Examining the origins of the First World War has been called “the ultimate who dunnit”. In his book, published on the anniversary of the assassination said to have triggered it, John Zametica, focusing on the Habsburg Empire and the Balkans, re-examines the evidence. This leads to a number of radical new interpretations and some remarkable revelations about the events that in 1914 led to the outbreak of the First World War.
The centenary of WW1 has spawned many new books on the subject. Utilizing a wide range of Serbo-Croat and German-language sources, the author overturns most of what we have been led to believe about the respective culpability of Austria-Hungary and Serbia for the outbreak of war. He also re-examines the role of Russia and Germany in this. The reader is left to conclude that Britain was morally right to enter the war, because it did so in a conflict in which two small countries, one on each side of Europe, had been attacked simultaneously by Austria-Hungary and Germany without provocation.
In Folly and Malice John Zametica reveals that:
- • The First World War was kick-started by an ailing Austria-Hungary which believed that waging a successful war was the only way it could remain a Great Power;
- • This empire, with its eleven squabbling nations, and with its statesmen unwilling to contemplate any meaningful internal reform, was the real powder keg of Europe;
- • Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Heir to the Throne normally portrayed as a likely enlightened reformer of the Empire, was actually seeking to destroy the Dualist political compromise between Austria and Hungary and replace it with his own centralist autocracy;
- • Serious antagonism between the Austria-Hungary and Serbia really only began as late as 1906 and had on the whole almost nothing to do with the supposedly crucial ‘South Slav’ question;
- • Gavrilo Princip, Franz Ferdinand’s assassin, was impelled to do his deed by a Yugoslav ideology conceived and propagated from within Habsburg Croatia, not independent Serbia;
- • The notorious Black Hand, the secret Serbian officers’ organisation, far from planning to assassinate Franz Ferdinand during his visit to Bosnia, was in May-June 1914 busy plotting to overthrow civilian rule in Serbia and replace it with a military-led dictatorship;
- • The famous Serbian warning to Vienna, intended to thwart Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, was the work of Lieutenant-Colonel Apis, the leader of the Black Hand;
- • In July 1914, Vienna also wanted its ‘good’ war against Serbia so as to dislodge Russia from the Balkans and thus secure complete regional hegemony for itself. Germany, harbouring ambitions for continental supremacy, approved and encouraged Austria-Hungary’s Balkan adventure. Both powers consciously risked the probability of a wider international conflict.
John Zametica is the editor of British Officials and British Foreign Policy, 1945-50 (Leicester University Press, 1990) and the author of The Yugoslav Conflict (Brassey’s, The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1992). He lives and works in Vienna.
Keywords: World War One, History, Black Hand