Monday, July 28, 2014
Here we are. We’ve made it to July 28, 2014. And if you paid any attention to my blog or your history classes you should know what’s coming next.
The war to end all wars, the Great War, World War I.
I thought there would be more as we got closer, but really there hasn’t been much made about this. And I find that sad from a historic perspective, as well as for the realiziation I’ve come to about this war.
I need to actually back up a bit.
The post date may say June 28, but I’m not actually posting this on this day (thanks for covering my ass technology). In actuality, I’m posting nearly a week later. Why?
For over a year it has been my dream to go to Europe around the start of WWI. I wanted to be on the continent on the day when this war broke out, a war that would change the map of Europe forever and culminate in nearly an entire generation’s death and cause three empires to crumble entirely. In anticipation I actually scheduled a tour of WWI sites in Belgium. I’m glad I did the tour before I posted.
This war was probably one of the most profound wars that is also overlooked. It lasted for four grueling years, resulted in 10 million military deaths, and nothing was accomplished. For four years men from around the world came to sit inside a trench and do nothing except occasionally gain an enemy trench and kill their “enemy” with cruel and astonishing proficiency. When the war concluded in 1918, the landscape of France and Belgium was completely destroyed, void of town that stood there and any natural elements. Craters existed where bombs had exploded, or mines were dug into the ground.
What I saw on my tour were two very opposite things. First was the sheer volume of death. 10 million is a huge number, but to visit cemetery after cemetery, see the 300,000 names of those who were missing in action, presumed dead, and never identified, and really realize just what a waste the war was on life is profound. The sheer scale goes way beyond what you can understand when you read some numbers on paper. The second thing I saw was life: towns have since been rebuilt, trees now inhabit the previously barren no mans land, and life has moved on.
As my last post addressed, the powder keg was the Archduke being assassinated. However, it wasn’t until this day that the Central Power countries did anything. Think about that, over a month had passed before Austria made a decisive move.
On this day in history the Austro-Hungarians fired the first shots in preparation of the invasion of Serbia. Let’s back up just a bit; prior to this date, the Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia in response to the murder of Franz Ferdinand and declared war. Austria hoped the Germans could help deter Russia from being engulfed in war. Serbia replied to the ultimatum on July 25, but rejected two of the demands. Austria served diplomatic relations and ordered partial mobilization.
It was William II of Germany who pushed for war. He instructed the German Foreign Office to tell Austria-Hungary there was no longer justification for war and it should temporarily occupy Belgrade. I think also that it can be safely assumed that Austria-Hungary is equally responsible – the leaders probably wanted to prove they were still relevant as an Empire, and wanted to assure their dominance on the continent. The next day war was declared and the artillery began to bombard Belgrade.
At this point the international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Russia ordered partial mobilization against Austria-Hungary.
So, on this day the first shots were fired. What happened next?
Germany no longer believed the conflict could be “localized” to the Balkans, so on July 31 they sent a 24-hour ultimatum requiring Russia to halt its mobilization and an 18-hour ultimatum requiring France to promise neutrality in the event of war. Both countries ignored these demands. So, on August 1 Germany ordered war against Russia and France ordered general mobilization.
As Russia mobilized (which we know always takes them time to do) Germany seized the moment. On August 2 they asked neutral Belgium if they could come through the country to France. Belgium said no, because it was a neutral country. So, on August 3 and 4 Germany invaded Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain to declare war on Germany for breaking Belgium’s neutrality.
Well, what ended up happening was that Germany made it into Belgium, but they got bogged down there from Belgian resistance. The Germans were unable to make it to Paris (per the Von-Schlieffen plan) and the result was a series of battles knows as the race to the sea where the two parties tried to out-flank one another until they hit two land barriers: water and mountains. The trench warfare that pursued was really a 4-year stalemate between the powers.
I’m not even close to being done posting about WWI. I not only have four more years of moments to capture, but a few more that I would like to post about on their 100 year anniversary (among other things). So for now I leave you with this, but expect more to come.