It is widely accepted that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was the catalyst for the First World War. While this is unquestionably correct, the origins of the war are more difficult to trace. To the surprise of nearly everyone in Europe with the exception of a handful of generals and statesmen, an amalgamation of miscalculations, ineffectual diplomats, military doctrines, treaties and alliances came together and produced a war that, in many ways, shaped the twentieth century. Analyzing the events of July, 1914 in contemporary times, historians, and political scientists have an overabundance of factual material to base their conclusions on, as well as the benefit of hindsight. The thought processes of the diplomats, generals and monarchs, as well as the fateful decisions they made have been examined and scrutinized to no end. A general consensus is that the events in Sarajevo during June, 1914 did not have to lead to a major war. Looking back now, that is a simple deduction to make. In July, 1914, though, it would have been impossible.
Now, with the 100th anniversary of the July Crisis upon us, it is important to remind ourselves of how consequential a miscalculation or false impression can be in a time of heightened tensions. July 1914 is a classic example of Brinkmanship oscillating dangerously out of control. More than one party aided in pushing events to the edge of disaster for the purpose of obtaining the most advantageous outcome for their respective side. When the desired outcome did not come to fruition, they continued to push closer to the edge. By the time it was realized that there was no more room left to maneuver, it was too late to pull back.
The crisis that led to World War I did not strike as a bolt out of the blue. In 1914, Europe was a pressure cooker with a faulty release valve. Decades of tension, numerous crises, inferiority complexes and a host of other variables helped bring about a situation where war appeared to be the only logical choice remaining. It was not a question of if war was coming, but when. Think of Europe as a game board in the early summer of 1914. The pieces were in place. All that was required was for the game to begin. It did on June 28th in Sarajevo, yet none of the players were fully aware of it for another week. In some cases longer.
I know there is a lot happening in the world right now. Iraq, Ukraine, the South China Sea, and a half dozen other potential hot spots waiting to flare up at a moment’s notice. The world is a very dangerous place. In light of that, and with my genuine passion for the lead-up to World War I, I want to use Today’s DIRT to write about the July Crisis for a couple of weeks. I will present in the same informal manner that I have since this blog’s inception. I’ve tried, with success, to keep it informal and non-academic for nearly two years now. With a little luck, I can continue that. J
I hope you all enjoy the 4th of July, and if you’re down along the North Carolina coast, please stay safe.