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Subject: WWI: The war guilt poll! rss

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This remains a controversial topic, a source of seemingly never-ending debate among professional historians and hobbyists alike: Who started WWI?

It started with the war-guilt clause of the Versailles treaty and has been going on ever since. Newer writers have rekindled the arguments--generally shifting the blame away from the Central Powers alone--just in time for the centenary, as it happens.

Now, we will settle this once and for all (as Wilhelm II might have said, and probably did at some point), but in a manner that the Entente would have approved of: A democratic geek poll!

Feel free to post your reasoning below.

Poll
Which country bears the most responsibility for starting WWI?
Serbia
Austria-Hungary
Germany
Russia
France
Great Britain
All of the above share equal responsibility
      86 answers
Poll created by Arcology
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M@tthijs
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Euhm, the top three? And then, not Serbia, the nation, but terrorists in Serbia?
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Martí Cabré

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Oh, a non controversial poll.

How can we establish who is more responsible for starting WWI? Maybe if we establish that should a country not have acted the war would have been avoided, then my vote goes for Germany: without the German DoW on France and Russia the war maybe would have been another Balcanic war, like the ones before this one.

But of course Great Britain was pressuring Germany everywhere to avoid losing the superpower status to the Germans, France played the Russian card... everyone had state reasons to go to war, mainly to keep the higher classes statuses and economic interests, which by a twist of fate were lost in many of those countries: Russia, Germany, A-H, Turkey...
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Michael Sommers
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It's all the fault of Charlemagne. If he, and most of the subsequent French rulers, hadn't repeatedly tried to take over all of Europe, everyone else would have been able to live in peace and harmony with each other forever.
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Bill Lawson
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Blaming the victims (Austria) of a state sponsored terrorist act for World War One is absurd! yuk
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Martí Cabré

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Mmm... Australia and New Zealand are missing from the poll. It's clearly biased.
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Jean-Pierre Maurais
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billyboy wrote:
Blaming the victims (Austria) of a state sponsored terrorist act for World War One is absurd! yuk


Hi Bill,

I think that you are analyzing the crisis of August 1914, with a vision of things arising from the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In the 19th century or early 20th century, I do not believe that terrorism was perceived in the same way. This phenomenon was certainly not desired, but I think it less impacted the spirits than today. This is probably due to the fact that at the time, it was easier to legitimate it by the context. (Most of the states were not democratic, most of the states were totalitarian or dictatorial, Human rights and/or minorities rights did not exist and left (anarchy, socialism, communism) ideas were in vogue. So I'm uncomfortable to use the terrorist act of July 1914 to determine which country is responsible for having started the first world war.
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Bill Lawson
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verdunjp wrote:
billyboy wrote:
Blaming the victims (Austria) of a state sponsored terrorist act for World War One is absurd! yuk


Hi Bill,

I think that you are analyzing the crisis of August 1914, with a vision of things arising from the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In the 19th century or early 20th century, I do not believe that terrorism was perceived in the same way. This phenomenon was certainly not desired, but I think it less impacted the spirits that today. This is probably due to the fact that at the time, it was easier to legitimate it by the context. (Most of the states were not democratic, most of the states were totalitarian or dictatorial, Human rights and/or minorities rights did not exist and left (anarchy, socialism, communism) ideas were in vogue. So I'm uncomfortable to use the terrorist act of July 1914 to determine which country is responsible for having started the first world war.


We've had this discussion before and I'm not going to do it again on this website. Blaming Austria is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. It has absolutely ZERO to do with 9/11/2001.
The Serbs started it by helping the terrorists that killed the Archduke. The same Serbs that had literally hacked there own King and Queen to pieces in there own Palace 10 years earlier. Russia backed them by being the first Great Power to mobilize. France by the way was the second Great power to mobilize.
To many people look at the First World War through the lens of the Second World War (read Nazis). My advice is to read some more books.
I am unsubscribing to this thread and will not comment further here.
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Michael Sommers
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billyboy wrote:
verdunjp wrote:
billyboy wrote:
Blaming the victims (Austria) of a state sponsored terrorist act for World War One is absurd! yuk

I think that you are analyzing the crisis of August 1914, with a vision of things arising from the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In the 19th century or early 20th century, I do not believe that terrorism was perceived in the same way. This phenomenon was certainly not desired, but I think it less impacted the spirits that today. This is probably due to the fact that at the time, it was easier to legitimate it by the context. (Most of the states were not democratic, most of the states were totalitarian or dictatorial, Human rights and/or minorities rights did not exist and left (anarchy, socialism, communism) ideas were in vogue. So I'm uncomfortable to use the terrorist act of July 1914 to determine which country is responsible for having started the first world war.

We've had this discussion before and I'm not going to do it again on this website. Blaming Austria is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen.

Austria was hardly a blameless innocent. They had just recently annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and did their best to keep Serbia under their thumb. For instance, they closed the border and started a trade war when Serbia had the temerity to get a loan from France. They pretty clearly had further territorial ambitions in the Balkans, at least in the long run.

None of this justifies the assassination, and Serbia, too, had unreasonable territorial ambitions. But saying that Austria was the Good Guys, and Serbia the Bad Guys, is a gross oversimplification.

Quote:
The Serbs started it by helping the terrorists that killed the Archduke.

Or the Austrians started it with the annexation.
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Jean-Pierre Maurais
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billyboy wrote:
To many people look at the First World War through the lens of the Second World War (read Nazis).


I think you've got my point. You analyse the beginning of WW1 through the lens of september 11.

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Oh my God They Banned Kenny
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The few votes for them notwithstanding, IMHO if you had left Britain and France off of the poll, the last option (equal share) would have been a more viable option when considering the remaining four.

When considering Serbia it is important to distinguish between the nation and ethnic Serbs. There were no doubt Serbian terrorists. However, the terrorists were not the majority of Serbs, nor was terrorism the official policy of the government of Serbia. The Serbian government even warned Austria-Hungary that something might happen. Not only did the Austrians fail to take special precautions, but their security was so lax that in the end a single Serbian terrorist was able to walk up to pointblank range and commit the assassination armed only with a revolver.

The assassination was far from the only issue between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. The Austrians had territorial ambitions in the Balkans, and were interested in suppressing the minorities already in their territory. Serbia was an obstacle on both counts. A preemptive war against Serbia had been recommended previously. It is clear, from internal documents that are now available, that justified retribution against Serbia for the assassination was not the only, or most important, objective for A-H. The real objective was to crush Serbia once and for all. Germany had the further objective of humiliating Russia, by forcing them to back down once again, thereby reducing their prestige and influence in the Balkans, thus furthering A-H ambitions.

Germany not only backed A-H from the beginning, but encourage them to be as harsh and uncompromising as possible. Provoking Russia, and then forcing them to back down was a deliberately included part of the plan from the start. Thus there would be no serious attempt to avoid war by negotiation. The fact is, there was general acceptance that Serbia would suffer some consequences. Even Serbia itself accepted that, and in fact accepted most of the A-H ultimatum that was eventually presented to it. But that was not what A-H, or Germany, was interested in. Thus there were no serious attempts to negotiate, and any response by the Serbs was going to be deemed unacceptable.
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It was Belgium's fault. They should have known better than to move into such a dangerous neighborhood.
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deadkenny wrote:
The few votes for them notwithstanding, IMHO if you had left Britain and France off of the poll, the last option (equal share) would have been a more viable option when considering the remaining four.

When considering Serbia it is important to distinguish between the nation and ethnic Serbs. There were no doubt Serbian terrorists. However, the terrorists were not the majority of Serbs, nor was terrorism the official policy of the government of Serbia. The Serbian government even warned Austria-Hungary that something might happen. Not only did the Austrians fail to take special precautions, but their security was so lax that in the end a single Serbian terrorist was able to walk up to pointblank range and commit the assassination armed only with a revolver.

The assassination was far from the only issue between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. The Austrians had territorial ambitions in the Balkans, and were interested in suppressing the minorities already in their territory. Serbia was an obstacle on both counts. A preemptive war against Serbia had been recommended previously. It is clear, from internal documents that are now available, that justified retribution against Serbia for the assassination was not the only, or most important, objective for A-H. The real objective was to crush Serbia once and for all. Germany had the further objective of humiliating Russia, by forcing them to back down once again, thereby reducing their prestige and influence in the Balkans, thus furthering A-H ambitions.

Germany not only backed A-H from the beginning, but encourage them to be as harsh and uncompromising as possible. Provoking Russia, and then forcing them to back down was a deliberately included part of the plan from the start. Thus there would be no serious attempt to avoid war by negotiation. The fact is, there was general acceptance that Serbia would suffer some consequences. Even Serbia itself accepted that, and in fact accepted most of the A-H ultimatum that was eventually presented to it. But that was not what A-H, or Germany, was interested in. Thus there were no serious attempts to negotiate, and any response by the Serbs was going to be deemed unacceptable.


Are we going to ignore that the Serbian army help equip the terrorists?
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Oh my God They Banned Kenny
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mlcarter815 wrote:
Are we going to ignore that the Serbian army help equip the terrorists?


Not at all. If Serbia had had no involvement at all, why would Serbia be to blame to the smallest extent? But we should also not ignore that there were some members of the Serbian army that assisted the terrorists, not the Serbian army, or government in general that was offering support. The terrorists had a few crude explosives and handguns. In the end it was one terrorist, armed with only a revolver, that walked right up to pointblank range unchallenged. It was not a crack team of Serbian army snipers. As a result there was general international recognition that Serbia bore some responsibility, and would have to suffer some consequences. If there had been any willingness to negotiate and compromise, the initial Serbian reply to the ultimatum could have been seen as a starting bargaining position. A-H could have gotten close to, but not quite, everything they were publicly demanding. However, we know that a peaceful settlement is not what A-H wanted. The price of Serbian involvement was to be military conquest, to further A-H longer term ambitions in the Balkans.
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Martí Cabré

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Also, the war did not become a world war just by a killing in Sarajevo. There was a tight net of diplomatic compromises and imperialistic ambitions that led more and more countries to declare war on one another, thus leading to a final world war.

I don't think that even the Serbian nationalists were willing to start a world war, but I would not be so sure on the Germans of that time, at least from what I've read on their escalation with England from late XIX century. Not that England was appeasing Germany, though.
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Martí Cabré

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So I think we should distinguish who crossed the first "no turning back" point to go to war from those who turned it into a world war.
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marticabre wrote:
So I think we should distinguish who crossed the first "no turning back" point to go to war from those who turned it into a world war.


On that basis, I think it goes to Germany and the blank check. At least, the largest share of the 'credit', though plenty of others have some share, too.
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I read A World Undone not long ago, and he makes some interesting points about Germany's position. Overall I found the book to be rather sympathetic to the Germans, so there could be some bias.

One of the things he points out is that German had the capability to mobilize faster than France or Russia. He puts forth that Russia and France actually mobilized before Germany, but Germany mobilized last and attacked first. Mobilization was also a slow, fairly locked in affair. The planning for shifting these million man armies was locked in. Things couldn't change. So from Germany's POV, it's got France lumbering for an attack in the West, Russia gearing up for a haymaker in the East, and it's plan is to not wait around for that to happen.

So perhaps Germany struck first, but Russia and France got ready to hit first. At least, that is how it's laid out in A World Undone. Historians love to differ on these points, and the significance of them.

This kind of leads me to the opinion that everyone was equally at fault. The world was operating on a system where everyone felt like they had to hit first with everything they had, and Germany hit the mark quickest. It's not like Russia and France weren't going to attack Germany eventually.
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tms2 wrote:
It's all the fault of Charlemagne. If he, and most of the subsequent French rulers, hadn't repeatedly tried to take over all of Europe, everyone else would have been able to live in peace and harmony with each other forever.


If he had had the foresight to have had only one son instead of three...
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I think everyone is aware of this, but it can get lost in these discussions: People living in those countries, and the leaders of those countries, are conflated into one political entity for the sake of discussions. These people did not vote to enter this war.

Many of these histories and revisionist histories are conflating the two for narrative effect. Regardless of your country of origin, you do not need to identify with these war mongers. Sometimes countries are led by a**holes. Sometimes entire continents are filled with countries led by stupid a**holes. This doesn't make people guilty of causing a war that was launched by an a**hole who dragged everyone into it. We are just guilty, collectively, for letting other humans do that to us.

In my mind, this is where guilt should be placed.

The Germans got used by an ambitious "caesar" who wanted an empire that rivaled those that every great power had. He was going to take that country to war at some point, anyway. He needed a legacy.

The Austrians got used by those in power fearful of losing further control over a decadent empire, the often forgotten second sick man of Europe.

The French got used by those wanting revenge for '70-'71; and the restitution of French dominance over continental affairs.

The English got used by those wanting to preserve their economic dominance of manufacturing, which the Germans could challenge if the political opportunity on the contenient allowed for it; and prevent the threat of a hostile continent, just as they fought 100 years earlier to counter the economic threat posed by Napoleon's trade embargo.

The Belgian leaders and people are really beyond reproach, in my mind.

The Russian leaders, as always, get sick of not being taken seriously by other great powers who, over and over again, write them off as logistically challenged. The Russian people got used to remind Europe why it's better to let sleeping bears lie.

I wonder what the U.S. would look like today if those wars of the last century could have been avoided?
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Glenn McMaster
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Germany, still winning the oscar after all these years.
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verdunjp wrote:
billyboy wrote:
Blaming the victims (Austria) of a state sponsored terrorist act for World War One is absurd! :yuk:


Hi Bill,

I think that you are analyzing the crisis of August 1914, with a vision of things arising from the tragedy of September 11, 2001. In the 19th century or early 20th century, I do not believe that terrorism was perceived in the same way. This phenomenon was certainly not desired, but I think it less impacted the spirits than today. This is probably due to the fact that at the time, it was easier to legitimate it by the context. (Most of the states were not democratic, most of the states were totalitarian or dictatorial, Human rights and/or minorities rights did not exist and left (anarchy, socialism, communism) ideas were in vogue. So I'm uncomfortable to use the terrorist act of July 1914 to determine which country is responsible for having started the first world war.


Unless an Irish terrorist armed and trained without authorization by a member of the German General Staff in Berlin, and inserted into Ireland aboard a German submarine had murdered the king of England in a parade, in which case I'm going to hazard a guess that you'd reverse your stance...
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Glenn McMaster
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tms2 wrote:
Austria was hardly a blameless innocent. They had just recently annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and did their best to keep Serbia under their thumb. For instance, they closed the border and started a trade war when Serbia had the temerity to get a loan from France. They pretty clearly had further territorial ambitions in the Balkans, at least in the long run.


It took over 150 years and the Austrians had still not crossed the southern bank of the Danube. Slowest. Supervillians. Ever),

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verdunjp wrote:

I think you've got my point. You analyse the beginning of WW1 through the lens of september 11.

:)


It's important to Remember the Maine thing, which is that no war had ever been triggered in history prior to 1914 by a percieved (or real) act of terrorism.
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deadkenny wrote:
The few votes for them notwithstanding, IMHO if you had left Britain and France off of the poll, the last option (equal share) would have been a more viable option when considering the remaining four.


The direct trigger of the war was the fact that the two alliance groups had evolved overlapping alliance obligations in a bloc of territory that was then currently in political vacuum. Since it was Britain and France that had made the decision that this was to be so for the Entente between 1909-1912, I know no not who would be responsible for that very dangerous escalation of tension, if not Britain and France.

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However, the terrorists were not the majority of Serbs,


I wasnt' aware that terrorism required a democratic majority?

Quote:
Not only did the Austrians fail to take special precautions, but their security was so lax that in the end a single Serbian terrorist was able to walk up to pointblank range and commit the assassination armed only with a revolver.


A Serbian army revolver, which I don't think were like library books in the manner in which they were signed out.

Quote:
...The Austrians had territorial ambitions in the Balkans...


I love how the whoppers are slipped into the narrative amongst the facts.

Quote:
Germany not only backed A-H from the beginning, but encourage them to be as harsh and uncompromising as possible. Provoking Russia, and then forcing them to back down was a deliberately included part of the plan from the start. Thus there would be no serious attempt to avoid war by negotiation. The fact is, there was general acceptance that Serbia would suffer some consequences. Even Serbia itself accepted that, and in fact accepted most of the A-H ultimatum that was eventually presented to it. But that was not what A-H, or Germany, was interested in. Thus there were no serious attempts to negotiate, and any response by the Serbs was going to be deemed unacceptable.


Pretty sure the Halt in Belgrade solution proposed by the Kaiser was an attempt to negotatiate, but the general thrust is correct - the Central Powers were guilty of being too quick to take a crack at Serbia. Two things stand out from this.

First, last time I checked Serbia was not in Russia nor in any other territory covered by any clause to any treaty in force between Britain, France and Russia. So if the argument is that the Entente had some sort of informal agreement about running the whole world, (not just the 80% (or whatever) they actually controlled), that was hardly Austria's fault.

Secondly, the Entente seemed pretty bloody horny to mobilize in late July when in practically every other war for 100 years the Great Powers had let the local combatants fight it out for months while the other Great Power haggled and threatened. Was the Tzar in a rush for his own funeral or something? He could have refrained from mobilization and accepted the Kaiser's offer of mediation based on Halt in Belgrade. (Sure, Austria had rejected this at first, but the Kaiser needed some time to bring Vienna around, and the Austrian march couldn't even begin uuntil August 15th).

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