Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914

BooksWilliam Mulligan at Dublin Review of Books:

Even before the mobilisation orders had been dispatched and the declarations of war issued in late July and early August 1914, the forthcoming conflict had been invested with moral significance. Following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo on June 28th, Austro-Hungarian diplomats framed Serbia as a criminal state. “We have no plans for conquest,” Oskar von Montlong, the head of the ministry of foreign affairs press bureau told a leading newspaper editor, “we only want to punish the criminals and protect the peace of Europe.” Serbian diplomats framed their defence in legal and moral terms, promising to extradite any of their citizens who were proved to have been complicit in the assassination. They also reminded the European public that Serbia had made concessions during the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913 in the “exclusive interest of European peace”. What it meant to be European was at the core of the First World War, as each side sought to bend conceptions of the continent to its own national interest. Raw talk of the reason of state, ungarnished by a wider political sensibility, was surprisingly rare in a war in which states struggled for their very existence. Power was constituted not only by military force, but also by ideas, ideas that would inform the future settlement of Europe.

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