Sunday, August 03, 2014

August 3rd, 1914

- The Belgian Council of Ministers reconvenes at 230am to approve the reply to the German ultimatum, which states that they 'would sacrifice the honor of the nation and betray its duty to Europe' if it accepted the German demands, and declared that they would resist by force any violation of its frontiers.  At 7am, at the precise moment the ultimatum expires, the reply is delivered to the German ambassador.  That day excited crowds gather in Brussels as news of the act of defiance spreads.

The Kaiser makes one last appeal for Belgian neutrality in a personal telegram to King Albert, a distant cousin.  He argues that only the most extreme of circumstances had required the dispatch of the ultimatum, and that Germany continued to have 'the most friendly intentions' towards Belgium.  King Albert is not impressed - 'What does he take me for?" he exclaims.  Orders are given to detonate key bridges on the Belgian-German frontier.

- The Reichstag deputies of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) meet to decide their attitude towards the war.  Prior to the July Crisis, similar to socialists in other countries, the SPD had opposed war and sought to mobilize the working-class to prevent hostilities from commencing.  However, again as with socialists elsewhere, the speed of the July Crisis has overtaken any desire to avoid war.  Crucially, by August 3rd the issue is not war vs. peace, but whether the SPD will vote in favour of war credits in the Reichstag, essential to the mobilization of the German economy.  The SPD can also see this war in socialist terms - in their eyes, the SPD is the strongest socialist party in Europe, and the 'heart' of socialism is under attack by backward hordes from the East.  A vote among SPD deputies finds seventy-eight in favour of war credits to only fourteen against.  The discipline and solidarity of the SPD ensures that all deputies will endorse the majority view - the SPD vote will be unanimous in the Reichstag.

- The Italian government makes public today its declaration of neutrality in the European war, despite its alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the basis that the alliance is defensive only, and since it has been Austria-Hungary that has initiated hostilities, Italy is not required to intervene.

- This evening the German ambassador to France delivers a declaration of war to Premier Viviani.  It alleges that French airplanes have dropped bombs on German cities, and violated Belgian airspace.  The allegations are nonsense, as Viviani well knows.  Instead, they are meant for domestic consumption in Germany, to justify a declaration of war on a country that had no role to play in the original crisis that started the war.  The Premier denies the charges, and the ambassador departs for the last time.

- Today is a Bank Holiday in Britain, and the crisis brings thousands of people into the streets around Westminster and Trafalgar Square, eager to participate in the historic events.  The German ultimatum has transformed public opinion - whereas a massive anti-war rally had been planned for the capital on Sunday, it never occurs, and by today most in the crowds are calling for war with Germany.  A Cabinet meeting at 11am reflects this shifting opinion.  After much debate and deliberation, the Cabinet agrees that if Germany should invade Belgium and Belgium resist, Britain should declare war on Germany.  There are two further resignations submitted, but there is where the dissension stops.  The middle group of waverers, and especially David Lloyd George, are won over to the position of Grey on intervention.  Overall, the Liberal government has survived the crisis relatively intact - those who did resign were second-rank figures, and the public has swung around to support intervention as well.

At 3pm Grey addresses a full House of Commons on the crisis.  First emphasizing the lengths to which Britain had gone to avoid conflict, he now emphasized that the war was nothing less than an attempt by Germany to secure hegemony over the European continent, and that in line with British policy for centuries, such an attempt must be resisted.  After an hour and fifteen minutes, he sits to general applause.  As Grey later comments to Churchill, the next step will be to issue an ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from Belgium or face war with Britain.  At nightfall, Grey stands at his window in the Foreign Office, looking down at the lamps being lit in St. James' Park.  To a friend beside him, Grey remarks: 'The lamps are going out all over Europe.  We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.'  Thus ended the age of European dominance, dead by its own hand.

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