World War I, the �Great War�


Some people are impressed by some other aspects of this �Great War�, as it is called. There is nothing great about it but the destruction it brought and the stupidity needed to start such a war. Let us examine the circumstances in which it began, was waged, and ended.

The situation in Europe and the world in general, before the war, was very stable. The defensive pacts were established to stabilize the situation among the great powers. Besides, the states belonging to different pacts were cooperating on different issues. This shows that the pacts were only defensive in nature. Although the circumstances before this war were almost innocent, this war concluded with the dissolution of several great empires � those of Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian � and millions of victims.

In the Balkans, the relations among countries were such that none of the countries in the region needed, or could afford, another war. Balkan wars, just a year behind, exhausted every country in the peninsula. Although Ottoman Empire was just thrown away from the region and several national states were established, the national questions in the Balkan region were not solved. The wars against the Ottomans were only the beginning.

The national sentiment within Balkan nations could not expand any further since the great powers still were very close by.� Habsburg Monarchy occupied a large portion of the peninsula in the west and the Ottomans were in the east.

In such an environment it was quite popular to be involved in acts that are today considered terrorism. Several assassination attempts were done towards different officials. In 1910 there was the first attempt to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph during his visit to Bosnia. In the same time, the military in Serbia, Ottoman Empire and Greece opposed the political leadership in their countries. Secret societies were formed in the Balkan states. IMRO in Macedonia and Bulgaria, and Black Hand in Serbia were the best known ones. These two are the best known ones.

On June 28, 1914 Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by the members of Black Hand. The reason, as proclaimed by the assassins, was that the Emperor supported the idea that Slavic nations should form a third state within Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. That would clearly oppose the Black Hand goals, which were to unite all the Serbs in one state. The formation of the Slavic state within the Monarchy would disable Serbian acquisition of Bosnia. The assassins were students. They were supplied with the weapons by the Serbian military.

Another matter that helped start the great and not only a localized conflict was the reaction of Austro-Hungarian government. The reaction of all European statesmen to this event was disgust. That created a way for the Monarchy to achieve whatever goal they had had, only if it acted decisively. This, of course, did not happen but the negotiations with Serbia, Russia, France and Germany dragged on for about a month. By that time it was too late to do anything meaningful. Instead, the Monarchy decided upon war.

The victory of Austro-Hungary over Serbia did not suit Russia as it would leave Russia completely out of the Balkans. That was unacceptable for a great power. Russia had invested too much blood and money into this are to be left out of it that easy.

Unlike in previous occasions when conquests were done, Austro-Hungary did not achieve an agreement with Russia for compensation this time. Worse yet, it did not at all consult their other ally � Italy. Germany left Austro-Hungary with free hands to do whatever they wanted. On July 23 the war started between Austro-Hungary and Serbia. Other countries had to make their decisions. Russian tsar ordered mobilization on July 29. The German government declared war on Russia and France as a result of Russian mobilization. Britain entered the war in support of its allies on August 4. So, in August 1914 the Europe was dragged into a major war.

It is interesting to note that major battles in this were fought in the northern France and in the eastern front. This shows that the Balkan region had not much to do with relations among the great powers.

Very soon it was realized that the long war lies ahead and the great powers asked for the help and support of smaller allies. The Ottoman Empire, under the German influence, followed by declaring the war to the Alliance. After a calculation of possible gains and losses, Italy left the Triple Alliance and joined the Entente powers. Other countries, too, joined sides according to higher bid they received by the conflicting sides. Some of them, like Romania, even changed sides depending on the balance of powers during the war. Greece, basically pro-German, joined the Alliance because of the pressure from the Britain and France. Many countries were fooled into the war by being promised the territory of the countries of the opposing side.

Under such a pressure the government systems changed in several countries. The Ottoman Empire dissolved into the Turk republic. The Russian tsarist regime was overthrown by the Bolsheviks during the October revolution and Austro-Hungary fell apart into the two new countries: Austria and Hungary.

World War I was not a Balkan conflict that tragically spun out of control because of folly on all sides, but rather what the German historian Max Lenz in The Great Powers (1900) described as �the War of the English Succession.� The most perspective country in this context was the U.S. At that time it had enough population, unlike Germany; strong industry, unlike Russia; scientific and technological base equal to that of Britain; large territory equal to that of Russia. Besides, its power was based almost entirely on efficient use of its own territory, resources and people, rather than on rule over other nations. The ultimate issue of the struggle of that time was, therefore, whether the world in the 20th century and beyond would be dominated bi Germany or the United States.

After the war, the victorious side was to make the settlement. Russia, although previously fighting on the winning side, was excluded from the negotiations. Italy received nothing of what was promised and defeated countries were excluded from the deliberations. The country that calculated the most � Romania � ended up being three times larger than before. Some more new countries emerged: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.

All the countries had the innumerable losses during the war. The 67% of all the mobilized population were casualties of war. The cost of this war was enormous. Should it be repeated how stupid the whole event was? I believe it is enough to say that there really was no positive side. Besides millions of killed, the destruction of whole societies, introduction of aviation, trench and chemical warfare as a more effective way of killing and a creation of the political situation for even more disastrous war to follow, I see no other significant aspects that characterize this conflict, and none of them are positive. Well, that stands for any other war, as a matter of fact.


Copyright � 2004 Alen iljak