Was WW1 generally foreseen?
Yes Europe was armed to the teeth
Yes Europe had experienced wars for most of it's history even recent history
Yes military leaders had plans in place for defeating powerful neibors.
German Schlieffen plan
France's offensive Plan XVII
Joint British and French arrangements
Russia's approach to a future European war
Europe was well prepared and well understood local isolated wars among it's nations. Europe was not prepared, nor experienced, nor did they understand the abyss of a pan European war even as they stood at the precipice of that war. WWI had 40 million casualties, that was unprecedented for any prior war.
To this extent WWI was not generally foreseen from the perspective of those who contributed to the start of that war. There were shrewd diplomatic observers who were aware of what was happening as it happened, but they were the exception not the rule among professional diplomats, military leaders, and European rulers each took action without understanding the consequences of those actions until Europe was embroiled in a global war.
Each European country secured their peace through an elaborate series of treaties and alliances. These alliances were not well understood outside of the parties involved, and sometimes were outright state secrets. These alliances changed over time. Russia was once a German ally but within 3 years of negotiating that treaty flipped and became a French Ally against Germany. Treaties contained provisions and caveots. If Russia attacks Austria Hungary then Germany will be in alliance but if France attacks Austria Hungary or Germany than the other country will be neutral. Unforeseen consequences due to the complex and opaque treaty system is an often cited cause of WWI.
- Would Austria Hungary have declared war on Serbia if they knew Russia would respond?
- Would Russia have mobilized their troops if they realized Germany would interpret that as a hostile action and declare war?
- Which cross purpose series of treaties would Italy, who was both aligned with France and Britain and Germany ultimately support?
- Germany understood France was Russia's ally but did they understand that Britain would respond too? Britain would respond not due to Germany's invasion of France but due to Germany's invasion of little Belgium to get at France.
Secret Treaties of WWI
The "elaborate alliance systems" among European powers, "each secured by a network of secret treaties, financial arrangements, and 'military understandings'" are commonly cited as one of the causes of World War I.4 For example, the Reinsurance Treaty of June 1887 between the German Empire and the Russian Empire (negotiated by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in order for Germany to avoid a two-front war), was a "highly secret treaty" in which the two powers pledged a three-year period to remain neutral should the other become involved in a war with a third country, unless Germany attacked Russia's longstanding ally France or Russia attacked Germany's longstanding ally Austria-Hungary.5
The use of "secret agreements and undertakings between several allies or between one state and another" continued throughout World War I; some of them were irreconcilably inconsistent, "leaving a bitter legacy of dispute" at the end of the war.
In the famous, Pulitzer Prize winning book "the Guns of August
" by Barbara W. Tuchman she describes the first month of WWI. A series of actions which like dominos created unforeseen cascading events which ended in the first World War which almost nobody predicted or understood as the inevitable or even the possible consequences of their own actions.
The Guns of August (1962), also published as August 1914, is a volume of history by Barbara W. Tuchman. It is centered on the first month of World War I. After introductory chapters, Tuchman describes in great detail the opening events of the conflict. Its focus then becomes a military history of the contestants, chiefly the great powers.
The Guns of August thus provides a narrative of the earliest stages of World War I, from the decisions to go to war, up until the start of the Franco-British offensive that stopped the German advance into France.
One of the big contributors to this global war were opaque and secret treaties which made predictions the consequences of aggression against that neighbor or this neighbor difficult if not party to the agreement.
The Treaty of London – 1839, Belgium had recently broken with the Netherlands this treaty between Great Britain, Austria, France, the German Confederation, Russia and the Netherlands recognized a new independent Belgium and it's neutrality in any European dispute between the great powers. This is the treaty which ultimately brought Britain into WWI when Germany invaded her.
Dual Alliance / Triple Alliance – 1879, A treaty between Germany and Austria Hungary which pledged if either were attacked by Russia both would join in. the Treaty further said if either were attacked by a non Russian country the other would remain neutral. Italy joined in the Triple Alliance in 1882, but later reneged on their commitment upon the outbreak of the war in 1914.
Reinsurance Treaty – 1887, The secret treaty between Germany and Russia, agreed that the two countries would observe neutrality should one the other be involved in a war with a third country – although this would be wavered should Germany attack France or Russia attack Austria Hungary. It also agreed that Germany would declare herself neutral in the event of a Russian intervention in the Bosphorous and the Dardanelles.
Franco – Russian Alliance – 1894, when Germany refused to renew it's Reinsurance Treaty of 1887 with Russia for fear of upsetting the UK and Ottoman Empires, it left Russia vulnerable. France and Russia formed this alliance as a consequence of Russia loosing that agreement with Germany.
Entente Cordiale – 1904, between France and Britain. during the Russo-Japanese War France and Britain were put on a path of war neither wanted on behalf of their allies. France was allied with Russia and Britain with Japan. In order to avoid war, the sides negotiated a treaty that settled many long standing issues – particularly their differences in Africa over British control of Egypt and French control of Morocco.
The Triple Entente – 1907 - An agreement between Britain and Russia to stop their rivalry in Central Asia. Often mistaken as a triple alliance with France, which never actually existed.
Ottoman–German alliance - 1914 - secret, Germany and Turkey would remain neutral in the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but if Russia intervened "with active military measures" the two countries would become military allies.
Treaty of London - 1915 - secret, in which Italy was promised certain territorial concessions in exchange for joining the war on the Triple Entente (Allied) side
Treaty of Bucharest - 1916 - secret, concluded between Romania and the Triple Entente powers (Britain, France, Italy, and Russia) on August 17, 1916; under this treaty, Romania pledged to attack Austria-Hungary and not to seek a separate peace in exchange for certain territorial gains after the war.
Here's how it went down.
- June 28, 1914 Sarajevo, Serbia, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip assassinates Arch Duke of the Austro Hungarian Empire and his wife
- July 28, 1914 The Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia.
- July 31, 1914 - Reacting to the Austrian attack on Serbia, Russia begins full mobilization of its troops.
- August 1, 1914 - Germany declares war on Russia. France and Belgium begin full mobilization.
- August 3, 1914 - Germany declares war on France, and invades neutral Belgium.
- August 4, 1914 - Great Britain declares war on Germany, due to Britain's agreement with Belguim. The declaration is binding on all Dominions within the British Empire including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.
- August 6, 1914 - The Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Russia.
- August 12, 1914 - Great Britain and France declare war on Austria-Hungary.
- August 23, 1914 - Japan declares war on Germany.
- October 29, 1914 - The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) enters the war on the side of the Germans
- November 5, 1914 - France and Britain declare war on the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
Question: I am looking for information on the general perception of the educated population in the decade leading up to WW1. I would like to know to what extent a tragedy of the scale of WW1 was foreseen. Was it a shock that it happened, or was it something that many saw inevitably nearing?
The Guns of August chapter 1 begins at King Edward VII's funeral in May of 1910. 9 Kings attended that funeral including Germany's Kaiser. It discusses European history leading up to WWI. Included were European royalty, alliances, diplomacy, rivalries, and nationalism leading up to WWI.
Question: I would like to know if concerns about a disaster of this scale were something that came up relatively frequently in intellectual discussions of that time (as they do in our time).
War on the scale of WWI was unknown prior to that war. War had never been fought by that many people across so many countries, across such a vast area before. The weapons used, the scale of munition production, were also new and unprecedented. People in Europe feared wars on smaller scale. Like a war between France and Germany (Franco Prussian War). Not even the experts understood a war which spanned the entire continent was developing when a 19 year old revolutionary killed the scion to one of the great empires of Europe.
The Guns of August Chapters 6 to 9 commence with August 1914. Discussed and probed are maneuvers by leading politicians, diplomatic affairs, and actions undertaken by various armies, during the opening days of the war, August 1 to August 4. Covered are the Kaiser's hesitation, the struggle by Russia to ensure that its ally, France, would join in the war, France's attempts to win a guarantee from Britain of her involvement, and Germany's ultimatum to Belgium.