THE ORIGINS OF THE WORLD WAR. BY SIDNEY B. FAY. New York: Macmillan, 1928. 2 vols., pp. 551, 557.

TENS of thousands of diplomatic documents to read, the testimony of hundreds of witnesses to be sought out and criticized, a maze of controversy and debate to be traversed in quest of some occasional revelation of importance -- this is the task of the historian who undertakes to attack as a whole the great problem of the origins of the World War. The United States takes the lead in publishing a first great work in which the diplomatic history of prewar Europe is comprehensively studied in the light of the newest documents. Surely by virtue of its sound methods of research, the detail of its facts, the scope of its personal judgments, Professor Sidney B. Fay's book is a remarkable effort. It is no small achievement to have sifted the essentials from a mass of documents so vast and to have handled the copious materials with such ease and clearness. But for the very reason that the facts have not yet been definitely established in their detail, Mr. Fay's book is a narrative and often a summary: it is not an attempt at synthesis. The author has been careful to maintain a certain reserve in his judgments, with the result that his study is sprinkled with observations of the greatest importance which are never brought together in a general survey.

It is this sort of a survey that I would like here to attempt. I shall not, of course, take my stand on Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles. To the problem of the origins of the war, as to any historical problem, no answer entirely satisfactory to all minds can be given. In such cases there can be no question of establishing a dogma or of respecting one. It is the historian's task not to fix responsibilities, but rather to furnish explanations and to make clear the circumstances which guided the development of international policies.


The Great War arose from a local incident: the murders of Sarajevo. But that an incident should have contained forces capable of hurling the European Powers at one another's throats is a thing impossible to understand unless we take account of the political and moral situation that prevailed in Europe in the spring of 1914. To be sure, the growing rivalries of the Triple Entente and the Central Empires and the resulting competition in armaments established ideas of war in the minds of the masses. Nevertheless, the parallel existence of two groups of powers was not in itself a threat to peace: at the time when the Franco-Russian Alliance came into being as a counter-balance to the Triple Alliance, it had, as Mr. Fay admits (I, p. 121), the effect of stabilizing the Continent. How, then, did the opposition between the two rival systems of alliances come to a head? Here is a chain of facts which we must try to grasp.

In 1904, France had just concluded an agreement with England settling their colonial difficulties. But this rapprochement endangered the Franco-Russian Alliance, since, in the Far East, Russia was at cross-purposes with Japan, an ally of England. Germany, however, was sure of her own strength and sure of the fidelity of Austria-Hungary. She was, as yet, hardly disturbed by any "pirouettes" Italy might indulge in.

But in the years following the international situation changed to the disadvantage of the Central Powers. The Entente Cordiale assumed a new aspect early in the year 1906, when the British Government authorized its General Staff to keep in touch with the General Staff of France. Though these conferences of technicians did not necessarily imply any promise on Great Britain's part to assist France in case of war, they indicated at least that English statesmen were holding such an intervention in view; and the fact has its importance.

In 1907, furthermore, England and Russia settled their Asiatic differences; and though this purely negative agreement contained no expression of future friendship, no formula for future coöperation, the ending of Russo-British antagonism, which had been one of the "constants" of European policy for a generation past, was an event of the greatest significance.

So the ground had been laid for a new grouping of the Powers. What was the exact nature of this new grouping? "It was insurance against the supposed danger of possible German aggression," says Mr. Fay (I, p. 244), "and not for any aggression against Germany's existing position in Europe and in the commercial world." But Mr. Fay seems to recognize the notion of "diplomatic encirclement" (I, p. 243): "Germany," he says, "was now surrounded by three Great Powers . . . who were growing increasingly ready to coöperate in defense of their own interests whether in Morocco, Mesopotamia, or the Balkans."

Some exaggeration, here, is evident. There was coöperation between France and England on the Moroccan question. There was no coöperation between Russia and England. Doubtless Isvolsky had hoped that the Anglo-Russian rapprochement would allow him to bring up the question of the Dardanelles in a more favorable atmosphere. But he had not succeeded in introducing that question during the negotiations of 1907; and he was to suffer a more emphatic check in October 1908 when he tried to obtain from Sir Edward Grey some generic endorsement of the Russian program. If the Tsar's government could, on this capital point, derive no direct advantage from its better understanding with London, we are obliged to infer that Anglo-Russian "friendship" was still something hesitant and precarious. In 1907, in fact, the Triple Entente existed only in rudimentary form. The conditions essential to active and cordial collaboration between the three Powers were not present; nor were they to be for a long time to come. Not till the spring of 1914 did the governments of London and St. Petersburg think of working out a naval agreement, which had been hardly outlined at the time of the Sarajevo incident.

I must not leave the impression that Mr. Fay has overlooked this weakness in the Entente. He refers here and there to the difficulties of applying the Persian agreement which repeatedly threatened Anglo-Russian relations. He is aware of the significance of the dickerings between Germany and Russia at Potsdam in 1910. But such allusions as he makes are incidental. I do not believe that he has adequately expressed the real feeling of all these doings -- the frequent nervousness in France as to her Russian ally; the friction between London and St. Petersburg, all the more acute since the understanding of 1907 had no sympathetic hold on public opinion; the hidden intentions, finally, of the Russian Government. Just after the rapprochement of 1907, Isvolsky himself remarked to his colleague, Baron Taube: "We must beware of general treaties of alliance. Sound policy and an unbiased perception of our real interests require us to make all sorts of arrangements with all sorts of Powers for the solution of specific problems; and such arrangements may gradually lead us to new combinations in world polity at large."[i] The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs was far, therefore, from abandoning all thought of continuing his "friendly and confidential conversations" with Germany. Nor is that surprising. A system of ententes and alliances may be only a momentary expression of common interests. It becomes consolidated only with time. The Triple Entente underwent such a consolidation; but the consolidation took place without any real intimacy ever having existed between London and St. Petersburg.

What should be noted is that the policy of the Central Powers, and especially the policy of Germany, contributed largely to the tightening of the bonds between England, France and Russia. By the things it said and the things it did, the German Government was the fundamental artisan of the Triple Entente. As the result of her defeat in Manchuria, Russia was in no position, over several years' time, to take part in any European conflict. Germany knew that, and profited by it. On more than one occasion she assumed attitudes dangerous to the peace of Europe.

In 1905 and again in 1911, France was the target of the German threat. Bülow's policy in 1905 has been made perfectly clear by documents recently published. "Germany," he wrote,[ii] "must object to the control over Morocco that France has in view, not only for material reasons, but even more for considerations of prestige." In putting forward the principle of the "open door," the Chancellor hoped, furthermore, to satisfy the economic interests of England and incline her to interpret "in a restrictive sense" the Anglo-French accord of April 8, 1904. In that case, the Entente Cordiale would have no future. Mr. Fay neglects this aspect of German policy almost completely, trying, instead, to define a divergence in policy between Emperor William, who wanted a "Continental Alliance," and Chancellor Bülow, who was interested in the Moroccan question. But no such divergence existed. Bülow himself outlined the treaty of Björkö. Late in July 1905 he was ready to give France "a free hand in Morocco," if she would agree to enter the continental system -- abandoning the Entente Cordiale, that is.[iii] The objective of German diplomacy was to wreck the agreement of April 8, 1904.

In 1911, the German Government was looking for prestige. In the demand for colonial compensations it would "give Moroccan affairs such a turn as to cancel the impression left by preceding defeats." That is why it thought it necessary to "hold some collateral" through the seizure of a port in Morocco. To no purpose did M. Jules Cambon at Kissingen (June 21, 1911) accept the principle of compensation. Kiderlen-Waechter was careful not to abandon his program. He insisted on making the "Agadir coup." The German minister knew he could not get any definite offers from France for some days, since M. Cambon had made a special trip to Paris to discuss them with his government. He was concerned to make his gesture before the French proposals came in, and he had to hurry. Or may it be that Mr. Fay regards the arrival of the Panther off Morocco as a matter of secondary importance? Though he reproaches Lloyd George for "playing with fire" in serving a famous notice on Germany on July 21, 1911, he does not even refer to the excitement the coup at Agadir occasioned among the French public.

In 1909, Austro-German diplomacy was aiming at a victory over Russia. Isvolsky's imprudence at Buchlau supplied the pretext. Count Aehrenthal was satisfied with inflicting on Russia a stinging humiliation which Russian statesmen would long remember. But Germany's rôle in this crisis was not less important. From her point of view, the Bosnian affair was a "test of strength."[iv] The "test" involved no danger, however. Russia was in no position to declare war. But the Wilhelmstrasse made the decisive move, on its own account, in its note of March 21, 1909. Mr. Fay goes to great pains to present this German manœuvre in a favorable light. It was not an ultimatum, he says. What exactly shall we call it? -- "We must know in definite terms whether Russia accepts the Austro-Hungarian note and gives her formal and unreserved consent to the abrogation of Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin. Your Excellency will kindly make it clear to Mr. Isvolsky that we expect a definite answer: yes, or no. An evasive, conditional, or vague reply we shall regard as a refusal. And thereupon we shall withdraw and allow things to take their course!"

Lastly, it was England's turn to be worried by German policies. In signing the secret treaty of Björkö with the Tsar, William II was well aware that the policy of continental alliances was directed against British power. "In reality and in fact, that's how things are -- but not every truth is to be told!" Also directed against English interests was the "big navy" policy begun in 1906; and vainly did the London government try time after time to strike a bargain. Its last effort, made by Lord Haldane, came to grief in February 1912. Why? Because Germany's object was not so much to put an end to naval rivalry, as to dissolve the Anglo-French entente. England did not lend herself to such a manœuvre.

It was in tempo with these German enterprises that the Triple Entente developed. The military conferences between France and England in January 1906 were the direct result of the Moroccan crisis. Fear inspired by the German policy of continental alliances impelled England to seek a modus vivendi with Russia. Smarting under the humiliation of 1909, Russia felt obliged to "bind herself more closely to France and England, in order to oppose in common the further penetration of Germany and Austria in the Balkans." The failure, lastly, of the Haldane mission was the origin of the naval agreement between France and England in 1912. It is quite possible that Germany was not deliberately trying to provoke a war either in 1905 or in 1911; but she acted as though she were. The historian who tries to grasp the chain of facts rests content with that statement. It clarifies the whole development of European policy between the years 1904 and 1912.

In the two years preceding the World War, Austro-German initiative no longer determined the course of events. The eclipse of Russia had come to an end. Following the Bosnian crisis, the Russian Government was doing its utmost to complete the reorganization of its army. It was again able to resume an active rôle in European politics. It was eager to repair the damage it had suffered in 1909 and to reëstablish its influence in the Balkans.

Mr. Fay devotes a large part of his first volume to Balkan affairs. He shows the important influence exerted on Russian policy by the question of the Dardanelles. He might perhaps have stated more clearly the difficulties that lay in the way of this Russian dream. Though the Balkan states had concluded their alliance under the auspices of St. Petersburg, their victory had its dangers for Russian interest itself, as became apparent in November 1912 when the Bulgar offensive was threatening Constantinople. In any event the Tsar's government was not willing to defend Serbia's interests at the cost of a general war. Was it the same with Austria-Hungary? The Dual Monarchy seemed quite reconciled to a recourse to arms if it should not obtain satisfaction. Mr. Fay mentions this Austrian attitude; but he does not stress its animus with the care he devotes to the details of the Russian program. He does not relate, for example, the conversation of June 21, 1912, in which Count Berchtold calmly contemplated the possibility of Austrian intervention in the Serb-Bulgar war even at the risk of war with Russia.[v]

But, from the viewpoint which, properly, most concerns Mr. Fay -- "the opposition of systems of alliances" -- this revival of Austro-Russian antagonism gains importance largely in so far as the governments at Vienna and St. Petersburg seek and find support with their allies, Germany and France.

The attitude of the French Government toward the Balkan crisis has been the subject of no end of studies, many of them of a controversial character. Mr. Fay does not conceal the fact that he has made up his mind. The policy followed by Germany in the Agadir affair had caused, he says, a "national awakening" in France. The remark is accurate. But this national awakening, whatever Mr. Fay may say of it, had nothing in common with a yearning for "revanche," nor with a determination to reconquer Alsace-Lorraine. This national sentiment, says Mr. Fay, was "personified in M. Raymond Poincaré," whose powerful influence was exerted "in the direction of an aggressive and dangerous policy" (I, 315). After so flat an assertion, it is surprising not to find in Mr. Fay's narrative of the Balkan crises proofs sufficient to justify it.

M. Poincaré, says Mr. Fay, was less concerned with preserving the "European concert" than in strengthening the cohesion of the Triple Entente. It is true that in 1912 French diplomacy strove to maintain closer contact with Russia than she had done in the past. But was that not necessary? During the crisis over Agadir, the attitude of the Russian Government had occasioned grave uneasiness -- the shadow of the Potsdam negotiations still lingered over Franco-Russian relations. It is sufficient to read such French documents as have been published to understand these fears.[vi] In the spring of 1912, France was wondering what Russia was driving at, whether she were not groping for a new policy outside the orbit of the Alliance. But this nervousness never went so far as partnership in a policy of adventure. When news of the Balkan Alliance, that "war agreement," came to the French Prime Minister, he did not conceal his surprise and displeasure from M. Sazonoff. "Public opinion in France would not permit a ministry to resort to military action on strictly Balkan issues, if Germany took no part in such a conflict and did not provoke the application of the casus fœderis on her own initiative." To be sure, M. Poincaré did not immediately begin intervention in the interests of peace. But, under pressure from France, Russia tried to "hold back" the Balkan states. Why does not Mr. Fay say so?

The crisis materialized. When the question of a Serbian port on the Adriatic threatened to provoke an Austro-Russian out-break, the French Government considered the necessity of supporting Russia, but only in case the casus fœderis should come into play -- in case, that is, "Germany should support Austria against Russia by force of arms." Russia was afraid of such a war. She notified the Serbian Government that Serbia could not rely on her help. She even hesitated, in the face of mobilization in Austria-Hungary, to take similar precautions herself. France expressed surprise at such indifference. Does that mean that France was egging Russia on? She was simply wondering just what this laxness on the part of the Russian Government might be hiding.

Such interpretations may well be subject to revision. Mr. Fay rightly observes that the investigation of this aspect of the Balkan crisis is perforce imperfect because the French diplomatic papers have not been very extensively published as yet. But we shall not be kept waiting long. Perhaps by the time this article appears in print the French publication will have begun.

Germany's attitude is better known already. It is true that she interfered on two occasions in 1913 to prevent the Viennese ministry from venturing war. The differing views of the two allies as to policy toward Rumania figured to some extent in such steps. But in October 1913 the Wilhelmstrasse was already changing its tack. When the Serbs, on October 18, refused to evacuate Albanian territory, William II had made up his mind to lend Austria unreserved support: "I will go with you," wrote the Emperor to Conrad. "In two days you must be in Belgrade. I have always worked for peace, but this thing has limits." The truth was that Germany had been surprised by the victory of the Balkan states. She was aware that the Treaty of Bucharest had affected the situation of Austria-Hungary, and, consequently, her own situation. The two victories of Serbia, the one in the fall of 1912 and the other in July 1913, gave added seriousness to the nationalist agitation of the South Slavs. Political circles in Vienna were not willing to accept such a checkmate; they had resolved to react against the consequences of the Balkan crisis. And Germany had now decided to support Austria-Hungary. She was traversing, to use a phrase of Veit Valentin, "a crisis in her world power." Russia's recovery had changed the terms of European polity. Germany had had a hand in the humiliation inflicted on Russia in 1909 -- she was not disposed to accept this come-back. Of course, all the Powers had participated in the race for armaments during the years just preceding the World War; but neither in France nor in Russia had plans for the increase of war materials been carried out. This was not the case in Germany. General Moltke declared early in 1914: "The moment is so favorable from the military point of view that, so far as we can see, there will never be another one like it."[vii]


The Sarajevo outrage brought Austria and Russia face to face for the third time in ten years. The stake was still the same: preponderance in the Balkans. The cause was still the same: the conflict between Austria and Serbia. Russia had yielded in 1909 because she was not in condition for an appeal to arms at that time. Without desiring war in 1912-13, she might have risked it; but Austria-Hungary had taken no irreparable step -- she had not invaded Serbian territory, because Germany had forbidden such a move. In 1914, Germany decided to back Austria-Hungary, even at the cost of a general war; and now Russia was in a position to fight back.

Disregarding details -- the order of the principal episodes is now virtually established -- an effort at interpretation may bear on three essential points: the part played by the Serbian Government in the Sarajevo murders; the policy of a "localized war;" the matter of Russian intervention.

1. The questions raised by the assassination of the Archduke, heir to the Austrian throne, have attracted particular attention from Mr. Fay. He studies them with remarkable conscientiousness and with remarkable critical acumen. All this portion of his work is a splendid example of method severe and sound, of farreaching and fruitful research. The character portrait of the Archduke, the story of the plot, the discussion of "responsibilities," are executed with a masterly hand. The conclusions, however, are not always convincing. If we must grant, relying on the testimony of Ljuba Jovanovich, that the Serbian Government had knowledge of the plot three weeks before its execution, have we a right to say that it took no effective measures to prevent the conspirators from crossing the frontiers and that it gave "no warning and no information" to Austria-Hungary? The documents would seem to show that M. Pashitch gave orders to prevent the conspirators from crossing the Sava and the Drina, but that the officers of the frontier guards belonged to the secret "Black Hand," which the government did not dare attack. Furthermore, the Serbian minister at Vienna delivered a warning on June 5, in terms too vague to be sure, but still such as to have merited more attention. It is hard to believe that this diplomatic agent acted on his own initiative. To decide such a point, are probabilities alone adequate? In neglecting to publish the documents in its archives, the Serbian Government, it is true, lays itself open to all kinds of suspicions. The fact nevertheless remains -- and Mr. Fay's excellent study proves as much -- that we are not yet in possession of certain knowledge. Besides, in 1914 the Government of Austria-Hungary knew nothing of what we know today. Resolved long before the Sarajevo affair to force a revision of the Treaty of Bucharest, it saw in the murder of the Archduke only a favorable opportunity for resorting to energetic action. As Berchtold put it, it was necessary to "profit by the crime at Sarajevo to settle accounts with Serbia."[viii] The assassination of Franz Ferdinand was "a suitable casus belli." That, in the eyes of the statesmen of Austria-Hungary, was the whole story.

2. This "settlement of accounts" Austria-Hungary intended to arrive at through war -- she refused to rest content with a diplomatic success. The terms of the ultimatum were such that they must necessarily lead to an Austro-Serbian outbreak. Germany covered the demands of her allies with her approval, and assumed responsibility for them, though she herself perhaps considered them awkwardly expressed and excessive in terms. Such was the situation that confronted the European Powers on July 24.

One may grant that, at the outset, neither Austria-Hungary nor Germany desired that this war between Austria and Serbia should become a general war. "The issue here," says the German note of July 24, "is something to be settled exclusively between Austria-Hungary and Serbia." But was such a "localization" of the conflict possible? The Austro-Serbian affair was not and could not be a local affair. The vital interests of Russia were at stake: if she allowed Serbia to be crushed, she handed the Balkans over to the influence of the Central Powers, she admitted default. Berlin, as well as Vienna, was perfectly aware of this. "Russia will be against us!" William II declared as early as the fifth of July. But would Russian resistance go as far as an appeal to arms? That was not certain, though possible. In either event, Vienna and Berlin would not draw back. When the Central Powers adopted the slogan of "localization" they by no means implied that the Austro-Serbian conflict was foreign to the interests of the other Powers. They asserted simply that they would reject interventions because it was to their special interest to do so, that they would carry out the plan they had agreed upon even if it involved a general war. This conception already inspired the parleys at Berlin on July 5 and 6, but it became more sharply defined during the days just preceding the despatch of the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia: "I do not want a preventive war," wrote von Jagow on July 18, "but if war is thrust upon us, we must not retreat." And the Vienna Cabinet opined that if the general war must come, better sooner than later.

Thus far the statesmen of Austria and Germany had been expressing only a priori opinions. They did not know as yet whether Russia would react vigorously. The information that reached them from London and St. Petersburg on July 23 began to indicate that, as Lichnowsky put it, "localization is a pipe-dream." Russia would not allow the Slavs and the Balkans to be overwhelmed. When, on the 25th the Serbian reply yielded, "save on points of detail," to the demands of Austria-Hungary, it was hard to imagine Europe's remaining passive in the face of a "punitive expedition" which, as William II himself saw it, had no longer any point. "A great moral victory for Vienna," he wrote, "but it removes all pretext for war!" If Austria-Hungary now refused to argue, she would show that her intention was not to check the South Slav movement, but to alter the balance in the Balkans in her own favor. She refused to argue nevertheless. She rejected offers of mediation. The integrity of Serbian territory and the political independence of the Serb kingdom were now at stake. The Vienna government was bent on reducing Serbia to the position of a vassal state, on "changing the dynasty," and distributing morsels of Serbian territory to Albania and Bulgaria. To accept mediation was to make, perforce, public confession of such demands, which obviously would not prove acceptable. That is why Count Berchtold "refuses everything." To halt efforts at conciliation he put Europe face to face with a fait accompli: he declared war on Serbia, though the Austrian army was not ready to begin military operations. Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia was a capital fact in the development of the crisis: neither in 1909 nor in 1913 had the Vienna government dared go so far. In appealing to arms, Count Berchtold provoked Russian intervention. Now Germany did nothing to delay this declaration of war. She even desired and advised it. On July 25 and 26 she had brought "energetic" pressure to bear on her ally to obtain prompt military action.[ix]

3. Then came the Russian counter-move. How could the Tsar's government manifest its resolve to defend the Serb kingdom unless by taking military measures? Austria-Hungary's declaration of war rendered attempts at "conversation" fruitless and left no other recourse. The decision to make a partial mobilization was reached at St. Petersburg on the 29th. The step had been under consideration since the 25th as a means of intimidating the Austro-Hungarian Government and clearly voicing Russia's determination. In Berlin, von Jagow declared that in such an eventuality Germany would doubtless refrain from any immediate "counter-measure."

But if the decision for partial mobilization was only the logical consequence of the steps taken by Austria-Hungary, the case was different with general mobilization. The order signed and sent out on July 30, determined though it may have been by technical considerations, was a serious thing, since it necessarily provoked mobilization in Germany, and it was of such a nature in itself as to hasten an outcome. Nevertheless, it did not have, in my opinion, all the importance that Mr. Fay attaches to it.

Is it quite true that "nothing new" had supervened on the 29th and the 30th to cause alarm in the Russian General Staff? One thing at least had happened -- the notice served on M. Sazonoff through M. de Pourtalès late during the afternoon of the 29th, to this effect: "The continuation of mobilization on Russia's part would force us to mobilize; and in that case, a European war could hardly be avoided." That step was not, to be sure, exactly an ultimatum; but it at least showed that the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs had modified its point of view. Two days before it had been saying it would not counter to a Russian mobilization directed solely against Austria-Hungary. Now it was demanding that Russia cease her military preparations. The Russian Government would therefore be obliged either to leave Serbia to her fate or to face the risk of a war against Germany. Is it surprising if the Russian General Staff considered a general mobilization as called for from that moment?

Is it quite true that the Russian order for mobilization thwarted "the efforts at mediation" which Bethmann-Hollweg had just begun? Those efforts had already failed. They had encountered an uncompromising attitude at Vienna in the course of the 30th of July; so much so that the German Chancellor, on the evening of that day and before learning of the Tsar's decision, himself gave up the idea of bringing energetic pressure to bear on the Austro-Hungarian Government. The following morning, before the news of the general mobilization in Russia reached Vienna, the Austro-Hungarian Government emphatically rejected the proposal to limit military operations against Serbia to a "seizure of collateral." And it was merely following the advice of General Moltke: "Facing a European war is the best means of safeguarding the existence of Austria-Hungary. Germany goes forward unreservedly!"[x]

Is it legitimate, finally, to see in the general mobilization in Russia the cause not only of general mobilization in Germany, but also of the declaration of war? "Mobilization means war!" ruled the negotiators of the military agreement between France and Russia in 1892. And how many times has that apothegm been repeated in discussions of the immediate origins of the Great War? Mr. Fay gives it the force of a "political maxim" maturely accepted by all general-staffs and by all governments. But this thesis is contradicted by General Moltke himself: he does not attach to general mobilization in Russia the importance such mobilization might have in the case of another army: "In contrast to the mobilizations and demobilizations which have been customary in Russia, Germany's mobilization would unconditionally lead to war." So he declared to the Austrian, Major Fleischmann, on July 30. In his mind the maxim that "mobilization means war" did not apply to Russia.

In hastily deciding to put all its armed forces on a war footing the Russian Government complicated the crisis. But how, in any case, could peace have been maintained, with Austria refusing to compromise? By July 28, all the conditions essential for the European conflict had been provided by the Central Powers. I do not claim that Russian policy was free from reproach in 1914, any more than it was in 1912. French statesmen have often feared the moves made on the Bridge of the Minstrels, and they have done their best to anticipate them. But I believe that in trying to load a preponderance of responsibility upon the St. Petersburg government certain historians fall into an error which a more exact estimate of the facts will not fail to reveal.

The notable work by Mr. Fay does not, accordingly, impress me as having attained that absolute objectiveness to which it aspired. In such subjects it is extremely difficult to maintain a perfect equilibrium of the critical faculties. Historical truth rarely presents itself in such striking guise as to force conviction. In the interpretation, always so delicate, of an endless series of documents, the historian is in constant danger of slipping from perfect balance. I felt in reading Mr. Fay's volumes that he was more concerned to understand and explain the German attitude than he was the Russian or the French attitude. But may I not myself be affected by some preconceived idea, some national predisposition of mind? However great one's eagerness to escape the influence of instinctive sympathies, one must always realize how difficult it is to do so. Only sincere exchanges of views (and they can be sincere only when made apart from the deforming influence of public debates) can provide opportunity for correcting national tendencies. Only through mutual criticism is progress made toward that truth -- always imperfect, always subjective -- which we call "historical truth."

[i] Baron M. de Taube: "La politique russe d'avant guerre et la fin de l'Empire du Tsar." Paris, 1928, p. 139.

[ii] "Grosse Politik," No. 6521, Note to Holstein, June 3, 1904.

[iii] Ibid., No. 6782, Letter to Emperor William, July 31, 1905.

[iv] The author of this phrase was Metternich, German Ambassador at London. See Jacques Ancel, "Le duel Isvolsky-Aehrenthal en 1908-1909," Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire Moderne, March, 1927.

[v] Conrad: "Aus meiner Dienstzeit," III, 313.

[vi] The Livre Jaune on Balkan affairs, and the papers quoted by M. Poincaré in his Memoirs.

[vii] Reported by Kirchenfeld in Dirr: "Bayerische Dokumente," No. 71.

[viii] "Austrian Red Book" (1920), I, No. 2.

[ix] "Austrian Red Book" (1920), II, No. 42; and "Kautsky Documents," 213.

[x] Conrad: "Aus meiner Dienstzeit," IV, p. 152.

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  • PIERRE RENOUVIN, Professor of History at the University of Paris; Curator of the French War Library and Museum; author of "The Immediate Origins of the War"
  • More By Pierre Renouvin