Belated 100 Years Ago Today: July Crisis Edition

Two days ago, July 5, marked the hundredth anniversary of Kaiser Wilhelm’s assurance to Austria-Hungary that he would back any action they took with regard to Serbia and its purported role in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. This assurance was later named “the Black Check.” The situation was made much worse by Austria-Hungary’s delay in carrying out what ended up being an overly harsh ultimatum, giving Russia an opportunity and reason to become involved. Germany was now committed, and its war plan would bring France and the British Empire into the war, by virtue of violating Belgian neutrality.

Yesterday’s anniversary is also interesting. Unstable nationalism, a massive naval arms race, and secret treaties had helped create an unstable, dangerous world. Europe had been rocked by crises that almost led to war in 1905-6, 1911, 1912, and 1913. Serb nationalists had just given an excuse to Austria-Hungary for starting a war of conquest against Serbia, while simultaneously assassinating one of the most powerful opponents of war with Serbia in the Austro-Hungarian government. Kaiser Wilhelm then had just made the situation worse by all but encouraging Austria-Hungary to go to war. At this point, on July 6, he went on his summer vacation on his royal yacht.

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