Could the outbreak of war in 1914 be avoided?

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Gwynn Compton
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Could the outbreak of war in 1914 be avoided?

Post by Gwynn Compton » 05 Sep 2002 10:59

From John Keegan's The First World War
Yet the irrevocable did not yet seem done. The Tsar still hoped, on the strength of a telegram from the Kaiser begging him not to violate the German frontier, that war could be averted. The Kaiser, meanwhile, had fixed on the belief that the British would remain neutral if France were not attacked and was ordering Moltke to cancel the Schlieffen Plan and direct the army eastward. Moltke was aghast, explained that the paperwork would take a year, but was ordered to canvel the invasion of Luxembourg, which was the Schlieffen Plan's necessary preliminary. In London this Sunday 1 August, the French ambassador, Paul Cambon, was thrown into despair by the British refusal to declare their position. Britain had, throughout the crisis, pursued the idea that, as so often before, direct talks between the involved parties would dissolve the difficulties.
Were the leaders of the nations powerless to stop their military leaders taking them to war? As soon as mobilisation was issued, was it too late to avert the war? This would seem to suggest that it largely was.
Thoughts?

Gwynn

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 10 Sep 2002 16:16

Germany could only have avoided war by persuading Austria-Hungary to pull out of Serbia - and the only way to do that was to declare neutrality.

Yet if Franz Josef called Germany's bluff and kept on with their invasion, Austria-Hungary would be left fighting Serbia and Russia by herself. Needless to say Austria-Hungary wouldn't stand a chance in that situation. Rumania would probably join the Russian side too. The Russian High Command would likely insist on total victory, thwarting any attempt by the Tsar for a negotiated peace.

How could Germany stand by and allow Russia and her allies to destroy the Austro-Hungarian Empire? That would leave Russia a superpower in Eastern Europe. Paradoxically, the only alternative the Germans had was to actually change sides (!) and HELP the Russians dismember Austria-Hungary, annexing Austria and Bohemia to Germany and letting the Russians and their allies have the rest.

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 10 Sep 2002 16:35

Russia could only avoid war by leaving Serbia to her fate and losing all influence and prestige in the Balkans. Not an attractive option unless she lost French support.

France could only avoid war by declaring neutrality and leaving Russia and Serbia to face Germany and Austria-Hungary by themselves, which in the event of an almost inevitable Central Powers victory would make Germany far stronger than France within 20 years.

Britain was in the best position to avoid war. She was not obliged to defend Belgium under any circumstances whatsoever, the 1839 treaty was not binding, so she was free to choose whatever course of action seemed to suit her interests best. Britain could have stayed neutral and got away with it. She would have lost some influence in Europe, but her position in that situation would have been better than the one enjoyed by an exhausted and financially crippled Britain in 1919. After all, her empire and economy would have been undamaged had she stayed neutral.

Colbro
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Re: Could the outbreak of war in 1914 be avoided?

Post by Colbro » 28 Feb 2003 21:32

Gwynn Compton asked:
Were the leaders of the nations powerless to stop their military leaders taking them to war? As soon as mobilisation was issued, was it too late to avert the war? This would seem to suggest that it largely was.
Thoughts?

According to the British historian, AJP Taylor, WW1 was launched by railway timetables. Once the troop trains started to run, there was no stopping it. As for the Kaiser, he was on a Baltic cruise at the time!

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Post by Brit Fan » 01 Mar 2003 21:52

I see that we read the same books and that is very good one and think that it gives a good portrayal of the facts. And I do agree that the leaders of the Great Powers were persuaded into going into a war because all the military leaders thought that if a war came about that the Market of trade and the Powers mutual interests were at stake and they would not risk a prolonged war and that if so would not be able to recover and lose.

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Post by Jez » 02 Mar 2003 01:49

Quote Tim:

Britain could have stayed neutral and got away with it. She would have lost some influence in Europe, but her position in that situation would have been better than the one enjoyed by an exhausted and financially crippled Britain in 1919. After all, her empire and economy would have been undamaged...

Britain SHOULD have stayed neutral.

Britain is on the verge of social collapse only 88 years after she entered a conflict THE dominant world super power on arguably land and certainly o sea.

The African continant faces decimation through economic corruption/greed and Genocidal outrage on a daily basis. The middle East, Indian sub- continant both face a non- seeable solution to rushed carving of political borders through the bankrupting of Britian.

Britain is facing 110,000 illegal immigrants pouring into her borders on a yearly basis THAT she knows about (many more that she does'nt!) plus 100,000 per year legally that enter the country to meet the 8, 000, 000 plus that dominate our inner cities.

We have sunk from a honourable Empire that the sun never sets, to a third rate historical theme park that has just had to borrow FOURTY BILLION this year to keep this once proud nation afloat!

Yes Tim, we certainly should've kept out of the First World War European suicide!

Regards, Jez

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Post by Jez » 02 Mar 2003 01:50

Quote Tim:

Britain could have stayed neutral and got away with it. She would have lost some influence in Europe, but her position in that situation would have been better than the one enjoyed by an exhausted and financially crippled Britain in 1919. After all, her empire and economy would have been undamaged...

Britain SHOULD have stayed neutral.

Britain is on the verge of social collapse only 88 years after she entered a conflict THE dominant world super power on arguably land and certainly o sea.

The African continant faces decimation through economic corruption/greed and Genocidal outrage on a daily basis. The middle East, Indian sub- continant both face a non- seeable solution to rushed carving of political borders through the bankrupting of Britian.

Britain is facing 110,000 illegal immigrants pouring into her borders on a yearly basis THAT she knows about (many more that she does'nt!) plus 100,000 per year legally that enter the country to meet the 8, 000, 000 plus that dominate our inner cities.

We have sunk from a honourable Empire that the sun never sets, to a third rate historical theme park that has just had to borrow FOURTY BILLION this year to keep this once proud nation afloat!

Yes Tim, we certainly should've kept out of the First World War European suicide!

Regards, Jez

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Mike K.
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Post by Mike K. » 02 Mar 2003 02:00

Hindsight is always 20/20.

The European powers expected decisive victory, but received unparalleled bloodletting in the years that followed.

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Beowulf
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Post by Beowulf » 02 Mar 2003 06:58

Jez wrote:Quote Tim:

Britain could have stayed neutral and got away with it. She would have lost some influence in Europe, but her position in that situation would have been better than the one enjoyed by an exhausted and financially crippled Britain in 1919. After all, her empire and economy would have been undamaged...

Britain SHOULD have stayed neutral.

Britain is on the verge of social collapse only 88 years after she entered a conflict THE dominant world super power on arguably land and certainly o sea.

The African continant faces decimation through economic corruption/greed and Genocidal outrage on a daily basis. The middle East, Indian sub- continant both face a non- seeable solution to rushed carving of political borders through the bankrupting of Britian.

Britain is facing 110,000 illegal immigrants pouring into her borders on a yearly basis THAT she knows about (many more that she does'nt!) plus 100,000 per year legally that enter the country to meet the 8, 000, 000 plus that dominate our inner cities.

We have sunk from a honourable Empire that the sun never sets, to a third rate historical theme park that has just had to borrow FOURTY BILLION this year to keep this once proud nation afloat!

Yes Tim, we certainly should've kept out of the First World War European suicide!

Regards, Jez
Hear, Hear!

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Beowulf
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Re: Could the outbreak of war in 1914 be avoided?

Post by Beowulf » 02 Mar 2003 08:18

Gwynn Compton wrote:From John Keegan's The First World War
Yet the irrevocable did not yet seem done. The Tsar still hoped, on the strength of a telegram from the Kaiser begging him not to violate the German frontier, that war could be averted. The Kaiser, meanwhile, had fixed on the belief that the British would remain neutral if France were not attacked and was ordering Moltke to cancel the Schlieffen Plan and direct the army eastward. Moltke was aghast, explained that the paperwork would take a year, but was ordered to canvel the invasion of Luxembourg, which was the Schlieffen Plan's necessary preliminary. In London this Sunday 1 August, the French ambassador, Paul Cambon, was thrown into despair by the British refusal to declare their position. Britain had, throughout the crisis, pursued the idea that, as so often before, direct talks between the involved parties would dissolve the difficulties.
Were the leaders of the nations powerless to stop their military leaders taking them to war? As soon as mobilisation was issued, was it too late to avert the war? This would seem to suggest that it largely was.
Thoughts?

Gwynn
The Russian reaction was probably more inevitable than the German. The military there may well have turned on the Tsar if he showed weakness in his resolve. German generals would not be so overt and would surely follow a strong lead, even if it meant abandoning the Schlieffen Plan.

I personally feel that William II showed his true colors most clearly at this juncture. His true personality was that of a constitutional monarch, much like his cousin George V. He knew in his heart that he was not the decisive leader he would have had himself be, but his ego (and, to be fair, his sense of duty) would not allow anyone else to assume the role of true leader, though he consistently shirked the tough decisions. The fact that Moltke would tell his Kaiser that it was "impossible" to alter the Schlieffen Plan shows at once that William had failed to win the respect of his generals as a leader. His passive-agressive response to Moltke, "Your uncle would have given me a different answer," confirms it further. The Kaiser himself did not take responsibility for the power that was truly his. In responding in this way, he shifts full responsibility straight onto Moltke's shoulders, which the General was not expecting. I believe Moltke fully expected to be rebuked for whining about a change in plans, but the rebuke was not forthcoming. There was thus a vacuum in leadership in the most critical place at the most critical time in the history of Western Civilization, which allowed the momentum of previously laid plans to carry the West down the path of suicide for the next thirty-one years.

Moltke and William were both thoroughly decent fellows, but neither had any business making such fateful decisions. Moltke was not a particularly deep thinker, as is revealed in this:
Helmuth von Moltke, memorandum sent to Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (July 1914)

Unless Germany means to break her word and allow her ally to succumb to Russian superior strength, she must also mobilize. That will lead to the mobilization of the remaining Russian military districts. Russia will then be able to say, "I am being attacked by Germany" and that will make her sure of the support of France who is bound by treaty to go to war if her ally Russia is attacked. The Franco-Russian agreement, so often praised as a purely defensive alliance brought about only to meet German plans of aggression, comes thereby into operation and the civilized states of Europe will begin to tear one another to pieces.

Germany does not want to bring about this terrible war. But the German Government knows that it would fatally wound the deeply rooted sentiment of allied loyalty, one of the finest traits of the German spirit, and place itself at variance with all the feelings of its people, if it were unwilling to go the help of its ally at a moment which must decide that ally's fate, Germany therefore, if the clash between Austria and Russia is inevitable, must mobilize and prepare to wage war on two fronts.
Honorable, but foolish. Moltke's mind was so focused upon military ways of thinking that he discounted the possibility of diplomats at higher levels seeing things differently, and things he believed inevitable were not so. Unfortunately, by default, this military mindset was allowed to decide the ultimate fate of Germany and the West.

My answer to your question, Gwynn, is a resounding yes at many levels. (I will stop before this turns into a book, however.) :D

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