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Vienna it was Count Berchtold, Francis Joseph's foreign minister, bent on a snug little war with Serbia at almost all hazards, but perhaps not so anxious as his compeers at Berlin to bring to pass the universal "Day." At Berlin there were (on the surface) the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and his smooth foreign secretary Jagow, speaking peace with their lips and yet somehow always rejecting any effective proposition for insuring it.
On the morning of July 24 the various Austrian embassies communicated the instantly famous note to the foreign offices of the other powers and cheerfully awaited results. The delivery of the note at Belgrade had been devilishly well-timed. Nominally fortyeight hours of grace were given. Actually by delivering the document at 6 P. M. it was the next morning before the various foreign ministers would have real opportunity to digest it.
One of Sir Edward Grey's first comments was, "I had never seen one state address to another independent state a document of so formidable a character"; he added that the demand to send Austrian officials into Serbia was subversive of Serbian independence.
St. Petersburg M. Sazonof met in haste with the French and English ambassadors. His diagnosis of the case was expert and speedy. "Austria's conduct was both provocative and immoral. She would never have taken such action unless Germany had first been consulted." Sazonof now begged of Great Britain that she declare that in case of war she would fight beside Russia and France. The latter was bound by firm treaty to Russia in any case, but England only by an informal "entente" for diplomatic coöperation. If the Teutons, however, were sure they would have to fight England also, they might recede. The British ambassador and Grey in London could not, however, give a binding engagement as to this. English public opinion would never sanction a war which seemed primarily to defend Serbia and Russia. All that London could then promise was to put pressure on Berlin and Vienna to keep the peace, and this pledge was most vigorously fulfilled.
Meantime in Austria the Russian ambassador was hastening back from his vacation by fast train to Vienna. In his stead the Russian chargé was presenting an urgent request that Austria extend her forty-eight-hour timelimit for Serbia, to see if some outlet could not be arranged from a black situation. He was very coldly received; and in fact his request was absolutely disregarded.
On July 25 Sazonof announced that Serbia might evacuate Belgrade and allow Austria to seize it without fighting. Such a move ought to satisfy the pride of Vienna. After that, "Russia would be quite willing to stand aside and leave the question in the hands of England, France, Germany, and Italy." He said, however, that if worst came to worst, "Russia could not allow Austria to crush Serbia and become the predominant power in the Balkans.
He did not wish to precipitate a conflict, but unless Germany could restrain Austria, the situation could be regarded as desperate."
The Serbs were terror-stricken. They knew that part of the Austrian demands were justifiable, that the Pan-Serbist propaganda had been undeniably unfriendly, and that there had been unseemly rejoicings in Belgrade at the news of the murder of the archduke. Besides, Serbia had been in bad odor in Europe ever since the killing of King Alexander. Russia was not anxious for war, France was loath to pour out blood and treasure purely over a Balkan squabble, and England was still more unwilling. As a result the Serbs almost literally fell on their knees. They did everything but pawn their national independence. For practical purposes they assented to every one of the drastic Austrian demands save only those requiring that Austrian officials should conduct investigations and trials on Serbian soil, and they would accept this so far as it "agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure, and with good neighborly relations." If Austria was not satisfied with this reply, Serbia would be glad to refer all mooted questions "to the decision of the international tribunal of The Hague."
It was 5:45 P. M. when this formal humiliation of a weak nation before a strong one was placed in the hands of Giesl, the Austrian minister. That gentleman evidently did not feel required to waste much time studying its clauses, to see whether under their "evasive" and "unsatisfactory" phrases (so the Vienna
papers soon announced) there might not be terms admitting of accommodation and peace; also little time was wasted telegraphing the document to Vienna and weighing its terms in Francis Joseph's cabinet: for practical purposes the Serbs might just as well have flung back brave defiance. At 6:30 P. M. Freiherr von Giesl handed in a note at Belgrade, declaring "that not having received a satisfactory answer within the timelimit set, he was leaving Belgrade with the entire staff of the legation." The train containing this "high-born" Austrian soon rumbled over the Danube into his own empire. Diplomatic relations were broken, and the mobilization of troops opposite the Serbian capital and the approach of Austrian river monitors indicated that bullets would soon supersede protocols.
case to a little harmless punishment of Serbia for certain unquestioned sins? Sir Edward Grey began moving heaven and earth to convene a conference of the ambassadors of the four "disinterested" powers (France, Germany, Italy, and England) at London to find some outlet for the case honorable both to
Sir Edward Grey
In Budapest and Vienna the people were parading and huzzaing in the streets. Serbia was weak and very much hated. It was generally felt that Russia would not dare to stir in the face of Germany. The short, easy war seemed very popular. The invasion of Serbia would be merely a promenade.
On the twenty-sixth the diplomats somewhat anxiously waited for the next move. Breaking friendly relations was not quite the same as declaring war. Would it not be possible to limit the
Russia and to Austria. Serbia might be chastised, but surely her national life and honor must be spared. To this English proposition Italy and France agreed promptly and gladly; but Jagow at Berlin at once raised difficulties. Russia and Austria had better fail to reach an understanding, thought, before others intervened. So another day was lost.
That night the German Kaiser suddenly returned from Norway. His foreign officials said that he came back on his own
initiative and they feared lest his Majesty's "return cause speculation and excitement." The Berlin foreign office was undoubtedly the calmest chancellery in Europe. Good Herr von Jagow talked placidly of taking "a more hopeful view of the general situation."
On the twenty-seventh the British ambassador at Vienna telegraphed that "the country has gone wild with joy at the prospect of war with Serbia, and its postponement or prevention would undoubtedly be a great disappointment." Meanwhile Jagow was still giving smooth words about being willing to coöperate with England to get peace, but he was becoming painfully vague when it passed to details. In London, however, Sir Edward Grey was not vague when he talked with the Austrian ambassador. That personage was told clearly that his Government was taking
a terrible risk if it imagined it could attack Serbia and still satisfy Russia. If they failed in this last, "the consequences would be incalculable." The case was becoming so bad that the British had not been able to disperse their fleet after manœuvers, and as for Serbia, that country had already submitted to "the greatest humiliation I had ever seen a country undergo," and it was utterly disappointing to have her groveling answer treated like “a blank negative.” At St. Petersburg, Sazonof was again saying that Russia was very willing to let the four "disinterested powers" get together and decide on what was just under the premises. From Berlin there came almost no decisive sign.
On the twenty-eighth Austria formally declared war on Serbia. This meant that the situation could not be put back into its old state without formal negotiations and a solemn treaty. Soon cannon-shots were flying across the Danube. Austria was now mobilizing vast armies, avowedly to crush feeble Serbia, but on so general a scale that it was plain she was getting ready for anything. As a natural answer Russia began to mobilize also, not the entire hosts of the czar, but only in the South-a partial mobilization to prevent herself from being hamstrung by a sudden blow in case it should turn out that Austria was not mobilizing against Serbia only, and also, it should be fairly added, to lend weight to her urgent representations that Serbia ought not to be blotted from the list of independent nations, whatever the justice of her cause. Russia took pains to inform Germany that her mobilization was merely partial and facing Austria only, and that she did not intend war. In fact, the Russian ambassador had orders to remain at Vienna and to work for peace. Meanwhile at Berlin Bethmann-Hollweg was telling the English ambassador that he could not consent to a general conference of the powers to
put pressure on Austria. Russia ought to keep out of the quarrel. "From Austria's standpoint [and in this he agreed] her quarrel with Serbia was a purely Austrian concern with which Russia had nothing to do." If peace was to be kept, it was to be by a direct agreement between Vienna and St. Petersburg. Almost simultaneous with this interview was another at Vienna between Francis Joseph's foreign minister and the Russian ambassador. The latter was told that no accommodation with Russia as to Serbia was possible. The ambassador therefore wired St. Petersburg that the only hope of healing the breach was by a conference of the powers, which was the very thing Bethmann-Hollweg at Berlin had just
On July twenty-ninth a great change came over the whole situation. Hitherto the quarrel had been between Austria and Russia as to the right of the latter to interpose in behalf of Serbia. Berlin had simply sat back quietly, folded its hands, and rejected every practical suggestion, especially from England, for averting dire disaster. "The contest must be localized,"—that is, Austria must be allowed to treat Serbia unhindered in her own stern way, that had been the substance of a dozen "conversations" permitted by Jagow and his superior, the chancellor.1 Now suddenly Berlin began an amazing activity. Was this because William of Hohenzollern was constitutionally unable to be the spectator of any drama when he might personally be an actor? Was it because the precise point had been reached when by prearrangement Germany was to intervene? Both things are very likely and by no means incompatible. While France and England were still endeavoring frantically to find some decent outlet that would save Austria's interests, Serbia's life, and Russia's honor, while Sir Edward Grey was telegraph
1 I decline at this late date to enter into the question whether Germany had cognizance of the precise text of the Serbian Note by Austria. The denial by the magnates of the Berlin foreign office that they had had advance knowledge of its precise tenor or wording is the denial of men concerning whose personal veracity Americans have formed a very clear-cut opinion. But in any case the evidence is plain that the German Government knew perfectly well that Austria intended to precipitate a crisis menacing to the peace of Europe, and that it egged on its dupe and ally to accomplish its purpose. This is bluntly admitted in the German "White Book" Issued officially at Berlin at the outbreak of the war. "We were perfectly well aware that a possible warlike attitude of Austria against Serbia might bring Russia into the field, and that we might therefore be involved in a war, in accordance with our duty as allies. We could not, however advise our ally to adopt a conciliatory attitude incompatible with her dignity."
Such a statement is enough for the densest jury.
ing Berlin that if the proposed schemes for conciliation did not suit, Germany "should suggest any method by which the influence of the 'four powers' could be used to prevent war between Austria and Russia"; and that England, France, and Italy would put the scheme into effect "if mine was not acceptable"while all these things were going on, BethmannHollweg had been not at his office on the Wilhelmstrasse, but with his imperial master at Potsdam, sixteen miles away.
There at the old seat of the Hohenzollerns was being held a great war council. The heir of William I and of Frederick the Great was there, his captains, his admirals, his master financiers-all the controlling spirits who had perfected the huge Hohenzollern war machine in expectation of precisely
When the conclave broke up Bethmann-Hollweg returned with precipitancy to Berlin and telephoned to the British embassy. He wished to see Sir Edward Goschen. The ambassador at once called on the chancellor. Their interview was memorable. Hitherto nearly all their talk had been about
Photograph by Paul Thompson
this moment. Doubtless views were exchanged with the uttermost frankness, all possibilities discussed in perfect cold blood, the precise moves by which millions of lives might be snuffed out in the war-game arranged, and everything made ready for the last grim decision. Of course the details were kept carefully hidden, but there is no reason for doubting the substantial accuracy of what the well-informed Berlin correspondent of the London "Times" telegraphed the next day: "No secret, I understand, is made at the foreign office this morning of the fact that the military authorities were pressing for immediate mobilization, and that a decision must be reached within a day or two. . . . Imminence of mobilization is so obvious that there is little secret about the preliminary preparations that are being made."
Russia and Austria. Now suddenly Bethmann-Hollweg spoke openly of Germany entering a general war, "owing to her obligations as Austria's ally."
the chancellor "made a strong bid for British neutrality." Let England only stand clear, and Germany would pronise not to crush France too severely, and especially would not annex any of her home territories, although he was very vague as to what might happen to her colonies. "And Belgium?"
asked the Englishman.
"It depended upon the action of France," came the answer, "what operations Germany might be forced to enter upon in Belgium; but when the war was over her integrity would be respected if she had not sided against Germany."
There was more pleasant talk about a permanent "understanding with England," on which Bethmann-Hollweg had set his peaceful heart. The ambassador, however, received his words coldly, said he did not think his Government cared to make any pledges based on such propositions, and made haste to put his momentous tidings on the wires to London. That night Sir Edward Grey and his associates at least knew that Germany was plotting war against France and Russia, and that she wished to see England sit calmly by
while Germany stripped France of her colonies and otherwise so crippled her (for example, by a bleeding indemnity) that even if her home territories were left intact, France would be eliminated from the list of great nations.
On July 30, Sir Edward Grey answered, with the bluntness of an honest man deeply stirred, to the proposal sent the night before by Bethmann-Hollweg through the British ambassador, "His Majesty's government cannot for an instant entertain the Chancellor's proposal that they should bind themselves to neutrality on such terms." England is being asked "to make this bargain with Germany at the expense France." To do so would hurt British interests, but still more "it would be a disgrace to us from which the good name of this country [England] would never recover." Nor was it possible to bargain away "whatever obligation or interest we have as regards the neutrality of Belgium." England, therefore, must "preserve her full freedom to act as circumstances require" in case things should come to a head, as BethmannHollweg contemplated. But Grey added an earnest and friendly promise. the peace of Europe could be preserved, he would do his uttermost to get some arrangement by which Germany "could be assured that no aggressive or hostile policy would be pursued against her or her allies by France, Russia or ourselves, jointly or separately."
Grey was not a man to make such a promise lightly. It would be unfair, possibly, to say that Bethmann-Hollweg brushed this suggestion thoughtlessly aside. The probability was that the Prussian war party was then in such complete control of the German situation that nothing England could have said, short of a promise to attack France, to prevent her from being true to her alliance to Russia, would have had any effect on the crisis.
Neither at Berlin nor at London, however, were all the prime actors yet in the drama. For several days St. Petersburg had been terribly stirred. The brutality of the Austrian attack on Serbia had seemed a direct insult to Russian prestige, honor, and self-respect. Nicholas II was assuredly no
genius, and some of his intimates were strongly pro-German in their sympathies; but he was not an absolute weakling and he bitterly resented being displayed now before his own people as the shivering puppet of the Hohenzollern and the Hapsburg. The Russian aristocracy was not full of schemes for world empire, like their Prussian compeers, but they were proud of their national honor, of the claims of Holy Russia to be the protector of the lesser Slavic people, and of the right of Russia to be treated with decent consideration in every question of the Balkans; and for once the grand dukes and the generals were sustained by their old foes, the "Constitutional Democrats" and all the other more intelligent champions of a more liberal régime.
Around Nicholas were now scores of powerful men repeating the dread words "mobilize" and "fight," and behind them was the voice of all the intelligence of the nation. It was realized that the empire was not well prepared for a lifeand-death struggle, but this was a case where national honor demanded even a disastrous defeat rather than an ignominious peace that would show that the dearest Russian interests could be trampled upon with impunity. On the twenty-ninth the czar had written personally to Kaiser Wilhelm, "A disgraceful war has been declared on a weak nation; the indignation, which I fully share, is immense in Russia." The czar therefore begged the kaiser, "in the name of our old friendship," to do his uttermost to avert the danger. The kaiser had offered to mediate, but had denied that "Austria's action was 'disgraceful war.' Then at 1 o'clock on the morning of the thirtieth he had wired Nicholas that Russia's mobilization against Austria would have "dangerous and serious consequences," adding ominously, "The whole weight of the decision rests upon your shoulders; they must bear the responsibility for war or peace."
The telegraphic service between these imperial gentlemen was rapid. Twenty minutes later Nicholas was wiring back that the military measures Russia was taking "were decided upon five days ago for defensive purposes against Aus