100 YEARS SINCE WWI – JULY 26 1914 – SLOW RESPONSES TO THE BALKAN CRISIS

-Austria-Hungary had begun mobilizing its army immediately (on July 25) for two reasons. First, it needed to start the clock ticking on a lengthy process in the event that it attacked Serbia. Second, it wanted to send a message to France and Britain that if they wanted to avert a larger war, then they had better restrain their ally, Russia, from becoming involved. Unfortunately, French President Raymond Poincaré was still at sea, returning from his visit to St. Petersburg, and thus unable to send or receive any information until he made landfall. Coincidentally, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was on vacation, and also out of touch.

-Britain’s foreign secretary Edward Grey suggested a conference of Britain, France, Germany and Italy as a means of defusing the situation (nothing would come of this, as events happened too quickly to arrange such a conference).

-Russia’s declaration of a Period Preparatory to War (though not yet mobilization) had the intention of forcing the Austrians to reconsider, but the Germans were far more worried, for they had learned that Russia’s actions were dangerously close to a state of undeclared mobilization. When asked for an explanation, the Russians gave the Germans lies in response, setting a tone where the Germans became increasingly distrustful of later Russian assurances of goodwill.

-The French ambassador to Russia also learned about the Russian’s actions, but didn’t bother to remind them that they had an obligation to inform France of any plans for mobilization, nor did he even tell his own government. It may be that he simply did not want to do anything which might discourage the Russians.

“And so the final week of peace had begun with Austria mobilizing while sending signals that no one was available to receive; with Russia in the first stages of mobilizing while pretending not to be; with Germany beginning to feel directly threatened; and with France’s ambassador urging the Russians as well as the Serbians on. Britain was sending ambiguous signals that the continental powers were free to interpret as they wished. Berlin and Paris were both, for the time being, effectively leaderless. Nothing irreversible had happened, but neither was anyone quite in control.”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 49-50.

#100yearssinceWWI

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