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"The First World War"
A Complete History

by Professor Martin Gilbert

  Published by: Henry Holt and Companys, New York
  Edition 1994


From the back cover of the book:
One of the most distinguished historians, Martin Gilbert is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and the author of more than twenty works of history as well as twelve historical atlases. As the official Biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, he is the author of six volumes in the official biography and the editor of numerous volumes of Churchill documents. Among his books are Auschwitz and the Allies, The Holocaust, The Second World War,...


From the introductory chapter "Prelude to war", Page 2 (Quote:)

Not everyone in the newly-united Germany was satisfied by the victory over France. Other German ambitions were stirred as the Empire gained industrial strength. Aspirations for collonial expansion, for naval power at least as great as that of Britain, for influence over the Muslims of Asia, for a dominant part in the councels of Europe, intensified the German sense of inferiority. Germany, united only in 1870, had come too late, it seemed, into the race for power and influence, for empire and respect. The need for a further war, and for the overwhelming millitary strength essential to win it, was the conclusion of the book "Germany and the Next War," published by a retired German cavalry officer, Friedrich von Bernhardi, in 1912. Bernhardi had ridden as a conquerror through Paris in 1870. In his book he stressed the need for Germany either to make war or to lose the struggle for world power. The "natural law, upon which all the laws of the nature rest', he wrote, was 'the law of the struggle for existence'. War was a biological necessity'. German soldiers fourty years younger than he were soon to test this confident theory on the battlefield, and to die testing it.

Page 4:

...Germany had many territorial ambitions, particularly beyond her eastern border [Drang nach Osten]. Despising Russia, the Germans hoped to annex the western Polish provinces of the Russian Empire, and also to extend German influence over central Poland, into Lithuania, and along the Baltic coast. It was as if the Empire of William II would redress the balance of power first disrupted by Peter the Great two hundred years earlier, and, forty years after his death, by Catherine the Great...

Ruled by Franz Josef since 1848, Austria-Hungary sought to maintain its own large imperical structure by balancing its many minorities... Yet even the Hapsburg desire to change nothing and to disturb nothing clashed with the desire to curb the one irritant to Austrian rule in the south, the ever-growing (or so it seemed) Serbian State.

Pages 5 & 6:

Serbia, landlocked since she first won independence several decades earlier as the first Slav State of modern times, wanted an outlet on the Adriatic, but was blocked by Austria, which in 1908 had annexed the former Turkish province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This annexation was not only in defiance of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, to which Britain had been a signatory, but completed Austrian control of more than three hundred miles of Adriatic coastline. Bosnia also could serve as a military base, when need or opportunity arose, for an Austrian attack on Serbia...

The danger to Austria-Hungary of the ambitions of the Slavs was explained on 14 December 1912 in a letter from the Austrian Chief of Staff, Baron Conrad von Hotzendorf, to the Heir Apparent of the Hapsburg Empire, the Emperor's nephew Archduke Franz Ferdinand. 'The unification of the South Slavs race', Conrad told Franz Ferdinand, 'is one of the powerful national movements which can neither be ignored nor kept down. The question can only be, whether that unification will take place within the boundaries of the Monarchy - that is, at the expense of Serbia's independence - or under Serbia's leadership at the expense of the Monarchy.' Were the Serbia to be the leader of Slav unification, Conrad warned, it would be at the cost to Austria of all its south Slav provinces, and thus of almost its entire coastline. The loss of territory and prestige involved in Serbia's ascendancy 'would relegate the Monarchy to the status of a small power'...

Page 6 & 7:

As a sign of ... eastern ambitions, Germany had been pushing forward since 1899 with a railway from Berlin to Baghdad and beyond, using Constantinople as the crossing point from Europe to Asia...

... the idea of nearly two thousand miles of German enterprise striding across Europe, Anatolia and the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire was galling, even threatening, to Britain, with her own imperial interests in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

Along the route of the railway only Serbia, though with a mere 175 miles ran, was not within the German sphere of influences and alliances...

Page 8:

Serbia's victory in the First Balkan War against Turkey in 1912 was a set-back to Germany. The military and territorial success of this small Slav State threatened not only Austria's predominance in the Balkans, but also Germany's desire to be the predominant European power in Turkey The loss of Turkish territory in Europe to Serbia was a victory for Russian sentiment. The Russians, as champions of the Slavs, and as rulers of the Polish and Baltic provinces adjacent to Germany, stimulated German animosity. The racial concept of Teuton against Slav was a force for conflict. Nor did it seem that this conflict was necessary unwelcome [among German leaders]. On 8 December 1912, in a discussion with the Chief of Staff, Count von Moltke, the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral von Muller, and the Secretary of State for the Navy, Admiral von Tirpitz, the Kaiser told them, as Muller recorded in his diary: 'Austria has to act vigorously against the foreign Slavs (i.e. Serbs) because she would otherwise lose her power over the Serbs in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy [i.e. Krajina and Bosnian Serbs]. If Russia were to support the Serbs, war would be inevitable for us.' The German Fleet, the Kaiser added, 'would have to face war against Britain'.

During the meeting, Moltke suggested that 'the popularity of a war against Russia, as outlined by the Kaiser, should be better prepared'. The Kaiser agreed that the newspapers must begin to 'enlighten the German people' as to Germany's 'great national interests' if war were to break out following an Austro-Serbian conflict...

Page 9:

Moltke was convinced, he told General Conrad von Hotzendorf, the Austrian Chief of Staff, on 10 February 1913, 'that a European war is bound to come sooner or later, in which the issue will be ane struggle between Germandom and Slavdom'...

Germany's growing strength was everywhere apparent. In the spring of 1913 her standing army, which a year earlier had been increased to 544,000 men, was increased further to 661,000...

In the immediate aftermath of the Balkan wars, it was not Germany but her neighbour and ally Austria that defended the need of Germanentum against Slaventum. As a result of Austrian pressure, Turkey agreed to the creation of an independent Albania, effectively cutting Serbia off from access to the Adriatic Sea...

Page 10:

...the Kaiser expressed his support for any Austrian action to force Serbia out of Albania... On 18 October 1913 the Austrian Government sent an ultimatum to Belgrade, demanding the evacuation of Albania by Serbian forces withi eight days. The Serbs complied. That day a British diplomat, Eyre Crowe, noted with truth, and a certain prescience: 'Austria has broken loose from the concert of Powers in order to seek a solution single-handed of a question hitherto treated as concerning all Powers.'
(End quote)

More to come (The assassination of the Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914).

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First posted: May 8, 1997