Europe on the edge makes war all but inevitable

(23 July) The diplomatic maneuvering after the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke on June 28, 1914 occurs in secret. Europeans for the most part are blissfully unaware of the danger lurking behind closed doors. Even a high level government figure like David Lloyd George, then the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, tells the House of Commons on this very day a century ago that there could be some international mechanism for regulating conflicts among civilized nations.

But then later on July 23, the possibility of war hits Europe like a thunderclap.

It bursts out in public with an ultimatum to Serbia from Vienna. Vienna and its ally in Berlin are keen on forcing a war through the ultimatum, which assumes that the government of Serbia is behind the assassination.

As it turns out, Serbians are responsible for the murder. A murky figure in Belgrade called Apis – a member of the secret society known as the Black Hand — is behind the training and arming of the young killers. But there is no solid evidence that the government of Serbia is culpable.

Nevertheless, Austria-Hungary, under pressure from Germany, delivers an ultimatum to Belgrade that no government can accept.

And another irony: Vienna is already in possession of a credible report — compiled ten days earlier — that there is no evidence the Belgrade government is behind the killing. But Vienna’s ultimatum to Serbia, which lands in Belgrade on the night of 23 July, demands that Vienna take a leading role in Serbia’s investigation into the killing.

The ultimatum demands an answer from Serbia within 48 hours.

That’s where things stand as this day ends, exactly one hundred years ago.