July 17, 1914

RWS, Lancieux Summer 1914 (2)

The fire smoldering in the forest of Europe was beginning to burst into flames. In vain did they try to put it out in one place: it only broke out in another: with gusts of smoke and a shower of sparks it swept from one point to another, burning the dry brushwood. Already in the East there were skirmishes: the prelude to the great war of the nations.

All Europe, Europe that only yesterday was skeptical and apathetic, like a dead forest, was swept by the flames. All men were possessed by the desire for battle. War was ever on the point of breaking out. It was stamped out, but it sprang to life again. The world felt that a merciful accident might let loose the dogs of war. The world lay in wait. The feeling of inevitability weighed heavily even upon the most pacifically minded. And certain ideologues, sheltering beneath the massive shadow of the cyclops, Proudhon, were proclaiming in war the most handsome noble title of mankind…

This, then, was to be the end of the physical and moral resurrection of the races of the West! To such butchery they were to be borne along by the currents of action and passionate faith! Only a Napoleonic genius could have marked out a chosen, deliberate aim for this blind, onward rush. But nowhere in Europe was there any genius for action. It was as though the world had chosen the most mediocre to be its governors. The force of the human mind was in other things.–So there was nothing to be done but to trust to the declivity down which they were moving. This both governors and governed were doing. Europe looked like a vast armed vigil.

Romain Rolland, Jean-Christophe, Tome X, 1912

… while Tisza was expounding his peaceful policy in Budapest, amid the unanimous applause of the Hungarian Ministers, Franz Joseph approved his Foreign Minister’s plan of war.

When Count Tisza comes to Vienna a week later he is suddenly another man. What has so transformed him, soul and brain? Perhaps he hopes that the war will be over in a year and win him the elections, which threaten to grow dangerous to the oligarchy of Budapest, despite the millions of crowns spent on bribery. Perhaps his heart has been touched by the prayers of his cousins, the feudal agrarians, who see in the murder of their future sovereign a glorious opportunity to wage war against their dangerous rival, the Serbian pig. Further, there are small personal jealousies which have prevented him from consulting the Opposition, even confidentially, in this extraordinary situation.

One thing is certain, that in the meantime he has read a threatening document—an urgent appeal to the Foreign Minister from the Chief of the General Staff, who abstains, indeed, from interfering in political decisions, “only I must again point out, as I have already explained by word of mouth, in complete agreement with your Excellency, that in taking diplomatic steps everything must be avoided which might allow delay, or successive repetitions of the diplomatic action, thus giving the enemy time to make his military preparations . . . if, however, the decision to make the demarche stands, military interests demand that this should be carried through in a single action with a short time-limit for the Ultimatum.”

The intention is plain, and has its effect. The voice of the General is heard threatening the Diplomat, at the orders of that Diplomat himself, who hopes by this ruse to overcome the Hungarian’s hesitation. This letter refers clearly to confidential conversations; indeed, it was written so hurriedly that even the date was omitted and only added conjecturally in after-years. For a whole fortnight Tisza has to listen daily to the same phrases: “prestige, enunciation of power, signs of weakness, making a clean sweep, action”; on top of this, reiterated fanfares from Berlin and the prizes which Berchtold was never weary of dangling before him: the strongest army in Europe on one’s side, a completely “free hand” in Berlin. Finally, unveiled threats from the supreme military authorities; “you will be responsible to us for the consequences of delay!” The most convinced pacifist would have found that hard to resist; how much more an officer, a man living at that day and in that circle of feudal aristocrats.

Thus the last internal enemy of the War Counts was worn down by suggestion. Tisza visits the German Ambassador and declares himself converted to the Ultimatum. The next day he makes a statement in the Budapest Parliament which is so equivocal that even the Paris Temps praises his moderation.

Emil Ludwig, July ’14

Return to Index

Go to Document Numbers 67-74

(32283) No. 51.

Sir M. de Bunsen to Sir Edward Grey.

Vienna, July 16, 1914.
D. 1:50 P.M.
R. 3:35 P.M.
Tel. (No. 86.)

In reply to interpellations in Hungarian Chamber last
night concerning tension prevailing between Austria-Hungary and Servia, Hungarian
Prime Minister declared that relations between the two countries required clearing
up, but that Government were not of opinion that this clarification need of necessity
lead to warlike complications.Though hope of peaceful solution is expressed
in speech, Count Tisza made a kind of general statement to the effect that every
nation must be prepared for war.(1)

(1) See Nos. 65, 82.

(32300) No. 52.

Lord Granville to Sir Edward Grey. (Received July 17.)


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