The Burden of Guilt: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, Summer 1914

The Burden of Guilt: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, Summer 1914

by Daniel Allen Butler

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The conflagration that consumed Europe in August 1914 had been a long time in coming—and yet it need never have happened at all. For though all the European powers were prepared to accept a war as a resolution to the tensions which were fermenting across the Continent, only one nation wanted war to come: Imperial Germany. Of all the countries caught up… See more details below


The conflagration that consumed Europe in August 1914 had been a long time in coming—and yet it need never have happened at all. For though all the European powers were prepared to accept a war as a resolution to the tensions which were fermenting across the Continent, only one nation wanted war to come: Imperial Germany. Of all the countries caught up in the tangle of alliances, promises, and pledges of support during the crisis that followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Germany alone possessed the opportunity and the power to determine that a war in eastern Europe would become the Great War, which swept across the Continent and nearly destroyed a thousand years of European civilization.
For nearly nine decades it has been argued that the responsibility for the First World War was a shared one, spread among all the Great Powers. Now, in The Burden of Guilt, historian Daniel Allen Butler substantively challenges that point of view, establishing that the Treaty of Versailles was actually a correct and fair judgment: Germany did indeed bear the true responsibility for the Great War.
Working from government archives and records, as well as personal papers and memoirs of the men who made the decisions that carried Europe to war, Butler interweaves the events of summer 1914 with portraits of the monarchs, diplomats, prime ministers, and other national leaders involved in the crisis. He explores the national policies and goals these men were pursuing, and shows conclusively how on three distinct occasions the Imperial German government was presented with opportunities to contain the spreading crisis—opportunities unlike those of any other nation involved—yet each time, the German government consciously and deliberately chose the path which virtually assured that the Continent would go up in flames.
The Burden of Guilt is a work destined to become an essential part of the library of the First World War, vital to understanding not only the “how” but also the “why” behind the pivotal event of modern world history.

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Editorial Reviews

Book News
...presents a controversial analysis of the diplomatic and political events leading up to the start of World War I...rests the blame for the conflict squarely at the feet of Germany arguing that deliberate actions or inactions by German leaders at key moments in the crisis forced the world inexorably to war.
Military Heritage
Author Daniel Allen Butler has taken the long accepted premise that World War I was the combined fault of all the European world powers at the time and argues that it was Germany alone that was responsible for beginning and prolonging the bloody conflict.
Lone Star Book Review
...essential reading for anyone wishing to understand not only the "how" but the "why" behind one of the most pivotal events of world history."

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The Burden of Guilt

How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, August 1914

By Daniel Allen Butler

Casemate Publishing

Copyright © 2010 Daniel Allen Butler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-0664-3



The first shots of the Great War were a quintet of bullets fired at a happily married couple on holiday in an obscure city in the Balkans. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Dual Monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had consented as a gesture of goodwill to the often-restive people of the province of Bosnia to visit their capital, Sarajevo, accompanied by his wife, Sophie. Arriving there in mid-morning on June 28, 1914, the Archduke gave orders for what he believed would be a demonstration of his confidence in the loyalty of the Bosnian people, requesting that the troops who would normally have lined the streets for his protection during the Imperial visit be dispersed. It was the worst mistake he ever made—it was also the last.

As the Archduke's motorcade made its way from Sarajevo's train station to the town hall where Franz Ferdinand was scheduled to meet with city and provincial officials, a terrorist's bomb was thrown at the passing cars, missing the Imperial couple but wounding an officer in one of the following vehicles. Furious, Franz Ferdinand stormed into the City Hall, shouting, "One comes here for a visit and is welcomed by bombs!" The meeting was cut short, and the Archduke, outraged and concerned as much for the safety of his wife as for his own wellbeing, climbed back into the waiting automobile to return to the train station. Confusion over the route to be taken caused the driver of the Archduke's car to stop suddenly, by the most evil mischance, directly

5 in front of 19-year-old Gavrillo Prinzip, a Bosnian Serb who had come to Sarajevo that day armed with a pistol, intent on shooting Franz Ferdinand. Five shots rang out in as many seconds; two bullets found their mark, one in Franz Ferdinand's neck, the other in Sophie's chest. Muttering "Sophie! Sophie! Don't die! Live for our children!" the Archduke expired almost immediately; within minutes his wife was dead as well.

With those two bullets in Sarajevo, the First World War began.

Franz Ferdinand has been something of an enigma to history: while much is known about his life, the true character of the man himself remains obscured, often overdrawn by the dictates of nationalistic or ethnic bias. He was born in Graz, Austria, in 1863, third in line to the Hapsburg throne, occupied at that time by the Emperor Franz Josef I. After the Emperor's son, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide in 1889, and his own father Archduke Charles Louis, Franz Josef's brother, died in 1896, Franz Ferdinand unexpectedly became the heir apparent. He projected an aura of arrogant pride and mistrust, was notably short-tempered and was regarded as not particularly cultured by Viennese standards. Unlike Franz Josef, Rudolf, or even his own father, Franz Ferdinand lacked the classic Hapsburg charisma, which together with his outwardly abrasive nature assured that he would never be personally popular with the people who would one day be his subjects.

However, there remains the very real possibility that at least some of Franz Ferdinand's harsh nature was something of a sham, the facade of a rather shy man thrust into a position of responsibility for which he was emotionally and circumstantially unprepared. In his private life he demonstrated an emotional depth and filial devotion which was entirely at odds with the cold and abrasive persona he presented to the world. His marriage was an extraordinarily happy one: unusual among Hapsburgs, Franz Ferdinand married for love rather than dynastic reasons. He met a young, pretty Hungarian countess, Sophie Chotek von Chotkova, and married her in 1900—they eventually had three children, whom Ferdinand adored and on whom he endlessly doted.

The marriage provoked a crisis with the Emperor, Franz Josef, who did not approve of the Countess Chotek, believing her social rank to be beneath the station of a Hapsburg archduke. Franz Ferdinand, determined to wed Sophie, dug in his heels, going so far as to threaten to abdicate his position as heir apparent. The Emperor finally relented, but only after Ferdinand agreed to renounce all rights of succession to the Hapsburg throne for his children. Even more than affirming beyond all doubt Ferdinand's devotion to his wife, the incident established that the Archduke was very much his own man, willing to break with tradition to accomplish his ends.

That willingness began to assume tremendous importance as Franz Josef grew older and the day when Franz Ferdinand would ascend to the Austro-Hungarian throne began to loom as a reality. Knowing that the Dual Monarchy could not long continue in its present form, as Slav unrest and Hungarian intransigence combined to bring the workings of the Imperial government to a near-standstill, he proposed to replace Austro-Hungarian dualism with what was commonly called "Trialism," a triple monarchy in which the empire's Slavs would have an equal voice in their governance with the Germans and Magyars. It was a solution which, he knew, would find little popular support, especially among the Hungarians, who suspected, with some justification, that they would be giving up a greater share of their authority than would the Austrians of theirs. At some point he even went so far as to consider abolishing the traditional "royal and imperial" monarchy for a form of federalism where the Hapsburg empire would take the form of sixteen states sharing power equally, all owing ultimate allegiance to the Emperor. Above all, Franz Ferdinand was determined to keep the Austro-Hungarian empire from collapsing altogether.

The Hungarian nobility, with all of the possessiveness of the arriviste (the Magyars had only been granted equal status and authority within the Empire in 1867), were virulently opposed to any reformation of the imperial structure which would dilute their power and prerogatives in the slightest. At the same time, much of the Empire's Slavic population felt that such reforms did not go far enough—many of the Empire's Slavic subjects had little interest in sharing power: what they sought was outright autonomy and independence.

The two provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular were centers of Slavic separatist movements which threatened to fragment Austria-Hungary. Administered by the Empire since 1878, when they broke away from the Ottoman Empire, the two provinces were annexed outright by Austria in 1908, a move which outraged Serbian nationalists, who wanted the provinces to be absorbed by the kingdom of Serbia instead. It was to placate Serb anger in the two provinces and demonstrate his sensibility to their grievances that the Archduke, in his role as Inspector General of the Royal and Imperial Army, accepted an invitation from General Oskar Potiorek to visit the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, after observing army maneuvers in the nearby countryside.

Gavrillo Prinzip, Franz Ferdinand's assassin, who as a native Bosnian was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a passionate separatist who wanted to see Bosnia break away from Imperial control and join the Kingdom of Serbia. He was one of six compatriots, each armed with a handgun and a bomb, who had come to Sarajevo, as he testified at his trial, hoping to "kill an enemy of the South Slavs." To them, Franz Ferdinand was "an energetic man who as a ruler would have carried through ideas and reforms which stood in our way." They were sponsored by a shadowy Serbian organization known as "The Black Hand," which though not openly recognized or encouraged by the Serbian government, had strong ties to several high-level Serbian officials. Bluntly, the Black Hand was a terrorist organization, dedicated to the use of the knife, the gun, and the bomb to coerce Austria-Hungary to release its hold on the Empire's Slavic provinces, most particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina. The six young would-be assassins were all arrested within a matter of hours following the murders, and Austrian officials almost immediately were able to determine that the handguns and explosives they carried had been supplied by the Black Hand, and had come from Serbian state arsenals. They had been smuggled across the border between Serbia and Austria with the help of Serbian customs officials, and the trail of evidence led back straight into Belgrade.

Regicide was nothing new to Serbian politics—Serbia's 1903 revolution had climaxed with King Alexander and Queen Draga being literally hacked to death by saber-wielding army officers in the royal palace in Belgrade, their bloody bodies thrown out of upperstorey windows to lie on the sidewalks below. Europe certainly had reason to believe that where the Serbs were concerned the veneer of civility that sheathed the barbarian beneath was indeed very thin in places. However, while Serbia's internal politics may have been of only marginal concern to the rest of Europe, what shocked the Continent was that all the evidence pointed to the Serbian government willingly exporting its own peculiar brand of political "dialogue" outside its own borders. From the moment the news broke in the European capitals, there was much sympathy for Austria-Hungary in general, Franz Josef in particular, and almost none for Serbia. Punishment for Serbia was inevitable, and there was no doubt in any of the chancelleries of Europe that the punishment would take the form of military action. Sir Edward Grey, then Great Britain's Foreign Minister, would later remember that:

No crime has ever aroused deeper or more general horror throughout Europe.... Sympathy for Austria was universal. Both governments and public opinion were ready to support her in any measures, however severe, which she might think it necessary to take for the punishment of the murderer and his accomplices.

Predictably—and understandably—the Serbian government was quick to protest its innocence, which may have been true in the narrowest sense as there was no official sponsorship or knowledge of the plot on the part of the Serbian government as a whole. The protests fell on deaf ears, however, as it became clear that highranking members of the Serbian government, however unofficially, had known of the assassins' plans in advance, had made no effort to warn the Austrians or thwart the assassins' efforts, and had in some cases even aided them. It was already something of an open secret that the head of the Serbian intelligence service, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known by the code name Apis, was the leader of the Black Hand, and it was widely believed that the Serbian government had actually turned a blind eye to preparations for the assassination that were being made on Serbian territory. The exact extent of Serbian complicity would never be determined, as several key figures perished in the coming war, some under very questionable circumstances, but in the end it mattered little. The perception of Serbian guilt was overwhelming, and it presented Austria with an opportunity that she was determined not to squander.

The news of the deaths of the Archduke and his wife was broken almost simultaneously to the three most powerful men in the Empire: the Emperor himself, Franz Josef; Count Istvan Tisza de Boros-Jeno, the Emperor's Prime Minister; and Count Leopold von Berchtold, the Foreign Minister. The week that followed the assassinations was filled with ever-growing tensions in Vienna, as a battle of wills was fought between the three men over the nature of how Austria-Hungary would react. Berchtold immediately, and openly, advocated military action to punish Serbia for her part—assumed as well as perceived—in the Sarajevo murders. Tisza was adamant in insisting that every possible diplomatic solution be explored before resorting to war. Franz Josef, who had seen enough of war and its consequences during his lifetime, wanted no part of yet another; at the same time he understood that Austria-Hungary had to punish Serbia in some way. Any reaction which appeared to be less than forceful and decisive would be perceived as an admission of Austro-Hungarian weakness, and would serve only to incite radical Serbs both within and without the Empire's borders to further acts of violence, while at the same time signaling to the Kingdom of Serbia that it could encourage such terrorists with impunity. It was not until July 4 that the arguments between the three men were resolved, the resolution taking the form of a note sent to Berlin, asking for a firm answer as to whether or not the German Empire would stand beside the Austro-Hungarian Empire should Franz Josef choose to go to war with Serbia. It was an outcome that wholly pleased only Count Berchtold.

Franz Josef was a majestic figure of tragic grandeur: few crowned heads have been held in such affection and respect both at home and abroad, or reigned through so many years of sadness. His reign lasted for so long that most of his subjects could remember no other monarch but him: in 1914 he had ruled the Dual Monarchy for sixtysix years. Much as Victoria in England, in the last decades of her reign, had been revered as almost more of an institution than as a mere person, so Franz Josef had come to be regarded on the Continent. Born on August 18, 1830, he had unexpectedly succeeded to the throne of Austria at the age of 18, amidst extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The year was 1848, revolution was sweeping across France, Prussia, and Austria, and in quick succession the Emperor Ferdinand, Franz Josef's uncle, abdicated his throne, while the heir-apparent, Archduke Franz Karl, Franz-Josef's father, renounced his rights to succession. Their acts were gestures of appeasement made in the futile hope of stemming the revolutionary tide which was flowing over Hungary and threatened to dissolve the Hapsburg monarchy. Instead that task was left to a handsome, melancholy young man barely into his majority. Franz Josef's sixty eight-year reign would begin and end in turmoil and tumult—there would be few times of happiness and tranquility in between.

The Austria Franz Josef inherited had already passed its peak as a world power, although even in her decline Austria was strong. Still, the new Emperor found himself losing a war with France which had been forced upon him almost as soon as he had taken the crown, and a few years later, when Austria refused to support Imperial Russia during the Crimean War, her relationship with Russia suffered irreparable damage. Simultaneously, the wars of Italian unification led to Austria surrendering almost all of her possessions in Italy, including the provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. Franz Josef was prepared to accept the decline in Austria's international prestige caused by these losses. It was not that Austrian troops could not fight—their performance in the Seven Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars had proven that Austrian soldiers could show as much tenacity and courage as any in Europe—rather it was that at heart Franz Josef was not a violent man, and in the case of the Italian provinces, the thought of waging war against people who had once been his subjects caused him tremendous grief.

The single most important factor in Austria's decline, however, was the rise of Prussia. Following the north German kingdom's successful war with Austria in 1866 and her unification of the independent German states into the German Empire under the guidance of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1871, Prussia replaced Austria as the dominant Germanic power on the Continent. While an alliance was quickly concluded between the two Teutonic empires, it was clear to everyone that it was not an alliance of equals; rather Austria was the junior partner in the arrangement.

While all of this was happening on the international stage, at home Franz Josef had to deal with growing demands for Hungarian autonomy. In 1867, after years of sometimes acrimonious negotiation, the Empire's German and Hungarian peoples agreed to the formation of a "dual monarchy," in which both were equal partners, establishing the empire of Austria-Hungary. Franz Josef retained his title as Emperor of Austria, and was now simultaneously styled King of Hungary. The two nations, which is what the new empire had essentially created, retained control of their own internal affairs, while foreign and military policies were the responsibility of the Emperor and his officials, in what was styled the "königische und kaiserlich" ("royal and imperial") government. It was an unwieldy system, but it worked after a fashion, and for nearly half a century Austria-Hungary muddled along, no longer powerful enough alone to determine the great issues of her day, but still capable of exerting enough force to be an influence on the European stage.


Excerpted from The Burden of Guilt by Daniel Allen Butler. Copyright © 2010 Daniel Allen Butler. Excerpted by permission of Casemate Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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