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Post More on Europe's Alliances pre-1914
Created by John Eipper on 08/16/15 12:20 PM

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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.

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  • 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.

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