On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was assassinated along with his wife while touring the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. The assassin was a student radical associated with a Slav nationalist terrorist group known as the Black Hand, which was fighting for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire for the empire's Slavic minorities. From the beginning, the Austrians suspected that Serbia, an independent and radically pan-Slavic nation bordering the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was behind the killing (they were right as it happened - the Serbian chief of staff had helped plan the crime). World Response Initial world opinion also believed Serbia was behind the assassination, and the initial world response condemned the act - a factor which reassured Austria that it could move to get revenge. But the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy never operated quickly, especially since Austria could do nothing without being sure of German support.
In the end, the Austro-Hungarian government waited too long - by the time they attacked Serbia, public opinion about the killing had already cooled. The Entangling Alliance Domino Effect Austro-Hungarian Empire: desperately wanted to get rid of Serbia, which had been behind most of their largest Slavic problems (Serbia had been a leader in the two Balkans wars, both of which had threatened Austro-Hungarian holdings). Biggest Fear: Russia (a Slavic country which might help their minorities if pressed). Needed: the Hungarians and the Germans to promise military support against Russia. Germany: promised the Austrians support in the event of a Russian attack: a 'blank check' which allowed A.H. to move confidently against Serbia. Both Austria-Hungary and Germany believed they could do this ina limited way, and that Russia would stay out of it, as it had before.
They were not looking to start a fight with Russia or any other major European power. Biggest Fear: That Austria-Hungary, their most important ally, would be seen as a useless, 'paper tiger' if they didn't act against the Serbians, and that the A.H.'s disintegration would leave them standing alone against France and Russia. Needed: A strong ally, a united front with that ally, a passive Russia, and a neutral Britain. Russia: The Austrians and Germans were counting on a repeat performance of Russia's previous behavior, where she had blustered in defense of the Balkan Slavs but had done nothing. But popular support in Russiawas overwhelmingly with Serbia, to the point that the government, which had many other problems (Russiawas in the midst of an economic downturn) was more afraid of not acting.
Russia decided to try a partial response: to mobilize against Austria only as a way of exerting pressure on her to back down. Biggest Fear: internal revolution. Needed: to get Austria to back down without dragging the other nations into this. Russian mobilization, however, was inherently threatening to all the countries around it. The Germans in particular were still afraid of getting caught in a war on two fronts: France and Russia were still allies, Germany was stuck between them. By this point, most of the other nations were attempting to both cool off temperatures, and yet also reassure their allies.
France reaffirmed its support of Russia; and the British attempted in vain to arrange an international conference to resolve matters. On July 30, 1914, the Austrians, afraid of losing face, met the Russian threat by mobilizing themselves. As their allies, Germany was also now militarily committed. The Germans had only one military strategy planned, the Schlieffen Plan, which involved sneaking up on France by a circular route and taking it out before going after Russia. In early August, the German army advanced towards France, cutting through first Luxembourg and then Belgium - both powers which were neutral, and allied to Britain, as was France. Germany felt it needed to take out France quickly so that it didn't get bogged down in war on two sides.
Great Britain: up to this point, considerable public sentiment had existed in Britain for neutrality, but the attacks on neutral and non-warlike Luxembourg and Belgium enraged British public opinion, and their treaty with France was by this point thought too significant to be ignored. When Germany invaded France, Britain declared war. And 'the lights went out all over Europe. ' Greatly Mistaken Expectations: The Technology Problems of W.W. I: 1. Communications were much faster, but even with railroads it took a significant amount of time to move troops, and once troops were mobilized, it was hard for a nation to back down, since mobilization itself was seen as a very aggressive act, even an act of war. This was particularly a problem for Czarist Russia, which was so large and spread out that it had little choice but to start mobilization procedures at the first sign of trouble.
Once a country mobilized, it was hard both physically and psychologically to un mobilize -mobilization raised the stakes, at a time when public opinion was counting more and more, even in absolutist Russia. 2. The nations of Europe were too evenly matched in terms of military technology, and their military strategies hadn't caught up with their weaponry - a common phenomenon in warfare. The generals in all the European states still thought in terms of quick, offensive attacks of the sort that had worked in the past, and talked in terms of boldness and personal bravery.
But the advances in fortifications - barbed wire, landmines, trench systems - had made it much easier to defend a position than to attack it, while machine guns and cannons made charging into the gates of hell rather foolhardy. The War (1914-1918) The war's initial outbreak was greeted with glee in all the nations - the Europeans had been for the most part at peace long enough to forget what war was like, the patriotic fervor in the rival European nations had been pushing for a showdown, and everyone was expecting a short, limited war. The Players: Triple Entente ('The Allies'): France, England, Russia - had superior numbers and better finances, plus Britain had command of the sea. vs. ' The Central Powers': Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy - had the advantages of having launched their attack first, and had better internal lines of communication; plus Austria-Hungary and Germany together formed a compact, easier-to-defend area. The Battles: German Offensive: The Schlieffen Plan ran into its first problem when Schlieffen died; his successor was not as bold or able. Germany knew that attacks on not only France but also Belgium would anger Britain, but it may have underestimated how much.
It was crucial for the plan's success that France fall within weeks so that the German troops could be pulled back to fight Russia, which moved much slower but was much larger. French Defensive: France had badly underestimated how many troops the Germans had, but once the French fell back into a defensive position, the Germans found they couldn't budge them. After the Battle of the Marne in 1914, where the British and the French stopped the German advance, a long, non-moving front appeared down the length of France's border, along which the two sides dug in. They stayed bogged down like this, incurring heavy casualties, for most of the war.
Battle lines also hardened between the Russians and the German troops in the east. As the war stagnated, both sides sought new allies to help: the Allies brought in Turkey and Bulgaria, and lured Italy away from the Central Powers with the promise of some Austrian territory as a reward (Italy switched sides in 1915). Japan was also an ally of Britain, and she honored her treaty by coming in on England's side, although for partially selfish reasons - the war gave Japan an excuse to grab some German holdings in China and the Far East. Assault on Constantinople, 1915: the various powers kept resorting to attempts at offensive assaults to break out of the impasse; this one was one of the more disastrous. The British, guided by Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty at the time), tried to seize the Dardanelles and Constantinople to knock the Turks out of the war. The attack was overly cautious, and met with heavy resistance.
Before it was abandoned, the Allies had lost over 150,000 men fighting on a nonessential front. This debacle is particularly well remembered by the Australians, who suffered heavy casualties fighting as British colonials. The War at Sea: With the war on land bogged down, the control of the sea became evermore important. Despite the major naval expenditures that the Germans had made, their navy still couldn't rival the British one. The British were trying to use their naval dominance to enforce a blockade to starve the Germans into submission; they ignored any distinction between war supplies and civilian shipments of food or other cargo. The Germans, unable to break the British embargo with their warships, resorted to sinking ships with their submarines - they declared the water around the British Isles to be a war zone.
As submarines in this period generally couldn't distinguish among ships (to surface and look around would mean making themselves vulnerable to attack), they simply shot at everything moving, including a British passenger liner in 1915 called the Lusitania. The Lusitania was probably smuggling war supplies in its holds, but it also was carrying American passengers, 118 of which died. The United States: The U.S. throughout much of the war had been even more isolationist in sentiment than Britain had been; Woodrow Wilson ran for reelection in 1916 bragging that he had kept America out of the European mess. But American was not economically independent of Europe. In particular, trade with Britain was a significant part of the American economy. The Americans were initially angry with both Britain and Germany over their interference with neutral, nonmilitary trade, but as Germany's methods were more violent, and as America was still a cultural colony of England's in many ways, public sentiment generally drifted towards blaming Germany for the trade embargo.
In February of 1916, the Germans announced a resumption of their submarine attacks, and the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations. In April 1916, the U.S. declared war. Unexpected Consequences # 1: The Russian Revolution The revolution in Russia was initially not a planned thing; it was the result of the complete collapse of the monarchy in the face of overwhelming popular discontent and a failing war effort. Rus sia even before the outbreak of war had been facing serious social problems; after 1914, there were widespread peasant revolts, strikes, and widespread poverty and hunger in the countryside. Both the war and the domestic turbulence were costing an enormous human toll. All the various political factions were unhappy with the monarchy; and the army, which was ill-paid and ill-trained, was turning mutinous.
In March 1917, Petrograd (St. Petersburg) erupted in worker demonstrations. The soldiers refused to fire on the crowds, and joined the revolt, and the czar abdicated on March 15. The government of Russia fell to the Duma, a provisional government composed of members of the various political reform movements. Both radical communists and more moderate socialists were included in it. Factions: Constitutional Democrats -more moderate, with pro-Western leanings Social Democrats (Mensheviks) socialist but wanted more gradual change than the Bolsheviks Social Revolutionaries (Bolsheviks) more radical, communist, wanted out of the war immediately The Provisional Government was dominated by the Constitutional Democrats, who decided to continue the war, a fatal mistake - the war was probably the biggest single cause of discontent. They also failed, in the eyes of the Bolsheviks, to purge pro-royalist officials from the government.
After a couple of tries, the Bolsheviks succeeded in rallying support for a military assault on the Duma, and seized control of the government. Leading the Bolshevik Revolution were V.I. Lenin (the Germans had considered him so powerful a weapon against the czar that at one point they had smuggled him back into Russia in a sealed train) and Leon Trotsky. Lenin and Trotsky moved to secure control over the country more by military force than by persuasion. When the November results of an election for an Assembly brought in a large majority of Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks dissolved the assembly after one day. By late 1917 and early 1918, the Bolshevik government had passed degrees seizing all the land and turning it over to the peasantry; seizing factories and turning them over to the workers, and seizing banks and church property as assets of the state.
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: The Bolsheviks also took Russia out of the war - they saw it as a capitalist struggle to begin with, and they also needed time to strengthen their domestic government. They signed an armistice with Germany in December 1917. The Russian government agreed to give up its claims to Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, and the Ukraine, and to pay a heavy war indemnity. The Bolsheviks had little choice but to agree - until 1921, they were still facing widespread popular resistance to their rule, which amounted to a civil war between the 'White' (Menshevik) factions and the 'Red' (Bolshevik) factions. In 1918, the czar and his family were murdered to ensure there would not be a royalist restoration, but Lenin did not achieve firm control until 1921. End of the War Getting Russia to pull out was the high point of the German military success; it meant the Germans from this point on controlled Eastern Europe and thus had a steady food supply for their armies.
Also after 1918, they were free to concentrate all their forces on the western front. This advantage, however, was somewhat balanced by the late arrival of the American troops in significant numbers in 1918. 'Battle of the Bulge,' 1918: The long-standing stalemate on the French border produced increasingly desperate attempts to break through. In 1917, an allied attempt failed disastrously. In 1918, the Central Powers decided to put everything they had behind one great offensive. They pushed through to the Marne River but could get no further.
The Central Powers by this point were becoming exhausted. When the Allies, bolstered by the fresh troops from the U.S., launched a counter-offensive, the Austrian fronts in Italy and the Balkans collapsed. Rather than wait for total annihilation, the Germans sued for peace under limited terms. They asked U.S. President Wilson to broker a peace based on the 14 Points that he had presented as his war goals. This idealistic document argued in favor of self-determination for all nations, and set up a blue print for an international diplomatic power, the 'League of Nations,' which could protect the peace and insure that this type of misunderstanding could not happen again. Germany established a new democratic government to further ensure American approval.
Wilhelm abdicated in November 1918, and a republic was proclaimed- the moderates acting quickly lest their more radically communist colleagues move to set up a socialist state. The new republican government signed an armistice with the allies two days after the abdication. The Peace Settlement and Post-War Problems The period right after the war's end was one of great idealism and hopes for world peace, but these hopes quickly faded. 1st major problem: The Versailles Settlement (1919): The peace treaty created an unsatisfactory peace all around. Wilson pushed for lenient treatment of Germany and Austria, but was outvoted by France and Britain, both of whom were furious and wanted revenge. Wilson was so intent on protecting his League of Nations idea that he effectively gave in on most of his other 13 points as far as the peace treaty was concerned.
In addition to the harsh financial reparations and land annexations demanded of Germany, the colonized subjects of the allies and the former empires also found themselves still colonized, not self-determining. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was entirely dismantled, and a new nation of Czechoslovakia was set up (with a large unhappy German minority). The state of Poland was revived with new borders, Bulgaria and Hungary were reduced in size, and Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became independent states. The Ottoman Empire was also dismantled; and much of its former territory went under British and French control as protectorates. The 'Knife in the Back': The German and Austrian populaces at large, with their censored presses, had been kept in the dark about the recent military defeats of their armies, so that the surrender came as a complete, nasty surprise. As Germany itself had not been militarily conquered, its citizens expected a mild, negotiated settlement, and were stunned by the harsh peace treaty that their new leaders eventually agreed to.
In the years after the war, conspiracy theories grew up in which Germany had been defeated not on the battlefield, but by treacherous politicians at home. Adolph Hitler would later use these theories to great effect in rallying opposition to German democrats, socialists and communists. The destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, mandated by the treaty, created apolitical and economic vacuum in central Europe. The two powers bordering this vacuum, Germany and Russia, had been left out of the peace settlement, but were still strong enough to attack it. The harsh treatment of Germany, which had been humiliated, forced to pay high reparations, and told to dismantle their army, enraged the Germans, yet did little of substance to insure they would not regain their military strength and come looking for revenge. The Versailles Settlement could please no one: it was not harsh enough for those who wanted revenge, but still punitive enough to inspire hatred.
Fighting over its terms helped poison the inter-war European diplomatic scene. 2nd major problem: Failure of the U.S. to join the League of Nations (its own idea): America's return to isolationist politics after the war caused them to reject Wilson's entreaties to join his new international peace-keeping community. Wilson had greatly overestimated his own domestic political strength, and America's participation was vetoed by the Senate. America's abstention destroyed any real hopes for international cooperation to keep the peace, since France and England were not strong enough to do it alone. Consequences of W.W. I Unexpected Result #2: The Rise of the U.S. Europe, even the victorious powers, were left economically exhausted by the four-year war, and much of European landscape was a mess. Europe, once the world creditor, now found itself borrowing from the U.S., which had been relatively untouched by the war and whose economy further benefited from the new lack of European competition.
Unexpected Result #3: The Disintegration of the Old Empires: Czarist Russia was gone after 1918; in its place stood a new, unpredictable socialist state, the first of its kind in the world. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled by the peace treaty, but in fact had already fallen apart; in its place were a patchwork of small independent states arguing over their borders. The Ottoman Empire also did not survive the war. Europe in 1918 was far less economically dominant and far more politically disorganized than it had been in 1914. Unexpected Result #4 Psychological Effects Of W.W. I: The war had also had shattering psychological effects; it had been one of the more brutal in history, and had vividly demonstrated the dark side of the new technology which the 19th century had put so much faith in. The easy faith in progress and scientific advancement, which had characterized much of the last century, was dead.
The (largely unintended) consequences of W.W. I were enormous. The war changed the whole world, and the instability which marked Europe after it helped set the stage for W.W. II.W.W. I was truly global in scope; it was devastating in terms of casualties. The old methods of fighting had met new technologies, and caught the military leaders off-guard. The scale of " The Great War' was truly unprecedented, as Europeans dragged their respective colonies around the world into it. New Weaponry: tanks, submarines, airplanes were all new in W.W. I - would become staples of war byW.W. II. One of most infamous weapons of W.W. I was banned afterwards: poison gas.
Proof of the Failure of the Peace: W.W. II. The peace created by the Versailles Treaty did not last, and the world created by settlement quickly broke apart. Pro-nationalist statements made by European leaders, like the 14 Points, were taken seriously by various colonials, who looked forward to self-determination; they were disappointed that the treaty still left Britain, France, the US and Japan firmly in control of their own colonial regions. Tensions between European powers and their colonials were one source of instability in the interwar period; the domestic unrest and hostility between European nations sparked by the Treaty was another.