July 28th 1914
And so it starts, though Britain will not join the fray for another week. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and the first skirmishes are reported. Hopes for the peace conference proposed by Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, are foundering, though in London, Paris and St Petersburg, The Daily Telegraph reports, it is still believed a wider European war can be averted.
And in Berlin, crowds throng the Austrian embassy
|A signed copy of the declaration of war between Austria -Hungary and Serbia|
On July 28th at 11.49 a.m. Prince Lichnowsky sent the fourth British offer of mediation, this time from King George V as well as Grey. Lichnowsky wrote that the King desired that “British-German joint participation, with the assistance of France and Italy, may be successful in mastering in the interest of peace the present extremely serious situation.” At 4.25 p.m. on July 28th, Lichnowsky reported to Berlin that “since appearance of Austrian demands nobody here believes in possibility of localizing conflict.” The Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicolson and the Private Secretary to Sir Edward Grey, Sir William Tyrrell saw Grey's conference offer as “the only possibility of avoiding a general war” and hoped "to get full satisfaction for Austria, as Serbia would be more apt to give in to the pressure of the Powers and to submit to their united will than to the threats of Austria”. Tyrrell relayed Grey's view that if Serbia were invaded, “world war would be inevitable”. Lichnowsky in his dispatch to Berlin offered "an urgent warning against believing any further in the possibility of localization [of the conflict]”. When Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador in Berlin, presented Grey’s conference proposal to Jagow, the Germans totally rejected the offer In a letter to Grey, Bethmann Hollweg stated that Germany “could not summon Austria before a European court of justice in her case with Serbia”. Austrian troops began to concentrate in Bosnia as a preparatory step towards invading Serbia. Falkenhayn told the German government “It has now been decided to fight the matter through, regardless of the cost”, and advised Bethmann Hollweg to order a German attack on Russia and France at once. Moltke supported Falkenhayn by submitting the assessment that 1914 was a “singularly favourable situation” for Germany to go to war as both Russia and France were not prepared whereas Germany was. Once the Russian Great Military Programme would be completed by 1917, Moltke stated that Germany would never be able to entertain the prospect of a victorious war again, and so should destroy both France and Russia while it was still possible. Moltke ended his assessment that “We shall never hit it again so well as we do now.” Jagow backed up Moltke by sending a message to Vienna telling the Austrians they must attack Serbia at once because otherwise the British peace plan might be accepted.
On the 28th, after reading the Serbian reply, Wilhelm first commented: “But that eliminates any reason for war”, or "every cause for war falls to the ground”. Wilhelm noted that Serbia had made “a capitulation of the most humiliating kind", that “The few reservations which Serbia has made with respect to certain points can in my opinion surely be cleared up by negotiation,” and acting independently of Grey, made a similar “Stop in Belgrade” offer. Wilhelm stated that because “The Serbs are Orientals, therefore liars, tricksters, and masters of evasion”, a temporary Austrian occupation of Belgrade was required until Serbia kept its word.
Wilhelm’s sudden change of mind about war enraged Bethmann Hollweg, the military and the diplomatic service who, acting in accord, proceeded to sabotage Wilhelm’s offer. A German general wrote: “unfortunately...peaceful news. The Kaiser wants peace...He even wants to influence Austria and to stop continuing further.” Bethmann Hollweg sabotaged Wilhelm’s proposal by informing Prince Tschirschky: “You must most carefully avoid giving any impression that we want to hold Austria back We are concerned only to find a modus to enable the realisation of Austria-Hungary’s aim without at the same time unleashing a world war, and should this after all prove unavoidable, to improve as far as possible the conditions under which it is to be waged.” In passing on Wilhelm’s message, Bethmann Hollweg excluded the parts wherein the Emperor told the Austrians not to go to war. Jagow told his diplomats to disregard Wilhelm’s peace offer, and continue to press for war. General Falkenhayn told Wilhelm that he “no longer had control of the affair in his own hands”. Falkenhayn went on to imply that the military would stage a coup d’etat, and depose Wilhelm in favour of the hawkish Crown Prince Wilhelm if he continued to work for peace.
Bethmann Hollweg’s two favourable conditions for war that he mentioned in his telegram to Vienna were that Russia be made to appear the aggressor forcing a reluctant Germany into war, and that Britain be kept neutral. The necessity of making Russia appear the aggressor was the greater concern to Bethmann-Hollweg because the German Social Democratic Party had denounced Austria for declaring war on Serbia and ordered street demonstrations to protest Germany’s actions in supporting Austria. However, Bethmann Hollweg put great faith in the private promises he received from SPD leaders that they would support the government if Germany was faced with a Russian attack.
"Serbia has in fact met the Austrian demands in so wide-sweeping a manner that if the Austro-Hungarian Government adopted a wholly uncompromising attitude, a gradual revulsion of public opinion against it in all of Europe would have to be reckoned with."
German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg in a wire to the German Embassy in Vienna
News of the declaration of war comes late to London but in New York, 'the full force of the news' is felt
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