The War Party in Vienna Puts the
Triple Alliance to the Test

[Current Opinion, September 1914]

No mere misconception regarding consequences can have obscured the judgment of Count Leopold Berchtold when he laid before his sovereign, at Ischl the terms of that Austro-Hungarian note to Servia which, as the newspapers of St. Petersburg insist, made a general European war inevitable. Inspired Austrian dailies affirmed, even up to the last week in July, that Servia would yield, and that, even if she did not yield, Russia had no thought of intervention. Count Berchtold, unless the Paris Temps does him a grave injustice, knew that Servia would not yield. He knew that Russia would come into the crisis at its eleventh hour. The Austrian statesman was simply overborne by the militarists of Vienna, a powerful group interpreting itself through the Reichspost. Count Berchtold, notwithstanding his official position as foreign minister, could effect no assuagement of the harshness of the Austro-Hungarian note to the Servian government. That missive was an indictment of Belgrade by Vienna, referring, as it did, to "manifestations which have incited the Servian population to hatred of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and contempt of its institutions," and denouncing the "culpable tolerance" of those manifestations. It asserted that the assassinations of the heir to the Hapsburg throne and his consort were hatched in Belgrade, that the weapons were furnished by members of a Servian society and that the assassins were aided by high Servian officials.

Why Austria-Hungary Seemed Bent on War.

In their readiness to bring on a European war the militarist party in Vienna, according to both the Temps of Paris and the Novoye Vremya of St. Petersburg, openly insulted Servian national pride. At the same time the inspired foreign office press in the Hapsburg capital was professing its confidence in the maintenance of peace. This, after demanding a humble apology, of which it dictated the words, to be published on the front page of the Servian official journal and as an order of the day to the Servian army! The French dailies are overwhelmed at such insolence. The note, in brief, according to our Paris commentators, virtually demanded an abdication by Servia of her sovereignty and independence. If she did not agree to the terms within forty-eight hours, the war party in Vienna threatened military action. The menace was underscored in the provocative tone in which the militarist Reichspost indulged in its comment. The state of public opinion in Vienna was kept from excitement at first by assurances in the Neue Freie Presse that war was a remote possibility. Towards the end of July, however, the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung, inclining to extreme radicalism, declared that the demands made by Count Berchtold were such as one country never before presented to another, and that their acceptance would mean such interference by officials of the dual monarchy with the press, education and administration—military, political and judicial alike—of Servia that defeat in war and even annexation would not be harder to bear and must be far less humiliating.

Germany Stands by Austria-Hungary against Servia.

A militarist Vienna was taken completely by surprise when the Czar's foreign minister communicated directly with the Ballplatz from St. Petersburg to the effect that Servian independence was "a Russian interest." For the first time now it dawned upon official Berlin that this Austro-Servian crisis might become European. Until the last week in July inspired German dailies had insisted that any clash between Belgrade and Vienna would be "localized." The Lokalanzeiger, which in matters concerning foreign politics frequently reflects the views prevailing in governing circles, declared pointblank that "Servia will fulfill the Austro-Hungarian demands or she will be demolished." The note, it agrees, was regarded in Belgrade as a slap in the face; but Servian politicians know perfectly well what feelings are inspired in Vienna by the "greater Servia" agitation and ambition. "Servia must submit to the humiliating conditions of the note," it asserted, "and thus cause wounds to her prestige that will not heal for a very long time or the Austro-Hungarian rifles will go off. They have been loaded and unloaded too often." All Berlin dailies, inspired and semi-official, radical, liberal, conservative and agrarian, rallied to Vienna, declaring that the dual monarchy must not recede a single inch.

How Militarist Vienna Planned a Servian Campaign.

Altho official Berlin, according to the Kölnische Zeitung, did not know exactly what was in Vienna's note to Belgrade until it had been sent, Germany and Austria-Hungary had long been in accord relative to a Servian campaign. The house of Hohenzollern would stand by the house of Hapsburg. This meant, as the Vienna Reichspost explains, that Germany would hold both France and Russia "sufficiently in check" to enable Austria-Hungary to reduce Servia to terms. That statement is confirmed by every daily in Berlin that enjoys official inspiration. The Kreuz-Zeitung reflects militarist opinion fairly well when it confesses that the course of the Powers in the dual alliance surprised Berlin mightily, Vienna sent her troops into Servia, as all the world knows. St. Petersburg ordered a mobilization. Germany delivered her blows—on one side against the Muscovite, on the other against the French. The great general staff in Berlin relied upon two factors here. First was the proletarian crisis in the Russian cities, a much graver development, seemingly, than the outside world yet suspects. The second was the state of the French army, admitted in even the Temps to be somewhat unsatisfactory. Meanwhile Vienna had poured her troops with great speed, according to the Vossische, into Servia, holding her own Slavs in awe with 200,000 troops along the frontier.

Mysteries of the Servian Campaign.

Precisely the calculations of the Vienna war party stood the test of an actual campaign is a mystery. Not only have the movements of the Hapsburg forces been veiled by a censorship of unexampled completeness but, if we are to credit the Berlin Vorwärts, a Socialist organ often surprisingly well informed, the Rumanian army failed to impede the Austrian advance across the Danube, a circumstance indicating that one, at least, of the Russian plans had miscarried. To add to the mystery of this aspect of the European crisis, no war news of a definite character has left Vienna for northern points since Emperor William made his spectacular dash against the dual alliance. Now, it is vital to the whole Hapsburg scheme, according to the military expert of the Paris Gaulois, that Germany draw upon herself the full strength of France and Russia both. Austria-Hungary feels confident that she can then create in the Balkans such a situation as will detach Russia forever from her ally France and force upon the French mind a conviction that no triumph over Germany achieved with the aid of the Slav can subserve a Gallic purpose. The fortunes of the Hapsburg expedition against Servia are thus of paramount importance to our contemporary—of far greater importance, it hints, than even the destinies of German arms in the north. Hence a crucial importance attaches to a rumor from Greece that Vienna is negotiating with Sofia. That means in plain English, to follow the analysis of the London Post, that the Hapsburgs are seeking the help of Bulgaria if they have not secured it. "The Bulgarian government would hardly resist such a temptation, for Servia is in possession of the part of Macedonia which Bulgaria has long desired and of which she would have had a share but for her treacherous attacks upon her allies." The one consideration which would make Bulgaria hesitate, adds this authority, would be the fear that Rumania might assist Servia. If, however, it be true that the Rumanian army did not move against the Austrians last month, something is seriously amiss with the Russian plans.

Is Austria-Hungary in the Right against Servia?

From a military standpoint, the outlook for Austria-Hungary seems somewhat gloomy to the press of London. What Austria really did, according to the London Spectator, was to undertake an anti-Slav war which is now a general European war. Slavonic racial feeling, "which may be calculated to affect some twenty-five millions of the population of Austria-Hungary," is either actively hostile or gloomily defiant. The Hapsburgs found some four years ago when they mobilized for the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that the affair must be a Teutonic mobilization altogether. "In the case of the Slavonic regiments, the reserves called up from the civil population could not be trusted for the essential duties that would be required of them—that is, to fire upon their fellow Slavs belonging either to the empire, to Servia, to Montenegro or to Russia," Our contemporary has only words of condemnation for those southern Slavs who murdered the late heir to the throne of the Hapsburgs, but all the facts show, it thinks, that the crime was most probably designed and carried out by subjects of Austria-Hungary. The attack upon Servia eclipses the horror, the enormity, of the assassination in the Slav mind:

"We should soon find the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina ripe for rebellion, tho possibly rebellion tempered by a want of arms. Such a movement "would quickly spread to Croatia and Dalmatia, and ultimately to the Slav populations of the rest of the Emperor Francis Joseph's dominions. But Servia would not merely have support from half the population of the Dual Monarchy. Montenegro would be bound to go to her assistance, for she would feel that if Servia were defeated her turn would be next. How Greece might act it is difficult to say, but, even if she did not move, her sympathies, which would count for something, would almost certainly be with the smaller Power. How would Roumania, whose army and whose finances are strong and intact, be likely to view the situation? Roumania is no doubt a prudent as well as a strong Power, but we must not forget the feeling of intense hostility towards the Hungarian section of the Dual Monarchy which is felt by the Roumanian people. To them the Hungarian province of Transylvania is Roumania irredenta. The Roumanians allege, and we believe with truth, that the four million men of Roumanian race who live under Hungary are treated with great harshness and injustice. It is idle to conceal the fact that what they would like, and what Roumania would also like, is amalgamation with the main stock."

The War Viewed from an Austro-Hungarian Angle.

Unless the Hapsburgs were ready to approve the extinction of the dual monarchy they were obliged, declares the Neue Freie Press, of Vienna, to put an end to the Servian conspiracy. That conspiracy was an organized effort to rear a greater Servia on the ruins of the Hapsburg dominion. The very existence of the dual monarchy is at stake, concedes the militarist Reichspost, but the dual monarchy was willing to put everything to the test at once rather than tolerate the intolerable for another hour. It is not the fault of the Austro-Hungarian empire if the excitability of the Slavs has drawn Russia upon the scene, if the emergence of Russia causes France to spring to arms. The Hapsburgs do not mean to extend their territory. They have but lately abandoned a district of importance for the sake of European peace. The dual monarchy fights now for the sake of self-preservation. The ally, Germany, has been loyal. Austria-Hungary will not make a peace without consulting her ally, and, if victorious, the dual monarchy will find compensations for her ally.

The Perils Confronting the Dual Monarchy.

Something to this general effect finds expression in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, which insists that the struggle now in progress will make an end of the dream of a greater Servia—the nightmare of the dual monarchy. While Germany holds off France and Russia, Austria-Hungary will teach her foes a lesson. Yet it would be absurd to suppose that were the Hapsburgs successful, according to English dailies, they would stop short of annexation. But the London Telegraph says on this point:

"No one who studies Austro-Hungarian politics can think for a moment that the dual monarchy will benefit herself by war. Even if it be successful, the consequent advantages are extremely dubious, while if it is unsuccessful the effects in Austria-Hungary are likely to be disastrous.

"If we review the recent Balkan policy of Viennese statesmen we shall have to conclude that it has not been conspicuously successful. They have tried to shut up Servia within narrow limits, and to establish an independent kingdom in Albania in order to checkmate Servian aims, and the only result has been bitter enmity at Belgrade and chaos at Burazzo. Worse than that, they have managed to offend Bulgaria and to alienate Roumania, and the defection of the latter State—if it be a fact—is a very serious blow for Count Berchtold. In any future conflict in the Balkans, Roumania will probably either play for her own hand or be found in alliance with Russia, contingencies which are seriously detrimental to Austrian aims. More than once, too, in latter days, the ominous prophecy has been uttered that Austria-Hungary is breaking up. Nothing could more surely accelerate this process than a desperate and inconclusive war, which would encourage the Southern Slavs and suggest Separatist ideas to the Hungarian, Czech, Pole, and other elements out of which the heterogeneous Empire is molded."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —


A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury