Austin Bay

Military historian Dr. A. A. Nofi told me that Wilhelm definitely believed the Austrians had won the diplomatic struggle over the murder. However, he failed "to fully grasp that the Austrians wanted a war to crush the Serbs." Austrian hardliners wanted to destroy Serbia as a Balkan adversary, and the assassination gave them the perfect excuse.

Dr. Nofi added, "The Kaiser made the mistake of letting his weaker ally control the game."

Perhaps that vaguely echoes the 21st-century phrase "leading from behind"; it definitely describes the flailing situation of a great power, one with multiple interests and commitments, losing control of events.

The signaling, posturing and reasonable demands for justice framing the diplomacy of July 1914 did not have to lead to the deadly guns of Aug. 1914 and the subsequent four-year long bloodbath. However, the diplomacy exposed the weakness (and fears) of two medieval empires, the Russian Romanovs and the Austro-Hungarian Habsburgs. Three short wars involving Ottoman Turkey (Turco-Italian of 1911-1912 and the First and Second Balkan Wars) had confirmed the Ottoman Empire's decay and weakness. Austrian hardliners wanted to demonstrate that they were not as fragile as the Ottomans.

July 31: Romanov Russia commenced full-scale military mobilization. Do not trifle with the Czar. He is a Russian Slav committed to defending his ethnic Slavic brethren Serbs. France, Russia's ally, began military mobilization. Germany declared war on Russia on Aug. 1, and began mobilizing. German mobilization was well-planned; Germany faced a two-front war. On Aug. 3, Germany declared war on France and Belgium and attacked both. France declared war on Germany. On Aug. 5, the U.S. declared neutrality.

The war that shaped -- and devastated -- the 20th and 21st centuries had begun.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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