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How to make a World War in the Balkans

As we watch NATO attack on Serbia in the last year of 20th century let us remind ourselves of how the First World War was started in the Balkans, at the beginning of the same century.

The parallel is shocking.


"IT MUST COME TO FIGHT." The dying words in 1913 of Field Marshal Alfred, Graf von Schlieffen, Chief of the German Great General Staff between 1891 and 1905, reflected the ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY of one of the most influential military minds of his time. For at least a decade before 1914, the major European powers had been arming and preparing themselves for war...

The nineteenth century, unlike its predecessor, had seen few wars in Europe, and no major European war at all after 1871...

[T]he years of prosperity also saw the unprecedented militarization of society, and the elevation of national fervor - in its semi-respectable guise as patriotism - to the status of prevailing ideology in every European state, even those such as Austria-Hungary which were ostensibly multinational in make-up.

The militarization of society was felt at all levels...

The cost of militarization was enormous, since rapid technical advances necessitated the re-equipment of both armies and navies with increasing regularity... Such expenditure could be justified in democratic societies only in terms of comparison with neighbors; hence neighbors were increasingly portrayed as potential enemies in both official and unofficial propaganda. The wider availability of newspapers and journals, and the spread of literacy, gave new power to such nationalistic messages... Germans were reminded of their CIVILIZING MISSION among the Slavs and the constant danger of a Russian revival...
(End quote)

The above quote is from the very first page of Introduction to Anthony Livesey's voluminous "The Historical Atlas of World War I", A Henry Holt Reference Book, New York 1994


[On June 28, 1914] The telegrams carried the news [of assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand] like a dark cloud to every Foreign Office in Europe. There were few tears for the Archduke, deep fears for the dynasty. Nothing in the world was more political than the Hapsburg clan... The 84-year-old Emperor had clearly not long to live... Worst of all, [Franz Ferdinand] had been murdered in an OCCUPIED CAPITAL [Sarajevo] by an irredentist Serb, at the very moment, as every diplomatist in Europe knew, when Austria was groping far an anti-Serb issue, and when Germany was awaiting any chance of a reckoning with the Serbs, whom the Kaiser regarded as savages and regicides...

For Austria... it was necessary to secure the support of Germany; the aged Franz Josef wrote the letter to the Kaiser in his own hand, saying: "I am certain that you are convinced that any agreement with Serbia is out of the question." A week later the Kaiser wrote back, promising support... It was hardly unexpected; eight months earlier the Kaiser had discussed Serbia with Count Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, suggesting the shelling and occupation of Belgrade. "Rest assured," he said, "I stand behind you, and am ready to draw the sword whenever the lead you take makes it necessary."...

As a casus belli [an excuse for a war] it could hardly, in the circumstances, be bettered.

And still Austria waited eighteen more days...

The above quote is from James Cameron's "1914", Rinehard & Co., New York 1959, pages 32-34.


As a junior partner in the Alliance, Austria listened very closely to Germany's political and military leaders in working out its response...

Some German military leaders drew the hazardous conclusion: better now than later. If the war is to come, don't wait until Russian strength becomes overpowering... Russia must be warned not to start the dominoes falling by rushing to Serbia's support. Russia had, after all, backed away from honoring its alliance with Serbia in 1908 and although circumstances had changed, it seemed possible she might do so again... If all went as hoped, Bethmann Hollweg foresaw a short period of tension lasting about three weeks with considerable verbal fireworks but no actual military moves on the part of Russia. Once this had passed, Serbia would be duly punished and Russian influence in the Balkans would collapse...

Late Thursday afternoon, on July 23, 1914, the Austrian Empire responded to the assassination [on June 28, 1914] by hurling an ultimatum at Serbia. It demanded that Serbia vigorously suppress Serbian nationalist activity, "the ultimate aim of which is to detach from the Monarchy territories belonging to it..." [i.e. Bosnia] To suppress this one force which many within the Austrian Empire considered to be a deadly cancer - Slavic nationalism - the ultimatum demanded that Serbia punish Serbian radical nationalists, prosecute terrorists, cease anti-Austrian propaganda, and even to allow Austrian officials to intrude into Serbian military affairs. An Austrian diplomat assured German officials that the ultimatum had been framed in such as way" as to make it really impossible" for Serbia to accept it with honor. Serbia was given forty-eight hours to comply.

When news of the demands flashed across Europe, newspapers rushed out special editions and editorialsts soon assessed its meaning. The Berliner Tageblatt found the ultimatum "completely justified," adding that Germany would do everything to keep any potential conflict localized. Kreuzzeitung proclaimed, "No Great Power can afford to be taunted and challenged by a small weak neighbor," and Germania assured its readers the Austrian action would "liberate Europe from a terrible nightmare." It remained, however, for the Tagliche Rundschau to express a sentiment everyone knew to be true: "On the Serbian answer hinges the fate of Europe; the decision lies with Russia."

Not every [German] editorial approved, however. Vorwarts reacted with one word: KRIEG? [WAR?] and warned, "They want war, those unconscionable elements who exert influence in the Viennese Hofburg." Before the day ended this Socialist newspaper issued an extra edition calling for protest rallies. "Not one drop of blood from one German soldier should be shed in the name of the power-hungry Austrian warlords or for Imperialist profiteers' interests," its editor proclaimed.

The above quote is from German history scholar, Professor Dr. Laurence V. Moyer's book "VICTORY MUST BE OURS", Hippocrene Books, New York, 1995, pages 65 - 68


[On July 23, 1914] Westminster was still obsessed with Ireland...

The Speaker was waiting in the anteroom of Buckingham Palace to take his leave of the King [George]. He picked up an evening paper, and the item leaped out of the page: Austria had presented her ultimatum to Serbia.

A few moments later Sir Edward Grey hurried in from the Foreign Office, deeply moved. He had the document in his hand. It was, he said, "unexpectedly severe - harsher in tone and more humiliating in its terms than any communication of which we had recollection addressed by one independent Government to another."...

[The ultimatum] insisted:
(1) that the Serbian Government publish in the Sunday edition of its official organ a condemnation of the Anti-Austrian propaganda, an abject apology, and a threat to punish all "anti-Austrian machinations";
(2) that it should suppress all anti-Austrian publications and dissolve the Pan-Serb organization Narodna Odbrana; [People's Defense]
(3) dismiss all officers and functionaries "whose names and deeds the Austro-Hungarian Government reserves to itself the right of communicating," and accept the assistance of Austrian agents in so doing,
(4) proceed against all accessories to the Sarajevo plot, and deal with all anti-Austrian utterances of Serbian officials, and
(5) notify the Austria-Hungarian Government of the execution of these things without delay.

The phraseology was something quite unprecedented [by that time] even in the brusque context of Balkan affairs. Vienna demanded that Serbia accept these terms by six of the evening of 25th. There would be no extensions of the forty-eight-hour term, and no mediation from any quarter would be in any circumstances acceptable.

Mr. Asquith at once reported to the King: "It is the gravest event for many years. past in European politics, as it may be the prelude to a war in which at least four of the Great Powers might be involved...".

The above quote is from James Cameron's "1914", Rinehard & Co., New York 1959, pages 37-38.


Meanwhile, the settlement of Ireland must carry with it an immediate and decisive abatement of party strife in Britain... One had hoped that the events of April [1914] at the Curragh and in Belfast would have shocked British public opinion, and formed a unity sufficient to impose a settlement on the Irish factions...

The discussion had reached its inconclusive end, and the Cabinet was about to separate, when the quiet grave tones of Sir Edward Grey's voice were heard reading a document which had just been brought to him from the Foreign Office. It was Austrian note to Serbia. He had being reading or speaking for several minutes before I could disengage my mind from the tedious and bewildering debate which had just closed. We were all very tired, but gradually as the phrases and sentences followed one another impressions of a wholly different character began to form in my mind. This note was clearly an ULTIMATUM; but it was an ultimatum such as had never been penned in modern times. As the reading proceeded it seemed ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE that any State in the world could accept it, or that any acceptance, however abject, would satisfy the aggressor. The parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded back into the mists and squalls of Ireland, and a strange light began immediately, but by perceptible graduations, to fall and grow upon the map of Europe.

I always take the greatest interest in reading accounts of how the war came upon different people; where they were, and what they were doing, when the first impression broke on their mind, and they first began to feel this overwhelming event laying its fingers on their lives. I never tire of the smallest detail, and I believe that so long as they are true and unstudied they will have a definite value and an enduring interest for posterity...

The above quote is from Winston S. Churchill "The World Crisis", Volume I, pages 204, 205, Charles Schribner's Sons, New York 1923, renewed in 1951.


And then - on July 25, Serbia virtually accepted the demands. Her chief reservations were about Austrian collaboration in suppressing the subversive movement and participation in legal investigations. She would agree to such collaboration as was consistent with international law but could not allow agents of a foreign government to take part in her juridical affairs. She ended by stating that she would be prepared to submit the question to the International Tribunal at The Hague or to the great powers....

The above quote is from Cyrill Falls' "The Great War", G.P.Putnam's Sons, New York 1959, pages 28, 29


Then came a bizarre episode, which remained secret until after the war. The [German] Kaiser, reading that morning for the first time the full text of the Austrian ultimatum and the Serbian reply, could see no reason at all for Austria to declare war, writing in the margin of the Serbian reply: "A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every reason for war is removed and Giesl ought to remain quietly in Belgrade. On the strength of this I should never have ordered mobilisation." He went to suggest that "as a visible satisfaction d'honneur for Austria, the Austrian Army should temporarily occupy Belgrade as a pledge." Then negotiations to end the brief military conflict could begin. "I am convinced", the Kaiser wrote to Jagow, "that on the whole the wishes of the Danube [Austrian] monarchy have been acceded to. The few reservations that Serbia makes in regard to individual points can in my opinion be well cleared up by negotiations. But it contains the announcement orbi and urbi of a capitualation of the most humiliating kind, and with it every reason for war is removed."

It was too late for such conciliatory counsel: at noon that day, scarcely an hour after the Kaiser penned these unbellicose words, Austria declared war on Serbia, confident of German support if the war widened...

Winston Churchill,... wrote to his wife on learning of the Austrian declaration of war: "I wondered whether those stupid Kings and Emperors could not assemble together and revivify kingship by saving the nations from hell but we all drift on in a kind of dull cataleptic trance. As if it was somebody else's operation."...

In the Russian capital, St Petersburg, rumours were circulating that Austria's designs might extend "considerably beyond" a punitive occupation of Serbian territory. Serbia's very independence might be in danger. The Russian partial mobilisation of July 29 coincided with the first bombardment of Belgrade by Austrian river monitors. Russian opinion was incensed against Austria. In a panic at the prospect of war with Germany, the Tsar appealed directly to the Kaiser, with whom he had been in friendly correspondence for more than twenty years. "To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war," the Tsar telegraphed (in English), "I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far."...

[The Tsar] proposed to Kaiser that the "Austro-Serbian problem" be handed over to the International Court at The Hague. Late that evening the Kaiser proposed to the Tsar that Russia "remain a spectator of the Austro-Serbian conflict, without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed."...

Austria had no intention of submitting her dispute with Serbia to The Hague...

It was at four in the afternoon of July 30 that the Tsar signed the order for full Russian mobilisation. Russian popular sentiment applauded the fullest possible solidarity with the beleaguered fellow Slavs of Serbia...

The above quote is from Professor Dr. Martin Gilbert's "The First World War, the Complete History", Henry Holt & Co., New York 1994, pages 24 - 27


The parallel between the events in 1914 when Austro-Hungarian Empire - Evil and Mighty - thought that it was time to use Machiavellian rule of the big - THE MIGHT IS RIGHT - and the application of the same rule of the Western culture by Evil NATO-American Empire in 1999 is staggering.

Both Austrian Empire's ultimatum of 1914 and Ramboulliet ultimatum of 1999 are constructed with intention to generate a war.

"The game" is the same - destruction of sovereignty of the Serbian people. The method of audacious - impossible to fulfill ultimatums, threats and wanton use of force - is the same. The language where the Mighty are on the side of great MORALS while the small nation trying to defend its freedom is labeled as "savages and regicides..." - is the same. The disregard of the Mighty for the use of international arbitration - is the same. The lust for power, for blood; the disregard of human life - on all sides - is the same.

Even the belief that Russia, and the rest of the world, is ready to stomach endless disregard of the International Law and endless mutilation of the Serbian people - is the same.

One is left with the urge to look for differences - not similarities. The similarities are too obvious. The minds of the Mighty, their attitude toward us - the common people - did not change an iota. The only difference is the level of technology. Russia does not have to order full mobilization any more. The intercontinental ballistic rockets that can turn the U.S. into United States of Grass and Grasshoppers are, as the result of the crisis, reoriented back to target American population.

A simple press on a button will end war of all wars. The innocent will perish with the audacious - with the "Mighty."

Petar Makara (Makarov)


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First posted: May 4, 1999