World War I, 1914

The balance of power dynamics and complex web of alliances that had emerged during the 19th century (see for example the Franco-Prussian war) transformed a regional conflict into a global war in the summer of 1914. Austria-Hungary, Serbia, and Russia had been in competition for control and influence of the tumultuous Balkan region, and the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife of Austria-Hungary in June of 1914 by a Yugoslav nationalist group set off a chain of events that embroiled Europe into one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Austria issued an ultimatum to the Serbian government in July demanding the Serbs take numerous actions to suppress anti-Austrian sentiment in the region. When the Serbs failed to respond, Austria-Hungary mobilized for war; Russia responded with its own mobilization to prevent the Austrians from expanding their influence in the region, in turn prompting Germany and the Ottoman Empire to mobilize in support of the Central Powers. France, Britain, Italy, and ultimately the United States joined the Allied (Entente) Powers. The war fundamentally altered the European landscape, resulting in the deaths of millions and prompting revolutions in Russia and the Ottoman empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire fell and the United States emerged as a new global power. The war did not resolve the many dilemmas of the European Powers, however, and the bitterness that grew out of the First World War would lead to an even more devastating Second World War thirty years later.


1914 illustration of the balance of power “chain reaction” that turned a regional crisis into a global war.

Protocol of the Council of Ministers for Common Affairs, 7 July 1914
The German Declaration of War on Russia, 19 July 1914
Bethmann Hollweg to the Ambassadors at St Petersburg, Paris and London, 21 July 1914
Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum to Serbia, 22 July 1914
The Austro-Hungarian Declaration of War on Serbia, 28 July 1914
Helmuth Von Moltke’s Memorandum to Theobald von Bethmann Holleg, 29 July 1914.
William II’s War Speeches: Berlin, 31 July 1914
Speech of Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg in the Reichstag, 4 August, 1914
President Poincare’s War Message to Parliament, 5 August 1914
Clemenceau Calls France to Arms, 5 August 1914
William II’s War Speeches: Speech to the Guards at Potsdam, 18 August 1914
Introduction to the German White Book, August 1914

Protocol of the Council of Ministers for Common Affairs, 7 July 1914 Top

Source: Imanuel Geiss, ed. 1967. July 1914 The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents. New York: The Norton Library.

Subject of Council: Bosnian concerns. The diplomatic action against Serbia.

The President opens the sitting remarking that the Council of Ministers had been called together to advise on the measures to be taken for meeting the evils which in Bosnia and Herzegovina have resulted from the catastrophe of Sarajevo. According to his view there would be a number of internal measures which the critical state of Bosnia has made desirable; but before deciding in their favour there should be clearness whether the moment has not come when a show of force might put an end to Serbia’s intrigues once and for all. A decisive stroke of this kind cannot be dealt without previous diplomatic preparation, and for this reason the German Government was informed and consulted. The discussions with Germany brought about a most satisfactory result, since Kaiser Wilhelm as well as Herr von Bethmann Hollweg solemnly promised the support and aid of Germany in the eventuality of a warlike complication with Serbia. We must still take into account Italy and Roumania, he agreed with the Berlin cabinet that it would be better to act first and wait for the eventual claims to compensation afterwards.

He is by no means convinced that an expedition to Serbia must necessarily involve us in war with Russia…It is his belief that we must take into account that in the face of this policy our situation must become more precarious as time goes on, all the more because if we do not act, our own South Slavs and Roumanians will interpret our attitude as weakness, and would be all the more disposed to lend a willing ear to the persuasions of our neighbours across the frontier….

The Royal Hungarian Premier agrees with us that during the last days the situation has changed on account of the facts which judicial examination has brought forth and also on account of the attitude of the Serbian press, and fully admits that the possibility of a warlike action against Serbia seems nearer than he believed just after the crime of Sarajevo….

It is absolutely necessary that we address demands to Serbia and if these are rejected we must make out an ultimatum. Our exactions may be hard, but not such that they cannot be complied with. If Serbia accepted them, we should have a splendid diplomatic success and our prestige in the Balkans would gain immensely. If our demands are refused, he would also vote for a warlike action, but he must call attention to the fact that by a war we could reduce the size of Serbia, but we could not completely annihilate it. Russia would fight to the death before allowing this and he, as Hungarian Premier, could never consent to the Monarchy’s annexing any part of Serbia….

The Presiding Minister (Berchtold) took up his argument and remarked that doplmatic successes against Serbia had increased the Monarchy’s prestige for the time being, but had in the end also increased the tension in the relations with Serbia. Neither our success in the crisis of the annexion, nor that of creating the Albanian state, nor yet Serbia having had to give way after the ultimatum of the autumn of last year changed any of our circumstances. A radical solution of the question raised by the propaganda for Greater Serbia, which is systematically set to work in Belgrade and whose corrupting effects we feel from Agram to Zara, can only be brought about by the exertion of main force….

The Imp. and Roy. Premier (Sturgkh) remarked that the present Council of Ministers had been called for the purpose of discussing the measures to be taken in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to ensure the success of the judicial examinations on the assassination and to counteract the Pan-Serbian movement that is taking place in Bosnia. These questions must go to the rear if the greater question arises, whether we might not solve the Bosnian difficulty by exercising force against Serbia.

Two reasons make this question very pressing just now; in the first place the Governor in Bosnia and Herzegovina declares that it is his belief that no successful measures could be applied in the interior of these provinces unless we deal Serbia a forcible stroke first. His opinion is founded on his own perceptions and on his thorough knowledge of the country. These perceptions on General Potiorek’s part make it imperative to ask whether we are at all able to stop the subversive activity which originates in Serbia, and whether we are able to keep the two provinces in question if we do not promptly deal a blow to Serbia.

During the last few days the whole situation has changed. It now shows a psychological character and is decidedly more than ever pointing to a solution at the point of the sword. He cannot help agreeing with the Hungarian premier that it is for us and not for the German Government to decide whether a war is necessary or not; still he must say that our decision should be influenced strongly by the fact that where we look to for the most faithful support of our policy in the Triple Alliance, we are promised unreserved loyalty and are advised to act without delay. Count Tisza should consider this circumstance and remember that by a weak and hesitating policy we might risk not being so certain of German support at some future time. This is surely of the highest importance, next to the interest we have in restoring order in Bosnia, and should be carefully considered.

It is but a question of detail how we are to begin and if the Hungarian government thinks that surprise attack, sans crier gare as Count Tisza expresses it, is not feasible, we will have to find some other way; but what he thinks is absolutely necessary is to act without delay and to spare our national economy a protracted period of suspense. But all this is mere detail considered side by side with the question of principle, whether it is absolutely necessary to have a war or not. Here the prestige and the existence of the Monarchy must decide, whose south Slav provinces he holds to be lost if nothing is done to prevent it.

We should therefore decide in principle today that action must and shall follow. He shares the presiding Minister’s belief that a mere diplomatic success would not improve the situation. If a foregoing diplomatic action is therefore resorted to for international reasons, it should be taken with the firm resolve that this action can only end in war….

The Imp. and Roy. War Minister (Krobatin) is of opinion that a diplomatic success would be of no use at all. A success of this kind would be interpreted as weakness. From a military point of view he must remark that it would be better to go to war immediately, rather than at some later period, because the balance of power must in course of time change to our disadvantage. As to the modality of the beginning of war, he must call attention to the fact that the two big wars of latter years, the war between Russia and Japan, as also the Balkan war began without a foregoing declaration of war. It was his belief that we should at first only carry through the mobilisation as it is prepared against Serbia, and postpone the general mobilisation to such a time when it becomes clear that Russia is acting.

We have already lost two opportunities for solving the Serbian question and have postponed the decision each time. If we do this again and allow this provocation to pass unavenged, this will be taken for a proof of weakness in all south Slav provinces and would be an encouragement to agitation against us….

The presiding Minister (Berchtold) replied to these arguments that certainly one might imagine many possibilities in the future, which would place us in a favourable situation. But he feared that there was no time to wait for such developments. The fact must be taken into account that our enemies are preparing for a decisive conflict with the Monarchy and that Roumania is lending a helping hand to the diplomacy of Russia and France….

A lengthy debate on the question of the war followed. The result of the discussion may be summarised as follows:

1. That all present wish for a speedy decision on the controversy with Serbia, whether it be decided in a warlike or a peaceful manner;

2. that the Council of Ministers is prepared to adopt the view of the Royal Hungarian Premier according to which the mobilisation is not to take place until after concrete demands have been addressed to Serbia and after being refused, and ultimatum has been sent.

All present except the Royal Hungarian Premier hold the belief that purely diplomatic success, even if it ended with a glaring humiliation of Serbia, would be worthless and that therefore such stringent demands must be addressed to Serbia, that will make a refusal almost certain, so that the road to a radical solution by means of a military action should be opened.

Count Tisza remarked that he was anxious to meet the others halfway and was prepared to concede that the demands addressed to Serbia should be hard indeed, but not such as to make our intention of raising unacceptable terms clear to everybody. Otherwise we should not have a lawful basis for our declaration of war. The text of the note must be composed with utmost care and he should very much beg to be allowed to see it before it is sent. He must also clearly state that if his point of view was disregarded, he would draw the unavoidable consequences. …

Before the debate was closed the Hungarian Premier (Tisza) again explained his point of view on the question of the war and appealed again to all present to consider carefully what they were about to decide.

The points which were to be contained in the note to Serbia were then discussed.

With regard to these points the Council of Ministers did not take a resolution; but they were formed, so as to give a clear idea of what might be asked of Serbia.

At this point the Chief of the General Staff and the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff left the Council, which discussed the internal situation of Bosnia and the necessary measures to be taken….

All present agree that some of General Krobatin’s propositions should be accepted, whilst others went too far. That it was not possible to decide definitely over measures relating to administration, before the great question whether there was to be war with Serbia or not, was decided.

The presiding Minister (Berchtold) declares that though there were yet differences of opinion between the members of the Council and Count Tisza, still an agreement had been arrived at, since the propositions of the Hungarian Premier would in all probability lead to a war with Serbia, the necessity of which he and all the other members of the Council had understood and admitted.

Count Berchtold then told the Council that he intended going to Ischl on the 8th of the month to report to His Imp. and Roy. Apostolic Majesty. The Royal Hungarian Premier begged that the mInister would present to His Majesty a memorandum in which he (Tisza) would record his view of the situation.

The German Declaration of War on Russia, 19 July 1914 Top

Source: World War I Document Archive.

The Imperial German Government have used every effort since the beginning of the crisis to bring about a peaceful settlement. In compliance with a wish expressed to him by His Majesty the Emperor of Russia, the German Emperor had undertaken, in concert with Great Britain, the part of mediator between the Cabinets of Vienna and St. Petersburg; but Russia, without waiting for any result, proceeded to a general mobilisation of her forces both on land and sea. In consequence of this threatening step, which was not justified by any military proceedings on the part of Germany, the German Empire was faced by a grave and imminent danger. If the German Government had failed to guard against this peril, they would have compromised the safety and the very existence of Germany. The German Government were, therefore, obliged to make representations to the Government of His Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias and to insist upon a cessation of the aforesaid military acts. Russia having refused to comply with [not having considered it necessary to answer]* this demand, and having shown by this refusal [this attitude]* that her action was directed against Germany, I have the honour, on the instructions of my Government, to inform your Excellency as follows:

His Majesty the Emperor, my august Sovereign, in the name of the German

Empire, accepts the challenge, and considers himself at war with Russia.

Bethmann Hollweg to the Ambassadors at St Petersburg, Paris and London, 21 July 1914 Top

Source: Imanuel Geiss, ed. 1967. July 1914 The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents. New York: The Norton Library.

A stupendous fate is breaking over Europe. For forty-four years, since the time we fought for and won the German Empire and our position in the world, we have lived in peace and have protected the peace of Europe. In the works of peace we have become strong and powerful, and have thus aroused the envy of others. With patience we have faced the fact that, under the pretense that Germany was desirous of war, enmity has been awakened against us in the East and the West, and chains have been fashioned for us. The wind then sown has brought forth the whirlwind which has now broken loose. We wished to continue our work of peace, and, like a silent vow, the feeling that animated everyone from the Emperor down to the youngest soldier was this: Only in defense of a just cause shall our sword fly from its scabbard.

The day has now come when we must draw it, against our wish, and in spite of our sincere endeavors. Russia has set fire to the building. We are at war with Russia and France — a war that has been forced upon us. Gentlemen, a number of documents, composed during the pressure of these last eventful days, is before you. Allow me to emphasize the facts that determine our attitude.

The public statements of the Austro-Hungarian Government relating to the circumstances under which the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne and of his wife took place, fully disclose the aims which the Greater Serbia propaganda had set for itself, and the means of which it availed itself towards the realisation of these aims. The facts that have been made public must also do away with the last doubt that the centre of the activities that were to result in the separation of the southern Slav provinces from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and in their union with the Kingdom of Serbia, is to be found at Belgrade, and were developed there at least with the connivance of members of the Government and of the army.

The Serbian mischief-making goes back over a long term of years. The Greater Serbia chauvinism appeared in particularly marked from during the Bosnian crisis. Only the extreme moderation and self-command of the Austro-Hungarian Government and the energetic intervention of the Great Powers can be credited with the fact that the provocations to which Austria-Hungary was at the time exposed by Serbia did not lead to war. The Serbian Government has not made good the assurances of future good conduct which she gave at that time. The Greater Serbia propaganda has since been continually increasing in extent and intensity under the very eyes of official Serbia, and, at least, with its tacit consent. It is to the account of that propaganda that the latest outrage, the trial of which leads to Belgrade, can be charged. It has become unmistakably evident that it would no longer comport either with the dignity or with the self-preservation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to regard inactively any longer the mischief-making on the other side of the border – mischief-making by which the security and integrity of its dominions are lastingly menaced. In such a state of affairs, neither the procedure nor the demands of the Austro-Hungarian Government can be regarded as otherwise than moderate and proper. Nevertheless, the attitude adopted of late by public opinion as well as by the Government in Serbia does not exclude the fear that the Serbian Government may refuse to satisfy these demands, and that it is allowing itself to be driven into a provocatory attitude toward Austria-Hungary. In such a case there would remain for the Austro-Hungarian Government, unless it wishes to dispense forever with its standing as a Great Power, no other course than to enforce its demands upon the Serbian Government by strong pressure, and if necessary, to take military measures – a situation in which the choice of means must be left to itself.

I have the honour of requesting Your Excellency to express the tenor of the foregoing argument to Mr Sazonov, and in so doing to emphasise particularly the view that the problem under discussion is one which it is solely for Austria-Hungary and Serbia to solve, and one which it should be the earnest endeavour of the Powers to confine to the two immediate participants. We urgently desire the localisation of the conflict, as the intervention of any other Power would, as a result of the various alliance obligations, bring about inestimable consequences.

Your Excellency will furthermore call Mr Sazonov’s attention to the serious consequences which might ensue for the Monarchical idea, if, in the case suggested above, the Monarchical Powers should not stand solidly by the side of Austria-Hungary, setting aside for the moment any possible national prejudices or political points of view, inasmuch as it is a question of dealing the death blow to a political radicalism, now reigning in Serbia, which does not hesitate at making even members of its own rulers’ families the victims of its criminal tendencies. Russia is fully as interested in such a task as is Germany. I venture to hope that Mr Sazonov will not be blind to this fact.

I shall await with interest a telegraphic report of your conference at your earliest convenience.

Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum to Serbia, 22 July 1914 Top

Source: World War I Document Archive.

Vienna, July 22, 1914

Your Excellency will present the following note to the Royal Government on the afternoon of Thursday, July 23: On the 31st of March, 1909, the Royal Serbian Minister at the Court of Vienna made, in the name of his Government, the following declaration to the Imperial and Royal Government:

“Serbia recognizes that her rights were not affected by the state of affairs created in Bosnia, and states that she will accordingly accommodate herself to the decisions to be reached by the Powers in connection with Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin. Serbia, in accepting the advice of the Great Powers, binds herself to desist from the attitude of protest and opposition which she has assumed with regard to the annexation since October last, and she furthermore binds herself to alter the tendency of her present policy toward Austria-Hungary, and to live on the footing of friendly and neighborly relations with the latter in the future.”

Now the history of the past few years, and particularly the painful events of the 28th of June, have proved the existence of a subversive movement in Serbia, whose object it is to separate certain portions of its territory from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This movement, which came into being under the very eyes of the Serbian Government, subsequently found expression outside of the territory of the Kingdom in acts of terrorism, in a number of attempts at assassination, and in murders.

Far from fulfilling the formal obligations contained in its declaration of the 31st of March, 1909, the Royal Serbian Government has done nothing to suppress this movement. It has tolerated the criminal activities of the various unions and associations directed against the Monarchy, the unchecked utterances of the press, the glorification of the authors of assassinations, the participation of officers and officials in subversive intrigues; it has tolerated an unhealthy propaganda in its public instruction; and it has tolerated, finally, every manifestation which could betray the people of Serbia into hatred of the Monarchy and contempt for its institutions.

This toleration of which the Royal Serbian Government was guilty, was still in evidence at that moment when the events of the twenty-eighth of June exhibited to the whole world the dreadful consequences of such tolerance.

It is clear from the statements and confessions of the criminal authors of the assassination of the twenty-eighth of June, that the murder at Sarajevo was conceived at Belgrade, that the murderers received the weapons and the bombs with which they were equipped from Serbian officers and officials who belonged to the Narodna Odbrana, and, finally, that the dispatch of the criminals and of their weapons to Bosnia was arranged and effected under the conduct of Serbian frontier authorities.

The results brought out by the inquiry no longer permit the Imperial and Royal Government to maintain the attitude of patient tolerance which it has observed for years toward those agitations which center at Belgrade and are spread thence into the territories of the Monarchy. Instead, these results impose upon the Imperial and Royal Government the obligation to put an end to those intrigues, which constitute a standing menace to the peace of the Monarchy.

In order to attain this end, the Imperial and Royal Government finds itself compelled to demand that the Serbian Government give official assurance that it will condemn the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Monarchy territories that belong to it; and that it will obligate itself to suppress with all the means at its command this criminal and terroristic propaganda. In order to give these assurances a character of solemnity, the Royal Serbian Government will publish on the first page of its official organ of July 26/13, the following declaration:

“The Royal Serbian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy territories that belong to it, and it most sincerely regrets the dreadful consequences of these criminal transactions.

“The Royal Serbian Government regrets that Serbian officers and officials should have taken part in the above-mentioned propaganda and thus have endangered the friendly and neighborly relations, to the cultivation of which the Royal Government had most solemnly pledged itself by its declarations of March 31, 1909.

“The Royal Government, which disapproves and repels every idea and every attempt to interfere in the destinies of the population of whatever portion of Austria-Hungary, regards it as its duty most expressly to call attention of the officers, officials, and the whole population of the kingdom to the fact that for the future it will proceed with the utmost rigor against any persons who shall become guilty of any such activities, activities to prevent and to suppress which, the Government will bend every effort.”

This declaration shall be brought to the attention of the Royal army simultaneously by an order of the day from His Majesty the King, and by publication in the official organ of the army.

The Royal Serbian Government will furthermore pledge itself:

1. to suppress every publication which shall incite to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy, and the general tendency of which shall be directed against the territorial integrity of the latter;

2. to proceed at once to the dissolution of the Narodna Odbrana to confiscate all of its means of propaganda, and in the same manner to proceed against the other unions and associations in Serbia which occupy themselves with propaganda against Austria-Hungary; the Royal Government will take such measures as are necessary to make sure that the dissolved associations may not continue their activities under other names or in other forms;

3. to eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, everything, whether connected with the teaching corps or with the methods of teaching, that serves or may serve to nourish the propaganda against Austria-Hungary;

4. to remove from the military and administrative service in general all officers and officials who have been guilty of carrying on the propaganda against Austria-Hungary, whose names the Imperial and Royal Government reserves the right to make known to the Royal Government when communicating the material evidence now in its possession;

5. to agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy;

6. to institute a judicial inquiry against every participant in the conspiracy of the twenty-eighth of June who may be found in Serbian territory; the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government delegated for this purpose will take part in the proceedings held for this purpose;

7. to undertake with all haste the arrest of Major Voislav Tankosic and of one Milan Ciganovitch, a Serbian official, who have been compromised by the results of the inquiry;

8. by efficient measures to prevent the participation of Serbian authorities in the smuggling of weapons and explosives across the frontier; to dismiss from the service and to punish severely those members of the Frontier Service at Schabats and Losnitza who assisted the authors of the crime of Sarajevo to cross the frontier;

9. to make explanations to the Imperial and Royal Government concerning the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian functionaries in Serbia and abroad, who, without regard for their official position, have not hesitated to express themselves in a manner hostile toward Austria-Hungary since the assassination of the twenty-eighth of June;

10. to inform the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised in the foregoing points.

The Imperial and Royal Government awaits the reply of the Royal Government by Saturday, the twenty-fifth instant, at 6 p.m., at the latest.

A reminder of the results of the investigation about Sarajevo, to the extent they relate to the functionaries named in points 7 and 8 [above], is appended to this note.


The crime investigation undertaken at court in Sarajevo against Gavrilo Princip and his comrades on account of the assassination committed on the 28th of June this year, along with the guilt of accomplices, has up until now led to the following conclusions:

1. The plan of murdering Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his stay in Sarajevo was concocted in Belgrade by Gavrilo Princip, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, a certain Milan Ciganovic, and Trifko Grabesch with the assistance of Major Voija Takosic.

2. The six bombs and four Browning pistols along with ammunition — used as tools by the criminals — were procured and given to Princip, Cabrinovic and Grabesch in Belgrade by a certain Milan Ciganovic and Major Voija Takosic.

3. The bombs are hand grenades originating from the weapons depot of the Serbian army in Kragujevatz.

4. To guarantee the success of the assassination, Ciganovic instructed Princip, Cabrinovic and Grabesch in the use of the grenades and gave lessons on shooting Browning pistols to Princip and Grabesch in a forest next to the shooting range at Topschider.

5. To make possible Princip, Cabrinovic und Grabesch’s passage across the Bosnia-Herzegovina border and the smuggling of their weapons, an entire secretive transportation system was organized by Ciganovic. The entry of the criminals and their weapons into Bosnia and Herzegovina was carried out by the main border officials of Shabatz (Rade Popovic) and Losnitza as well as by the customs agent Budivoj Grbic of Losnitza, with the complicity of several others.«

On the occasion of handing over this note, would Your Excellency please also add orally that — in the event that no unconditionally positive answer of the Royal government might be received in the meantime — after the course of the 48-hour deadline referred to in this note, as measured from the day and hour of your announcing it, you are commissioned to leave the I. and R. Embassy of Belgrade together with your personnel.

The Austro-Hungarian Declaration of War on Serbia, 28 July 1914 Top

Source: World War I Document Archive.

Vienna, July 28, 1914

The Royal Serbian Government not having answered in a satisfactory manner the note of July 23, 1914, presented by the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade, the Imperial and Royal Government are themselves compelled to see to the safeguarding of their rights and interests, and, with this object, to have recourse to force of arms. Austria-Hungary consequently considers herself henceforward in state of war with Serbia.

Helmuth Von Moltke’s Memorandum to Theobald von Bethmann Holleg, 29 July 1914 Top

Source: Samuel R. Williamson, Jr. and Russel Van Wyk. 2003. July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen, and the Coming of the Great War. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
It goes without saying that no nation of Europe would regard the conflict between Austria and Serbia with any interest except that of humanity, if there did not lie within it the danger of general political complications that today already threaten to unchain a world war. For more than five years, Serbia has been the cause of a European tension which has been pressing with  simply intolerable weight on the political and economic existence of nations. With a patience approaching weakness, Austria has up to the present borne the continuous provocations and the political machinations aimed at the disruption of her own national stability by a people which proceeded from regicide at home to the murder of princes in a neighboring land. It was only after the last despicable crime that she took to extreme measures, in order to burn out with a glowing iron a cancer that has constantly threatened to poison the body of Europe. One would think that all Europe would be grateful to her. All Europe would have drawn a breath of relief if this mischief-maker could have been properly chastised and peace and order thereby restored to the Balkans; but Russia placed herself at the side of this criminal nation. It was only then that the Austro-Serbian affair became the thundercloud which may at any moment break over Europe.

Austria has declared to the European cabinets that she intends neither to make any territorial acquisitions at Serbia’s expense nor to infringe upon her status as a nation; that she only wants to force her unruly neighbor to accept the conditions that she considers necessary if they are to continue to exist side by side, and which Serbia, as experience has proved, would never live up to, despite solemn assurances, unless compelled by force. The Austro-Serbian affair is a purely private quarrel in which, as has been said nobody in Europe would have a profound interest and which would in no way threaten the peace of Europe but, on the contrary, would establish it more firmly, if Russia had not interfered with it. This only was what gave the matter its menacing aspect.

Austria has only mobilized a portion of her armed forces, eight army corps, against Serbia – just enough with which to be able to put through her punitive expedition. As against this, Russia has made all preparations to enable her to mobilize the army corps of the military districts of Kiev, Odessa, and Moscow, twelve army corps in all, within the briefest period, and is providing for similar preparatory measures in the north also, along the German border and the Baltic Sea. She announces that she intends to mobilize when Austria advances into Serbia, as she cannot permit the destruction of Serbia by Austria, though Austria has explained that she intends nothing of the sort.

What must and will the further consequences be? If Austria advances into Serbia, she will have to face not only the Serbian army but also the vastly superior strength of Russia; thus she cannot enter upon a war with Serbia without securing herself against an attack by Russia. That means that she will be forced to mobilize the other half of her Army, for she cannot possibly surrender at discretion to a Russia all prepared for war. At the moment, however, in which Austria mobilizes her whole Army the collision between herself and Russia will become inevitable. But that, for Germany, is the casus foederis. If Germany is not to be false to her word and permit her ally to suffer annihilation at the hands of Russian superiority, she, too, must mobilize. And that would bring about the mobilization of the rest of Russia’s military districts as a result. But then Russia will be able to say: I am being attacked by Germany. She will then assure herself of the support of France, which, according to the compact of alliance, is obliged to take part in the war, should her ally, Russia, be attacked. Thus the Franco-Russian alliance, so often help up to praise as a purely defensive compact, created only to meet the aggressive plans of Germany, will become active, and the mutual butchery of the civilized nations of Europe will begin.

It cannot be denied that the affair has been cunningly contrived by Russia. While giving continuous assurances that she was not yet “mobilizing,” but only making preparations “for an eventuality,” that “up to the present” she had called no reserves to the colors, she has been getting herself so ready for war that, when she actually issues her mobilization orders, she will be prepared to move her armies forward in a very few days. Thus she puts Austria in a desperate position and shifts the responsibility to her, inasmuch as she is forcing Austria to secure herself against a surprise by Russia. She will say: You, Austria, are mobilizing against us, so you want war with us. Russia assures Germany that she wishes to undertake nothing against her; but she knows perfectly well that Germany could not remain inactive in the event of a belligerent collision between her ally and Russia. So Germany, too, will be forced to mobilize, and again Russia will be enable to say to the world: I did not want war, but Germany brought it about.

After this fashion things must and will develop, unless, one might say, a miracle happens to prevent at the last moment a war which will annihilate for decades the civilization of almost all Europe.

Germany does not want to bring about this frightful war. But the German government knows that it would be violating in ominous fashion the deep-rooted feelings of fidelity which are among the most beautiful traits of German character and would be setting itself against all the sentiments of the nation, if it did not come to the assistance of its ally at a moment which was to be decisive of the latter’s existence.

William II’s War Speeches: Berlin, 31 July 1914 Top

Source: Louis L. Synder. 1958. Historic Documents of World War I. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

A momentous hour has struck for Germany. Envious rivals everywhere force us to legitimate defense. The sword has been forced into our hands. I hope that in the event that my efforts to the very last moment do not succeed in bringing our opponents to reason and in preserving peace we may use the sword, with the help of God, so that we may sheathe it again with honor. War will demand enormous sacrifices by the German people, but we shall show the enemy what it means to attack Germany. And so I commend you to God. Go forth into the churches, kneel down before God, and implore his help for our brave army.

Speech of Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg in the Reichstag, 4 August, 1914 Top

Source: Munroe Smith, ed. 1917. Out of their Own Mouths: Utterances of German Rulers, Statemen, Savants, Publicists, Journalists, Poets, Business Men, Party Leaders and Soldiers. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Gentlemen, we are now in a state of necessity of self-preservation and necessity knows no law. Our troops have occupied Luxemburg and perhaps have already entered Belgian territory.

Gentlemen, that is a breach of international law. It is true that the French Government declared at Brussels that France would respect Belgian neutrality so long as her adversary respected it. WE knew, however, that France stood ready for an invasion. France could wait, we could not. A French attack on our flank on the lower Rhine might have been disastrous. So we were forced to ignore the rightful protests of the governments of Luxembourg and Belgium. The wrong – I speak openly – the wrong we thereby commit we will try to make good as soon as our military aims have been attained.

He who is menaced as we are and is fighting for his highest possessions can only consider how he is to hew his way through.

President Poincare’s War Message to Parliament, 5 August 1914 Top

Source: World War I Document Archive.


France has just been the object of a violent and premeditated attack, which is an insolent defiance of the law of nations. Before any declaration of war had been sent to us, even before the German Ambassador had asked for his passports, our territory has been violated. The German Empire has waited till yesterday evening to give at this late stage the true name to a state of things which it had already created.

For more than forty years the French, in sincere love of peace, have buried at the bottom of their heart the desire for legitimate reparation.

They have given to the world the example of a great nation which, definitely raised from defeat by the exercise of will, patience, and labour, has only used its renewed and rejuvenated strength in the interest of progress and for the good of humanity.

Since the ultimatum of Austria opened a crisis which threatened the whole of Europe, France has persisted in following and in recommending on all sides a policy of prudence, wisdom, and moderation.

To her there can be imputed no act, no movement, no word, which has not been peaceful and conciliatory.

At the hour when the struggle is beginning, she has the right, in justice to herself, of solemnly declaring that she has made, up to the last moment, supreme efforts to avert the war now about to break out, the crushing responsibility for which the German Empire will have to bear before history. (Unanimous and repeated applause.) . . . Our fine and courageous army, which France today accompanies with her maternal thought (loud applause) has risen eager to defend the honour of the flag and the soil of the country. (Unanimous and repeated applause.)

The President of the Republic interpreting the unanimous feeling of the country, expresses to our troops by land and sea the admiration and confidence of every Frenchman (loud and prolonged applause).

Closely united in a common feeling, the nation will persevere with the cool self-restraint of which, since the beginning of the crisis, she has given daily proof. Now, as always, she will know how to harmonise the most noble daring and most ardent enthusiasm with that self-control which is the sign of enduring energy and is the best guarantee of victory (applause).

In the war which is beginning, France will have Right on her side, the eternal power of which cannot with impunity be disregarded by nations any more than by individuals (loud and unanimous applause).

She will be heroically defended by all her sons; nothing will break their sacred union before the enemy; today they are joined together as brothers in a common indignation against the aggressor, and in a common patriotic faith (loud and prolonged applause and cries of ‘Vive la France’) .

She is faithfully helped by Russia, her ally (loud and unanimous applause); she is supported by the loyal friendship of Great Britain (loud and unanimous applause).

And already from every part of the civilised world sympathy and good wishes are coming to her. For today once again she stands before the universe for Liberty, Justice, and Reason(loud and repeated applause)

‘Haut les coeurs et vive la France!’ (unanimous and prolonged applause).

Clemenceau Calls France to Arms, 5 August 1914 Top

Source: World War I Document Archive.

William II has willed it. The cannon must speak. The German Ambassador has decided to depart, tired of waiting in Paris for acts of violence which do not occur. Do you know the official reasons for his departure? It is that a French aviator is alleged to have thrown bombs on Nuremberg. In courteous language M. Viviani replied that this was an untruth, although it was only too true that a German troop had come into our territory and killed a French soldier; and the Ambassador, finding nothing to say, slipped away only to return a few minutes later to repair a slight omission. He had forgotten to deliver to the Minister a declaration of war. One cannot think of everything at once. . .

England, be it said to her honor, did not hesitate. Germany has had many friends, even in important places in the British Government, and she has not recoiled before any method of impressing public opinion in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the statesmen of England, and the English people themselves, have too clear a vision of their own interests, coinciding at every point with those of European civilization, for them to entertain the thought of taking miserable refuge in a waiting policy. This whole nation is composed of men who possess peculiarly that superior quality of knowing their own wills and of acting when once they have spoken. They do not give themselves up to enthusiasms, as sometime happens to us, but they advance carefully step by step and they are easier to kill than to drive back. Moreover it was impossible for them to do, in so little time, more than they have done in the time since all dissimulation disappeared from Germany’s intentions.

With a prudence for which no one can reproach them they painfully exhausted the last chances of peace, without ever letting themselves be entrapped by the fallacious proposals of the German Ambassador. They carefully guarded their liberty of action in case of developments of which no one can calculate the consequences. But Germany has not left them the chance to preserve this liberty long, and they have quickly shown that their decision, once it was necessary, would not be delayed . . . .

Italy has issued her formal declaration of neutrality. By the way in which French opinion received it, our brothers beyond Piedmont can see that the absurd quarrels of governments insufficiently authoritative have left no trace in our hearts. They have often told us that the Triple Alliance could not act together, in whatever concerned the Italians, unless we were the aggressors and that they refused to believe that such would ever be the case, since our policy was wholly defensive. They have shown that they were wholly sincere. We cannot but be thankful to them for it.

It is for the Latin cause, for the independence of nationalities in Europe, that we are going to fight, for the greatest ideas that have honored the thought of mankind, ideas that have come to us from Athens and Rome and of which we have made the crowning work of that civilization which the Germany of Arminius pretends to monopolize, like those barbarians who melted into ingots the marvels of ancient art after the pillaging of Rome in order to make savage ornaments out of them.

Anticipating the time which possibly is near, I proclaim to the men who have revived Italy and who have had the glory to bring Rome back to her destiny that they have themselves marked out their place in this great struggle. I am not afraid to say that, without them, we shall conquer, because we are resolved to dare and endure anything, because a peace resulting from our defeat could not be made except over the corpses of all the men worthy of the name of French.

But what supreme joy would overflow our hearts if the name of the great Italy of history should be associated with ours in a heroic adventure in which the greatest men of Rome would have been proud to claim an important part. Whenever their sons wish it we shall be able to make a place of honor for them at our side. Behold Belgium in action, Holland with arms in hand, Russia pregnant with new purpose to revive our fatigued hopes, the peoples of the Balkans being born anew, the American republics, with the greatest in the lead, incapable by tradition of seconding a brutal attack upon liberty, all Europe indignant at monstrous treachery, and even Asia, in astonishment, speaking of lending her redoubtable legions to the cause.

Against what is this revolt of all, this rebellion of human conscience, this insurrection of ideas? Against a Teutonism delirious in megalomania, ambitious to realize what Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon could not accomplish: to impose upon a world that desires to be free the supremacy of steel. It is not a thing for our age; men have too much suffered from it. The modern idea is the right of all, and victory for us could not mean oppression, even for those who fought against us, since Germany has valiantly conquered, like so many other states, her rightful place in the world, and since, if we are fighting the arrogance of tyranny, it is not in order to embrace it in our turn.

And now to arms, all of us! I have seen weeping among those who cannot go first. Everyone’s turn will come. There will not be a child of our land who will not have a part in the enormous struggle. To die is nothing. We must win. And for that we need all men’s power. The weakest will have his share of glory. There come times, in the live of peoples, when there passes over them a tempest of heroic action.

William II’s War Speeches: Speech to the Guards at Potsdam, 18 August 1914 Top

Source: Louis L. Synder. 1958. Historic Documents of World War I. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Former generations as well as those who stand here today have often seen the soldiers of the First Guard Regiment and My Guards at this place. We were brought together then by an oath of allegiance which we swore before God. Today all have gathered to pray for the triumph of our weapons, for now that oath must be proved to the last drop of blood. The sword, which I have left in its scabbard for decades, shall decide.

I expect My First Guard Regiment on Foot and My Guards to add a new page of fame to their glorious history. The celebration today finds us confident in God in the Highest and remembering the glorious days of Leuthen, Chlum, and St. Privat. Our ancient fame is an appeal to the German people and their sword. And the entire German nation to the last man has grasped the sword. And so I draw the sword which with the help of God I have kept in its scabbard for decades. [At this point the Kaiser drew his sword from its scabbard and held it high above his head.]

The sword is drawn, and I cannot sheathe it again without victory and honor. All of you shall and will see to it that only in honor is it returned to the scabbard. You are my guaranty that I can dictate peace to my enemies. Up and at the enemy! Down with the enemies of Brandenburg! Three cheers for our army!

Introduction to the German White Book, August 1914 Top
Source: Louis L. Synder. 1958. Historic Documents of World War I. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.


Berlin, August 1914.

On June 28th the Austro-Hungarian successor to the throne, Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a member of a band of Servian conspirators. The investigation of the crime through the Austro-Hungarian authorities has yielded the fact that the conspiracy against the life of the Arch-Duke and successor to the throne was prepared and abetted in Belgrade with the co-operation of Serbian officials, and executed with arms from the Serbian State arsenal. This crime must have opened the eyes of the entire civilized world, not only in regard to the aims of the Servian policies directed against the conservation and integrity of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but also concerning the criminal means which the pan-Serb propaganda in Servia had no hesitation in employing for the achievement of these aims.

The goal of these policies was the gradual revolutionizing and final separation of the south-easterly districts from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and their union with Serbia. This direction of Serbia’s policy has not been altered in the least in spite of the repeated and solemn declarations of Servia in which it vouchsafed a change in these policies towards Austria-Hungary as well as the cultivation of good and neighbourly relations.

In this manner for the third time in the course of the last 6 years Serbia has led Europe to the brink of a world-war.

It could only do this because it believed itself supported in its intentions by Russia.

Russia, soon after the events brought about by the Turkish revolution of 1908, endeavoured to found a union of the Balkan states under Russian patronage and directed against the existence of Turkey. This union which succeeded in 1911 in driving out Turkey from a greater part of her European possessions, collapsed over the question of the distribution of spoils. The Russian policies were not dismayed over this failure. According to the idea of the Russian statesmen a new Balkan union under Russian patronage should be called into existence, headed no longer against Turkey, now dislodged from the Balkan, but against the existence of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It was the idea that Serbia should cede to Bulgaria those parts of Macedonia which it had received during the last Balkan war, in exchange for Bosnia and the Herzegovina which were to be taken from Austria. To oblige Bulgaria to fall in with this plan it was to be isolated, Roumania attached to Russia with the aid of French propaganda, and Servia promised Bosnia and the Herzegovina.

Under these circumstances it was clear to Austria that it was not compatible with the dignity and the spirit of self-preservation of the monarchy to view idly any longer this agitation across the border. The Imperial and Royal Government appraised Germany of this conception and asked for our opinion. With all our heart we were able to agree with our ally’s estimate of the situation, and assure him that any action considered necessary to end the movement in Servia directed against the conservation of the monarchy would meet with our approval.

We were perfectly aware that a possible warlike attitude of Austria-Hungary against Servia might bring Russia upon the field, and that it might therefore involve us in a war, in accordance with our duty as allies. We could not, however, in these vital interests of Austria-Hungary, which were at stake, advise our ally to take a yielding attitude not compatible with his dignity, nor deny him our assistance in these trying days. We could do this all the less as our own interests were menaced through the continued Serb agitation. If the Serbs continued with the aid of Russia and :France to menace the existence of Austria-Hungary, the gradual collapse of Austria and the subjection of all the Slavs under one Russian sceptre would be the consequence, thus making untenable the position of the Teutonic race in Central Europe. A morally weakened Austria under the pressure of Russian pan-slavism would be no longer an ally on whom we could count and in whom we could have confidence, as we must be able to have, in view of the ever more menacing attitude of our easterly and westerly neighbours. We, therefore, permitted Austria a completely free hand in her action towards Servia, but have not, participated in her preparations.

Austria chose the method of presenting to the Servian Government a note, in which the direct connection between the murder at Sarajevo and the pan-Serb movement, as not only countenanced but actively supported by the Servian Government, was explained, and in which a complete cessation of this agitation, as well as a punishment of the guilty, was requested. At the same time Austria-Hungary demanded as necessary guarantee for the accomplishment of her desire the participation of some Austrian officials in the preliminary examination on Servian territory and the final dissolution of the pan-Serb societies agitating against Austria-Hungary. The Imperial and Royal Government gave a period of 48 hours for the unconditional acceptance of its demands.

The Servian Government started the mobilisation of its army one day after the transmission of the Austro-Hungarian note.

As after the stipulated date the Servian Government rendered a reply which, though complying in some points with the conditions of Austria-Hungary, yet showed in all essentials the endeavour through procrastination and new negotiations to escape from the just demands of the monarchy, the latter discontinued her diplomatic relations with Serbia without indulging in further negotiations or accepting further Servian assurances, whose value, to its loss, she had sufficiently experienced.

From this moment Austria was in fact in a state of war with Serbia, which it proclaimed officially on the 28th of July by declaring war.

From the beginning of the conflict we assumed the position that there were here concerned the affairs of Austria alone, which it would have to settle with Servia. We therefore directed our efforts toward the localising of the war, and toward convincing the other powers that Austria-Hungary had to appeal to arms in justifiable self-defence, forced upon her by the conditions. We emphatically took the position that no civilised country possessed the right to stay the arm of Austria in this struggle with barbarism and political crime, and to shield the Serbians against their just punishment. In this sense we instructed our representatives with the foreign powers.


One response to “World War I, 1914

  1. Thank you very much for this. I’ve found it very helpful for my exam preparation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s