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Blame: The Great War's Origins

Emperor Franz Joseph (in Austria-Hungary) wanted to crush Serbia, believing it was a threat to his empire.

Without the support of Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany (the Kaiser), Austria-Hungary would not have gone to war against Serbia. The Kaiser had nixed such a war in 1912, but in 1914 he believed that the Serbs should be punished and that a wider war would not develop because Russia's emperor, the tsar, would agree that regicide (the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand) needed to be punished. The Kaiser, who had the power to chose to go to war or not, was definitely against a wider war.

Russia pushed Europe into a wider war by deciding to go to war in support of Serbia (fellow Eastern Orthodox Serbs). Russia mobilized its troops, sending them against Austria-Hungary and its ally Germany. With the Russians coming, Germans gave support to war to defend the homeland. The Kaiser was swept up in the fervor for war.

Going to war had become more than the doing of any one empire. Going to war had become an international collective mix of motives, and it included France honoring its alliance with Russia and Britain honoring its alliances with France and Russia, alliances made in the interest of national security.

The Bottom Line: What was to be called the Great War came because there was too little fear of it among those who had the power to choose not to join it — less fear of war than would develop during the age of atomic bombs and the Cold War. And there was another underlying cause: imperialists seeking the maintenance of their empires.

We can guess that if old Franz Joseph had realized fully the danger of his empire collapsing he would not have started his war against Serbia. But Franz Joseph wasn't the brightest of Europeans.

CONTINUE READING: Failures without Reasonable Correction, to January 1915

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