Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 31st, 1914

- This morning the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister receives a copy of the telegram from Moltke to Conrad sent the prior afternoon, urging the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff to mobilize against Russia.  When compared to the conflicting message from Bethmann-Hollweg pleading for mediation, Berchtold exclaims 'How odd!  Who runs the government: Moltke or Bethmann?'  He takes the message from Moltke as the more definitive statement, and in agreement with Conrad submits a request to Emperor Franz Joseph for mobilization against Russia.  The Emperor agrees shortly after noon and the proclamation is published immediately.  Notably, however, mobilization against Russia will not commence until August 4th - the Railway Department has informed Conrad that with 2nd Army being deployed against Serbia, the delay is necessary to avoid logistical chaos.  Under pressure from Moltke, Conrad then requests that 2nd Army be redeployed to the Russian frontier.  The Railway Department states unequivocally that this is impossible - deviation from the mobilization plan is impossible, and since 2nd Army has begun deployment to the Serbian frontier, the only option is for it to complete its arrival in full in the south, as only then can transportation be arranged to send it back north against the Russians.  Hardly an auspicious beginning to the war for Austria-Hungary.  This debacle emphasizes the central role played by the intricate mobilization plans of each of the Great Powers - since the plans require the precise movement of thousands of trains over limited stretches of tracks, with schedules down to the minute, any deviation invites a logistical nightmare.

The mobilization plan of Austria-Hungary, giving the two
possible destinations for 2nd Army.

- At 1020am a telegram arrives in Berlin from the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg announcing Russian mobilization.  Moltke's arguments for the necessity of German mobilization in response are now overwhelming, and Bethmann-Hollweg now accepts that war is unavoidable.  At 1pm the 'State of Danger of War' is declared, a measure to prepare for mobilization.  Shortly after 3pm, an ultimatum is sent to St. Petersburg demanding a definitive statement by noon tomorrow that Russia is cancelling mobilization against both Germany and Austria-Hungary, or Germany will mobilize as well.  A similar ultimatum is sent simultaneously to Paris, requiring a declaration within eighteen hours of French neutrality in a Russo-German war, and that the French fortresses at Verdun and Toul be occupied by German forces as a guarantee of French neutrality.  Both ultimatums contain the phrase 'mobilization means war.'

- At the same time in Paris, Joseph Joffre, the Command-in-Chief of the French Army, is increasingly concerned about developments.  His greatest fear is Germany mobilizing before France, leading to a repeat of the French catastrophe of 1870.  To the Minister of War he states the case for French mobilization:
It is absolutely necessary for the government to understand that, starting with this evening, and delay of twenty-four hours in calling up our reservists and issuing orders prescribing covering operations, will have as its result the withdrawal of our concentration points by from fifteen to twenty-five kilometres for each day of delay; in other words, the abandonment of just that much of our territory.  The Commander-in-Chief must decline to accept this responsibility.
Thus was laid out the inescapable logic of mobilization in the summer of 1914 - once one power mobilized, all must follow or risk defeat and occupation.  No government could withstand such pressure once applied, and none did.

Meanwhile, the French socialist leader and pacifist Jean Jaurés is assassinated this evening as he sits in a Parisian café.  When the French cabinet is informed at 9pm, there is momentary panic.  Jaurés, a leading figure in international socialism, had long opposed measures in peacetime to expand conscription in France, while he had advocated the policy of a general strike by socialists and trade unions to prevent the outbreak of war if it appeared imminent.  In the Cabinet this evening, there is a fear that the left may react to the assassination by riots and strikes.  Some suggest that Carnet B be invoked, which would arrest a list of 2501 known socialists, anarchists, pacifists, and others.  Fearing that such a widespread operation might invoke precisely the civil unrest they hope to avoid, the Cabinet decides against Carnet B.  The reaction of the French public to Jaurés' assassination justifies the faith placed by the government in the people.  Though there is widespread mourning at the murder, there are no major protests, no attempts to use the assassination to argue against French participation in the European war.  It is one of the first indications that the left, stridently anti-war in peacetime, will lose their nerve when confronted with an actual war.

- The approach to war and the imminent collapse of international trade has provoked a severe economic crisis.  Stock prices have dropped sharply while interest rates have shot upwards, the latter undertaken by national banks to stop investors from withdrawing deposits.  It has a limited impact - in France, 1.5 billion francs have been withdrawn from the nation's banks over the prior four days.  Ultimately, the choice is taken this day to stop trading at the Berlin, Paris, and London stock exchanges, to avoid a meltdown.  The closure of the London stock exchange is particularly shocking - London is the financial heart of the global economy, and none of the crises of the 19th-century had forced such a drastic step.  On the same day, Lord Nathaniel Rothschild, English head of perhaps the richest banking family in the world, writes to the editor of the Times begging for the paper's articles to preach the necessity of avoiding war.  Rothschild's views are reflective of the banking community as a whole.  After the war, it will be a common refrain that the conflict was fought to enrich capitalists and bankers.  Nothing could be further from the truth - international finance is absolutely terrified, pleading with politicians to stop the relentless march to war.  They believe that no modern economy could survive more than a few months of a European-wide war, and that the inevitable result will be financial ruin.  Their fears, of course, are misplaced - each of the combatants prove willing to resort to economic measures that the bankers had never dreamt of.

- In Italy, the Council of Ministers votes to remain neutral in the coming European conflict.  Though a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, there are also strong anti-Hapsburg sentiment in Italy, seeking the acquisition of Trentino, Tyrol, Trieste, and the Adriatic coast from their nominal allies.  This decision comes as a complete surprise to the Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna, who had been appointed to the post only two days earlier, and had sought permission to dispatch Italian forces to support the Germans along the Rhine even as the Council of Ministers was deciding to renege on their treaty obligations.

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