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N°33 I quarterly I april 2014 Focus | 21 Chain reaction At the head of both the Serbian secret service and the Black Hand, Lieutenant Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, also known as “Apis,” instigated the attack of June 28 because the Serbs saw the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina as an affront: the country’s population included orthodox Serbs and therefore belonged to the future Greater Serbia. Franz Ferdinand’s announced intention to grant Bosnia relative autonomy further fuelled the Serbs’ anger: Bosnians would never embrace the cause of Greater Serbia if they were to become self-governing members of a prosperous empire. In Clark’s view, everything suggests that Pašić was aware of the assassination plot but only gave Austria a cryptic warning— enough to protect his own position while ensuring that his message would not be taken seriously. The historian believes Pašić may have been driven by his belief “that the final historical phase of Serbian expansion would in all probability not be achieved without war. Only a major European conflict in which the great powers were engaged would suffice to dislodge the formidable obstacles that stood in the way of Serbian ‘reunification.’” Of course, Belgrade was not the only warmonger. Russia, weakened since its defeat by Japan in 1908 and concerned about the rising power of its German neighbor, had good reason to enter another conflict, in a bid to “reshuffle the deck.” Indeed, Russia seemed to rush into war: it was the first country to call for a general mobilization, just 10 days after the Archduke’s assassination. By encouraging Serbia to stand up to Austria-Hungary—which had given the Serbs an ultimatum following the attack—Russia was guilty of “escalating a local quarrel and accelerating the war,” writes Sean McMeekin in July 1914: Countdown to War. Meanwhile, how did France—then an ally and creditor of both Russia and Serbia—react? When the crisis broke out, French President Raymond Poincaré was in Saint Petersburg, on a state visit to Russia. “Recent studies show that he did not try to dampen the Czar’s appetite for war,” Beaupré notes. “According to historian Stefan Schmidt, he even encouraged Russia to enter the fray, falsifying diplomatic documents in order to portray Germany as the aggressor. But this interpretation must be tempered: more than pushing Russia into war, France was mainly trying to remain on good terms with its allies.” Nonetheless, Germany certainly has a fair share of responsibility. Bolstered by his country’s skyrocketing economic development, Wilhelm II dreamed of expansion. A dream until then thwarted by Britain and France, longtime rivals that were now at peace following the Entente Cordiale of 1904 and were planning to resolve on their own the conflicts arising from the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Yet a war could change everything. Was such a horrendous conflict really fought to control a few scraps of land? “There is a crucial element to bear in mind,” emphasizes Offenstadt. “The protagonists expected it to be over quickly. Very few imagined that it could reach that scale, causing such unprecedented violence.” In short, none of the countries involved really wanted war. They were, in Clark’s words, “sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.” 01. L aboratoire de médievistique occidentale de Paris (CNRS / Université de Paris-I). 02. Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1967).
 03. C hristopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (London: Penguin, 2013); Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013); Margaret McMillan, The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (New York: Random House, 2013). 04 Map of Europe showing countries and empires in 1914, before the start of World War I. Contact information: Université de Clermont-Ferrand. Nicolas Beaupré > Nicolas.beaupre@univ-bpclermont.fr LAMOP, Paris. Nicolas Offenstadt > offenstadt@noos.fr August 4, 1914 August 3, 1914 August 1, 1914 Date of war entry August 1, 1914 Nov 1, 1914 1914 Allied Powers Countries that joined the Allies Central Powers Countries that joined the Central Powers Neutral countries 15 16 17 August 3, 1914 March 9, 1916 August 20, 1916 Oct 5, 1915 June 30, 1917 May 23, 1915 July 28, 1914 July 28, 1914 Europe before world war I © P. Deré/D. May er/AFP 04


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