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Amateur leaders, not evil men, brought ruin to the world

7 3 49

This Sunday the world observes the centenary of the end of the First World War, a war of previously unimagined destructiveness. Pre-war Europe was largely directed by royal personages related to each other. The German emperor, William II, was a cousin of the Russian emperor, Nicholas II, and their grandmother and grandmother-in-law in the case of Nicholas, was Victoria, queen and empress, grandmother also of Britain’s King George V, cousin of the Kaiser and the Czar.

The world blundered into war on a sequence of hair-triggers. On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Habsburg throne of the 700-year-old dynasty that ruled in Vienna, then evolved from the spuriously named Holy Roman Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Austria-Hungary had abruptly annexed Bosnia, contrary to popular wishes. The German emperor gave the venerable Franz Josef, emperor in Vienna for 68 years, and his divided government “a blank cheque” to exact revenge on Serbia, the Slavic power that had inspired Bosnian resistance to Vienna and the assassin, Gavrilo Princip. The Austro-Hungarian demands were accepted apart from the insistence on the prosecution of Serbian pan-Slav activists, practically regardless of evidence.

At this, Serbia balked and asked the assistance of its pan-Slav guarantor, Russia, which had just received a visit from the president and prime minister of France, Raymond Poincare and Rene Viviani. These two countries were allies opposite rampant imperial Germany and what had become its somewhat calcified, polyglot, client-empire governed from Vienna and Budapest. The French leaders urged the Russians not to be bullied. The world was generally sympathetic to Vienna and to Franz Josef, and few countries were prepared to express much toleration of assassination. Berlin and Vienna thought Russia was bluffing in its professed support of Serbia against the full Austro-Hungarian demands, and on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Russia mobilized against Austria-Hungary, but when Kaiser Wilhelm demanded that Russia not threaten Germany, his cousin the Czar raised his order to a general mobilization. Germany declared war on Russia on Aug. 1. These immature........

© National Post