In David Fromkin’s book “Europe’s Last Summer – who started The Great War in 1914” he presents a blow by blow account of the efforts the European powers went through in order to prevent war. However, they could not overcome the human elements; deceit, pride, and miscommunication.
After reading his book I came to the conclusion that the war was the result of three things; Austria’s awkward handling of Serbia, the sabotage of communications between the Kaiser and Russia, as well as the Kaiser and Austria, add the pressure the German ambassador was placing on Austria to declare war on Serbia.
If more modern forms of communication would have been available, as well as less formal protocol, I believe war would have been averted. The Kaiser could have phone his cousin Nicky in Russia and asked, “Hey Nick, what is up? How come you ordered your country to mobilize and your troops are lined up along the Austrian border?”
Nick could have explained, “Why worry cousin, it is not a full mobilization just a little one. The troops are just a sign of solidarity with Serbia and to impress Austria to not do anything rash; that is all. We do not want to go to war but we also want to protect our interest.
Perhaps you could talk to the Austrians and tell them how foolish it would be to start a war that would destroy Europe.”
“Yes, I will call old Franz Joseph and tell him to stand down until tensions ease a bit and clear minds can find a solution.”
The Kaiser could have contacted the cabinet of the Premiers from both Austria and Hungary to drop the hint that should Austria go to war with Serbia, they would be going alone without Germany’s support. The Premiers would have said, “Kaiser, make up your mind! We get one communicate telling us to act more swiftly in attacking Serbia and another one telling us to hold off! Make up your mind, besides, we have to do something in order to save face. Then there is the issue of Russian troops at our borders and threatening to attack us – what are you going to do about that? If they attack will you honor your commitment?”
“Hey, guys, I had a chat with Nicky and he assured me that the troops are there to make you think long and hard if you really want to go through with the decision to start a war with Serbia. My advice is do not do it!”
The leader of France would have called the Kaiser, “Are you contemplating mobilizing your troops? If you are, then we will have to mobilize and Russia has already mobilized its troops so if Austria lights the match of war all of Europe will explode.”
“No, No, Germany is not going to mobilize. I just chatted with my cousin and he assured me that he only partially mobilized to demonstrate to Austria they better not mess with Serbia. I also had a conversation with the primers of both Austria and Hungary and told them to rethink what they were about to do. Now everything is cool.”
“But we heard rumors that Moltke, your army’s chief of staff, has already moved troops into position to carry out an attack on France.”
“What! Repeat what you just said. If it is true, Moltke and I are going to come to an understanding on who is calling the shots in my country! Do not mobilize for twenty-four hours to give me a chance to sort this mess out.”
“Ok, you have twenty-four hours! By the way, it is also rumored that he plans on attacking us through Belgium and if he does England will get involved and I know you do not want that to happen!”
“Damn Moltke! I thought he had more brains than that. It looks to me that my country is between a rock and a hard place.”
“Yea, you backed the wrong horse, one who is so focused on destroying an old foe that they do not see the big picture. Good luck and keep us informed.”
Instead, Germany thought that Russia had fully mobilized its troops and threatened Austria, thus forcing Germany to mobilize. But the definition of mobilizing one’s army is different with each country. In Germany the call for mobilization means war and Moltke had his own secret plans on how Germany would declare war against both France and Russia once Austria / Hungary lit the fuse by declaring war on Serbia.