The Great War: 100 Years Later, Borders and Kaisers in Europe Are Gone

Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna

Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna

By Jonathan Spira on 28 June 2014
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Most historians chart the start of the First World War to June 28, 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, by Gavrilo Princip, a 20-year-old nationalist seeking a greater Serbia, in Sarajevo. Known as the Great War until the Second World War took place, its origins were actually far more complex, and stemmed from a continuing struggle between Germany and Russia for dominance in Europe, as well as regional conflicts that continued for decades after the war itself ended.

The assassination led to the issuance of an ultimatum by Kaiser Franz Joseph to Belgrade with demands that were designed to be rejected, knowing that he had the full support of Wilhelm II of Germany to attack the Kingdom of Serbia. Meanwhile, Serbia capitulated on the key points but resisted accepting the full ultimatum, giving Austria an excuse to declare war on July 28, at 11:00 a.m., anticipating a localized conflict.  What followed was anything but.

Russia mobilized against Austria-Hungary in support of Serbia, while Germany declared war on Russia and France, invading Belgium along the way. The German violation of Belgian neutrality, a status to which Britain, France, and Germany were all committed by treaty, became the casus belli, and Great Britain had no choice but to enter the fracas.

Four and a half years later, the face of Europe was changed forever.

The war ripped apart empires and removed kings, Kaisers, and czars from power. It brought about modern warfare including aerial bombings and chemical weapons. New nations arose from the rubble, including the cobbled together Czechoslovakia, as well as Poland, Ukraine, and numerous Baltic countries.

Click here to continue to Page 2A Borderless Europe and New Forms of Nationalism

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