Europe`s Last Summer: Who Started The Great War?
The year 1914 saw the break out of war in Europe, which came as a big surprise to the majority of Europeans who were busy enjoying their most wonderful summer in as many days. For a very long time, many historians have pondered over the root causes of the Great War. Even though, quite a number of them have alluded to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, others have, however, come to the conclusion that the war was all together inevitable. In his book Europe’s Last Summer, David Fromkin suggests a totally unusual response. He asserts that aggressions were apparently instigated on purpose.
Subsequently, in an enthralling re-creation of the run-up to the war, Fromkin gives a clear description of how the German generals stage-managed actions to rash a variance fought on their own stipulations. The author moves skillfully between diplomats, generals as well as leaders all over the European continent. In this way, he makes the intricate discreet consultations available and instantaneous. He studiously examines the activities of key personalities in the midst of huge historical forces. Over and above, the book is a riveting chronological account and a spectacular re-examination of a momentous event in the twentieth century.
Who started the Great War?
The most fascinating and unique idea in Fromkin’s book is that it provides a clear understanding on the outburst of the war in 1914. This is clearly visible in the fact that there seems to have been two separate wars. On the one hand, Austria-Hungary was in opposition to Serbia. On the other hand, Germany stood against Russia. In the whole mix-up, Austria-Hungary sought after building up its position in the Balkans by devastating Serbia. Additionally, Austria-Hungary was apprehensive over the issue of an autonomous Serbia. This, in their view could have inspired the rest of Austria’s Southern Slavic nations to seek autonomy, as well.
Short-term Causes of the War
Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
In this regard, one of the short-term causes of the war was definitely the killing of Franz Ferdinand. This is mainly because the Austrians got a good pretext to launch the war with Serbia. The assassination of Ferdinand was just a pretext to start the war, since it is well known that the Austrians did not really want to settle the catastrophe diplomatically. After all, they knew that Russia could come to the defense of Serbia, yet Austria was not ready for a confrontation with Russia.
The Famous “Blank Check”
In the midst of the precarious occurrences, Germany offered Austria the famous “blank check”. This was basically a promise by Germany to act in support of Austria irrespective of whatever decision Austria would make. As a result, the Austrians went ahead with their intentions to launch the war against Serbia. In as much as giving this promise of support to the Austrians was very risky, most of the Germans did not. However, they know that the chances of the war were not so slim, as they thought. They less anticipated that Russia could have the courage to get in the way, the moment that it got to know about the firm support that Germany had for Austria.
If the state of affairs in Europe at the time would have been, otherwise, this scenario would have just ended up in another small war, in the Balkan region. Most probably, Serbia would have been severely devastated by Austria. Consequently, Austria would have ended up converting Serbia into a colony, or something of the sort. .
Powerful Personalities in Germany
However, at that point in time, Germany had a number of powerful personalities. A good example is Moltke, a key personality whose main aim was to start a confrontation against Russia. According to Moltke and other influential people, as well, Russia was greatly endowed with a large population, bigger than Germany. As a result, it was capable of overtaking Germany as the key military power in the whole of Europe, almost immediately after updating its financial system.
In reality, Russia recorded significant progress in the decade between its defeat in the war against Japan in 1905, as well as 1914 before the outbreak of the First World War. As a result, this clique of influential Germans was because of the idea that it was important to destroy Russia before it turned out to be too strong. What is more, other European countries were becoming very strong by arming themselves. It also became apparent to everyone that Germany was not in a position to boost its army beyond the size it had in 1914.
Consequently, this meant that Germany had no other option but to start the war, instead of waiting to start the war at a later date. The fact that Germany was a powerful military nation put it at risk of attacking. All these influenced the opinions of personalities like Moltke. By and large, Moltke and his group felt that such a confrontation was inevitable, and all that they could choose was to start it right way, instead of waiting for a later date. These people also knew that there were two rivals: Russia and France. At that time, Russia had a coalition with France. In case Germany confronted any of them, it will have to battle against two countries simultaneously.
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Long Term Causes of the War
Free Trade and Freedom from Regulation
Prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, there was a period when Europe did not have any exchange controls or customs regulations. The free trade and freedom from regulation did not benefit many of the common Europeans. This kind of arrangement only did well to the well-heeled classes of a few developed nations. However, to the working classes as well as the inhabitants of the colonies of these nations, the free trade and freedom from regulation brought nothing but wretchedness.
The vast majority of the world population did not benefit from this kind of trade. As a matter of fact, anybody passing through Europe could sense states whose existence could hardly be noticed. They were those who did nothing to assist their citizens in times of need. Actually, such countries did not have any social security. Most of their old, ill or unemployed citizens barely survived on their savings. In some cases, people would even starve to death. Basic amenities like education and healthcare were only accessible to the well-to-do in the society. Most of their citizens could offer nothing more than a life of abject paucity and abuse.
By and large, the absence of custom regulations as well as limits on currencies meant that capital was free to shift from one nation to another in the search for better opportunities, which could be exploited at the expense of the poor majority. Most of these poor people had no means to defend themselves from this cruel financial system. In a nutshell, before 1914, the world in general, was simply an abominable place to be in. The world practically presented no tangible opportunities for a life worth living.
By all means, the only way of forcing the greedy people to consider the plight of the many poor people was by establishing strong regulation of the financial system as well as instituting robust customs regulations at the borders. As a result of the poor market regulations, the dramatic economic failure ended up creating blind alleys in the history of humanity.
Consequently, for most of the ordinary people, the global situation of 1914 did not look like there was a likelihood of a Great War. However, the public mood at that time was in favor of war. In any case, there were a number of disappointing insurgencies that only left Europe frustrated. In essence, the majority of the European populace saw war as a worthy and moral thing. According to Fromkin, the European society was on the brink of collapse.
The Failure of the “Schlieffen Plan”
The renowned “Schlieffen Plan” that was launched in 1905 was not effective due to the fact that it came up with an inflexible time frame. This forced Germany to start the war, since the memorandum was not operational. As a matter of fact, the plan omitted the details which were crucial. In many ways, it did not come up with orders.
Additionally, democratization in the region was on the increase. Consequently, a number of statesmen from some counties ended up not having a common ground. The same thing happened with the royals and the upper class, as well. The expansion of the German navy further estranged the Great Britain. In addition to this, Germany deliberately allowed its previous alliance with Russia to elapse, without the hope of renewal. Consequently, this was instrumental in creating a lot of anxiety in the German camp, since it ended up being surrounded by aggressive powers. To make matters worse, the German army was being poorly funded, which was not in correspondence with the growth of its economy. To a large extent, this was a result of “an archaic constitution as well as the consequent lack of a progressive tax system”.
Events of the July Crisis and the Role the Decisions Made
Just like any other war, the First World War began because of the confusion, in the midst of convoluted series of events. Apparently, the series of events all fell together and in perfect order resulting in various nations to square off against one another. If one event had not transpired, or if one side had a different set of plans, the war might not have occurred. The events that led to the First World War are also referred to the July Crisis. Basically, the assassination of one of the political leaders of that time is likely to have sent the world to the war.
According to Fromkin, these events took place on July, beginning with the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand. The Austrians used this event as a pretext to declare war against Serbia. Austria-Hungary mobilized its military, which consequently caused Serbia to follow suit. In the meantime, Russia decided to mobilize its army in order to defend their Serbian allies. The decision taken by Russia to marshal its forces caused anxiety in Germany and resulted in them mobilizing, as well. This is because they were allies of Austria-Hungary and they saw Russia as a threat.
As a result of the inconceivable amount of poor preparation, Germany declared war against Russia and France. Yet, the only plan was to attack France. In order to execute their plan to confront France, it called for a surrounding scheme which required the moving forward of German troops through Belgium, a neutral state. This occurrence forced Great Britain to join the war, since they wanted Belgium to remain neutral.
Who, in Fromkin’s Assessment, was largely responsible for the War?
According to Fromkin, Austria Hungary and Germany were largely responsible for the War. Germany was mainly motivated to fight against Russia in order to maintain the status quo as well as thwart Russia in eclipsing it as the military powerhouse. By and large, there was widespread supposition that everybody wanted peace if the peace would be on acceptable terms. However, according to Germany, no terms would have been acceptable. In many ways, Germany was only interested in devastating its opponent to a level that only a triumphant war was able to accomplish.
In Fromkin’s assessment, the First World War did not begin just because of a simple Balkan disagreement that was getting out of hand; rather, the war came about as a result of deliberate choices made by the two governments, with Germany being the key player. The involvement of Russia and France was influenced by the lack of chances, since they had been attacked by Germany. As for Britain, its involvement in the war was just to prevent Germany from becoming too strong. If one single individual was to be blamed, then it would be Moltke. Therefore, he believed that Russia was on the brink of eclipsing Germany, unless a pre-emptive war was instigated against Russia in due time.
Was the war preventable?
According to Fromkin, the war was not preventable, because it was the German military leaders who had started to advocate for preventive war against both, France and Russia, as early as in 1905. As a matter of fact, even Vienna had started to plan a provocation against Serbia weeks prior to the murder of Franz Ferdinand. In this way, Fromkin asserts that the war was not preventable.
Throughout the book, Fromkin examines the origins of the Great War. He studiously dispels some of the key myths about how the war broke out. In the pages of the book, it becomes apparent that the war was not the only one, but there were two wars. Both wars resulted not from imperialistic hostility on the part of the Central Powers, but from a paralyzing suspicion among Austrians, due to their fear of the rising of Balkan patriotism. This also included German’s fear of future defeat as well as the domination of Russia.
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