The bodyguard, Count Franz von Harrach, described how a “thin stream of blood spurted” from the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s mouth and how his wife, Sophie, fell, slumped “with her face between his knees.” The June 28th, 1914 assassination of this husband and wife team, destined as the next in line to take the throne of the Austrian Empire, rapidly disassembled ninety-nine years of constructed peace in Europe, however tenuous the détente.[1]

In less than four weeks, Austria made demands of Serbia charging that the government knew full well of the nationalists’ aspirations of the Black Hand and the Narodna Odbrana.[2] Intimating that the assassination, though criminal, was mere “expressions of a private character” that no state could prevent. Serbia resolutely asked that, out of “common interest,” Austria should “not to rush the solution of this affair.”[3] Yet, by August 4th, German troops were in Belgium on their way to France. The First World War was underway. The German Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, claimed that Europe was envious, that the great powers, possessed by “enmity,” placed “chains” upon Germany on both its eastern and western perimeters.[4] According to the chancellor, Russia supported and funded Serbian unrest, and France backed Russia via a treaty, then Germany would back their allies the Austrians. In just over five weeks, the assassination in Sarajevo tumbled out into full-fledge total war.

In an essay that appeared in International Security, World War I scholar Keir A. Lieber argues that new evidence …

suggests that German leaders went to war in 1914 with eyes wide open. They provoked a war to achieve their goal of dominating the European continent, and did so aware that the coming conflict would almost certainly be long and bloody. They neither misjudged the nature of modern military technology nor attacked out of fear of Germany’s enemies moving first.[5]

On the same day Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg spoke before the Reichstag in Berlin, a nominal reporter named Richard Harding Davis was in Belgium working for the New York Tribune. Davis quickly fired off his report and captured succinctly what the First World War would become: a war that amply forgot “the human quality.”[6] Indeed, in April the following year, German forces, at the 2nd Battle of Ypres, launched a series of “asphyxiating bombs” upon French and Canadians armies, gas had become a “new element into warfare.”[7] Some 35,000 men would die in this single battle alone.

The numbers were horrific. Particularly shocked were communists who attempted to, but failed, hold the masses to the rhetoric of a workers’ revolution. As Rosalia Luxemburg put it, “International Social democracy has capitulated,” the world war had “altered the conditions of our struggle” as the proletariat rushed toward the “pinnacle of the nation” rather than hold steadfast to the “international and universal conflict between capital and labor”…[8]

Armenian_genocide_heads

The Above Photograph Shows Eight Armenian Professors Massacred by the Turks. The photograph emerged in 1921

Indeed, the world was becoming realigned, not only in ideology but in geography. In the bowels of the Middle East, to oust the Ottoman Empire, Sir Henry McMahon promised Ali ibn Husain, the grand Sherif of Mecca, support and “independence of the Arabs in all the regions,” which stretched from modern-day Iraq through Palestine and into Arabia itself.[9] Yet, within two years, another British official, Arthur James Balfour, announced that the United Kingdom would fully back “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…”[10] The contradictory promises made by Britain still dominate the politics and strife of the region, if not the globe. The Balfour Declaration ran counter to several British emissaries that had worked long to win over Arab support as the Ottoman Empire slowly collapsed. For example, both T. S. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, and Gertrude Bell, aka Queen of the Desert, had long supported and worked to ensure that Arabs would fill the political vacuum left in the ruins of the Turks. And it was Bell who first reported in a letter to her father from Baghdad, that “floods of human misery” befell the region, that Arminian women, “victims” of the invective Turks were likely to increase if the “Russian retire” from the war (Bell was correct on this matter in reporting on and predicting the Arminian Genocide).[11]

Bell had yet to hear of Russia’s communist overthrow. Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated his throne in March, but an interim government found it difficult to conduct the war against Germany and feed its people at the same time. Lenin called the situation, “critical in the extreme,” and took advantage of a government “tottering. It must be given the death-blow at all costs.”[12] On October 24, 1917, Russia ceased to be. The communist overthrow succeeded, and though Russia was plunged into a few more years of civil war, the country would emerge run by Soviets.

The United States entered the war late, pushed by the contents of a telegram. In Berlin, perhaps desperate to find an end to the war, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman sent a coded communiqué to diplomats in Mexico City. Germany promised Mexico that if it opened a second front against the United States, victory would return Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to the Mexican government.[13] The United States landed in Europe several months later and was the key power to tip the balance of the war in favor of its allies, France and Britain.

The war all but destroyed Europe’s monarchial forms of governance. The First World War also reshaped maps, especially that of the Middle East. The war brought utter devastation to the people of Russia, and despite Luxemburg’s lamenting of how nationalism trumped communism, a worker’s overthrow in St. Petersburg nonetheless took place. The casualties of the war went far beyond 40-million killed and wounded, both military and civilian.


[1] https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/eyewitness-assassination-of-franz-ferdinand-1914/

[2] July 22, 1914. https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Austro-Hungarian_Ultimatum_to_Serbia_

[3] July 25, 1914. http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/1914/serbresponse.html.bak

[4] August 4, 1914. https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Imperial_Chancellor_Defends_the_Invasion_of_Belgium

[5] Keir A. Lieber, “The New History of World War I and What It Means for International Relations Theory,” International Security, vol. 32, no. 2 (Fall 2007), 156.

[6] August 4, 1914. https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Fall_of_Brussels

[7] April 22-27, 1915. https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Use_of_Poison_Gas

[8] https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/ch01.htm

[9] Great Britain. Parliamentary Papers, 1939, Misc. No. 3, Cmd. 5957.

[10] 2 November 1917, Balfour Declaration.

[11] Gertrude Bell to her Father, 29 December 1917. http://www.gerty.ncl.ac.uk/letter_details.php?letter_id=276

[12] https://www.firstworldwar.com/source/calltopower.htm

[13] January 17, 1917. Zimmerman Telegram.