Why Austria caused World War I

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Janice O’Brien

The world of today often blames Germany for the Great War, however the truth is far from our generalization. Kaiser Wilhelm did everything in his power to prevent the nations from going to war, while Austria pulled him into the downward spiral of war. The ultimatum to Serbia was an allover cry for war. The terms were so harsh, Berchtold had actually written it in anticipation that Serbia would reject it, hoping for an excuse to wage war and take over the threatening nation. Serbia wanted to create its nation of Slavic people, which entailed taking land away from Austria, so this was a direct thread to Austria’s already crumbling empire. Berchtold and Hotzendorff were so eager to preserve Austria’s falling prestige by taking over Serbia by means of war that they rejected Serbia’s acceptance to the ultimatum. Kaiser Wilhelm himself even said that Serbia’s response was “A moral success for Vienna; but with every reason for war drops away, and Giesl ought to have remained quietly in Belgrade! After such a thing, I should never have ordered mobilization.” So the Kaiser himself even admits that after Serbia’s affirmation of the ultimatum, he would have accepted it. Instead, Austria rejected the ultimatum and cut all diplomatic relations with Serbia, declaring war soon after. Had Berchtold truly wanted the terms in the ultimatum he would have accepted Serbia’s response, and had he truly wanted to avoid war, he would have accepted it because Serbia basically offered up its government and country to Austrian intervention “as it saw fit”, and what better way to take a country than by controlling its government? Berchtold could have taken over Serbia because Serbia offered up itself to Austria, but he craved war, and he was going to war, goddammit! Austria also deceived itself. The only reason Austria began the war with Serbia was because it didn’t count on the involvement of Russia and the rest of the world really. They supposed that the war would remain a localized conflict in which they would surely win. Berchtold (once again, Berchtold at the war wheel!) counted on Russia’s non- intervention because he thought the czar would support Austria’s cause of eliminating threats to all monarchy because the czar himself was a monarch. He also assumed that the Kaiser’s guarantee to Austria would prevent Russian intervention so the war would remain localized and brought to a quick and successful conclusion. Hotzendorff also believed that if the war remained localized, the military was sure to crush Serbia. Unfortunately for Austria, Russia entered the war fighting for Serbia, and Serbia amazingly held off Austrian troops in possibly the biggest underdog story ever. So, suddenly all the assumptions that guaranteed Austria’s victory washed down the drain. Realizing that Russia would enter the war, Austria mobilized its army hoping to scare off Russia (and guess whose idea it was! Berchtold old buddy!). This bluff backfired as Russia mobilized its army in response. Realizing the Russians really were a threat, Austria moved its time table up, and attacked Serbia on July 31 instead of August 1 because it “knew” it could defeat Serbia quickly, then turn its eyes to Russia. But guess what happened? It couldn’t defeat Serbia. The Austrian assumptions were so wrong. Along with all these pleas for war, Austria did not make one peace attempt, besides the ultimatum, which was really a call for war disguised as an attempt at peace. Austria was without a doubt war-hungry and frantic to increase its declining empire with the acquisition of Serbia in a localized war. Unfortunately for Austria, the war was neither localized (“World” war) nor did it save Austria’s empire. In the end, it was destroyed.