Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, August 15, 2019

By January 1914 Everyone Was Preparing for War

The Cousins Would Maintain Civil Relations Through the July Crisis

The crisis created in late 1913 by the Turkish-German agreement on a military mission to Constantinople (known as the Liman von Sanders Affair) subsided in January 1914, when Liman gave up his command at Constantinople to become inspector-general of the Turkish Army. Subsequently—unlike the preceding period since April 1911 that featured almost nonstop diplomatic conflicts and wars—early 1914 on the surface seemed free of confrontation. Britain's naval chief Winston Churchill was signaling the dreadnought race had been settled in his nation's favor, and French President Poincaré was dining at the German Embassy. After the convivial banquet the German ambassador reported that France's desire for military revenge was a stage that had passed. Peace seemed to be in the air.

This was completely misleading. The French and Russians, for example, were working tirelessly to reassure one another of their stalwartness and commitment to their alliance. The recent affair had finally convinced the tsar and his ministers that Germany could not be trusted. They concluded war with Germany was imminent. Meanwhile, the French were worried that further aggressiveness by Germany, which they deemed likely, would undermine the fragile Triple Entente. Consequently, the French government felt a need to reassure the Russians of their resolve.

Franco-Russian Alliance
France began the year by approving a Russian request for an increase in the amount Russia could borrow for railway construction. This, of course, was motivated by a desire to strengthen Russia militarily, particularly in allowing accelerated mobilization for war against Germany. The French prime minister Gaston Doumergue, in need of a new ambassador to Russia, appointed the thoroughly anti-German Maurice Paléologue to the post. Upon Paléologue's departure abroad Doumergue gave him instruction: "War can break out from one day to the next. Our [Russian] allies must rush to our aid. The safety of France will depend on the energy and promptness with which which we shall know how to push them [the Russians] into the fight." Meanwhile, Tsar Nicholas was warning Paléologue's departing predecessor regarding relations with Germany, "We shall not let ourselves be trampled upon." 

Finally, through another channel and possibly unknown to the French at the time, Russia was pledging support for Serbia should Austro-Hungary invade it in the future. Unbeknownst to the people of Europe, the continent was creeping to war as understandings were reached that would guide or constrain the decision makers in the coming crisis following the Archduke's assassination.

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