Who Started World War I?

Was Germany really to blame?

As the Trumpet warns of an impending World War iii, we emphasize that it was Germany that instigated both the previous world wars. Our critics tell us that it is absurd to believe that Germany started the First World War.

So what of it? What is the truth about World War i? Was it caused by Germany? Or Austria-Hungary? Perhaps the British, knowing they had to contain Germany before Berlin upset the power balance on the Continent? Was it the Russians—after all, didn’t they support the Serbs and mobilize their troops before Germany did? Or was it the assassination of Habsburg’s archduke in Sarajevo that prompted it all—91 years ago last month? Or was it the result of an unintended chain reaction on a continent where every country wanted peace but was tangled in alliances that had to be honored?

Even though so many records concerning events in the summer of 1914 have mysteriously disappeared (more so in Germany than anywhere else), historians over the past half century have been able to piece together evidence that gives us a clear picture of how this war came about.

A German historian in the 1960s, Fritz Fischer, was the first to compile evidence that implicated Germany’s military leaders in the outbreak of Europe’s Great War. His book, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, created such controversy that he released another book several years later to back up his findings: War of Illusions: German Policies from 1911 to 1914.

His conclusions are further substantiated in a modern volume by historian and author David Fromkin: the critically acclaimed book Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?

This book, published last year, argues that avenging the archduke’s assassination was merely a pretext for Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia—and that Austria-Hungary going to war with Serbia was merely another pretext for Germany to go to war with Russia.

Let us briefly examine this history. It is vital for us to understand the track record of a nation that is destined once more to plunge the world into war!

The facts prove that World War i was not somehow an inevitable chain of events. Rather, deliberate moves by certain countries initiated a somewhat planned chain of events. The warning signs were there. Flare-ups in the Balkans and in North Africa—along with an accelerated arms race—should have alerted Europeans to the rising danger. But then again, Europe hadn’t experienced a major war for half a century—and never a war of this magnitude.

Turn-of-the-Century Germany

Since the creation of the German Empire in the 1870s, Germany had been making attempts at continental domination. It annexed bits of French territory after the Franco-Prussian War. It attempted to rival Britain as a naval power in the early 1900s, and sought colonies in other parts of the world. Unfortunately for Berlin, those parts of the world had already been colonized—so it sought to gain territories by taking them from other European powers. Though no one had Morocco yet, France had been eyeing it for a while. When Germany went after Morocco in 1911, Britain came to France’s aid—and Germany’s alliance with Italy proved no help whatsoever.

Also of no help was Austria-Hungary—which, when it had annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany had supported.

At this time, Germany’s leaders awakened to two facts. One: Its alliance with Austria-Hungary was one-sided. Berlin was prepared to back Vienna, but Vienna, it seemed, wouldn’t necessarily back Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm ii said, “If it comes to a war, we must hope that Austria is attacked so that she needs our help and not that we are attacked so that it would depend on Austria’s decision whether she will remain faithful to the alliance” (James Joll, The Idea of Freedom, 1979).

Germany also awoke to the fact that it was weaker, not stronger, than the other powers. “[T]he chief of the general staff felt that Germany ought to launch a war as soon as possible precisely because the chances of winning it would be less every year. War was necessary, in other words, not to accommodate German strength, but to accommodate German weakness” (Fromkin, op. cit.). To Germany, not liking its position in the European order, the necessity of war was a given—it was just a question of timing.

It is well documented that Germany’s army chief of staff at the time, Helmuth von Moltke, believed a European war was inevitable. Given Germany’s ambitions on the Continent, German policy-makers knew that the only path to take was war. In that sense, it was inevitable. According to the movers and shakers in Germany, the longer Berlin waited to go to war (considering the growth of Russian, British and French forces), the smaller were Germany’s chances of emerging victorious. Not only that, they realized that to improve its chances of success, Germany must somehow get Austria-Hungary onside.

After the Moroccan crisis, Germany began focusing on developing its land armaments. Its arms spending in 1913 was at record levels, but it couldn’t afford such expenditures much longer—unless, of course, it went to war.

But public opinion wasn’t ready for it, and this was important, according to Moltke. The people had to be rallied around the cause. As he said the year before war broke out, “When starting a world war one has to think very carefully” (Imanuel Geiss, July 1914—The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents, 1967; emphasis mine throughout).

Secret Conference

According to Fromkin, backing up Fischer’s research, the German kaiser convened a meeting Dec. 8, 1912. “This secret conference was drawn to the world’s attention only a half century later, when the historian Fritz Fischer showed that it could have been evidence of a deliberate plan by the kaiser and his military chiefs to bring about a European war in June 1914” (op. cit.).

The kaiser had called the meeting after hearing from his London ambassador about which side Britain would be on were Germany to attack France. The kaiser, according to one account, left the meeting extremely agitated and “in an openly war-like mood.” He realized that, if Germany went to war, it would have to plan on fighting Britain too.

Additionally, that December, during the Balkan wars, the kaiser stated publicly that Austria “must deal energetically” with Serbia, and “if Russia supports the Serbs, which she evidently does … then war would be unavoidable for us, too” (John Röhl, The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm ii and the Government of Germany, 1994). In other words, the kaiser went on record as pushing Austria to take action against Serbia—even though he knew this would result in Russia and Germany getting involved in a war!

Fromkin wrote how General Moltke said that “‘we ought to do more through the press’ to build up popular support for a war against Russia.” Even though the meeting didn’t seem to produce any concrete decisions, one German official did, in fact, transmit to the chancellor “the kaiser’s order to use the press to prepare the people for a future war with Russia” (op. cit.).

Röhl concludes about this conference, “Ever since Fritz Fischer publicized evidence of the council, historians have wondered whether it could be a coincidence that one and a half years later the war did in fact break out. (Shortly after the council ended, Wilhelm told the Swiss minister that the racial struggle ‘will probably take place in one or two years’)” (op. cit.).

It Wasn’t the Assassination

Just about every schoolchild in the West learns how World War i started with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, by a Bosnian Serb nationalist on June 28, 1914. But when you understand how Europe reacted to the news of the assassination, you see that this is faulty logic—based not just on an over-simplified explanation, but a flat-out erroneous one.

The media throughout Europe recorded little public excitement over the assassination. French papers were more interested in a scandal involving a former prime minister.

Least outraged, amazingly, was the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Emperor Franz Joseph didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with Ferdinand, the heir apparent, and didn’t want the archduke to succeed him on the throne. So, though being no friend of Serbia, the emperor in one sense considered the act a favor.

Even among the Viennese, where one might have expected the biggest outcry, the reaction was largely apathetic.

In and of itself, the assassination would not have provoked retaliation.

Enter Germany. Exploiting Austria-Hungary’s hostility toward Serbia, together with the death of the archduke, Germany encouraged Franz Joseph to take things further.

Kaiser Wilhelm ii, who had been fairly close with Ferdinand (making his actions appear all the more legitimate), gave Austria a blank check—pledging Berlin’s unconditional support for whatever Austria-Hungary’s actions against Serbia would be—even if Russia intervened. By doing so, Germany was essentially spoiling for a fight with Russia.

Had Vienna’s actions against Serbia been caused by the double murder of Ferdinand and Sophie, surely Vienna would have acted either immediately in a hasty retaliation, or much later, after a full investigation could have implicated Serbia as part of the plot. But here is what happened: One month later (at the end of July), Austria, with German backing, gave a list of demands to Serbia—demands so stringent they were practically impossible to accept. The note was composed “so that the possibility of its acceptance is practically excluded”—according to a message sent from Vienna to Berlin (Geiss, op. cit.). (Realize too that Austria had been drafting a plan to crush Serbia two weeks before the killings in Sarajevo.)

Nevertheless, Serbia more or less accepted the list of demands, sending back a marked copy that tweaked the language.

But Austria—under Germany’s influence—wasn’t planning on accepting Serbia’s response no matter what it was.

Enter the British, who tried to come to the rescue as negotiators. When they approached the Germans, Berlin forwarded London’s mediation proposals to Austria-Hungary so it wouldn’t appear to dismiss any option—all the while privately telling Austria-Hungary to ignore London’s offer. German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg said, “If we rejected every attempt at mediation, the whole world would hold us responsible for the conflagration and represent us as the real warmongers. That would also make our position impossible here in Germany, where we have got to appear as though the war had been forced upon us” (Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War, 1967).

On July 28, 1914, through a telegram, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. On July 29, Russia partially mobilized in response; a day later, the Russian czar ordered a general mobilization.

Almost immediately, Germany began issuing ultimatums: one to Russia, asserting it was mobilizing against Germany, not just Austria, and ordering it to stop (Germany was hoping and waiting for Russia to mobilize for this very reason); one to France, telling it to stay neutral; and another to Belgium, ordering it to stay out of the way if Germany marched into France.

On August 1, Germany seized a railroad station in Luxembourg and—without giving St. Petersburg any time to respond to the ultimatum—declared war on Russia.

So here was Germany fighting Russia, France, Britain, Luxembourg and Belgium—all supposedly in support of Austria, while Germany was not actually fighting Serbia, the only nation Austria was at war with.

So Who Started It?

A clique of generals was plotting, long before 1914, to launch Germany into a position of power on the Continent, and war was the only way this could happen. The time would be right—for a while: Russia was weakened from a war with Japan in 1905; France, Russia’s ally, was also weak; Britain was about to erupt in civil war over Ireland. And these generals were able to rally their nation behind their grand designs.

The war was not caused, as some have described, by the system of alliances that came about before 1914. Italy—tied to Germany and Austria—remained neutral until it eventually joined the Allies. Britain, which had no alliance whatsoever with France or Russia, came to their aid.

But the key to figuring out who started it lies in the understanding that there were in fact two wars being waged—not one: Austria’s war against Serbia, and Germany’s war against Russia. The start of aggressions hinged on one possibility: If Germany could encourage Austria to declare war on Serbia and get Russia to mobilize, then Germany could declare war on Russia.

The German strategy was to get Austria involved in a war and then try to convince Vienna to change its enemy—to drop the Serbian campaign and go after the Russian Army—that is, to support the real German cause. One war did not grow into the other. Rather, one was an excuse to start the other!

The Great War of 1914 was not an inevitable chain of events that no one could have foreseen. It wasn’t dumped into the laps of leaders who only wanted peace. “A question asked throughout the 20th century … why, since ‘war had been avoided in the immediately preceding crises—1908, 1911, 1913’—was it ‘not avoided in 1914?’ One answer is that in the previous crises none of the Great Powers had wanted to have a war. In 1914, two of them did. And one reason that Germany did not want to go to war in those previous crises was that it could not count on Austria—and Germany’s generals were convinced that without Austrian troops holding back the Russians during the opening weeks of the war, they might not win” (Fromkin, op. cit.).

Paranoia—or Prophecy?

It is not paranoia and conspiracy theories that motivate the Trumpet to keep reminding the world of Germany’s responsibility in both world wars. Herein lies the real basis of our concern: The Bible reveals that another empire will rise out of Europe, with Assyria—modern-day Germany—at the helm, and with the guidance of a dominant religion: that is, a final revival of the Holy Roman Empire.

This war will not be within Europe. The world is much smaller these days, thanks to modern technology. Germany—unlike the nation of the early 20th century—has sought to rally Europe into becoming one dynamic power. Under the banner of a united Europe, Berlin already has a great deal of power on the Continent—something we will see increase dramatically. Soon, as a united continent—under one faith, led by a new pope—Europe will set its sights on world domination, which it will attain for a short time.

Within that period, it will wreak unspeakable havoc on the world—including conquering the American and British peoples. So says your Bible.

Far from us “bashing” the Germans, it is God who says that—for a season—they are His instrument to correct the English-speaking peoples (Isaiah 10:5). God says that this is a “bitter and hasty nation” (Habakkuk 1:6). History—and the previous world wars are just two examples—demonstrates how Germany fits this description.

When you understand all this, it becomes impossible to view Germany’s and Europe’s present conditions without grave concern.