Many historians question how the assassination of Ferdinand could trigger a wide-ranging European war. The answer to this lies in the long-standing clauses that have all the time been suggested. These include militarism, jingoism, imperialism, as well as the pessimistic atmosphere of 1914, the armaments, and the recruitment plans. In order to get to the bottom of the origins of the war, it is important to know the meticulous objectives of the administrations that were involved in the catastrophe of July 1914 (Henig 2-11).
As for the Austria-Hungarian government, there were worries in relation to a likely disbanding of its empire. As a result, it wanted to crush the Slavic nationalism, which was the main factor of the flux. Additionally, the Austro-Hungarian approach towards Serbia was dominated by the aggression to Russia in the Balkans. On the other hand, there was a lot of concern in Vienna over the possible loss of face following the murder of Franz Ferdinand.
As for the Serbian government, which was involved in terrorist activities, the main concern was in line with its plans for having a greater Serbia with regard to a future Yugoslavia. Just like Austria-Hungary, Russia’s concern bordered on a possible loss of face after numerous diplomatic as well as military defeats. Additionally, the Russian government was also worried about its homeland instability, especially due to radical activities and the strife among workers.
Subsequently, Russia desired to achieve a foreign political success by opening the Dardanelles to Russian warships. It is also worth noting that the Pan-Slavism and the feeling of an unavoidable conflict with the German race were instrumental in making the war to be acceptable to St. Petersburg.
On its part, France was apprehensive about the likelihood of a German antagonism. In this regard, France wanted to ensure that Russia continued being diplomatically sturdy. Additionally, they hoped to win back Alsace-Lorraine and recognized that this was not going to be viable without a major war. As for Britain, there were concerns about the ascent of German nautical power and so they panicked about a German predominance in Europe. Though Britain remained indifferent for most of the catastrophe, the German invasion of Belgium, however, compelled them into joining the war.
In Germany, there was great fear of isolation. As a matter of fact, Austria Hungary was Germany’s last ally and, hence, deserved to be supported at any cost. In line with this, Germany wanted Vienna to wage war against Serbia so as to avoid a possible collapse of the Habsburg Empire. In fact, there was fear in Germany that its eastern neighbor would be modernized and increase in population, thus, becoming a superpower that would sooner or later pound Germany. This was a major threat to the German generals, since such developments would thwart their plans, especially with the completion of the Russian railroads.
The Schlieffen Plan
As the crisis developed, the German generals decided on the Schlieffen Plan as the only option in surviving a two-front war. This plan involved mobilizing German troops to surround the French army by breaking into the impartial Belgium and Luxembourg. According to the plan, this would force the French to surrender, having been pushed against the Franco-German border. The next plan was to send a large number of German troops to shield East Prussia against the Russian army. The German generals expected the Russia to mobilize at a much slower pace.
Helmuth von Moltke and his predecessor Schlieffen did not consider a war with Russia winnable as fast as possible. As a result, they decided to knock out France as fast as possible. Due to the fact that France had very well-built fortifications on the Franco-German border, the only option for the German generals was to march through Belgium, in order to survive a two-front war.
Marching through a neutral country like Belgium was a great violation. This indicated that the Schlieffen Plan was a major diplomatic catastrophe. It also indicated how poorly coordinated the German government was diplomatically and militarily. In any case, the German generals asserted that the Schlieffen Plan was the only option and were also afraid that once the tactical railroads in Russia were completed in 1917, the plan would become outdated. Consequently, they were determined to advocate for a “preventive war” having accepted war as unavoidable.
The German War Guilt
Over and above, it is just fair enough to argue that Kaiser Wilhelm II had expansionist aspirations by looking for a huge army and adhering to a military Weltpolitik. As a result, he estranged Britain and Russia. Again, his failure to sign the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia in 1894 allowed France to go under, back to its diplomatic seclusion, which had been created by Bismarck between 1871 and 1890. Like a child playing with toy soldier’s, Kaiser reveled in the perception of Sabre-rattling and trying to make up for his own lack of military skills. Consequently, he ended up offering a blank check to Austria.
Wilhelm II went later ahead to refer the British balance of power principles as stupidity. Indeed his opinion was that Austria ought to assault Serbia that December. He asserted that in case Russia backs the Serbs, which it clearly did, then the war would have been inevitable for Germany. As a matter of fact, it was apparent that Kaiser preferred going to war against Russia before the Russians completed their massive modernization. It became clear that Germany was of the view that the war was unavoidable and the sooner the better.
Fritz Fischer, a German historian, argued in the 1960s that Germany had to bear the main responsibility for the outbreak of the war. His argument was based on the fact that the German government under Kaiser’s leadership considered the war unavoidable as early as in 1911, prepared to it, and finally decided to seize the opportunity once it arose.
Additionally, the German government and its generals hurried an intensification of the Austro-Serbian predicament so as to launch a defensive strike against Russia and France. In the event that war did not come about, Germany expected that weakening Entente and winning a moral authority would boost its reputation as well as the stability of Habsburg Empire and Germany. Germany also had a long term expansionist agenda of having predominance over Belgium and France, apparently leading right to the Second World War.
Fischer’s other argument, though widely accepted, lacks proof with regard to laid down measures for war. His argument bases on the fact that Germany did not expect a war of attrition. Consequently, it tried to draw Russia into the war as an assailant in order to surmount SPD’s pacifist approach. Unfortunately, no pressing domestic crisis from which the government would have to break away emerged. In any case, there were more severe domestic crises in Britain, Russia and Austria.
The German General Staff did all they could to compel Austria-Hungary into being absolutely irrational and then going on war. This means that the Germany, more so it’s General Staff, started the war in proxy. At that point, Germany was the senior partner in the Triple Alliance. This means that it was not possible for Austria-Hungary to risk war with Russia if it hadn’t got a full and unqualified support from Germany.
In Germany, the government machinery was not well coordinated at the top; hence, the General Staff had very little political control as at 1914. In its place, the German Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg and Kaiser were on the receiving end, carrying out orders from the General Staff.
Additionally, the anxiety of the German General Staff knew no bounds and right away used its substantial authority to fortify its position and that of its allies. In this regard, Germany decided to put Austria-Hungary under pressure in order to shoot up the crisis instead of neutralizing it.
According to Fischer, the Versailles “war guilt clause” that blamed every German as being responsible for the war is somewhat farfetched. Instead, he places the entire blame on the German General Staff, which was not under effectual political power. As a matter of fact, the German General Staff was like a rival government within the state, especially with regard to matters involving foreign policy and defense.
In conclusion, the liability of the German government for the outbreak of the war was without doubt bigger than that of the French and British governments. In as much as Germany played a big role, it would be wrong to blame it alone. In many ways, the origins of the war were exceedingly intricate. As a matter of fact, previous catastrophes would have led to a major intensification.
Even though Germany was to accept full liability for the World War in the Treaty of Versailles, this might not necessarily be the case. In as much as it is true that Germany bears much blame for the war, it is, however, vital to take many factors into account in view of the cause of the First World War. Germany was principally responsible for the war; however, other world powers must also accept some responsibility for failing to prevent the war.
The conflict that arose from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand ought to have been a local affair that could be confined to a regional issue. In many ways, the war was as a result of a number of factors that included jingoism, militarism, the alliance system, and fears and anxieties among leaders in Europe. Consequently, the underlying aggression among the European countries led to a series of events that developed into a full scale war.
During the reign of Bismarck, the alliances took an antagonistic direction, especially since Bismarck had developed a defensive driven military. Additionally, the alliances were too complex for anybody other than himself to sustain. During his reign, it was possible to maintain peace. However, under his successors, the alliances could not continue, thus, leading to a collapse. In this regard, Wilhelm refused to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, leading to strained relations between the two nations.
Apparently, it is these alliances that facilitated the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, thus, igniting the First World War. In addition to the hostilities, the nations involved in the war continued expanding their armies and navies, thus, leading to an arms race. Germany, including the great powers, had elaborate plans for mass mobilization that precipitated the race to the World War. However, many people believe that the war was generally avoidable.