History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

By Ivan T. Berend | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE
WORLD WAR I

EXPANSIONIST PLANS AND CONFLICTS in the “age of empire” (Hobsbawm 1987) between 1870 and 1914 led to bloody confrontations between the main players. According to Cecil Rhodes’s characterization of this epoch, “expansion was everything.” J. A. Hobson spoke of the “conscious policy of imperialism” (Hobson [1905] 1938, 19). The two rival groups had been formed and prepared by the 1880s. The overture to an international war—the Bosnian crisis and the two Balkan wars—sent repercussions through the explosive Balkans, the dangerous “powder keg” of Europe. That area was actually the topic of discussion between Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent of the aging emperor of Austria-Hungary, in the Bohemian Kanopíště after a long hunting party on June 4, 1914. They agreed to arrange provocative military exercises by the Austro-Hungarian army in Bosnia near the Serbian border. Franz Ferdinand arrived in Sarajevo in his general’s uniform to participate in the maneuvers on June 28. The events that followed are well known: as Franz Ferdinand rode to a festive reception in an open car, a young Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, who belonged to a terrorist organization, known as the Black Hand, that sought to prevent a “trialist” reorganization of Austria-Hungary and espoused the dream of a Greater Serbia, assassinated the archduke and his wife.

The murder was an excellent excuse to begin the long-awaited showdown. On July 6, Wilhelm II, via Ambassador Szögyén-Marich, urged Austria-Hungary to act and, at the Potsdam meeting of the war council, ordered the German army on alert. The next day, a joint session of the Austrian and Hungarian cabinets decided to send an ultimatum that was

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