Fighting the Great War: A Global History

Fighting the Great War: A Global History

Fighting the Great War: A Global History

Fighting the Great War: A Global History

Excerpt

On July 29, 1914, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia sent a telegram to his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, seeking his aid:

In this serious moment, I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble
war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Rus
sia, shared fully by me, is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall
be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced
to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid
such a calamity as a European war I beg you in the name of
our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from go
ing too far.

This telegram was the first in a series of ten exchanged by the two European monarchs in the tense days between July 29 and August I. The crisis that the two men were discussing had resulted not from the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, but from the delivery of an ultimatum by Austria-Hungary to Serbia on July 23. Few Europeans had thought that the assassination would lead to war. The archduke's political views were unpopular in the Viennese court, and the royals of Europe had often snubbed Franz Ferdinand because he had married a woman of inferior social status. Although she had died at the same assassin's hand, and had left behind three small children, the Habsburg monarchy refused to place her body alongside her husband's in the royal family's crypt.

None of Europe's major military or political figures thought the assassination a significant enough event to attend the funeral or to cancel their summer vacation plans. The Austro-Hungarian Empire at first downplayed the significance; the emperor himself did . . .

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