South Western Times - - Front Page -

When the Great War, an­other term for World War I, be­gan, the world, in par­tic­u­lar Europe, was very much rooted in tra­di­tion and class. Pop­u­la­tions be­lieved in the rul­ing class and na­tion­al­ism and im­pe­ri­al­ism were em­braced as the build­ing blocks of great na­tions who sought to cre­ate and main­tain em­pires. For hun­dreds of years Euro­pean na­tions would take part in wars to ex­tend their ter­ri­to­ries of con­trol and in­flu­ence and so cre­ate wealth and trade. In fact many Ger­mans at­trib­uted war to hav­ing been an es­sen­tial part of uni­fi­ca­tion in the mid-to- late 19th cen­tury. In par­tic­u­lar the Franco-Prus­sian war which saw the Em­pire of Ger­many pro­claimed in Paris fol­low­ing the French de­feat in 1871. A gen­eral, Carl von Clause­witz from Prus­sia (later to be­come part of Ger­many) de­clared, “war is pol­i­tics by an­other means” - some­thing many 19th cen­tury coun­tries prac­ticed. Not least Great Bri­tain who main­tained a mas­sive navy and strong armies as they ruled, at the height of Queen Vic­to­ria’s reign, one-third of the planet. The strength, in­flu­ence and fu­ture of a coun­try were based on its mil­i­tary, the size of its armies, the num­ber of war­ships etc. By the turn of the 20th cen­tury there was a push for a new world or­der, Ger­many sought as they called it “our place in the sun”, Rus­sia was push­ing for con­trol of the Balkans and the emerg­ing Pa­cific na­tions of Ja­pan and the mighty USA were now look­ing at flex­ing their po­lit­i­cal and ul­ti­mately their mil­i­tary might to ex­tend their bound­aries. The ef­fects of more than 100 years of the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion saw mil­i­tary pro­duc­tion faster and more so­phis­ti­cated than in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. The weapons that science had in­vented and would con­tinue to de­vise were both fright­en­ing in their ter­ror and de­struc­tive in their na­ture. Un­for­tu­nately the lead­ers and their gen­er­als, by and large, were 100 years be­hind the ad­vances that tech­nolo­gies now pre­sented and used tac­tics that were ob­so­lete in of­fen­sive ac­tions where ar­tillery and the ma­chine gun wrought car­nage in the no-man’s land be­tween the com­bat­ants. The First World War, pre­sum­ably, started af­ter a teenager mur­dered Aus­trian-Hun­gar­ian no­bil­ity in a “Balkan back­wa­ter” ig­nit­ing flames of war that spread across the globe as em­pires fought to con­sol­i­date and ex­pand their con­trol over borders and cul­tures. Rad­i­cal Ser­bian na­tion­al­ist Gavrilo Prin­cip signed his name into the his­tory books in the Bos­nian city of Sara­jevo on June 28, 1914 by as­sas­si­nat­ing Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Duke Franz Fer­di­nand and his wife So­phie dur­ing their visit to the re­gion. What was to hap­pen in the weeks fol­low­ing those mur­ders was to have an ef­fect, world­wide, over the fol­low­ing four years, in a war that shaped the 20th cen­tury and in­flu­ences events to this day. The deaths of the heir pre­sump­tive to the Aus­trian-Hun­gar­ian throne and his wife should have, at worst, led to a con­flict be­tween the Ser­bian and Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Armies. There had been two wars in the pre­vi­ous 18 months in that re­gion. How­ever, a com­plex web of treaties and as­sur­ances would see mil­i­tary al­liances formed that would in­evitably lead to con­flict. In the case of Ser­bia eth­nic and cul­tural ties to mother Rus­sia saw Tsar Ni­cholas mo­bilise armies as Ger­many ruled by his cousin Kaiser Wil­helm threat­ened to in­ter­vene on be­half of the Aus­tro-Hungarians. Events then moved swiftly to threaten the out­break of war. In re­sponse to the Rus­sian mo­bil­i­sa­tion of its forces and the move­ment of troops to­wards its borders, the Ger­man army rushed men and equip­ment to face the im­mi­nent threat. How­ever, the Ger­mans knew that France, part of the Triple En­tente, an al­liance with Bri­tain and Rus­sia, would be com­pelled un­der her treaties with those coun­tries to in­ter­vene on the side of Rus­sia. With that in mind, the Ger­mans had drawn up a plan al­most a decade be­fore, the Von Sch­li­ef­fen plan, which would deal with France by in­vad­ing through Bel­gium. The plan was then to de­stroy the French army be­fore re-de­ploy­ing troops to deal with the Rus­sian threat to the eastern borders. Great Bri­tain and her Em­pire had a treaty with Bel­gium that would see it rush to de­fend the small na­tion if threat­ened. One must won­der what would have hap­pened if the Ger­mans in­vaded France with­out pass­ing through the small na­tion where Napoleon Bon­a­parte was de­feated 100 years be­fore at Water­loo. His­to­ri­ans have since ar­gued that Bri­tain would have found a way to watch, what at that stage was a Euro­pean con­flict, from the side­lines and then profit from the re­sults of that con­flict. Sadly for Aus­tralia and the do­min­ions this was not to be, as the Von Sch­li­ef­fen plan in­volved at­tacks at two places in a pin­cer move­ment that would see the French forces cut in half and Paris sur­rounded, or so it was hoped. De­spite fran­tic diplo­matic ef­forts for a month fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion in Sara­jevo, things were at an im­passe and for Ger­many it may well have been a mis­un­der­stand­ing that led to the in­va­sion of Bel­gium. With up­wards of one mil­lion men on the French and Bel­gian borders on Au­gust 1, Kaiser Wil­helm or­dered Gen­eral Hel­muth von Moltke to “march the whole of the army to the east” af­ter be­ing wrongly in­formed the Bri­tish would re­main neu­tral if France was not at­tacked. Moltke told the Kaiser that at­tempt­ing to re­de­ploy a mil­lion men was un­think­able, and mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the French to at­tack the Ger­mans “in the rear” would prove dis­as­trous. Yet Wil­helm in­sisted that the Ger­man army should not march into Lux­em­bourg un­til he re­ceived a tele­gram sent by his cousin King Ge­orge V of Bri­tain, who made it clear that there had been a mis­un­der­stand­ing. Even­tu­ally the Kaiser told Moltke, “Now you can do what you want.” On Au­gust 2, Ger­many oc­cu­pied Lux­em­bourg, and on Au­gust 3 de­clared war on France. On the same day, they sent the Bel­gian gov­ern­ment an ul­ti­ma­tum de­mand­ing unim­peded right of way through any part of Bel­gium, which was re­fused. Early on the morn­ing of Au­gust 4, the Ger­mans in­vaded; King Al­bert of Bel­gium or­dered his mil­i­tary to re­sist and called for as­sis­tance un­der the 1839 Treaty of Lon­don. Bri­tain de­manded Ger­many com­ply with the Treaty and re­spect Bel­gian neu­tral­ity. It de­clared war on Ger­many on Au­gust 4, 1914 (ef­fec­tive from 23:00), fol­low­ing an “un­sat­is­fac­tory re­ply”. So be­gan in earnest a war that changed the world for­ever. Over the next four years, the Great War (as World War I was then called) would grow to in­volve Turkey, (the Ot­toman Em­pire) Italy, Ja­pan, the Mid­dle East and the United States, among other coun­tries.

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