WWI Series - A Hundred Years Ago - September 11-September 30
In The Beginning
A year earlier Millie had welcomed war in Europe as an opportunity to right many perceived wrongs. Germany should have a greater sphere of influence in the vast wealth of colonies such as Britain and even France possessed. German speaking people should be German responsibility. The list of political and economic ills was long especially in the view of a powerful, nationalistic people.
Millie believed in August, 1914, that this war to fix Europe would last two or three months. By Christmas the conflict would be resolved. However nothing was resolved by Christmas. And now, a year later the politicians and generals were planning bigger battles, more arms, and involving more and more people.
Of course, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo was an excuse to crush Serbia and possess the country as a type of colony. No one seemed to consider the intricate web of treaties connecting Europe in a precarious balance of power. No one considered the industrial revolution throughout the world that would change how war was fought. Russia would protect Serbia. Poland would be a battle ground.
Looking back a year after Europe was plunged into a grisly war of huge casualties and general stalemate, Millie knew the war had to expand in order to end. What she could not understand was why Germany attacked France. The German army did not attack France directly. The German army demanded that Belgium allow the Germans passage through their country in order to attack France.
Even sitting in her sitting room thousands of miles away, Millie knew that England had agreed to protect Belgium. Such an attack by Germany would spring another trap of treaties. Great Britain was vast, touching every corner of the world. Why would Germany open a second front? Especially when such a battle against both France and Great Britain could not be won.
What Millie did not know was the German attack through Belgium was defensive, was intended to stop a second front. The Schlieffen Plan intended to stop the French army before Russia could mobilize and therefore avoid fighting on two fronts. The plan failed.
On August 3, 1914, the Belgium government rejected the ultimatum by Germany demanding free passage for the German forces through Belgium territory. Belgium also receives confirmation that Britain and France will provide armed support to combat the German attack.
Now, a year later as Millie ponders these events, she believes the German attack through Belgium was the real beginning of the war, at least the beginning of a world war. She has little hope that President Wilson can keep America out of battle. Perhaps if war comes for American soldiers, the country could gain from the experience. Already American industry was profiting from the war in Europe. Perhaps the American sphere of influence could benefit from this European war. Of course, if Wilson had no choice but to fight, the Americans would win.
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What Can America Gain?
In the hearts of men, who knows what motivates men to action. The power in Europe and Russia centered in the hands of very few men. One thing is sure: those who had power wanted to keep it, This included the Czar in Russia as well as the Habsburg monarchy in Austria-Hungary and the Kaiser in Germany.
When Serbia did not meet all of the unrealistic demands in reparation for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Russia ordered a partial mobilization for July 29, 1914. Russia mobilized to protect Serbia from Austria-Hungary. Russian mobilization threatened Germany. A conflict with Russia would trigger the intervention of Russia's ally, France, German military planning anticipated this and took for granted that, in any war with Russia, Germany would have to attack France first. The German plan to attack France is known as the Schlieffen Plan.
Hence Germany explained the necessity of attacking Belgium as pre-emptive defense against France. So it was, and Millie understood the reasoning. Two fronts, one to the east and a front to the west, would happen to Germany. If they attacked first, they could neutralize the western front. That the plan failed opened Europe up for years of bloody battle. Also, the failure of the Schlieffen Plan opened Germany to the accusation of expansionist ambitions.
In September, 1915, Millie, a Daughter of the Revolution, and a daughter of a capitalist investor, even at the age of forty-five, considers the option to stop the conflict, cut the losses and move forward. She is not the only person to consider this a viable option. But peace can't happen. Nothing is resolved. The borders are not resolved. The internal threat of revolution is not and would not be resolved. Who would blink first? Only Germany tries to make a separate peace with Russia which is rejected at the time.
Millie accepts the attack of Belgium. Her question is not who started the conflict or when will it end. She wonders what America can gain from the conflict?
WWI was as much a battle to maintain autocratic rule by a few as anything else. The revolutions in Russia and Germany that followed the war is no surprise.
The exception to a revolution required to replace autocratic rule is England. To this day we hear Long Live the Queen. The British government wisely enacted democratic reforms in steps which led to a peaceful transition of power from monarchy.
Kaiser Wilhelm II
Helmuth von Moltke
Czar Nicholas II
Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich
Czar Nicholas II
Who Held the Power
Autocratic government is not known for respect for individual life. In fact the opposite is true. But no government could continue to survive while leading their men into a war of attrition. The casualties are horrific. In September, 1915, the powers involved in the war stand back to think and plan. Not to find peace, rather to find a better weapon, a better plan, a deeper resolve.
So, of course, the individuals holding the reigns of power changed, but in 1915 the rulers over the lives of men were few and set. In Germany Kaiser Wilhelm II ruled an autocratic government. Despite his power he was an indecisive leader. Leading the military was General Helmuth von Moltke with the Schlieffen plan. The plan intended to annihilate the French army before Russia could mobilize. Best known in Germany was Paul von Hindenburg. He succeeded on the Eastern Front by establishing the Hindenburg line, a defensive line that saved lives in the battle of attrition being fought at Verdun.
In Russia Czar Nicholas II ruled with a stern hand and a corrupt system. His government was already in trouble with the rise of socialism, but at this point, Nicholas conceded to a provisional Prime Minister, Alexander Kerensky. His military commander of the Second Army was Alexander Samsonov. After the initial German success at the Battle of Tannenberg, Samsonov shot himself. Grand Duke Nicholas commands the Russian army until the Czar determines to lead the army himself.
In Britain George V is monarch. David Lloyd George is Chancellor. Sir John French commanded the British Expeditionary Force. In France, Joseph Jacques Joffre was commander in chief of the French army. In the United States, President Wilson maintained neutrality while Pershing prepared for war.
In September, 1915, while Millie sat in her plush Philadelphia drawing room contemplating what America could gain economically and politically by entering the war, the war continued in stalemate. Beneath the surface, the politicians and the generals churned their plans. Social change was on the horizon.