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Europe's Last Summer: Who Started The Great War In 1914? (2005)

Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? (2005)

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3.91 of 5 Votes: 5
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037572575X (ISBN13: 9780375725753)

About book Europe's Last Summer: Who Started The Great War In 1914? (2005)

As the 100th anniversary of the Great War approaches, I thought I would test the waters and see what some recent historians had to say. In his highly informative, historical tome on the lead-up to the Great War, Fromkin not only dispels the simplistic view that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand began a series of events that led to military action, but also seeks to propose that its start was anything but a total surprise to the European powers. Simplistic world history texts still present this as the foundational argument behind the European conflict, Fromkin argues that this is an attempt to gloss over some of the tension and intricate politicking taking place in Europe leading up to the summer of 1914. He proposes that Europe was a powder keg of potential conflicts, some accentuated by regional wars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading up to June 28th, 1914, which made the final result inevitable, leaving the date the only mystery. The assassination was but the final spark, even then possibly a ruse to justify retaliatory action. Fromkin asks readers in the title who was a cause of the Great War, offering at least three plausible answers throughout the text's first seven parts: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia. In this well-structured book, drawing on many sources, both recently and dated, Fromkin leads the reader through the various options, presenting key chronological events of the happenings within the states directly involved in the potential conflicts. By Part Eight, Fromkin offers his own assessment, that the majority of blame did and should lay at Germany's feet. Powerfully presented and easy to follow for the reader well versed in history and those looking to pique their own interests.By handing blame to Germany, Fromkin details Kaiser Wilhelm II's desire to use his strong military while it remains a threat to other states. Wilhelm sought to use this strength not only to bully his enemies, but also to show how ready Germany might be for any military action, especially against the predominant powers of the time; Russia, England, and France. Deemed crazy by his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and a completely unstable leader by his grandmother, Queen Victoria, Wilhelm ignored those who sought to criticise him or seek peace and chose strong military men who shared his desire to obliterate any enemy. By aligning Germany with Austria-Hungary, another aggressor in the region, Wilhelm ensured an iron fist over much of the region, and into Africa's imperial lands. Fromkin argues that Germany's blank cheque approach to assisting Austria-Hungary was the predominant reason the conflict escalated from a small regional war into a full-on European aggression. Deceptive actions surrounding Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia help only to vilify them all the more, with the added refusal to engage in any peace conferencing after Austria-Hungary made aggression its only option, added to the argument that without Germany's military might, a conflict on such a large scale could surely have been averted. It can also be argued that Germany pushed Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia to offer a reason to turn around and attack Russia and invade France, its plan all along.Austria-Hungary's greed and power-hungry nature, fuelled no doubt by Germany and the aforementioned blank cheque, helped catapult the Empire into the role of warmonger no matter the cost. While Emperor Franz Joseph led the Empire and sanctioned expanding its holdings in Europe, the manner was anything but savvy. Looking to the Baltic states, Austria-Hungary felt it best to choose sides in the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 and then play a rousing game of nation-state Jenga, pulling blocks from all sides to realign its allies in order to find the best 'team' for eventual aggression in the region. Fromkin illustrates the infantile swapping of allies the Empire made during and after both Balkan conflicts, issuing strongly worded treaties to those it deemed best to join them as they eyed the spoils of Europe. The Empire could not handle the powerful Serbia, whose victories in the aforementioned conflicts led it to be more powerful and a threat to the Empire's Bosnia-Hertzegovina state. A secret alliance with Germany to crush Serbia remained but an idea before the assassination of the heir to the Hapsburg throne, Franz Ferdinand. When Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Empire's heir apparent, Austria-Hungary used this as a perfect opportunity to implement its plan to obliterate Serbia, ignoring that he was Bosnian and thereby a citizen of the Empire. Alas, its bungling of the response and eventually delivery of an ultimatum so full of impossible requests paved the way to armed conflict and the inclusion of allies to protect one another made war all but inevitable. There is no doubt that the Empire's single-mindedness about territorial superiority, with a German military at its beck and call, helped bring about a regional war with Serbia, and veiled Germany's larger plan to commence a war with its two great enemies, turning it into a continental war that spilled into the world sphere. It should be noted that Austria-Hungary was crushed both by Serbia and Russia in the War, making its sabre-rattling all the more futile.While it is easy to vilify the villains of history, one cannot simply leave Serbia off the hook for any responsibility. A regional powerhouse with territorial aspirations, Serbia sought to regain some of the territory it lost in its Balkan conflicts of the 14th and 15th centuries, well before anyone had heard of Germany, Prussia, or even Austria. While one cannot fault the state for this, there is an inherent undertone that outsiders will take notice and perhaps act to stop the ever-expanding aspirations (though England, France, and Russia seem not to have done so when it came to Austria-Hungary). Allying itself with Russia as well could not have hurt Serbia, knowing that having such a power in its corner would help, should the need arise. That said, Fromkin presents documented evidence (and alludes that other historians have found it too) that the Serbian government, headed by Prime Minister Nicola Pasic, not only knew of the Bosnian Princip's plan to assassinate the Archduke, but also was well aware of the Serbian militant group, the Black Hand, and its plans to disrupt the Austro-Hungary leadership. Serbian officials did little to stop the end results, though there is some speculation as to whether Pasic did try to inform border guards. Sitting on the knowledge, knowing full well what would come in retaliation fuels the argument that they permitted an escalation of tension and tossed the match on the pyre to ignite the war. Debating whether responding more favourably to the Austria-Hungary ultimatum is futile, for the document itself was surely a ruse well past any negotiation point. Knowingly sanctioning the Black Hand's actions and relying on Russia to support it when war was declared help to cement blame at the feet of the Serbs.While a relatively short book, it packs much into its chapters and tells a story as effectively as a drawn-out tome. A great read for history buffs who may have tired of the 'active war' accounts to show how things got so bad. When Fromkin offers his summary and presents his own conclusions, I read ansd absorbed them with much interest. He lays out not only the facts, but supports them with key historical events. As I read, I could not help but think that Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919 would be an excellent companion to show the before and after effects of the Great War. The two would also help strengthen Fromkin's argument in the introduction that much of the current political and military strife is tied to the outcome of the Great War (discussed at length in MacMillan's tome), including the Middle East's disjointed creation into states based more on geographic convenience than historical and tribal lines. Kudos, Dr. Fromkin for this fascinating piece of work that not only stuns the reader but opens many new pathways of historical exploration. I'll keep my personal opinion of which of the aforementioned three states are to blame for the Great War to myself, in hopes of letting all who read the book to come up with their own conclusions... or perhaps posit others to add to the mix.

In David Fromkin’s most recent book he takes on the heavily written but still asked question of who started World War I. Fromkin attempts to redistribute the blame for the war, while Germany still receives some, a large amount is also placed on Austria-Hungary. Fromkin also claims that while the people of Europe believed that war was no longer a possibility, Europe’s political and military leaders could see the war coming. tMuch of Fromkin’s work focuses on the geopolitical machinations of Germany and Austria-Hungary as well as the responses and actions of their neighboring countries. Much of the book however, focuses on the tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Given a lesser but still equally important presence in the book is Austria-Hungary staunch ally Germany and the more fair weather friend Italy as well as Serbia’s great power sponsor Russia and its allies Great Britain and France.tFromkin also gives a significant part of the book to examine the arms buildup that was occurring in the great powers of Europe. One of the justifications for these buildups Fromkin claims is the anticipation of a great general war which. The other is for the imperial expansion of the great powers into the now decaying Ottoman Empire. While the book covers these subjects, the entire last part of the book is devoted to going more in-depth to explaining Fromkin’s theory.tFromkin’s analysis of the countries responsible for World War I is the most interesting and well argued point of the book. While not saving Germany from all of the blame he lessens it to an enthusiastic backer of the Austria-Hungary, while also needing to posture its self to appease its allies and its people. Austria-Hungary however is given for more blame than more perennial books on the origin of World War I like Barbra Tuchman’s Guns of August. tFromkin’s argument that it was Austria-Hungary’s attempts to prove it was not the new sick man of Europe and to assert imperial hegemony over Bosnia-Herzegovina caused the war is well put. It was through these actions that Austria-Hungary hoped to gain a better position against Russia, while at the same time removing Russia’s influence from the Balkans by way of removing Serbia. This inadvertently or as Fromkin believes knowingly caused the First World War.tWhile Fromkin is well versed in this period of time and has contributes several volumes of work to it as well, this book stands out from the rest. While many books simply follow the status quo of Germany being the provocateur of the war, Fromkin points out that Austria-Hungary has remained relatively blameless despite its obvious fault in escalating tensions with Serbia. Fromkin attempts to rectify this issue and does so in a very readable way. While his argument that the leaders of Europe saw the war coming and did not stop it is outlandish, it is only a minor detractor from an otherwise excellent book.

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I was going to give this book 3 stars originally, because a lot of the information was repetitive. But I guess it would be hardly fair to blame Fromkin simply because I have read many other books on World War 1 before coming to his. So 4 stars it is! Fromkin leaves the issue of the actual fighting aside, for the most part, choosing to focus on all of the causes of the war. The history of the soon-to-be-assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife is particularly fascinating. I also appreciate his new take on the actual outbreak of the war--he doesn't blame war on a series of secret treaties that were spurred into action by the assassination, which makes his book stand out from most. Also, the book is pretty engaging, always a must when presenting history!

I took a class in college titled Europe: 1914-1945. The final exam was, "Choose one cause for World War I and defend your choice." I chose Russia's early mobilization. I got an A-. That was in 1995. Since that time, apparently, a veritable treasure trove of information has been discovered that really seems to clearly point to Germany wanted this war, created a scenario to have this war, and manipulated other nations into falling into it. I never think that anyone is pure evil, with the notable and usual exceptions of Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and others who killed millions out of insane hatred and paranoia. I don't believe the primary architect of Germany's desire to go to war, Moltke, was evil. However, if sources of this book are to be believed, the lines between evil and stupid are very blurry indeed. This book is absolutely fascinating and it reads very well as a countdown. Each chapter explains why Europe was a powder keg and that Germany and Austria were both holding matches with an intent to light the fuse. For history buffs, I highly recommend this. Honestly, I wouldn't steer anyone away from it, though, it is a thoroughly engrossing and well-written book. I am now seeking to read Fromkin's history of the modern Middle East, A Peace to End All Peace.

Fromkin makes an excellent attempt to understand how the Great War appeared out of the blue. He argues that Europe at that time was very tense and was not at all peaceful as public perception currently is. The military officers of all countries were busy preparing for a war on a massive scale - the question was not if, but when. According to the author, World War I consists of two wars - Austro-Serbian War, and the German War against France and Russia. The latter grew out of the former and swallowed it. The German General Helmuth von Moltke was insistent on fighting a war against France and Russia when the timing was right - a few years later, Germany would have been unable to defeat them according to the German officer corps. Von Moltke wanted to make sure that Austria-Hungary would also be part of the war, since the Dual Monarchy had not supported Germany's belligerent actions in the past. When the Archduke was assassinated, the Germans convinced the Austrians to declare war on Serbia and win quickly, so that it can show a fait accompli before the rest of Europe interferes. But the Austrians took very long to execute their plans. At the same time, Moltke was hoping that Russia would mobilize, even partially, so that Germany would have some excuse to declare war on it. When Russia did mobilize, Germany mobilized immediately and poured into Belgium and France. This a good piece of historical study, but I feel that it focuses on the German and Austrian ministers and generals too much, and that the British, French and Russian statesmen are more or less relegated to minor roles. One must read this book along with Patrick Buchanan's "Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War" to get a better view of the causes of the Great War.
—Shyam Sundar

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