov subjected Austria’s ambassador, Szápáry, to a peevish and hectoring interview in which he warned of war, alluded ominously to Russia’s steadfastness in support of Serbia, and suggested incoherently that by withdrawing its ultimatum, Austria might yet achieve all of its diplomatic goals without ever employing any of its diplomatic means. The interview served no obvious purpose beyond persuading Szápáry of Sazonov’s emotional lability.
At the moment of its crisis, the European balance of power reposed in the hands of diplomats whose skill might have sufficed in peace, and would prove entirely irrelevant in war, but were demonstrably inadequate during the interregnum between peace and war in July of 1914. The men who made the First World War, or who allowed it to be made, were curiously modern in their outlook, their temperament, their education, and their training. They were mediocrities.Hannah Arendt’s celebrated phrase, the banality of evil, might better be applied to the foreign ministers of the Great Powers in 1914 than the fanatical and demented bureaucrats of the Third Reich. Gray had read classics at Oxford, but unlike Asquith, who had at least obtained a classical scholarship to Balliol, Gray was able, given the demand to translate from the Greek and Latin on sight, to progress no further than a few spastic barks. He wisely concluded his education in another field of study.Jurisprudence, as it happens, a discipline in which he achieved a Third on his examinations. Berchtold had determined to be resolute well before resolution was required, and if his policies led to the destruction of the empire that he was charged with defending, he would remain, he remarked to an acquaintance, an aristocrat after he ceased to be an Austrian.Interesting evidence, as if any were needed, that Berchtold failed to grasp the enormity of the catastrophe in which he had played so conspicuous a role, for while he contemplated remaining an … Continue reading Bethmann Hollweg was by nature gloomy and saturnine, and during the spring and summer of 1914, he was apprehensive about his wife’s health and then saddened by her death. Having the Tsar’s ear and thereafter his confidence, Sazonov was in his element, but he had set himself the difficult task of advancing Russia’s interests in the Balkans while at the same time assuaging Austro-Hungarian anxieties about the Balkans. A more adroit diplomat might have achieved both aims and a more forthright diplomat just one of them. Sazonov was able to achieve neither.
Berchtold and Bethmann Hollweg were men, like Gray, trained in, or exposed to, the subjects of law and political administration. They were ignorant of 19th century science; they had no strong religious commitments; and beyond representing their country’s interests, they had no other interests, and so no other commitments, to which they were dedicated. Like Izvolsky, Sazonov was a graduate of the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, an institution similar to the French École Polytechnique in its attitudes and ideals, and like the École, the Lyceum afforded its graduates the entirely unjustified sense that by having spent three years in its classrooms, directly they would be able to master events beyond its halls. Poincaré entered French political life as a hard shrewd bombastic provincial attorney and economist, a master of a peculiarly French oratorical style, at once empty and fustian; but alone among his peers, Poincaré could boast of propinquity to genius, since his cousin was Henri Poincaré. Had the cousins reversed their roles, French political life might well have been improved. The foreign ministers of the great powers were in July of 1914 not so much helpless as unimaginative. They could, and sometimes they did, appreciate that they were running risks, but not one of them, until it was far too late, had the power to appreciate the magnitude of the risks that they were running.
Throughout the July crisis, Britain appeared to the other great powers as a ship in the fog. They could see that she was there. They could not determine where she was going. Secure in the thought that in the event of war with Germany, it would have a Russian ally and a British friend, France was belligerent, an attitude that allowed its military leaders, who had not by themselves prevailed in conflict since the Napoleonic era, to abandon all measures to defend France by advancing various schemes to attack Germany.Thus Plan XVII, which in the event of war called for a direct attack on Germany through the Ardennes. Employed in the first weeks of the war, the Plan failed ignominiously at the Battle of the … Continue reading Russia was throughout vainglorious; Austria, insecure; and Germany by turns bombastic, concerned, morose, and fatalistic.
Not one of the great powers was shrewd, and none understood its own interests well enough to defend them.
The Austrian ultimatum was delivered to Serbian officials late on the 23rd of July, almost a month after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. European diplomats had resigned themselves to his loss; the European public had not noticed his absence. Flustered Serbian officials were unwilling to accept the Austrian ultimatum in person and unable to read it in German. It is a pity that they did not try harder and try harder at once. Austria was asking little enough of Serbia, so little that one wonders, in fact, why they bothered asking anything at all.The Austrian ultimatum in both the original German and an English translation is available at The World War I Document Archive, op. cit. The ultimatum made no demands that the Serbian government could not evade with ease or ignore with impunity.The ultimatum was written in German, with no ancillary Serbian translation, circumstances that are odd considering that the Austro-Hungarian monarchy encompassed twelve official languages, Serbian … Continue reading A show of Serbian compliance would have left Austrian officials fuming in frustration. There is some evidence that a few members of the government of Prime Minister Nikola Păsić thought originally to accept the Austrian ultimatum without demurral, until Sazonov, in a careless but characteristic gesture of irresponsibility, encouraged them peevishly to scruple at one or two Austrian demands.The fifth and the sixth, which seemed to compromise Serbian sovereignty by demanding foreign representatives, Austrians, in fact, on any Serbian committee charged with investigating the … Continue reading
Păsić delayed acceding to Austria’s ultimatum as he searched for a way he might delay acceding to anything at all. He had not survived unwounded in the jungle of Serbian politics by acting vigorously. In moments of crisis, he preferred to scuttle. The response the Serbians finally offered the Austrians on the 25th of July was as incompetent as the ultimatum that the Austrians had presented the Serbians, an exercise in cunning precisely as low at the original. Having agreed to eight of the ten Austrian demands, Serbian officials hoped that Austria would overlook the other two and regard its note as a gesture of compliance. On noting that the Serbians had rejected two of its demands, the Austrians discounted the other eight and regarded the Serbian note as a gesture of defiance. Each side got not what it wished, but what it deserved.
Russia had during the same week begun what it called partial mobilization, a charade designed to persuade the Germans that despite the fact that the Russian state was sopping wet, it was unacquainted with water. No one was fooled, least of all the Germans. The Russian military, as short sighted as it was overconfident, began to preen itself in the glow of its imagined victories. On the 23rd of July, Poincaré, the president of the French Republic, and his foreign minister, René Viviani, had found themselves in St. Petersburg on a state visit, one lasting until the 26th of July. They were thus in St. Petersburg as Austria and Serbia handed matches to each other under circumstances that made it likely that one of them would be lit. The exchange between French and Russian officials was obviously of importance, but there is little in the documentary record of either state that affords the historian a sure sense of what took place when private meetings were held. Poincaré offered the Russians little by way of public substance, but after every one of his speeches, he was gratified to imagine, their souls had felt him like the thunder’s roll. In reviewing his ally’s troops, he was pleased to think there were so many of them. Viviani was out of sorts during what was in every respect a state visit, and he discharged some obligations while appearing ill and avoided others by appearing green. He seems, in fact, to have suffered a nervous breakdown and was seen muttering incomprehensibly to himself. A strange omen. A martial and a festive air prevailed throughout. A twittering group of beautiful young women in the Tsar’s entourage were overheard urging war on young French officers eager for their favor and prepared to pay for it in flattery. The beautiful young women were destined within just a few years to die violently or disappear into exile. Although nominally an autocratic state, the Tsar found himself unable to resist the swell of military enthusiasm, and alternately hectored or cajoled by his advisors, agreed to actions that he could not control.Not one of the Great Powers was in any significant sense a complete or even a thoroughgoing autocracy, and neither in Russia, Germany, nor in Austria did decisions flow down from a monarch to his … Continue reading
To attack France through Belgium would be to invite war with Britain. In order, thus, to avoid fighting against two enemies at once, German military planners anticipated a war in which they would be obliged to fight against three. This consideration was understood; it was recognized; and it was ignored.
It was not in Vienna but in Berlin that a window briefly opened and was as quickly shut. Kaiser Wilhelm II was known to his critics, and appreciated at his court, as a statesmen who under ordinary circumstances tended to be bombastic to the point of moral witlessness. Serbian officials had managed to answer the Austrian ultimatum within the forty eight hours given them as a deadline, and so required one seventh the time to express their regret at the assassination of Franz Ferdinand as the Austrians had required to express their indignation. They devoted to their reply the same frantic care that an undergraduate might employ in preparing a term paper hours before it is due. Passages were crossed out, rewritten, or written over. On reading the Serbian reply to Austria, the German Kaiser was not only moderate but perceptive, seeing at once that if properly understood, it removed the causes of war by offering Austria what it most required, and that was a salve to its honor. Of all the political sentiments, a sense of injured dignity is the most difficult to assuage, and Germany was faced with a diplomatic imbroglio requiring great skill if they were to persuade the Austrians to allow their dignity to be soothed by appearances instead of being jeopardized by force. German statesmen, the Kaiser included, briefly contemplated the absurdity of defending a cause in Austria that the Serbians had apparently ceded, but no one in the German Foreign Office had the nerve or the resoluteness to force the Austrians to back away from a conflict that the Germans had themselves carelessly encouraged. Until the very moment that Austria declared war on Serbia, Bethmann Hollweg had conveyed to the Kaiser the impression that the crisis he had done so much to inflame, he could manage to deflame, an undertaking violating both the laws of politics and physics, but his idea of fire control had all along been to encourage the Austrians in their convictions while suggesting to the Kaiser that he was discouraging them in their resolutions.
Austria declared war on Serbia on the 28th of July, 1914. It was a declaration that conveyed menace but did not express force. The Austrian army, Conrad explained patiently to his colleagues, would require a further two weeks to gather itself, and could not take the field before the 12th of August. Why during the previous four weeks it had not prepared itself at all, his colleagues did not ask, and Conrad did not say. Austria’s declaration of war allowed Serbia to conduct its own mobilization in almost perfect tranquility, and when later in August, Austrian troops invaded Serbia, they were shocked that Serbian troops were well-entrenched and willing to defend what Austrian officials considered a terrorist state and Serbian officials a site of national redemption.
With the Austrian declaration of war, the Kaiser was at last disabused. Germany faced an unenviable choice between dishonor and war. Whether the war would be one waged among Russian, Germany and Austria or would be one engaging all of the great powers was a matter in German hands.
The decisive moment had arrived.
THE SCHLIEFFEN PLAN
If Germany acted without hesitation, and apparently without reflection, this was owing to the morbid, indeed, the fatal, disjunction between the imbecility of its strategic appreciation and the sophistication of its tactical deployments. In looking at the map of Europe, some German politicians and all of its military leaders had concluded with alarm that Germany was surrounded, an observation that, since Germany’s position as a central European state was undeniable, was both trivially true and strategically irrelevant. In order to avoid a war on two fronts, German military planners, under the direction of Alfred von Schlieffen, had determined to overcome their enemies by attacking them one after the other. To strike at Russia, Germany would first attack France. The Schlieffen plan accumulated weight in the years from 1891 to 1914: It became entrenched in German military thinking. And it contained a dreadful flaw. To strike at France, the German military would need first to violate Belgian neutrality. The state of Prussia had in 1839 been among the European powers guaranteeing Belgium neutrality, an obligation that the German empire, since it had absorbed the Prussian state, had acquired and then accepted. Whatever the military advantages of a flanking attack on the French army, they were outweighed by its liabilities. To attack France through Belgium would be to invite war with Britain. In order, thus, to avoid fighting against two enemies at once, German military planners anticipated a war in which they would be obliged to fight against three. This consideration was understood; it was recognized; and it was ignored.
What makes analysis so frustrating is the multiplication of counterfactual conditions. The steps are there in plain sight: The assassination in Sarajevo, the Austrian ultimatum, the blank check, the decision to violate Belgium neutrality, but while these steps collectively give the impression of causal sufficiency—they did the job, after all—they fail to give the impression of causal necessity.
On the 30th of July, the Tsar, torn between a prudent sense that he was inviting disaster and a morbid unwillingness to appear weak before his advisors, issued and then cancelled and then reissued an order for general mobilization. The nerves of the sluggish Russian military bureaucracy began to respond. The great beast came to sullen life. Showing every indication that they did not quite know what they were doing, or why they were doing it, German officials demanded that the Russian mobilization be reversed by issuing an ultimatum as likely to be effective as the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. The ultimatum was a diplomatic protocol favored by every party to the great war and used to good effect by none. Full of the bounce of misplaced self-confidence, France ordered its own forces to a general mobilization on the 1st of August, 1914. It had invested all of its prestige and some of its confidence in the Russian Behemoth, now gathering force and snorting dramatically behind the screen of the Russian border. The thought that under the circumstances doing nothing might be preferable to doing anything did not occur to any French diplomat. Germany, its ultimatum to Russia having been ignored or otherwise rejected, followed on the same day. Men in the German Foreign Office who a week earlier were concerned but not yet alarmed by events now undertook that odd maneuver that was to become common to all diplomatic services: They gave up any very detailed appreciation of rational decision by appealing to the impression that the die had somehow been cast. There is no evidence whatsoever in the diplomatic record that the Germans had wished for this day, but if the day was not wished for, the Germans were nevertheless prepared to seize it, and so German policy found itself best expressed by two Latin maxims: alea iacta est and carpe diem, the first an observation, the second, an injunction. On the 1st of August, Germany declared war on Russia. German statesmen, liberated from the constraints of rational policy and free thus to dream, saw Europe at their feet, and if not at their feet, then under their heel. The European state system began to smolder ominously.
By August of 1914, Europe was either in flames, or about to be so.
A LIFE OF ITS OWN
The political and military leaders of both the Alliance and the Entente proved themselves largely incapable of conducting the war that they had done little to avoid and much to provoke. Nine million combatants, and, at least, six million civilians, died in the First World War.In his very first page, Clark, op. cit., cites a figure of twenty million deaths, some five million deaths more than the figure offered by most other historians. He offers no sources; but then again, … Continue reading States that had in the 19th century prided themselves on their statistical sophistication found themselves unable accurately to count their dead, a pattern that was to continue as the century advanced.
The First World War ended in an armistice, one signed on November 11th, 1918. While the Allied powers were convinced that they had won the war, the Central powers were not persuaded that they had lost it. They were relieved of their illusions at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The consequences of the First World War were ramified throughout Europe and the world. Four world empires had advanced into battle during the beginning of the war and withdrawn into oblivion at its end.The Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires. Within two decades, the British Empire would follow them. If the Central powers failed properly to calculate the cost, or the nature, of defeat, the Allied powers neglected to consider the price, or the consequences, of victory. The global economic order stood compromised. Free trade did not return to prewar levels until the late 20th century. The European standard of living declined after the First World War, and in Russia, Germany, and the Balkans, it declined dramatically.Russia, which in 1912 had been a net exporter of grain, suffered a catastrophic famine in 1921, an event widely noted at the time but overshadowed entirely by the far more devastating famine of … Continue reading Civil liberties within the Allied countries were abridged to ensure victory, and among the Central powers, to avoid defeat. They did not recover. In central Europe, multiethnic empires had protected from their enemies and as often from themselves states that were now independent, or wished to be so: Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia, Herzegovina, parts of the Ukraine, parts of the Italian Tyrol. These were states that while they were proud of their identities had no means of protecting their integrity. Throughout the Middle East, as the hand of the Ottoman empire fell lifeless, the map designating territories from Algiers in the west to Baghdad in the east acquired a lurid glow, one inviting European statesmen to create states whose borders had no justification in terms either of history or tradition, and whose identity seemed certain to guarantee that all they could expect in common would be conflict, war, bitterness, and rancor.In an interesting little book about his experiences in Cairo in the mid 19th century, Les femmes du Caire, Gerard de Nerval described a city almost perfectly at ease in its multicultural aspect, … Continue reading If the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires had been tested in war and found wanting—they lost, after all—the nation states of Europe were both weakened and corrupted by the war. No one thought to repose their confidence in the Balance of Powers, but when attempts were made to subordinate national interests to larger European institutions such as the League of Nations, it was discovered that states with common interests had no reason to appeal to the League, and states without, no reason to fear it.
When the war ended, Allied and Central political and military leaders rushed to the lamp to compose their memoirs. Each statesman assigned responsibility for the outbreak of war to his opposite number and each military leader determined that the war would have been more rapidly concluded had his advice been better followed.There is, for example, Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, a masterpiece in which Churchill manages to accept credit for his strategic initiatives while declining responsibility for their … Continue reading
If the historical literature about the First World War is vast, it is also profoundly unsatisfying. “Life can only be understood backwards,” Søren Kierkegaard remarked, “but it must be lived forward.” The history of the First World War offers a counterexample. Historians understand very well how the war came about, but they have not grasped and cannot fully fathom why it did.
What makes analysis so frustrating is the multiplication of counterfactual conditions. The steps are there in plain sight: The assassination in Sarajevo, the Austrian ultimatum, the blank check, the decision to violate Belgium neutrality, but while these steps collectively give the impression of causal sufficiency—they did the job, after all—they fail to give the impression of causal necessity.What is wished for is some sign from the historical literature, however faint, of modal propositions of the form p → ☐q or ☐(p → q). These forms are certainly not equivalent, but no historian … Continue reading Things might have been otherwise. What a pity that they were not. Citing the work of the English statistician, Lewis Richardson, Steven Pinker is concerned to argue that the First World War, and all of the others, as well, occurred for no good reason whatsoever. At “every instant,” he writes, “Mars, the god of war, rolls his iron dice, and if they turn up snake eyes, he sends a pair of nations to war.”Pinker, op. cit, p. 248. See “The Cause of War,” in Human Nature. But the First World War was made by men and not gods, and no examination of any of the events leading to its occurrence indicates in the slightest that the actors in the drama were throwing dice. How, then, did randomness enter into their affairs?Pinker’s views represent a confusion between a Poisson distribution, which by its nature is concerned with a series of events—it is a distribution—and the specific causal conditions responsible … Continue reading
An analysis of the First World War fully adequate to its magnitude would require a work comparable to St. Augustine’s The City of God. Augustine quite understood that no tracery of causes and their effects could begin to explain the historical catastrophe enveloping the Mediterranean world as an ancient and profound order among men underwent dissolution. Augustine could grasp what he could not otherwise explain only by a radical reinterpretation of human history. The categories to which he appealed are no longer available to historical analysis. And this, too, was a fact expressed by the First World War and ratified thereafter by its historians.
The First World War was a catastrophe for European civilization because it destroyed its moral structure. The war demonstrated to European statesmen and their military leaders that they had misjudged, and misjudged profoundly, the ground over which they were walking. They had imagined that their system was so conceived as to be continuous in its fundamental aspect and that a general European war among all of the great powers would be like a local European war among some of them. They were mistaken. The First World War was nothing like the Balkan wars. Or any other war in European memory. It was more terrible. Like Charles Darwin, writing sixty years before, they had placed their confidence in continuity, a law of proportionality, and so they had vested their hopes in the idea that by a progressive augmentation or withdrawal of force in battle, they could come to master the brute contingencies of violence. They failed to understand that violence has a life of its own. The affairs among the great powers were subject to no law of proportionality.
Those who survived the First World War and were in a position to compare what had vanished with what remained were consumed by a sense of bitter historical nostalgia. Before the First World War, both the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires were thought to be tottering, decrepit, and corrupt political structures. Writers disposed to ridicule or otherwise dismiss them when they existed were equally disposed to lament their disappearance when it was too late to encourage their revival. In his appreciation of the vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire, Die Welt von Gestern, Stefan Zweig recalled the sense of Sicherheit that it provided, its solid and enduring institutions placidly occupying space and continuously occupying time. The word Sicherheit is translated into English as security, but it has in German an additional epistemological connotation, Sicherheit designating a form of certainty, as well. Sicher ist sicher means that what is certain is certain.
If bitter nostalgia was one response to the First World War, dread was another, and as the first was appropriate, the second was prophetic. The war allowed the sewers of 19th century history to break the surface of European life and for thirty years they foamed and bubbled over every European institution, blighting whatever they touched with their own ghastly iridescence.In both minor and major respects. The 20th century was a century of famine, among other afflictions. See in this regard, “Gadzooks,” in Human Nature. It was also a century of almost forgotten … Continue reading In both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, novel forms of political organization appeared, and while historians may have exaggerated their resemblance to each other, both were radically unlike any structures that had appeared in the past. When the 20th century stands condemned, it is not simply because of the terrible, the unpardonable things that took place within its ambit, but because it introduced into the human imagination possibilities of political organization that were bleak and unrelieved and terrible. Once seen, these possibilities could not be unseen.
No one doubted that European society had been weighted in the balances and found wanting.
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David Berlinski is Claire Berlinski’s father. This is a revised version of an essay originally published in the volume Human Nature.
|↑1||See “The Best of Times,” Human Nature.|
|↑2||See Emile Zola, Le Ventre de Paris, for a fine description of those rumbling wagons.|
|↑3||The sense that the war would have a cleansing effect, rather like a brisk cold shower taken after exercise, was common. It is a sense that Arthur Conan Doyle assigned to Holmes in “His Last Vow.” The war, Holmes remarks, “will be cold and bitter … and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.’’|
|↑4||R.G. Collingwood, Autobiography (OUP, 1939).|
|↑5||See A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848-1914, passim, op. cit.|
|↑6||With the publication of Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918 (Düsseldorf, 1961), the German historian Fritz Fischer affirmed, or admitted, that the primary responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War lay with Imperial Germany. It would seem that a warlike government had long harbored warlike intentions and very often conveyed warlike sentiments. Who knew? The very great virtue of Fischer’s work was that it rested on an examination of German archives from 1870 to 1914 unprecedented in its thoroughness. In many respects, Fisher’s discussion of the First World War reprises Luigi Albertini’s The Origins of the War of 1914, translated and edited by Isabella M. Massey (OUP, 1952) but first published in Italian in the 1930s, a matchless work of diplomatic history. Albertini was the last major historian of the First World War in a position to interview some of its leading figures. Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction. Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Cornell University Press, 2004) has recently endorsed and extended Fisher’s thesis. She has come somewhat late to the understanding that the Germany Imperial army was committed to, and as often celebrated for, the principle of Vernichtungskrieg. Better late than never. See Gil-li Vardi, “Review of Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction. Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany,” in University of Sussex Journal of Contemporary History, 10, 2006. Imperial Germany did not lack for military men prepared to be bloodthirsty in print and in practice. The most conspicuous example was General Friedrich von Bernhardi, whose Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg, published in 1911, celebrated war as a Darwinian imperative. Bernhardi was an exceptionally able general and a man of outstanding courage. His book is repulsive.
A countercurrent in scholarly opinion has, it goes without saying, already formed itself, one that assigns some responsibility for the outbreak of war to every party and all of it to none. See The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark (Harper Collins, 2013) and July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin (Basic Books, 2013). Neither writer, it is satisfying to observe, has a good thing to say about Serbia or the Serbians. Whatever the revisions in prospect, Niall Ferguson has already taken revising one step beyond revolting. It remains for him only to argue that in 1914, Belgium violated German neutrality. In his extended essay, “Germany and the Origins of the First World War: New Perspectives” in The Historical Journal (September 1992, pp. 725–752), Ferguson argued that imperial Germany was steadily and systematically falling behind the Entente powers in the resources it could devote to its military. German fears of the Russian “steamroller” were widespread, but as events revealed, much exaggerated. Ferguson has amplified this thesis in a popular book, The Pity of War (Basic Books, 2000). In Ferguson’s view, it was Britain that bore primary responsibility for the outbreak of war, and the world would have been far better off had Germany prevailed on the battlefield and then been left in tranquility to administer a new German Empire. Considering the Empire the Germans did administer in the Second World War, this is a thesis that does not immediately commend itself as self-evident.
Still other historians have thought to ask whether the First World War was inevitable, or even probable. See Holger Afflerbach and David Stevenson, editors, An Improbable War? The Outbreak of World War I and European Political Culture before 1914 (Berghahn Books, 2007). Contributors agree that just possibly the war was improbable, probable, likely, unlikely, nearly inevitable, or not inevitable at all. It is owing only to God’s grace that not one of them thought to invoke the now mythical Black Swan.
|↑7||Princip had determined to assassinate Franz Ferdinand when he did for no better reason, apparently, than the fact that the Archduke had chosen June 28 to visit Sarajevo. It was on June 28, 1389, that the Serbs lost the battle of Kosovo to the Turks on the Field of Blackbirds. Like the Shia of Iran, the Serbians are uncommonly attached to their misfortunes, which they regard as relics and worship accordingly. The larger issue that occupied Princip and his collaborators was the annexation in 1908 of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria, thus bringing a great many Serbs under Austro-Hungarian rule. The annexation ratified in formal terms the Austrian domination of Bosnia and Herzegovina that had been a simple fact of life since the Congress of Berlin in 1879. There is no doubt at all the Princip was involved with and supported by the sinister Serbian terrorist cell called the Black Hand. Members assured one another of their high ideals, which involved the promotion of the Serbian people into a single political unit, and were fond of initiating one another into the cult by means of dark rooms, votive offerings, flickering candles, blood oaths and a good deal of chanted Serbian poetry of which The Mountain Wreath by Petar II Petrović-Njegoš is an example. The Black Hand was in turn the smaller conspiratorial arm of a much larger conspiratorial torso, the Narodna Odbrana, which though officially disbanded in 1909 had by 1914 unofficially penetrated every part of the Serbian government.|
|↑8||That the war might have been caused by some other event is true enough, if by the war is meant some other war. But if some other event caused the war as it was, then its cause must have been the cause that it had. C1 causes E1, and C2 causes E2. Say that this is so. If E1 = E2 then C1 = C2. The argument is obvious enough. C1 is the cause of E1, and since E1= E2, it is the cause of E2 as well. But C2 is the cause of E2, by assumption, and so C1 = C2.|
|↑9||That the war could have been caused by the cause that it had only if conditions were as they were implies that the war could not have been caused by the cause that it had if conditions were not as they were. This is true enough. But conditions were as they were. This argument does not establish that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was the cause of the First World War. It establishes only that one reason for thinking it was not is misconceived—a weaker claim.|
|↑10||The real cause of an event, Mill argued, is the “whole of its necessary antecedents; and we have, philosophically speaking, no right to give the name of cause to one of them exclusively of the others.” J.S. Mill, A System of Logic, First Edition (Longman, 1843, p. 214). If the antecedents to an event are themselves events, they could not be necessary, and if they are necessary, they could not be events.|
|↑11||Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century (Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 177–199. Within the English-speaking world, it has been Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August (MacMillan, 1962), that has more than any other book shaped the popular impression of the First World War. It is a book that offers many lessons, some of them in conflict, and few assurances, most of them negligible. It is no surprise that President John F. Kennedy studied this book closely and assigned to it an improvement in his understanding of world events.|
|↑12||“Well tell me, at least,” Prince von Bülow asked of Bethmann Hollweg, “how it all happened.” Bethmann Hollweg raised his arms. “If only I knew,” he said. Prince von Bülow, Memoirs, 1909-1919, 1932, p. 145, quoted in Glover, op. cit. p. 184. Von Bülow was Bethmann Hollweg’s predecessor as chancellor. A.J.P. Taylor describes his memoirs as “vain, inaccurate and vague.” They are also gossipy, informed, and irresistible. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery, op. cit, p. 586. Bülow’s memoirs were published in German under the title, Denkwürdigkeiten (Verlag Ullstein, 1930), a word conveying a normative aspect absent from the English.|
|↑13||Most notably by Sir Edward Gray, who on the first, third, and fourth of August occupied three inconsistent diplomatic positions with apparent indifference. On this point, see McMeekin, op. cit, p. 404. Throughout the July crisis, both Gray and Prime Minister H. H. Asquith attempted to parse the distinction between an alliance and an entente with France down to the molecular level. In his autobiography, The Genesis of the War (1923) p. 99, Asquith remarks favorably of his policies that they preserved a studied indecisiveness in statecraft. Given the confusion between an entente, which is by nature vague, and an alliance, which is not, the British would not know whether they were to go to war until they went to war. Asquith never inquires why anyone should think this a good thing.|
|↑14||A point emphatically denied by Tuchman, op. cit, p. 80. Tuchman cites General von Staab, chief of the German railway division, but does not specify a source. She was, perhaps, referring to H. von Staabs, Aufmarsch nach zwei fronten, auf grund der operationspläne von 1871-1914 (Militär Wochenblatt Reih, 1925).|
|↑15||For the connection between competitive armaments and the outbreak of war, see Michael D. Intriligator & Dagobert L. Brito, “Can Arms Races Lead to the Outbreak of War?” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 1984, pp. 63-84.|
|↑16||To draw the connection between Darwin’s thought and Nazi ideology is widely considered a profanation. Glover draws it. Good for him. He also indicts Nietzsche by quoting him, and thereafter challenges the common impression that Nietzsche, when he was most objectionable, was least serious.|
|↑17||This is misleading. The diplomatic record indicates that every foreign office was aware of the threat of a general European conflict: What none quite realized was its likely magnitude, another matter entirely. European military leaders did no better. Lord Kitchener had predicted a long war involving millions of men; and the Polish banker Jan Bloch, writing in 1899, had published a very grim but very accurate forecast of the future course of war: Jan Bloch, Is War Now Impossible (abridged) (Grant Richards, 1899). By and large, neither the diplomatic nor the military service of any of the European states predicted the course of the war successfully. Had the Prussian General Staff, for example, better attended to the American Civil War, they would have been less eager to rush into combat. Union and Confederate armies included 2.75 million men; roughly 700,000 died in combat. Combined armies during the First World War totaled 60 million men, of whom nine million died in combat. See Jay Luvaas, The Military Legacy of the Civil War: The European Inheritance (University Press of Kansas, 1988). The truth was not very long delayed. In a bitter note to Italian representatives and foreign governments, Baron Sonnino, the Italian minister for foreign affairs, wrote of Italian efforts to “to spare Europe from a vast conflict certain to drench the continent with blood and to reduce it to ruin beyond the conception of human imagination … ” The date, however, is May 23, 1915, and while the Italian Foreign Office may well have made efforts to spare the continent from war, Italian diplomats writing before 1914 expressed no real anxieties about the possibility that war would drench the continent in blood or in anything else. Reprinted in J.B. Scott, editor, Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the European War (OUP, 1916). Italy had been formally allied to Germany and Austria and was determined not to join either the Allied or the Central powers in combat until it could determine the side likely to prevail. It is a policy that even today inspires admiration.|
|↑18||When the war came, Conrad discovered the very considerable difference between calling for and using arms. Conrad’s memoirs, Aus Meiner Dienstzeit, published in four volumes by Rikola-Verlag, 1921–1925, succeed in conveying the impression that their author was in every respect rather dim.|
|↑19||Berchtold’s reputation for diffidence was unfair. In May of 1913, the Austrian foreign office, under his instructions, issued an ultimatum to Montenegro, demanding the withdrawal of Montenegrin forces from Albania, a state newly created by the great power conference of 1912; and in October of 1913, Berchtold, on witnessing great power indifference to Serbian incursions in Albania, acted unilaterally to force a Serbian withdrawal. Berchtold had taken office in 1912. See Hugo Hantsch, Leopold Graf Berchtold: Grandseigneur und Staatsmann (Verlag Styria, 1963). The greater part of this book comprises a record of Berchtold’s speeches, notes, memoranda, and letters. Curiously enough, it appears to be the only widely available biography of Berchtold in any European language.|
|↑20||Historians once content to blame Imperial Germany for the outbreak of war have recently turned their attention gratefully to Austria. See Richard J. W. Evans, “The Habsburg Monarchy and the Coming of War,” in R. J. W Evans and Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, editors, The Coming of the First World War (OUP, 1990); F. R. Bridge, The Habsburg Monarchy among the Great Powers, 1815-1918 (OUP, 1990); Graydon A. Tunstall, Jr., “Austria-Hungary,” in Richard F. Hamilton & Holger H. Herwig, editors, The Origins of World War I (CUP, 2003); Alma Hanning, “Die Balkanpolitik Österreich-Ungarns,” in Herausgegeben von Jürgen Angelow et. al., Der Erste Weltkrieg auf dem Balkan: Perspektiven der Forschung, (Bebra Wissenschaft, 2011). All that can justifiably be said is that Austrian policy was remarkably inept, but not that it was unjustified. Events in July of 1914 did not improve the luster of any diplomatic service.|
|↑21||Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faulen Leute, runs an old German proverb. Among Germans, the proverb is considered an admonition; among Austrians, an encouragement.|
|↑22||Tisza was assassinated on the 4th of November, 1918, by Hungarian leftists who held him responsible for the outbreak of war.|
|↑23||Men such as Voja Tankosic, one of the founding members of the Black Hand, or Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known generally as Apsis (the bull), the head of Serbian military intelligence and the leader of the Black Hand. Although both men were thugs, Apsis was said on the strength of no discernible evidence to be cunning. He was in any event not cunning enough to avoid his own execution.|
|↑24||The Franco-Russian alliance dated to 1891. It was the military convention between France and Russia of August 1892 from which the French took comfort. “If France is attacked by Germany,” its first article read, “… Russia shall employ all her available forces to fight Germany.” See Documents Diplomatiques, L’alliance Franco-Russe (1918) p. 92, also A.F. Pribram, Die politischen Geheimverträge Österreich–Ungarns, 1879-1914, Volume I (Flamarion, 1920), pp. 25 -31, n. 40. On its acceptance by the Russian minister of foreign affairs and the French ambassador to Russia in 1893, the convention acquired the force of a treaty.|
|↑25||It did them little good. Serbia defaulted on its French loans in 1918. France was in no position to argue and Serbia in no condition to pay. The French held no grudges and continued to support Serbia in various international forums throughout the 20th century. The origins of French policy toward Serbia are to my mind an utter mystery.|
|↑26||Austria and Germany had signed a joint memorandum on September 24, 1879, and a treaty on October 7. The treaty was conceived as an alliance of “peace and mutual defense.” Volume I (Pribram, 1920), pp. 25 -31.|
|↑27||McMeekan assigns to Tisza the inspiration for the memorandum. McMeekan, op. cit. p. 95. There is no evidence that this is so. Clark refers to the Matscheko memorandum as a paranoid document, one characteristic of fin de siècle Vienna. The memorandum was composed fourteen years after the century ended and as events would promptly reveal, it contained nothing to indicate paranoia. Clark, op. cit. p. 115. A.J.P. Taylor refers to Matscheko’s memorandum as if it had been written by Berchtold–his memorandum–but neglects to provide a cross reference. A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery, op. cit. p. 521. It cannot be said that this document has inspired the most impeccable scholarship. John Leslie’s essay, “The Antecedents of Austria-Hungary’s War Aims,” in Elisabeth Springer and Leopold Kammerhofer, editors, Archiv und Forschung: Das Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv in seiner Bedeutung für die Geschichte Österreichs und Europas (W. Braumüller, 1993), is, at least, accurate in assigning the right authors to the right documents.|
|↑28||See Ludwig Bittner and Hans Übersberger, editors, Österreich-Ungarns Aussenpolitik von der bosnischen Krise 1908 bis zum Kriegsausbruch 1914, 8 vols., Vienna 1930, Volume 8, Nr. 9918, 24, June 1914, pp. 189-193. Many of these documents are online at The World War I Document Archive. These documents have not been carefully edited, and, so far as I can tell, incorporate a number of abbreviations that could not be part of the originals.|
|↑29||See Szögyéni to Berchtold, Österreich-Ungarns Außenpolitik, op. cit., Volume 8, Document 10076, p. 320.|
|↑30||See G.P. Gooch and Harold Temperley, editors, British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898–1914, 11 vols. (H.M. Stationery Office, 1926), ff. These agreements were not treaties and concerned Persia, the Persian Strait, and Afghanistan.|
|↑31||The concepts of push and the correlative doctrine of pull explain an astonishing amount about 19th century diplomatic promotions. Maurice Paléologue, the excitable, ostentatious, unreliable, and romantic French ambassador to Russia, owed his career to being pushed forward in 1905 by Théophile Delcassé and pulled upward in 1912 by Raymond Poincaré. Paléologue was ardently apprehensive about German policy and in conversations with Sazanov, the two men no doubt confirmed to each other’s satisfaction that they were doing battle with the forces of the night, at least until Paléologue learned by means of various diplomatic sources that Sazonov had not meant quite what he said nor said quite what he meant. Neither man should have occupied a senior diplomatic position, Paléologue because he was without nuance in his judgment, and Sazanov because he was erratic in his.|
|↑32||Thirteen years after the outbreak of the First World War, Sazonov published his memoirs in Paris, Les années fatales (Payot, 1927). They express the sentiment expressed by all memoirs about the First World War, bafflement that such a thing should have happened. Churchill’s memoirs are the exception.|
|↑33||Hannah Arendt’s celebrated phrase, the banality of evil, might better be applied to the foreign ministers of the Great Powers in 1914 than the fanatical and demented bureaucrats of the Third Reich.|
|↑34||Jurisprudence, as it happens, a discipline in which he achieved a Third on his examinations.|
|↑35||Interesting evidence, as if any were needed, that Berchtold failed to grasp the enormity of the catastrophe in which he had played so conspicuous a role, for while he contemplated remaining an aristocrat if Austria were destroyed as an empire, he failed to ask whether he could remain an aristocrat were Europe to be destroyed as an idea. After the war he disappeared into his inherited fortune, which he spent on women and horses, circumstances that recall Oscar Wilde’s mordant little poem “The Harlot’s House.” The dead were dancing with the dead.|
|↑36||Thus Plan XVII, which in the event of war called for a direct attack on Germany through the Ardennes. Employed in the first weeks of the war, the Plan failed ignominiously at the Battle of the Frontiers. It is odd that German military planners, who appreciated how easily a direct French attack across the Franco-German frontier could be blocked by a relatively small German force, did not properly integrate this idea into their own military strategy by giving up the Schlieffen plan and concentrating entirely their military forces on Russia.|
|↑37||The Austrian ultimatum in both the original German and an English translation is available at The World War I Document Archive, op. cit.|
|↑38||The ultimatum was written in German, with no ancillary Serbian translation, circumstances that are odd considering that the Austro-Hungarian monarchy encompassed twelve official languages, Serbian among them. Of these languages, Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian are fundamentally the same.|
|↑39||The fifth and the sixth, which seemed to compromise Serbian sovereignty by demanding foreign representatives, Austrians, in fact, on any Serbian committee charged with investigating the assassination. The sovereignty of the Serbian state was said to be sacred by both British and French foreign offices, a gesture of diplomatic piousness entirely at odds with its true nature as an interlocking series of terrorist cells.|
|↑40||Not one of the Great Powers was in any significant sense a complete or even a thoroughgoing autocracy, and neither in Russia, Germany, nor in Austria did decisions flow down from a monarch to his offices.|
|↑41||In his very first page, Clark, op. cit., cites a figure of twenty million deaths, some five million deaths more than the figure offered by most other historians. He offers no sources; but then again, neither do they. No one is counting. The number five million may represent a minor bank error; human deaths are another matter. If the figure is accurate, it represents men, women, and children who have not even been remembered as gross statistics.|
|↑42||The Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires. Within two decades, the British Empire would follow them.|
|↑43||Russia, which in 1912 had been a net exporter of grain, suffered a catastrophic famine in 1921, an event widely noted at the time but overshadowed entirely by the far more devastating famine of 1932-1933—the Holodomor.|
|↑44||In an interesting little book about his experiences in Cairo in the mid 19th century, Les femmes du Caire, Gerard de Nerval described a city almost perfectly at ease in its multicultural aspect, Egyptians, Jews, Nestorians, Syrians, Armenians, and Turks living in isolation from one another but, within reason, living amicably.|
|↑45||There is, for example, Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, a masterpiece in which Churchill manages to accept credit for his strategic initiatives while declining responsibility for their failure. The old-fashioned view, expressed brilliantly by Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory (OUP, 1975), that military leaders were uniformly unimaginative, incompetent, reckless, stupid, and if not positively thirsty for blood then careless of its waste, has now been revised. It would seem that men such as Joffre and Haig and Foch were a good deal more capable than the evidence might indicate. They had, after all, won the war. The traditional military view of the First World War has always been that the mysterious balance between mobility and weight was, because of improvements in defense, unhinged until late 1916 when the allies at last mastered the creeping artillery barrage. See Peter Hart, The Somme: Darkest Hour on the Western Front (Pegasus Books, 2009). For a contemporary view, one assigning credit for Allied victory to the arrival of American forces and not the supposed effectiveness of a unified allied high command, see A.F. Pollard, A Short History of the Great War (Methuen, 1919). Pollard was a distinguished historian of Tudor England who served on the Western Front.
Fussell’s book has offered to several generations of literary historians a view of 20th century literature limited to English sources. It is a defect of which Fussell was perfectly aware. See, for example, Arnold Zweig Erziehung vor Verdun, Roman (Aufbau Taschenbuch, 2001). German writers of the First World War were as earnest leaving the war as they were entering it. Zweig’s experience had made him a pacifist but not an ironist. See as well Nicolas Beaupré, “Les écrivains combattants français et allemands, témoins de la fin de guerre,” Revue du Nord, 80, 1998, p. 383-391, or Nicolas Beaupré, “Ecrire pour dire, écrire pour taire, écrire pour tuer ? La littérature de guerre face aux massacres et aux violences extrêmes du front ouest (1914-1918),” in Le massacre, objet d’histoire, (Gallimard, 2005), p. 305-317 or Léon Riegel’s survey, Guerre et Littérature: Le bouleversement des consciences dans la littérature romanesque inspirée par la Grande Guerre, 1910-1930 (Klincksieck, 1978). A study of Russian, Italian, and Turkish sources would, of course, offer entirely different perspectives.
|↑46||What is wished for is some sign from the historical literature, however faint, of modal propositions of the form p → ☐q or ☐(p → q). These forms are certainly not equivalent, but no historian has ever discovered evidence for either.|
|↑47||Pinker, op. cit, p. 248. See “The Cause of War,” in Human Nature.|
|↑48||Pinker’s views represent a confusion between a Poisson distribution, which by its nature is concerned with a series of events—it is a distribution—and the specific causal conditions responsible for any one of them. A series of deterministic events may be described by a Poisson distribution very well, and with the exception of beta decay, all of the classical examples are of this form. In 1889, Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz analyzed fatal horse kicks in the Prussian cavalry, The Law of Small Numbers (B.G. Teubner,1889). Bortkiewicz never imagined that individual horse kicks were random. For all Bortkiewicz could determine, or imagine, each fatality might well have occurred for reasons known best to the horses. A statistical fallacy runs straight through Pinker’s analysis—and Richardson’s, as well. While it is true that every Poisson process yields a Poisson distribution, the converse is not necessarily true, and it is almost always false.|
|↑49||In both minor and major respects. The 20th century was a century of famine, among other afflictions. See in this regard, “Gadzooks,” in Human Nature. It was also a century of almost forgotten massacres. The Turkish massacre of the Armenians has entered general consciousness, but it has entered general consciousness recently; the Turkish massacre at Smyrna in 1923 is known only to specialists. In A Coffin for Dimitrios, Eric Ambler describes it vividly. By a process of action at a distance that no historian understands, events in Smyrna leapfrogged decades to acquire a murderous pertinence in Cypress during the 1950s.|