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on 14 July 2014
An excellent and gripping account of the slide into war following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. I had always failed to understand just how the one lead to the other, and this book details it all clearly, although never in so much detail that you get bogged down. The author has done his research very well, and knows exactly when to give the reader the nitty-gritty, and when to simply provide a précis.

Highly recommended.
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on 3 August 2014
This is a quite brilliant book. Rather than looking at the wider causes of the war which had been unfolding for years, it begins with the assassination in Sarajevo and then looks in detail at the events over the following five weeks. In many cases a chapter will concentrate on what happened on a single day, and sometimes you get the feel of having an hour-by-hour commentary.
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on 10 June 2014
I found this an eminently readable book which took the reader day by day in detail through the month leading up to WW1. A most enjoyable and informative read.
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on 21 August 2014
Writing an essay on why Britain when to war in 1914 this was one of several 'must reads' - you can read enough on the subject to enjoy his take and his nuanced view, and then either agree or in my case not quite concur. Reading original documents in the Annika Mombauer collections makes you realise that no historian can ever get it right, though between them Sean McMeekin, Christopher Clarke and Hew Strachan are fairly close to the truth - aren't they?
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on 14 August 2014
One of the best books on the period I have ever read. This will make you think and may cause people to alter their views on some of the main players! I could not recommend this book highly enough.
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on 4 July 2013
McMeekin is right in one respect. All the big powers made disastrously bad decisions during the July crisis. Most readers will go along with that conclusion but McMeekin is a revisionist. His book forcefully lays out why it was Russia that surpassed the others in the wilful badness of its decisions and Russia is to blame for the outbreak of the war.

This is strongly reflected in his various comments on the leaders in the driving seat in each of the three most closely involved powers. You can summarise them by saying Berchtold (Austria) is a fool, Bethmann (Germany) is a tragic fool, and Sazonov (Russia) is a cunning fool.

Whoever you think is to blame, it is Russia that reacted to the decision of Austria-Hungary, fully supported without qualification by Germany, to destroy Serbia as an independent state and give large parts of it to its neighbours.

McMeekin is saying it was right for Austria-Hungary and Germany to do this, and in Germany's case it was deceived into allowing the situation to get out of hand, and let Russia, encouraged by the French, plunge Europe into war.

The author supports his analysis with a rather large number of dubious accounts and blatant errors. Examples are given below.

## Bethmann's knowledge and state of mind when he and the Kaiser met the Austrian envoys at Potsdam on 6 July [p100, p104]

McMeekin portrays Bethmann, the German Chancellor, as not being in touch with what was going on when the Austrian ambassador called on the Kaiser at Potsdam to get German support. He arrived at the last minute probably too exhausted from his trip to perceive how acute the situation was.

This contradicts what other historians say. The discovery of Bethmann's travel expenses in the German archives shows he was at Potsdam with the Kaiser every day between 29 June and 6 July apart from on 1 July and 3 July. It is inconceivable they did not discuss what might result from the Sarajevo assassinations, and both man knew what the other thought.

## The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was not what the Germans expected [p142, p143]

According to McMeekin the ultimatum that Austria gave to the Serbs was not what the Germans wanted. Berchtold did not show it to them because it was so draconian the Germans were unlikely to have approved it.

This is complete nonsense. The Germans knew exactly what was intended by the ultimatum, namely an excuse to go to war with Serbia. And the Germans were pushing Austria to get on with it! What could be more draconian than that! In that light, the harshness of the note is irrelevant.

Albertini catalogues [Vol. 2, p263-268] as thoroughly as he usually does the communications between Vienna and Berlin regarding the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, and the German attitude to it. At one point Berchtold, the Austrian Foreign Minister, even asked the German Foreign Minister for his advice though Jagow responded by saying "As to the formulation of the demands on Serbia we can take no position as this is a matter for Austria". And it is clear the Germans had a good idea of specifically what was in it before it was delivered.

Albertini also reports a quote given by Bethmann in February 1915 to Theodor Wolff, the editor of the Berliner Tageblatt. ".... I deliberately avoided acquaintance with its contents. I did not want to make any amendments in it - if one makes amendments it always proves afterwards that the mistake that was made was one's own, and I had no desire for that."

## Mediation à quatre and the four-power conference proposal [p215]

McMeekin has a very poor opinion of the British four-power conference proposal. Nicolson, the British Under Secretary, was less then even-handed in his discussions with the German ambassador on the day the proposal was made.

In fact, Nicolson had good reason to be circumspect at the very least, as he knew by this stage of the crisis the Germans were just going through the motions of calming Austria.

McMeekin complains the four-power conference would have been biased as Italy who with Germany would have represented the Austrian side was known by everyone to be fundamentally hostile to Austria.

If that was the case, why did the Germans throughout the crisis take the position that Austria could bring Italy on side to play its part as a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria? Germany and Austria could have easily ensured the support of their formal ally.

The idea for the conference did not come from Grey overnight, who was at his cottage in the country. Nicolson came up with the idea after reading various worrying telegrams when he went into the Foreign Office that Sunday morning.

Immediately after being told about the conference idea Lichnowsky, the German ambassador, did not wire Grey at his cottage to agree to it saying "my government accepts your suggested mediation à quatre". [See Jannen, "The Lions of July", p117]

The phrase quoted was in a note Lichnowsky delivered to the Foreign Office that morning before he knew about the conference idea and it referred to Grey's earlier suggestion to Lichnowsky that the powers not immediately involved (i.e. Britain, France, Germany and Italy) might mediate at St Petersburg and Vienna if the matters became critical. An ambassador's conference in London along the lines of the one in 1912 used to solve problems springing from the Balkan crisis was something else.

## Dismissal of Sazonov's proposal for a peaceful solution [p212, 220]

On Sunday 26 July Sazonov put forward a very sensible proposal for solving the crisis to the Austrian ambassador in St Petersburg that recognised Austria had a case, even a very strong case, against Serbia.

It accepted seven out of the 10 demands made in the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia and suggested a way to deal with the others. McMeekin believes the Austrians were right to ignore this proposal. It was rendered moot by Russian military preparations which furthermore Sazonov had been instrumental in initiating.

This is an odd view. It was quite clear that leaders in all the powers were not surprised by military preparations and even expected them. Diplomacy could continue. It was a line but not a red line. It would be, if war was declared, borders crossed, or hostilities commenced such as the Austrian shelling of Belgrade.

And, of course, Austria has already decided on the 25 July to mobilise against Serbia. Military things were happening on both sides.

## It was Grey's own fault that Bethmann deceived him, pretending to support mediation [p235]

McMeekin can't avoid the conclusion of most historians that on Monday 27 July it was for Germany to decide between European peace and war. They choose war passing on a British mediation proposal to Vienna, while on a back channel telling the Austrians to ignore it - they had to appear to be helping so Britain would remain neutral - also knowing the next day Austria was going to declare war on Serbia and saying nothing about that.

It is incredible how McMeekin wriggles around this to make Germany the victim of events and the ill-will of others.

It is really Grey's own fault that he was deceived by Bethmann. He was being one-sided threatening Bethmann that he must mediate (or else!) while ignoring the fact that his Entente partners had spurned mediation.

This is wrong. The latest proposal from Grey had been transmitted the evening before. Allowing for the time it took for messages to be coded, sent and decoded it might be fairer to say the recipients had only just begun to consider it.

In fact, on Monday morning Jules Cambon the French ambassador in Berlin called on Jagow, the German Foreign Minister, to support the British proposal for a four-power conference.

And, that same morning Buchanan, the British ambassador in St Petersburg called on Sazonov to put forward the conference idea. Sazonov said he preferred direct talks on the ultimatum which he thought he was arranging with Austria-Hungary. He said if they failed he was willing to accept the British proposal if accepted by other powers or any other that would resolve the conflict. [See WhoStartedWWOne]

McMeekin has Bethmann attaching enormous importance to keeping the British neutral. He makes no mention of the Russians who Bethmann must have known to be "secretly" mobilising. What were the Russians going to do when Austria declared war on Serbia the next day?

Did Bethmann not care! Was he ready and willing for war with Russia?

McMeekin goes on about Grey making misleading statements (out of ignorance rather than intention) about Russian military preparations, and thus undermining Bethmann's confidence in him. You have to ask would the German Chancellor not have the sense to hold judgement on what the British Foreign Secretary has to say about a hostile third party until he gets confirmation from his own sources? And might it not cross his mind that the third party had misled Grey?

## Berchtold declared war on Serbia contrary to German expectations [p244]

McMeekin tells us "It was [Berchtold] who had decided Monday .... contrary to German expectations, to declare war immediately." Where he gets this novel information from is not explained.

Albertini says: That Berchtold did not mean to go to war with Serbia after the breaking off of diplomatic relations is beyond doubt. [Vol. 2, p453] Albertini goes on to quote a telegram to Berchtold from Szogyeny, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Berlin.

"Here it is universally taken for granted that an eventual negative reply by Serbia will be followed by a declaration of war from us and military operations. Any delay in commencing military operations is regarded here as a great danger because of the interference of other Powers. They urgently advise us to go ahead and confront the world with a fait accompli."

To make sure he understands it Berchtold immediately checks with the German ambassador in Vienna, who reports to Berlin. "Count Berchtold read out to me Count Szogyeny's telegram saying that to avoid risk as far as possible of intervention by third parties, Berlin regarded the greatest speed in military operations and the earliest declaration of war as advisable."

## Bethmann met the Kaiser on the 28 July and was scolded by him on the 28 July and on the 27 July [p252]

On the 28 July, that watershed day when the Kaiser made a proposal that could have solved the crisis, the Austrians declared war on Serbia, and Bethmann undermined the Kaiser's proposal in the version he forwarded to Vienna, McMeekin has Bethmann called to Potsdam during the afternoon and reprimanded by the Kaiser.

Though the account is a single paragraph the author obviously thinks it is of great significance as he calls the whole chapter, "You have Got Me Into a Fine Mess" which is what the Kaiser is supposed to have said to Bethmann.

McMeekin gives Jannen as his source and there is a very similar paragraph in Jannen ["The Lions of July", p149] though McMeekin gives additional information or he has embellished what Jannen says. The Kaiser apparently had heard of the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia. [Jannen himself in another part of his book, gives the time the news reached Berlin as 6.39 p.m., not the afternoon.]

Jannen's source is Wolff's "The Eve of 1914" and if you go to this book [p472] you discover Wolff never says there was a meeting, he simply says "[The Kaiser] is reported to have said to Bethmann after his return: "Sie haben mir die Suppe eingebrockt" [You have got me in a fine mess]". The Kaiser returned on Monday, the day before. There was no meeting on Tuesday.

Jannen misconstrued it and McMeekin takes it at face value, embellishes it, and gives it the status of a chapter title.

As well as all this, there is the sheer improbability of Bethmann being severely reprimanded by the Kaiser in the afternoon, and specifically told to lean on the Austrians, and that evening, a few hours later, nullifying the Kaiser's proposal when he sends it to Vienna!

When you see the German words for this expression you realise that McMeekin has turned one error into two! He has the Kaiser on his return to Germany on Monday [p266] when greeted by Bethmann giving him another reprimand saying "You've cooked this broth and now you are going to eat it".

On reading the Monday account one's suspicion is immediately aroused as the reprimand seems out of place according to McMeekin's own description of what was going on. As far as both the Kaiser and Bethmann knew matters were developing as Germany planned, and that was the general feeling at the Potsdam meeting including the military that both attended that afternoon.

This remark on Monday (not Tuesday) attributed to the Kaiser may well be apocryphal related later by one of the Kaiser's sycophantic courtiers to retrieve the image of the Kaiser when it was clear everything had gone wrong.

## Moltke, the German Chief of Staff, was shocked on the 30 July to learn the news from Tsar that Russia had been "mobilising" for five days [p288]

It is recognised by historians that on the 30 July Moltke's attitude changed from wait and see, to Germany must act now, and declare "State of Imminent Danger of War " which led to mobilisation.

McMeekin puts this down to a message from the Tsar to the Kaiser which mentioned (almost in passing) that Russia had started military preparations five days previously. He says "Moltke was floored to learn that Russia had begun preparing for war five (now six) days earlier". Russia's secret mobilisation of over 1 million men had finally been rumbled.

This is a ridiculous. Moltke was very well informed. He had all the warnings from German diplomats and military representatives which started coming in within hours of Russia's first military steps, and of the intelligence gathered by the formidably efficient German General Staff, the information gathered by the "tension" travellers, for example, whose activities had been designed to deal exactly with this kind of situation.

There was no "secret" Russian mobilisation.

It is more likely that Moltke's sudden change was entirely brought about by his discovery that day that the Austrians were still concentrating their military effort on Serbia leaving Russia free to concentrate on attacking Germany from the east.

## In summary

The key to this book is the author's job. He is Assistant Professor of History at Koç University in Turkey.

One can understand why he might take the line that Russia had no right to defend its interests in the Balkans and thus the Turkish Straits, accounting for over half of Russian trade, and Germany, whom Turkey allied with in the Great War, was completely right to encourage and push Austria to remove Serbia, Russia's friend, from the Balkan map.

A special place of scorn should be reserved for the publisher, who prints on the book's dust jacket "McMeekin draws on surprising new evidence from archives across Europe to show the worst offenders were actually to be found in Russia and France".

If there is a shred of "new evidence" in this book it doesn't show. All we have is McMeekin's dubious interpretations, mistakes, and his problematic guesswork at what the Russians and French really intended.

McMeekin is entitled to his view that Russian mobilisation was the disastrous turning point. But it seems as if he is prepared to tell any old story to support his case.
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on 19 November 2014
An excellent analysis of the politics that lead up to the outbreak of war. A little complicated at times but well worth sticking with.
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on 24 April 2014
Good to read a book which flows and also tells the facts dispassionately. Amazing how arrogant certain people of a certain were to those whom they thought of as expendable
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on 22 April 2014
This is the best book I've read so far on the events leading up to the outbreak of the First World War - although Max Hastings is very good on the first month of the War itself.
At times this reads like a thriller, or possibly Whodunnit? with McMeekin writing an almost "Hercule Poirot in the Drawing Room" type conclusion as to who was the "guilty" party.
Also throughout the narrative are various " I never knew/thought of that" facts ( such as Russia's need to build up it's grain exports in the years leading up to 1914 which explains the importance of access to the Black Sea/Dardanelles and to avoid German/Austrian domination of the Balkans, the need for French capital to build up its infrastructure and tariffs against German imports ) and some acerbic comments, almost worthy of AJP Taylor.
He also stresses the importance of 1914 communications and the often comical ( if it weren't so tragic ) misunderstandings this sometimes led to between diplomats at crucial times.
McMeekin is pretty even-handed in his treatment of the events and various actors/nations involved and the ultimate apportioning of blame - perhaps slightly leaning against the Russians, in particular Foreign Minister Sazonov and to a lesser extent the French, in particular President Poincare and going easier on the Germans ( but stopping well short of being an apologist for them, Moltke and Tirpitz come in for particular criticism ) and Sir Edward Grey bears a lot of responsibilty for his hesitancy and complacency.
But Grey was himself heavily constrained by the political context in which he operated. One theme of this book is that a firmer stance from Britain might have deterred Germany ( who seem genuinely concerned to avoid a war that involved Britain ) but he felt unable to do this as the British generally and about half the Liberal Cabinet in particular were so anxious to avoid committing Britain to alliance with France/Russia. In a funny sort of way it may have been the least enthusiastic memebers of the Liberal Government who unwittingly contributed to making the outbreak of War more certain.
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on 7 July 2013
McMeekin attempts to give a day by day account of the period between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of the war a month later. The foregoing is the strong part of the book, which people who haven't read much about WWI will appreciate. But while he brings nothing new to the basic story, nor is his writing exceptionally better than hosts of previous authors that have told this same story over and over again, the questionable part of the book are his rather controversial claims about the origins of the war.

For example he writes that Russian ambitions to capture the Straits and "Constantinople" is what motivated her actions in July 1914 and that "the European war" had to come first. Such a war, according to McMeekin, would provide Russia with "the pretext" to conquer Constantinople, but Russia "could not be seen to start it" and "only the unique sequence of events following Sarajevo" would provide Russia with the opportunity to have French and British "backing." Whereby in contrast Germany, according to McMeekin, would have been dragged into the war "kicking and screaming."

In a very distorted and inaccurate account of Russian pre-mobilization activity McMeekin attempts to argue Russia's 'war guilt' based on `the period preparatory to war' having been ordered on 26 July (the Army Corps of the military districts Kiev, Odessa, Kazan and Moscow were activated that day for a possible partial mobilization against Austria).

In the context of the July 1914 crisis, too much significance should not be ascribed to the arrangements authorized for the period preparatory to war, especially as regards the recall of reserves. This mattered on the Russo-Austrian front because the Russians were worried at the prospect of an early Austrian offensive, which would disrupt the concentration and deployment of the Russian forces. Creating a thick screen to stop the Austrians seemed vital. But this was barely an issue on the Russo-German front. In fact, the long delay before Russian forces could advance into Germany was owed to the time it would take to recall reservists in the much larger military districts of the Russian interior and then—above all— to move troops from the Russian heartland to the border region. This was a matter of three weeks or more, and no Russian advance could commence until these troops had arrived.

The period preparatory to war did not, however, allow either the recall of reservists in the military districts of the interior or the movement of troops from these districts to the border. It is true that the chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Ianushkevich, told his subordinates that where necessary they could go beyond the strict letter of the law, but there was no way in which this could affect the recall of reservists in the military districts of the interior. The only way in which this could be done was to paste up the red mobilization posters across the length and breadth of the Russian interior, including Petersburg and Moscow. No one has suggested that this was done during the period preparatory to war in July 1914. In fact, as late as 4 p.m. on July 29 the German General staff itself reported that no significant number of reservists had yet been recalled in the Vilna or Petersburg districts, a statement that further undermines the argument that the measures taken by Russia under the terms of the period preparatory to war played a sufficient role in alarming Berlin or bringing on the conflict.

Contrary to McMeekin’s suggestion there is no evidence in the Russian archives of any unusual troop movements from the interior to the western frontier region. In the orders distributed to commanders from the chief of the General Staff on July 25, 1914, top priority was given to getting units back to their depots from their summer camps.

Amid the speed and confusion of developments, it is not sinister or even surprising that military observers in Berlin played down the fact that the three Russian military districts facing Germany had still not mobilized by midday on July 30. All judgments about the actions of statesmen and soldiers in these days have to take into account the fact that they were operating under extreme pressure, with very imperfect information and often with minimal sleep. But to blame this climate of fear and confusion on the Russians makes no sense. On the contrary, it was the inevitable result of an Austro-German strategy that called for immediate and rapid war against Serbia, partly deluded itself into believing that this was achievable without Russian and French intervention, and fobbed off all attempts by entente diplomacy to gain sufficient time to negotiate and avoid catastrophe until it was too late.

It cannot be disputed that it was Austria-Hungary who was the first to declare war on another country, namely Serbia. Mobilizations did not necessarily have to lead to war, as Russia's statesmen were keen to highlight on many occasions (although this did not apply to Germany, where in fact due to the constraints of the so-called Schlieffen Plan it necessarily did), but declarations of war did lead to war - and while some aspects of the July Crisis are a matter of interpretation, the timing of the declarations of war is one of those rare 'facts' in history that cannot be disputed.

David Alan Rich in The Tsar's Colonels: Professionalism, Strategy and Subversion in Late Imperial Russia instead concluded here that Russia's pre-mobilization moves were rather for "political" reasons (in the hope to deter Austria from attacking Serbia). And that Russia "sought to reassure Germany that Russia was not about to start a general war." Plus as I briefly mentioned in my 2012 review of Clark’s Sleepwalkers ( which refers to McMeekin when it comes to Russia) a key Russian staff conference in November 1912 underlined the crucial importance of not allowing the Austrians to defeat Serbia and then turn on Russia with their whole army. In the end this had a big impact on Russian policy: rather than risk the extinction of its Serb and French allies, Russia felt obliged to move forward with its military preparations.

But it is not just Russia, France doesn't come of much better with McMeekin.

Yet with the opening up of the French archives in the late 1970s and work on French decision-makers since the early 1980s France's role was demonstrated to have been more passive than that of other Great Powers. (Eugenia Kiesling, "France," in Richard F. Hamilton and Holger Herwig (eds.), The Origins of World War ,Cambridge University Press, 2003.)

This line of research posits that the French government did not want or seek war in 1914, was not following a policy of revanche for 1871 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, and did not inflame the July Crisis.

It is now more widely known that many of the accusations of French responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War had less to do with the events of 1914 than to attenuate German responsibility, to minimize reparations payments, and to bolster the legitimacy of the new Bolshevik and Soviet regimes.

For all the symbolic importance of Russian railroads speeding up Russian mobilization in the event of war, it was clear that no decisive benefit could be derived from the French loans before 1917- 1918. As things stood in July 1914, according to a barely twelve-month-old French General Staff report , Russian troops could not make contact with the Germans until fifteen days after mobilization, and could not launch a general offensive until the twenty-third day.(John F. V. Keiger, France and the World Since 1870 (International Relations & the Great Powers) p. 86.)

Even Germany's diplomatic representatives in Paris felt that France wanted to avoid war. Following a meeting with French Premier and Foreign Minister René Viviani on July 29, 1914, the German ambassador, von Schoen, telegraphed his report to Berlin . The despatch was intercepted by the French authorities and later deciphered. Von Schoen concluded his report with the words : "Viviani does not wish to abandon the hope of maintaining peace that is deeply wished for here." The Bavarian minister in Paris wrote on August 4, 1914, to the king before leaving France: "I had until the last moment the impression that the French government wanted to avoid war at any cost."

Just as it was in Germany's interest to begin war before Russia's strategic position improved, so it was in France's to delay for at least a couple of years. Thus on July 26, 1914, von Moltke remarked : "We shall never again strike as well as we do now , with France's and Russia's expansion of their armies incomplete."

France had neither the inclination nor the incentive to seek war in July or August 1914. She was intent on maintaining the Franco-Russian alliance, but not at any price.

The question remains as to why France, seemingly unready for conflict, did in the end go to war in 1914. The short answer is that war was declared on her by Germany on August 3. It is hard to see how this could have been avoided without deliberately placing French security at the mercy of Germany - for example, by ceasing mobilization and surrendering defensive fortifications, as Germany demanded. She was now fighting a defensive war against German aggression.

And when French Chief of the General Staff and Commander-in-Chief designate, Joseph Joffre, learned to his annoyance on July 28 from War Minister Adolphe Messimy that the Quai d'Orsay had been informed by their ambassador in Berlin on July 21 that Germany had taken preliminary steps toward mobilization and that French preparatory measures needed to be taken, Messimy preferred to wait.

This started to change when on 31 July however Schoen, the German ambassador, informed France of the proclamation of Kriegsgefahrzustand.

Thus on 1 August, General Joffre, chief of the general staff, had threatened to resign if the government refused to order mobilization. Attending the meeting of the cabinet that afternoon, he warned that France had already fallen two days behind Germany in preparing for war. The cabinet was not unanimous. One-third to one-quarter of them expressed reservations about mobilizing immediately. But, in the end, they agreed to distribute mobilization notices that afternoon at 4 p.m. They agreed, however, to maintain the 10-kilometre buffer zone:"No patrol, no reconnaissance, no post, no element whatsoever, must go east of the said line. Whoever crosses it will be liable to court martial and it is only in the event of a full-scale attack that it will be possible to transgress this order."

As for Edward Grey's "sins" (p. 402) McMeekin accuses the latter of "misleadingly positive signals" and "for failing to prevent the war by not earlier deciding on a policy." This while Edward Grey's hesitant attitude can be seen as motivated by the desire to avoid an escalation of the crisis. Moreover, British public opinion, the press (with the exception of The Times), and the majority of the Cabinet were not ready for Britain to go to war, until Belgium's demise finally provided a reason to become involved in continental affairs. Until that point Grey had feared that a definite promise of support might have led France or Russia to accept the risk of war more willingly, and had consistently refused to declare Britain's hand one way or the other. McMeekin however turns this around by claiming that "Grey encouraged Russian and then French recklessness"(p.403).

As for Russia, in hindsight, we could say that the Tsar (who was very hesitant ) should have refused to listen to his generals, and not sign a general mobilization order. But in the case of Russia one also should acknowledge that (in contrast to Germany) mobilization did not have to mean war, and Russia continued to place its hope on mediation.

Or as the Tsar wrote in his telegram to the Kaiser on July 31:" We are far from wishing war. So long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia's account are taking place my troops shall not take any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this. I put all my trust in God's mercy and hope in your successful mediation in Vienna for the welfare of our countries and for the peace of Europe."

On 1 Aug the Tsar send another telegram to his cousin in Berlin, which he hoped might still avert war. In it Nicholas accepted that the Kaiser was now compelled to mobilize, but requested from him the same guarantee that he had given him - that mobilization did not mean war and that talks would continue irrespective of the ongoing mobilization measures on both sides: "Our long proved friendship must succeed, with God's help, in avoiding bloodshed."(Tsar Nicholas to Kaiser Wilhelm, telegram, 2.06 p.m., 1 August; received at palace 2.05 p.m. [Central European time], DD, III, nr 546.)

Again his telegram clarified that Russian general mobilization did not need to mean war.

For a more detailed response to McMeekin's invented "pretext" For Russia to conquer Constantinople and his mistaken notions of Russian mobilization, see:

In German propaganda and sometimes in the works of historians, the fact that Russia was first to authorize general mobilization is used as an argument for pinning responsibility on Petersburg for the outbreak of war. At the time, this was an important means for the German government to disclaim responsibility before its own people and particularly before German socialists. In so doing, it could play on the revulsion of left-wing elements in the country for the tsarist regime and on an older and deeper current of fear in German culture about the threat of Russia’s barbarian hordes. Subsequently, blaming Russia was a useful element in German rejection of the war-guilt clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.

Yet there is a little truth in this accusation. By July 30 and 31, the only way to avoid war would have been for Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to force the Austrians to accept the British proposal for mediation. Given the mood in Vienna, this could have been achieved only by a direct, sustained, and credible threat by the chancellor to abandon Austria should it ignore German advice. In reality, German pressure on Austria during these two days never amounted to this. The impact of Bethmann Hollweg’s advice to the Austrians was also being undermined both by the German ambassador to Vienna, Tschirschky, and by Moltke’s plea to the Austrian leadership to ignore the chancellor and plunge ahead into war. Had Bethmann Hollweg committed himself to threatening the Austrians directly, it is by no means certain that the mercurial William II would have supported him throughout the resultant furor. The Austrians would have been justifiably outraged by what would have been a betrayal of the German promise of unlimited support on which their whole strategy in July 1914 had been based. If William had supported Bethmann Hollweg, then both men would have been execrated for their weakness by most of the civilian and military leadership in Berlin, not to mention by much of German public opinion. The Russian general mobilization actually got Bethmann Hollweg off the hook and allowed him to present the conflict to the German public as a war of defense against aggressive tsarism. Inevitably, Russia’s mobilization was quickly met by a German ultimatum, followed on August 1 by a declaration of war against Russia.

However, if one concentrates on the July crisis, then responsibility for the outbreak of war rests overwhelmingly on the shoulders of Berlin and Vienna. German policy accepted enormous risks and made fundamental miscalculations, and nevertheless as these risks and miscalculations became clear between July 29 and July 31, it chose to plunge forward into war. It is true that even by July 29 diplomacy was becoming increasingly entangled by military preparations for war. Even in this respect, Germany was most at fault. Only there did mobilization require immediate declarations of war and the crossing of international borders.


Postscript 14 June 2014: A brief response to the "Gatekeeper" remark.

McMeekin's book (and no doubt partly due to the editor) might indeed be well written, a point I was trying to make however, is that McMeekin tends to overlook details that might contradict his case. Another simple example of this is the lack of discussion of the repeated efforts over several years by some Austro-Hungarian leaders - including Chief-of-the-General Staff Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf - to promote a preventive war. McMeekin notes that Russia took some preliminary mobilization steps before either Germany or Austria-Hungary had acted, which is correct, but ignores Austria-Hungary's early recall of men on harvest leave. He also overlooks mobilization timetables; the Russian Army needed 42 days to fully mobilize (albeit only 15 for the first echelon), while Austria-Hungary required only 21 and Germany just 15.

McMeekin's focus on military reviews and patriotic rhetoric during the state visit to Russia by the President of France constitute no more than evidence of the elaborate ceremonial and oratory commonplace in those times on such occasions. He downplays the fact that Austria-Hungary did not provoke the crisis until Poincaré was returning to France by ship, and thus could not coordinate a response with the Tsar. While McMeekin does throw some new light on the tensions leading to the war, in which France and Russia certainly had some responsibility, as did all the Great Powers, in trying to place the blame for the outbreak in 1914 on these two nations, he ignores the deliberations over the timing of Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia, the Kaiser's "Blank cheque," the Serbian acceptance of almost all the terms of the ultimatum, which Austria-Hungary nevertheless rejected, and the question of who invaded whom when.

It is no secret that McMeekin is located in Turkey and that he panders to an audience of Turkish reactionaries who eat up McMeenin's revisionist polemics about Russia. But outside the circles of overheated nationalists, it is just not at all convincing.
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