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11-08-2015, 16:03

Historians View the Origins of the War

For some historians the international tensions throughout the continent provide a sufficient explanation for the outbreak and spread of war in the summer of 1914. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by Serb nationalists enticed Austrian leaders to crush the Serb threat once and for all. Russia's link to Serbia turned out to be a central element in the road to war as the tsar's empire supported its small Balkan ally. Germany stood anxious, not only to preserve Austria-Hungary, its lone ally, but also to humiliate Russia, Serbia's international friend. Therefore, Berlin urged Vienna onward. France sprang to Russia's defense and, due to the German war plan, faced German attack. Britain, after some hesitaUon, moved to aid France, and, in the larger sense, to contain an overly powerful Germany. Thus, a Balkan crisis in late June began a vast European warT3y the start of August. Arno Mayer has found a crucial cause of the war in the troubled domestic scene in the major countries of Europe. In his view, leaders drawn from traditional elites with a weakening grip on power entered the war to subvert the process of internal change. Thus, the growing electoral power of the SPD, Germany's Socialist party, which had won an impressive victory in the national elections of 1912 to become the largest party in the Reichstag, or the possibility of civil war in Great Britain over the issues of Irish Home Rule, loomed large. If such pressures did not dictate entry into war, according to Mayer, they inclined leaders to take risks more willingly than they would have otherwise. In the end, Mayer is less than persuasive. As Theodore Hamerow has put it, there is no hint of such intentions: "No grand design, no fixed plan can be discerned in what the political leaders were doing during those feverish weeks and days before the outbreak of hostilities." One looks in vain for a revelation by one of the directors of Europe's politics "in some secret diary, in some private conversation with an aide, a colleague, a friend, a wife." Indeed, Bethmann HoUweg and other leaders were more afraid war would promote domestic upheaval. lo A further issue that has drawn intense concern is whether or not Germany holds a disproportionate degree of responsibility for the outbreak of war. It is now clear that German recklessness and ambition, mixed with fear that delay in fighting a war against a reviving Russia would prove fatal, inflamed an already dangerous situation and pointed Europe toward war. All of the participant countries in the great summer crisis contributed—by their diplomatic ineptness and their antagonisms—to the grim outcome. Nonetheless, it was Germany's encouragement of gross aggressiveness in Vienna that counted most in moving the crisis from the conference table to the battlefield.il