Previous posts in this discussion:
PostGuilt for WWI (Hall Gardner, France, 08/12/15 3:24 pm)
On the question of WWI "war guilt," I develop Bertrand Russell's argument in my book, The Failure to Prevent World War I, that Germany's "guilt is no proof of our innocence." (P.32, ft 37).
In a nutshell, my argument is that France developed its own version of a Bismarckian strategy against Germany in the effort to regain Alsace and Lorraine, by diplomatic means if possible, but also upon the threat of war, if necessary (as I stated in my previous WAIS post). While I do not entirely agree with Clark that all states were equally guilty, I also do not see any validity in pointing the finger at Germany alone, in accord with Fischer's thesis, which largely dismisses Anglo-French-Russian war planning (and German counter-planning) without any significant discussion.
In the case of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, Bismarck provoked France, but it was Louis Napoleon who initiated the conflict. In the case of WWI, it was Germany which initiated the war, but it was largely France which provoked it, in backing both Serbia and Russia. There is some circumstantial evidence that France may have been aware of the Black Hand plot, although this will probably never be proven. The Archduke had many enemies, both hardline domestic Austrian and international enemies--so it is still not known who was really behind the assassination.
In aligning with England in 1903-14, and in tightening secret Anglo-French defense accords, France did everything possible not to be seen as a potential aggressor, even if the French military would have preferred to counter Germany by thrusting through Belgium if hostilities did begin. It was largely for political reasons (to obtain British diplomatic supports and military backing) that France did not attempt to build forces on the Belgian border. This was to make certain that if Germany did attack, that Britain would be forced to engage in the defence of Belgium and of France as well.
Here, it is once again, at least in part, because the historical background to conflict is many times ignored, that it is often forgotten that London had opposed both German and French hegemony over Belgium, which was the major reason to sustain that country's neutrality. Had French war plans led to a French invasion of Belgium, even if this attack would have been intended to counter Germany, British policy would have been quite different, and Britain may not have come to the defense of France, or entered the conflict at all. As it was, not all of the British Cabinet fully supported military intervention on behalf of France, including John Morely, Lord President of the Council, which made the key foreign policy decisions. Morely was a follower of Gladstone who opposed the British alliance with Russia--and who subsequently resigned as soon as London declared war.
PS: please note the typo in my previous post: I accidentally wrote "Germany" instead of "Britain":
This was not an easy task given the global nature of Anglo-French conflicts and disputes after the 1898 Fashoda crisis, while concurrently, in the period 1895 to 1903, Germany attempted, but failed, to draw France and Russia into an alliance against Britain (not Germany), while France itself successfully used threats to align with Germany (and its alliance with Russia) as a means to draw Britain into a closer entente.
JE comments: Correction duly noted. When Hall Gardner has the chance, I hope he will tell us more about France's possible knowledge of the Black Hand assassination plot. What do we know about the missing "smoking gun" documents? (See link, above.)
Guilt for WWI; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
08/13/15 5:01 AM)
Gary Moore responds to Hall Gardner (12 August):
Again, many thanks to Hall for his enlightening discussion of World War I (resonating with John Heelan's review of Christopher Clark's book).
Like John Eipper,
I was unaware of evidence that France may have known of the Black Hand plot, and
hope we'll see more information. In Clark, France doesn't come off very well, and now
we seem to see confirmation for at least some of France's backstage maneuvering.
Interestingly, the picture of French orientation now emerging begins to look a bit
like that attributed to the arch-plotter Apis (Dimitrijević) in Serbia. Apis was said to
have gotten the Serbian army revolvers to the fumbling Sarajevo plotters in a grand
scheme to cause a war that would first necessarily destroy his own Serbia, so that a much
larger Greater Serbia could rise from the ashes (Versailles would call it Yugoslavia,
but Belgrade and Serbia held its power center).
Now, similarly, it's looking as though France,
by almost inviting Germany to plow through Belgium, may have partially envisioned short-term French destruction for eventual return of Alsace-Lorraine. Doubtless I'm oversimplyfing.
And the question of German militarism would seem to remain on the table. Were all those
voices saying that the US had to enter the war to prevent a spiked-helmet Europe really
JE comments: Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot with a Browning .32 semi-automatic (not a revolver), but I'm being too picky. The interesting aspect of this comment is the "Greater Serbia" theory. I'd like to know more.
Did France Know About Plot to Assassinate Franz Ferdinand?
(Hall Gardner, France
08/14/15 4:17 AM)
To respond briefly to John Eipper's question, the plot to kill the Archduke was first hatched in January 1914 in Toulouse, France, in the Restaurant St. Jerome in a meeting called for by the right hand of Apis, Serbian Major Tankosic. The Archduke was mentioned as a possibility, but it was the Governor of Bosnia who was chosen as the target. According to Albertini, the best source on the origins of the war, this meeting was reported to French authorities. It was later, in the Spring of 1914, once it was learned that the Archduke would be visiting Belgrade, that the Archduke was chosen as a target.
There is evidently more to this story. The Serbs were not the only ones with a grudge against the Archduke. Austrian nationalists hated him for stopping their efforts to crush Serbia, but also for his proposals to reach out to Russia. And the French may have likewise opposed him for a number of reasons, including his proposed policy toward Alsace-Lorraine (in which he hoped to make his elder son the royal governor of the region, which had been designated as an imperial Reichsland) as well as his proposals to make peace in the Balkans with Tsarist Russia--in the process of potentially breaking up the Franco-Russian Dual alliance.
So the question remains: assuming Apis was the mastermind of the assassination of the Archduke as he later claimed, who was he really working for--given his international connections? And furthermore, given close secret Franco-Russian security and defense collaboration in the years after the 1894 Franco-Russian alliance, the question is what exactly did French authorities know about the plot to kill the Archduke, and what, if anything, did they do about it?
See Hall Gardner, The Failure to Prevent World War I, p 203 and passim.
JE comments: So at least three factions had a grudge against the Archduke. This has all the trappings of an international thriller. But didn't the French, if they knew about the plot, realize that the assassination would likely start a world war?
Origins of WWI
(Anthony D`Agostino, USA
08/15/15 5:41 AM)
As expected, Hall Gardner's lucid and closely reasoned lines (14 August) make a strong case for a big role for France in the crisis of 1914. It is especially valuable to have his consideration of the issue of prevention and the role of Jean Jaurès, assassinated on the eve of war. Nigel Jones's lively review of Christopher Clark, Sleepwalkers, goes in the opposite direction and gives strong support for the Fritz Fischer thesis and German war guilt. In my Rise of the Global Powers: International Politics in the Era of the World Wars and in an article of 2004 on revisionism in diplomatic history I took a view rather similar to Christopher Clark, that the war guilt approach to the origins of world war one is exhausted. Its context was a German innocence campaign prompted by reparations in the Versailles treaty. In fact, I would say that the crisis of 1914 might itself be reduced in considering the origins of the war in favor of a more global approach which stresses the expansionist nature of the powers, as opposed to Lloyd George's "we stumbled into war."
I think Hall is right about French revanchism. Arguing for Russian guilt in declaring mobilization is also arguing for French guilt. Starting in 1920, the revisionists, Sidney B. Fay, William L. Langer, Harry Elmer Barnes said that "mobilization means war" and that Poincaré encouraged the Russians. So the war guilt discussion included all the powers, except Britain. I know of no English language study that makes a case for British guilt in any way comparable to studies on the other powers. No one builds up such a case as Fritz Fischer does, specifying all the German interests, naming all the firms involved.
Hall writes, correctly I think, that the French judged it no easy task to woo Britain into liaison with the Franco-Russian alliance. I wonder what he would think of the view that the re-alignment of Britain away from Germany (away from Salisbury's idea of the British as a silent partner in the Triple Alliance) came out of the Far East rather than Europe. Germany supported the Franco-Russian Alliance in its ultimatum to Japan after the Sino-Japanese war of 1895. The "Far Eastern Triplice" opened the way for Russia in China, and Britain, after trying to come to terms with Russia, or win Germany to counter Russia, reached out for Japan. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance green-lighted Japan's war against Russia. This would have made Britain and France enemies unless they came to terms, thus the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale of 1904. The price: the French could have Morocco. When Germany objected, all the powers faced her down at Algeciras, 1906. It was Germany and Austria against all the others, as in 1914. So the alignment was set in 1906, down to the Anglo-French military talks and the Schlieffen Plan. It only remained for this alignment to find its way to war, and the war path also came out of the Far East.
This reduces the emphasis on the accident of 1914 and the presumed war guilt of one power alone.
JE comments: Might we call this an "inevitable stumbling into war"? Anthony D'Agostino underscores one of Hall Gardner's points in his The Failure to Prevent WWI: There were several instances pre-1914 (or at least pre-1904) when Britain could have entered into an alliance with Germany.
More on Europe's Alliances pre-1914
(Hall Gardner, France
08/16/15 12:20 PM)
I thank Anthony D'Agostino (15 August) for his positive comments and I once again emphasize the need for a systemic
approach to the crisis that led to WWI, against the one-dimensional Fischer argument.
One can't blame Germany alone. And, as Anthony argued, in 1914 Poincaré, given France's financial influence, did push Russia into mobilization, in pursuing the secret conditions of the 1892-94 Franco-Russian alliance. But the question remains: To what extent did British foreign policy exacerbate the possibilities of war? Here the argument of my book, The Failure to Prevent World War I, the question of war causation involves the burgeoning conflicts before 1914 in Europe, Africa, Asia, as well as with the USA, but in my view, Britain was still primarily concerned with affairs closer to home than in Asia--when it came to the actual outbreak of the war.
After 1894, both Britain and Germany feared that the Franco-Russian alliance could turn against their respective interests; both London and Berlin did their best to either break up that alliance or bring it to their side, having failed to forge an Anglo-German alliance in the Caprivi period from 1890-94. (The latter period represents an era of German history that the Fischer school tends to ignore. It was at that time that Berlin was pursuing a full-fledged rapprochement with London, but failed to do so, with London to be blamed more than Berlin--a factor that helped provoke a militant backlash in Germany, particularly once Caprivi was blamed for letting France and Russia align and for having failed to bring London to Germany's side.)
The 1895 Franco-Russian-German alignment against Japan was, as Anthony correctly states, one of the first signs of a continental alliance against British interests in China and Asia, leading London to more strongly align with Japan by 1902. But the subsequent Japanese defeat of Russia in 1904-05 then led Russia to look toward Britain, but only with the help of French mediation, and due to French reluctance to enter into direct conflict with Britain. The defeat of Russia by Japan was, in effect, a carrot and stick, that ironically helped to push France, Russia and Britain closer together, in an alignment process that had begun as early as 1894.
But while conflict in Asia did help press the Triple Entente together, as Anthony argues, Asia was not London's only concern. The basic security concern was that Britain could not stand up against the combined French and Russian fleets in the English Channel, Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It had thus been in the period 1894-97 that Britain began to shift support away from support of Germany's allies, Italy and Austria, in the Mediterranean Accords---and toward Russia despite historic Anglo-Russian conflict in Asia in Kipling's Great Game, in part in the hope to split the Franco-Russian alliance. Despite France's democratic credentials, Britain reached out for a rapprochement with Russia, prior to seeking an accord with France: London would become willing to accommodate France in the Mediterranean, in Morocco, for example, but only once alliance negotiations with Germany collapsed in 1902.
Despite Anglo-German alliance negotiations from 1897 to 1902, the possibility of a British alignment with Germany was rejected by the end of 1902, not so much because of German strengths and its naval threat---but rather to prevent France, and particularly a rising Russia, from eventually aligning with Germany and Austria, in forging a German-French-Russian continental alliance. Moreover, it was only once London had rejected the possibility of an alliance with Berlin by 1902, that London and Paris began to resolve their global disputes. The two powers then tightened their defense accords, particularly in the period 1905-14, with French naval power focusing on the defense of the Mediterranean, and with London focusing on the English Channel and the North Sea, ultimately backing Belgium in 1913.
France's reduction of naval power along the English Channel symbolized the newfound 1904 Anglo-French entente (which was increasingly becoming an alliance). Berlin's efforts to break that Anglo-French entente through its burgeoning naval and dreadnought program, combined with continuing efforts to draw Russia into an alliance, while concurrently pressuring France, would be one of the background factors that would exacerbate global tensions, but the naval race would not be the fundamental cause of the 1914 Armageddon, which would be sparked by the Archduke's assassination. In a nutshell, I still see the European theatre, and not Asia in itself, as the primary concern for British security policy; yet it was primarily due to the tight nature of the Franco-Russian alliance that the European theatre could not be separated from Russia and Asia.
To get back to the original question of "war guilt": While Sir Edward Grey thought he could effectively counter-balance Germany/Austria vs France/ Russia by playing the two sides against each, in reality, British policy did nothing but further tighten the noose of "encirclement" around Germany--- which Berlin, unable to align with either France or Russia, attempted to escape through Turkey and backing for the Berlin-Baghdad railroad. In a word, Grey's policy "balance of power" proved to be a disaster. London's sin of omission (in provoking the so-called Great War through support of the Franco-Russian alliance as opposed to Germany's sin of commission in initiating the conflict) was Britain's inability to find ways to bring both France and Germany into an Anglo-French-German entente or alliance that would then counterbalance Russia in working with Japan. British Prime Minister Gladstone had proposed the need to forge an Anglo-French-German entente at the time of the Franco-Prussian war, but Foreign Office strategists refused to consider such a strategy at that time--- or later. And it was much too late to engage in such a policy after 1905--- when the British and French Left began to more strongly demand such a policy revision.
I was going to reply John's questions, but will try later!
JE comments: Hall Gardner is referring to my oxymoronic question as to whether Europe "inevitably stumbled" into war in 1914. Had there been an Anglo-French-German entente, I suppose no stumbling would have been possible.
I look forward to Hall's further thoughts.
Greater Serbia and Vidovdan; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
08/17/15 5:02 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
The great insights into the origins of World War I from Hall Gardner, Anthony D'Agostino,
and John Heelan leave me now with John Eipper's challenge to tell what I meant about
World War I destroying Serbia to create Greater Serbia, which the world knew for three-quarters of a century as a new place called Yugoslavia (though the Greater Serbia aspect
was somewhat on hold between 1945 and 1987; Tito was not only communist but Croatian).
There are fascinating mystic overtones here that are sharply etched and clear--
if you know the background. For example, when Serbian prime minister Nicola Pasic exulted in 1921:
"This year's Vidovdan restored our empire to us"--what in the world did he mean?
The thicket here is dense--and rich with revelation.
Vidovdan (Видовдан), St. Vitus's Day or June 28, said to date back to the pagan god Sved or Vid,
has been an especially revered Serbian date, anchored by mythology and history surrounding
the lost battle of June 28, 1389 (calendar changes aside). As Serbia preserved its Christian faith
under a half-millennium of Turkish/Islamic rule, the date and the mythology were enshrined
as national creed, especially by clerics in the 1600s-1700s, feeding nostalgia for an ancient Serb
Camelot (the real-life empire of Czar Dushan had lasted little more than a generation, carved from
the crumbling Byzantine flank). In Turkish-ruled Serbia, mystical symbolism became an oblique way
to affirm one's beleaguered Christianity (a folk-maze of threes: toasts, kisses on greeting--everything
done as a shadow reference to the Trinity)--and with this came startling commemorative power
in Vidovdan, bridging the merely coincidental into the fanatically engineered. When Serbia finally
wrenched itself free from the Ottomans in 1876, that war was declared on Vidovdan. Then the 1881
accord cementing the result, a secret convention with Austria, was reportedly signed on Vidovdan.
You may see the drift here. A few decades later, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a non-superstitious
sort, decided that there was no reason for him not to visit Austrian-ruled Bosnia on Vidovdan, he was
playing with mysterious fire. In Serbian eyes, because many citizens of Bosnia were Serbs, Bosnia
was part of a Greater Serbia that must be brought back into being, reviving the Camelot of dreams.
The visit on Vidovdan--June 28, 1914--was one more crossing of the stars, a sign, a celestial dispensation--certainly not lost on the consumptive post-adolescent plotter Gavrilo Princip, who--dying of tuberculosis
anyway--joined the assassination plot in a fire of mystical rightness. Later tried, Princip said of the insulting Vidovdan visit: "This fact fired me with zeal to carry out the attempt. Our folklore tells us how
Milos Obelic was accused before Vidovdan, and how he answered."
Milos Obelic was the (interestingly deceptive) hero of 1389--which for Princip seemed only yesterday.
The epic dimension gets thicker. In the 1914-1918 horror that then did predictably destroy Serbia as
Austria invaded in indignation, the above-named Premiere Pasic, in exile, presided over the trial and execution
of Apis/Dimitrijevic, the Black Hand visionary who had purportedly set in motion pawns like Princip.
But then in the Versailles Treaty, as the ashes cooled, Apis's grand vision was posthumously made flesh,
because the heads of state rewarded Serbia with a much larger country, which they called Yugoslavia
(Land of the South Slavs), but which was ruled from Serbia, as a Serbian project, though it included
(very restless) places like Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and the storied site of Camelot itself--Kosovo--
all of these lying within what Apis and co-visionaries had seen as Greater Serbia.
You may still not get the drift. The Versailles Treaty--for whatever reason--was also signed on Vidovdan.
In a colossally traumatized Europe, obsessive symbolism multiplied, with the more famed convergence being
the armistice date that effectively ended the war: Eleven-Eleven-Eleven (that is, November 11, 1918,
in a signing at 11:00 a.m., immortalizing Hitler's later reconfigured railroad car).
And then Yugoslavia was ratified.
The "Vidovdan Constitution" came on June 28, 1921.
A dense thicket, this, flashing with strange signs.
And thus another kind of trip might be required.
It's available here (https://sites.google.com/site/themagicredflower/home ).
Admittedly, it's a long trip, coming from a strange angle, in order to reach into a landscape of desire.
JE comments: All too often, Serbia is seen as the spark, not the cause, of WWI. With this captivating post, Gary Moore adds some important depth to our discussion. I had never before read of the Vidovdan connection.
- Did France Believe the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand would Start a World War? (Hall Gardner, France 08/19/15 3:56 AM)
This is in response to John E's question of 14 August, "Didn't the French, if they knew about the plot [to assassinate Franz Ferdinand], realize that the assassination would likely start a world war?" It was not at all clear to most of the actors involved at the time that the June 28, 1914 assassination of the Archduke would necessarily spark a global conflict.
Gavrilo Princip, who was only accidentally standing near enough to the Archduke to shoot him after the Archduke's motorcade turned down the wrong street, regretted the accusation that the assassination had started the war, but he also retorted by asserting his belief that Imperial Germany would have eventually find another pretext to start a war anyway, even if the assassination did not take place. And the fact that it took a whole month before the war actually broke out in early August raises questions as to whether the Archduke's assassination was really the primary factor in causing the war.
In my view, the negotiations that took place during that critical month of July 1914 were largely doomed from the start due to the nature of the alliance system that had developed since 1894, as I argue in my book, The Failure to Prevent World War I and on my previous WAIS posts. Here, I differ strongly with Christopher Clark, who argues in his book Sleepwalkers that all states in the pre-WWI era were free to alter their alliances, much as was true for the case of Italy.
While I agree that Russia could possibly have changed alliances and have shifted toward an alliance with Germany and Austria (as was proposed by the Archduke himself), it was absolutely crucial for France for geo-strategic and defense purposes to remain in alliance with Russia so as to counterbalance Imperial Germany. In fact, in the years before the war, the more St. Petersburg threatened to shift toward an alliance with Germany, or move into relative neutrality, the more the French opted to tighten the Franco-Russian alliance with significant financial and military assistance to Tsarist Russia.
This tightening of the Franco-Russian alliance, combined with uncoordinated British and American efforts to check Germany's growing political-economic influence, would then lead Berlin to opt for a two-front war once Russia began to mobilize its forces, largely pushed by France to do so, but also in asserting its own interests in the Balkans and eastern Europe. Berlin's decision to roll "Mars' Iron Dice"--gambling in the belief that Germany could rapidly defeat both France and Russia in six months while hoping that its burgeoning naval capabilities would keep Britain, if not ultimately the USA, neutral--resulted in unmitigated disaster.
JE comments: It's been a year since I visited the "Three Emperors' Corner"--the intersection of creeks where the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires met prior to 1918. Imagine if that remote setting in present-day Poland had been the epicenter of a tripartite imperial alliance.
More on Causes of WWI
(Anthony D`Agostino, USA
08/20/15 4:31 AM)
I wonder if some who are making important decisions for the great states of today are familiar with the basic facts in the discussion that Gary Moore, Hall Gardner, and I having been having on the origins of World War I. Diplomatic history is not fashionable in the major universities where they may have got their degrees, having been displaced by fascination with multiculturalism for some forty years now. Yet one often hears that world politics in the period under discussion is disturbingly similar to our own time, in Robert Kagan's phrase, "the nineteenth century redux."
Hall Gardner and I have been arguing the main theses of our recent books. We have mostly agreed, but we have differed on whether in general the war should be understood primarily in terms of continental conflicts (Hall's view), or global ones (mine). Hall says that the British were concerned with matters "closer to home than in Asia" by 1914. True enough, if you think of Admiral John Fischer's desire to concentrate the Royal Navy's strength in home waters. But if we are asking how the alignment of the powers ended up the way it did, we have to consider the events resulting from the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902, which I reviewed in my last post. Hall accepted this view which "ironically" (the right word!) begins with Britain trying to contain Russia, and ends with Britain allying with Russia.
But he insists that things were already going sour between Britain and Germany by 1902. The Salisbury tradition (Lord Salisbury's idea of Britain as a silent partner in the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy) was dead. The Mediterranean Agreements of the eighties linking Britain to Germany were defunct. Was this because of the Jamison Raid of 1895, Cecil Rhodes's attempt to seize the Transvaal, and German support for the Boers? Was it the German navy bill of 1897? Was it the Baghdad Railway project? Or the Kaiser's words of support to the Muslims in his visit to Jerusalem in 1898? Or the threat of the Far Eastern Triplice? No need to choose. Things often happen for more than one reason. At any rate, the period 1897-1901 was the period that all those who later lamented the falling out of Britain and Germany looked back to as the last chance to avoid war. Why could the two powers not agree?
I would answer this question by reference to the rise of the USA as a naval power. In the dispute over Venezuela in 1895 the USA cited the Monroe Doctrine and faced down Britain. After Salisbury had digested that, the British decided to stay on good terms with the USA. They accepted the US position on the Alaska boundary settlement, on Hawaii, on the Philippines, on Panama. The German conception of Weltpolitik, on the contrary, would have suggested using one or more of these events to demand compensation, as would befit Germany as a world power. In German eyes, that was how the British got Cyprus, and the French got Tunis. For example, Germany did not care when Britain tossed Morocco to France, but Bulow thought that Germany should have something in Africa comparable to Egypt or Morocco. Britain decided after the Venezuela crisis that it would back the USA against any German challenge anywhere on the seas of the world. Britain knew that in the age of world power, not merely just European great power, the USA, Britain, and perhaps Germany one day, were the only real contenders for the title of world naval power. So Britain had to choose between the USA and Germany.
The Germans could not see the choice that Britain had made. They kept hoping that Britain, once it learned to respect Germany as a world power, would come back to them. When the British joined the international naval force sent to prevent Serbia from reaching the Adriatic after the first Balkan war in 1912, the Germans thought the British had got over all their triple entente nonsense and returned to the Salisbury tradition. In 1914, they still entertained the hope that Britain would not be against them. That is a large part of the reason why they acted as they did.
JE comments: Anthony D'Agostino adds several new twists to our discussion. How much of the falling out between Britain and Germany had to do with the former's decision not to antagonize the US? What about the Boer War? As Anthony wisely comments, there is no need to choose.
on Diplomatic History; Causes of WWI
(Hall Gardner, France
09/11/15 12:22 PM)
I thank Anthony D'Agostino for his comments of 20 August. I apologize for the delay in response, as I just finished an article on "hybrid warfare" which should be out in October.
First let me express my agreement with Anthony that "Diplomatic history is not fashionable in the major universities." It seems no one today wants to study "hard" politics of decision-making options and strategic choices, but they prefer to study soft politics, primarily political-sociology, including multiculturalism. At the same time, historians themselves sometimes tend to look only at the results of what states decide, and they do not always examine the differing policy options and internal debates that actually led to those results. Examining the different diplomatic and policy options--that were actually debated at the time--is what I attempted to do in The Failure to Prevent World War I: The Unexpected Armageddon.
I do not really disagree with Anthony's views that global conflicts were also a cause of WWI and I totally agree that Imperial Germany, as a rising naval power, and its burgeoning conflict with the USA, was a major factor in pushing Great Britain against Germany. And Berlin, at least in part, justified its "risk fleet" on the analogy that just as American naval power forced Britain into an accommodation, the German navy could do the same!
The problem, however, was that German threats failed miserably to force Britain into accommodation and instead provoked conflict. But this raises the question: why were the British willing to "appease" the USA (virtually ignoring the US fleet in British naval estimations) but not the fleet of Imperial Germany--which really only began to be perceived as a potential naval threat after 1902?
My argument is that Imperial Germany became Britain's enemy "by default" once the Franco-Russian alliance was forged in 1894 and once London found itself increasingly drawn to an entente with both France and Russia, despite its efforts to reach out to Germany and/or Russia (and not really to France) from the late 1880s to 1902--the date when it finally gave up trying to find ways to accommodate Berlin. I argued this in previous WAIS posts.
Anthony is right to argue that the USA played a significant role in further dividing Germany and Great Britain and raising disputes between them. London could not afford to ignore the rising American political-economic power--which even threatened to use force against British interests in Canada, for example. I make a number of similar points to those of Anthony's comments in my book, The Failure to Prevent World War I, and likewise discuss the Venezuela crisis as a factor turning Britain against Germany and closer toward the USA in the early 1900s.
But one could add to this analysis that it was France who helped to mediate between the US and Spanish after their war over Cuba and the Philippines, whose islands the Germans coveted, in addition to coveting Guam, Hawaii, Virgin Islands, Samoa, among others. Washington also perceived Berlin as trying to penetrate Latin America economically through Guatemala and Mexico. One could also add how the 1911 Agadir Crisis impacted the USA given Washington's fear that Germany could set up a naval base in the Atlantic Ocean that could eventually threaten US interests and security. In effect, Imperial German naval threats forced the US to assert tighter controls over its own expanding spheres on influence and security, while checking those of Germany.
Yet while Washington and Berlin had their own major disputes, my point is that French diplomacy, in working with the Americans, helped to further divide the US and British from the Germans--all for the larger purpose of achieving a closer French alignment with London.
But despite this global US-German dimension that is at the long term origins of the conflict, I do not think these overseas conflicts were necessarily the prime cause of the actual decision for London to enter into WWI--in defending the French. Here, I argue that issues that impact conflicts need to be divided between those concerns that appear absolutely "vital" and that apparently cannot be compromised, and those concerns that are secondary and tertiary and can more easily be compromised.
For London in the years before WWI, the English Channel and Straits of Gibraltar were considered "vital" and therefore Britain would oppose whoever threatened those vital interests, whether it was France or Germany or another rising naval power like Italy. The continental strategic concern just before WWI was this: If France had not made its naval deal with Britain, what French Ambassador Paul Cambon called "mon petit papier," in which France would concentrate its fleet in the Mediterranean (thus taking the French fleet away from the English Channel) and in which the Royal Navy would protect the Atlantic coasts of France in case of war, or if France had opted to attack Belgium first in a preclusive intervention, London could have shifted to support the German side--or more likely remain neutral. This is regardless of London's extra-European conflicts with Germany, that, as I have argued, were given additional fuel by the USA and France...
Should France, as hypothetical, have opted to attack Germany first through Belgium (as was demanded by French General Joffre, but rejected in Anglo-French defense discussions before WWI), it would have changed the nature and outcome of the war, with the British probably not entering the conflict, at least initially. But to have prevented a major power war between France and Germany altogether would have necessitated a Franco-German deal over Alsace-Lorraine, the major dispute on the European continent. Such a deal would most likely need to be mediated by London.
Although the possibility of a "United States of Europe," that would bring France and Britain into cooperation with Germany, as called for by Victor Hugo, was actually promoted, at least to a certain extent, by the Kaiser himself, and although Franco-German reconciliation was urged belatedly by Jean Jaurès, as well by many Socialists and pacifists, it was vehemently opposed by French elites on both the Right and the Left. A horrific war on the continent and overseas was the consequence.
JE comments: Hall Gardner will be able to continue this discussion with Anthony D'Agostino at WAIS '15--just one month away! I hope to be an attentive fly on the wall.
Please RSVP if you plan to join us: October 10th and 11th, Bechtel International Center, Stanford.
- Did Franz Ferdinand's Assassination Cause WWI? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/21/15 4:56 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
In partial reply to Hall Gardner's authoritative knowledge on World War I's origins,
I don't see how a delay of just a month between the assassination of the Archduke and
Austria going to war proves that the assassination didn't cause the strike at Serbia.
Austria had to do something. The blow at the Archduke and his wife was merciless
and deep. The fact that the actual assailants along the parade route were minor
local fanatics didn't change the fact that they were being used by representatives
of "Greater Serbia" euphoria (though one of the plotters, Cubrilovic, would improbably
survive to become an architect of Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 1930s).
And how does Princip's accidental positioning prove anything? They had so many
planned attackers out there that one of the pistons finally hit. However
weirdly accidental the actual shot opportunity was, it occurred only because
they went out there for that purpose. It also seems to be true that Austria's response
when it invaded Serbia involved massacres and merciless over-reaction against
innocents, but would all of this have happened, at least at that time in that way, if not
for the assassination? (And wouldn't the month's delay only go to prove that Austria
was not previously chomping at the bit enough to already be mobilized?)
JE comments: Casual students of WWI (such as myself), and even many specialists, tend to overlook Serbia's inner politics as a fundamental cause of the conflict. They tend to gloss over Serbia, using the "spark" metaphor. I'm grateful to Gary Moore for filling in the blanks. A further question for Gary: how many assassins did the Black Hand place on the streets of Sarajevo that day?
- Did Franz Ferdinand's Assassination Cause WWI? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/21/15 4:56 AM)
- on Diplomatic History; Causes of WWI (Hall Gardner, France 09/11/15 12:22 PM)
- Did France Believe the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand would Start a World War? (Hall Gardner, France 08/19/15 3:56 AM)
- Greater Serbia and Vidovdan; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/17/15 5:02 AM)
- More on Europe's Alliances pre-1914 (Hall Gardner, France 08/16/15 12:20 PM)
- Origins of WWI (Anthony D`Agostino, USA 08/15/15 5:41 AM)
- Did France Know About Plot to Assassinate Franz Ferdinand? (Hall Gardner, France 08/14/15 4:17 AM)