Story of the Great War - Roland Usher

The Outbreak

Not in the limp and bleeding body of an Austrian Archduke, lay the cause of the great world war. That assassination, the work of an obscure rascal in a practically unknown city of southeastern Austria, was the formal excuse for the demands made by Austria upon Serbia which were the technical reasons for the war's outbreak. It was the work of men, the Austrians said, who meant to destroy Austria-Hungary; the work of men in Serbian and Russian pay; the result of a secret conspiracy against Austrian unity.

A scene connected with the assassination occurred in Berlin. There, in a splendid room, was a magnificent table, covered with damask, glittering with cut glass, spread with a profusion of flowers and expensive food. Around it sat officers of the German army, clad in their finest uniforms. At the head of the table, none other than the Crown Prince himself. He rose in his chair and said, "Gentlemen, I toast—To the Day." They leaped to their feet, and drained their glasses and cheered again and again. To what day? He meant to the day when war should be declared between Germany and England.

Another scene took place in Paris in the official residence of the President of the French Republic. The President himself stood, quite simply clad, and addressed the German Ambassador, also plainly-clad. There was here no pomp and ceremony. Few words passed, but they referred to the fate of nations. The President said very quietly: "You are arming. We know it." The Ambassador started to protest. The President raised his hand for silence. "We shall not be caught napping a second time," he said very quietly. He bowed to the Ambassador, signifying that the interview was at an end.

A man shot in southern Austria; a toast to a war between Germany and England; Germany arming against France; what connection was there between them?

One further scene took place in this chain of events, again in Berlin, again in a splendid room. The Kaiser stood, himself in full military dress, and received the greatest generals, admirals, and statesmen of Germany. He asked them solemnly if they could assure him that Russia was preparing her army for war. They told him it was true: Germany must arm immediately in self-defense. After some hesitation he signed with a gold pen the order for the mobilization of the German army. He knew and they knew that that order would produce a general European war. They all chose to precipitate it.

And where did the war begin? In Belgium, thirteen hundred miles from Serbia, a thousand miles from the Russian frontier! That tiny nation, connected neither with Austria, nor Russia, nor France, was responsible for none of their deeds. And yet in August, 1914, the first overt act of the war was its invasion by the German army—a mighty host of gray-green troops, the sun glancing from their bayonets. On they came—company after company, regiment after regiment, hundreds of thousands of them, a line apparently without end, hours passing a given point, days marching through any single city; always marching, marching to the shrill music of the fifes, the rattle of the drums, the tramp, tramp of iron-shod boots on the pavements. On they carne,—Bavarians in dark blue, Saxons in light blue, Austrians in beautiful silver and gray, Prussians in gray-green.

Why should there be Germans in Belgium because an Austrian Archduke had been murdered, because Russia had mobilized her army? The reason given by the Austrians for the outbreak of the war was a fiction. It did not begin because the Archduke was killed nor because the Russians prepared their army for war. It was not begun by Germany and Austria in self-defense. Months before the murder of the Archduke the war had been decided upon. We know it from official documents and from the testimony of the men who knew. The decision was reached in April or May, 1914, if not earlier. The first preparations came in May and June. The murder of the Archduke on June 28 was employed as the best excuse they could find for beginning the war in the way most favorable for them. The Germans began an unprovoked war. Its causes lay deep in German and European history and life.