From: Danmark, Europe
...That being said I strongly disagree with your assertion that modern scholarship holds both sides more or less equally at fault for causing the war. David Fromkin’s “Europe’s Last Summer” is a terrific synthesis of the conclusions made in the last decades and totally rejects the “accidental train wreak” or “Historical Inevitability” thesis we grew up with.
The Great War was deliberately and carefully precipitated by a handful of officials in Austria and Germany lead by Franz Conrad von Hötzendor who wanted a war against Serbia and Moltke who wanted one against Russia.
The “we-all-slithered-into-war ” thesis was comprehensively demolishe in 1961 when Fritz Fischer published his seminal study ‘Deutschland’s Griff Nach der Weltmacht’ (literally ‘Germany’s Grab for World Power’ though the abridged British translation bore the far blander title ‘Germany’s Aims in the First World War’). For the first time, Fischer opened archives in both West and East Germany to prove that Germany had used the crisis triggered by the pistol shots in Sarajevo quite deliberately to spark a war. ... the evidence for his thesis was so overwhelming that it gradually found acceptance among virtually all serious historians of the period, both outside Germany and within it.
It's true that AH wanted war with Serbia, hoping to quell unrest in their slawonic provinces that threatened to collapse the whole empire. It's also true that the German military thought it best to force the issue. But if you only look at that you take a much too narrow point of view. Even Fischer does not put all the blame on Germany. He says in his book is that the German leaders bear a significant part of the historical responsibility for the outbreak of the war, not more and not less.
And the German military did not want war for the sake of it. They realised that with France, Britain and Russia allied and Russia making great efforts to enlarge and improve their army Germany would soon be hopelessly outnumbered (especially as the only true Ally Austria-Hungary was ever weakening from their Balkan problems). As war at some point in the future seemed inevitable, not least because of growing French belligerence, they believed that it would be prudent to fight it out while the odds still seemed manageable.
So yes, the final spark that exploded the situation probably came from the Central Powers, but the overall crisis was by no means only one side's fault, and I know that the vast majority of historians agrees with me (or rather I with them).
That wholly depends on the importance one attaches to the specific events of the July crisis as opposed to broader trends. If one believes that the underlying tensions were leading towards a cataclysm and that if it hadn’t been the bullet in Sarajevo it would have been something else sparking an almost inevitable conflict you are right.
If one the other hand one considers the specific crises crucial to causing the war, that if it hadn’t been for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand it is highly unlikely that there would have been a great war at all then the specific decision to deliberately cause a war over it takes much greater importance.
I believe the latter. The window of opportunity for Germany’s preventive war against Russia was rapidly closing. French-German relations were improving and were probably better in 1914 than they had been in decades. The Anglo-German navy race was just about over with Germany conceding; colonial disputes were pretty much settled. The people in Germany who caused the war in 1914 had wanted one for about a decade if conditions were right but in previous crises Germany’s allies had shown no interest in picking a fight with Russia and they certainly didn’t want Germany to end up fighting alone. Francis Joseph was a very old man and his heir was very much against embroiling Austria in any wars. The assassination removed Franz Ferdinand who would certainly have blocked any Austrian military adventurism and created the situation to for the conspirators in Germany to get their war under conditions were they could be assured of Austrian support
The Great War had such a huge impact that we all clearly see the road that lead to it missing the countless paths that might have lead away from it. An interesting work is “The Lost history of 1914 – reconsidering the year the Great War began” Jack Beatty arguing, persuasively in my mind, that war itself was a unlikely event by 1914, it would have been far likelier a decade earlier but by 1914 Europe had – almost – dodged the bullet and it was a one in a million event that caused it and absent that one bullet in Sarajevo there would have been no Great War.
Certainly the general consensus at the time was that the risk of war was decreasing. Most famously exemplified by a leading writing a popular book explaining why a general was impossibility since it would ruin everyone and that the cost would be ruinous even to the victor. (The title escapes me – sorry I’m sure you know that one I mean) The military cast in Germany was losing influence, another Generation and the Social Democrats would almost certainly have been in charge of Germany sidelining the military cast. The emerging economic class of bankers and industrials were horrified at the thought of war – stock marked collapse almost everywhere at the outbreak of war with the leading bankers and industrialist desperate to avoid it. Remember the world economy were by some standards even more open and interconnected then is the case today. The war came as a shock to most, it was not expected at the time.
< Message edited by ulver -- 12/15/2012 11:09:21 PM >