What Motivated Kaiser Wilhelm II to go to War With Russia, France, and Serbia?

Painted portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II, wearing ceremonial military dress, 1914. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
In the summer of 1914, the European continent entered a new and significant era of its history: the Great War. Scholars have discussed the factors that motivated the German state to enter the Great War, with many scholars attributing this event to the behavior of the head of state, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and to the reinforcement of his belief to go to war with Serbia, Russia, and France by members of high rank within the German government. Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to declare a punitive war on Serbia as a means of regaining honor for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and to provoke the Empire to be more aggressive on the world stage. As a result of this sentiment, Russia and France would enter the war to fight alongside Serbia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was important to the Kaiser because it was the country’s sole ally. As an ally, Germany used the country as a vehicle to impose political power on the European continent and the world stage. Kaiser Wilhelm did not want to enter into warfare with all three of these nations at the same time. However, members of the imperial family, officials of the War Ministry, the German Chancellor, and several Austrian officials all convinced the Kaiser to enter the war against Russia, Serbia, and France regardless of the consequences, even if it meant risking Britain’s involvement in the war as well.

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, were riding through the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. As they rode through the city, a group of Bosnian Serbian nationalists unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate the Archduke and his wife. However, the failure turned into success when the operator of the automobile that the Archduke and his wife were riding in entered the wrong street. As the driver tried to correct his error, one of the nationalist assassins, Gavrilo Princip, took advantage of the car’s temporary stop to discharge his firearm. The fatal bullets entered the neck of the Archduke and the abdomen of his wife.1 The group who performed the assassination, known as the Black Hand, was targeting the Archduke to provoke a war between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia. They viewed the Archduke as an obstacle to their goal since he was attempting to solve ethnic and racial tensions in Bosnia by implementing a program that would make all groups of people equal under the law.2 One of the reasons for a lack of legal equality were the Magyars in Hungary who feared being taken over by people of Slavic and German ethnicity.3

After the deaths of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, news of their demise went throughout Europe on telegraph lines to high ranking government officials, especially to those in Austria. Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, the Chief of Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was traveling on the railroad when he received messages about the demise of Ferdinand and his wife. The telegraph message from the government stated that the assailant was a Bosnian of Serbian ethnicity. The Chief of Staff automatically connected Princip to the Serbian national government and thought that a punitive war would be necessary to put the Serbians in their place. The foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, also received the message about Ferdinand’s death while at a fair. Conrad, Berchtold, and other high ranking government officials met in Ballplatz, the capital of the empire. While they were there, almost all of them agreed that the Bosnian assassins were connected to the Serbian government and that war was a needed punishment for their government.4 The Austrian government misinterpreted the relationship between the assassins and the Serbian government in terms of liability for the death of Franz Ferdinand. Even though they were agents of the Serbian government, they took the initiative to perform the murder without any approval from high ranking government officials.5

A painting of Count Leopold von Berchtold done in 1906 | Courtesy of Wikimedia.

A few days before the assassination, on June 20, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II boarded the Hohenzollern to attend the christening of the Bismarck, a ship of the Hamburg-American Line, in Hamburg, Germany. After the christening ceremony, he sailed to the city of Kiel to participate in a sailing regatta between German and English contestants with his yacht, the Meteor.6 As he was racing his yacht eight days later, the Kaiser noticed Admiral Georg von Muller racing towards him on a motorized vessel and reduced the speed of his craft. Expecting to receive good news, as usual, Wilhelm became saddened at the death of the Archduke and his wife rather than angry and vengeful like the government officials in Austria. While he was still on his nautical vacation on the Hohenzollern, he received news that Austria wanted to go to war with Serbia. He did not agree with the wishes of pro-war Austria and thought that the country should settle their disputes peacefully with Serbia.7 His opposition towards an Austrian-Serbian war was rooted in his belief that the German state should not get involved in conflicts while socialism was gaining momentum within their borders. A lack of armed men domestically would encourage those who felt oppressed by the country’s capitalist economic system to take advantage of the country’s limited military resources, so they could violently overthrow the government.8 Another reason for opposition towards war was the belief that he would provoke a war with the British Empire.9 The foundation for this belief was found within the history of diplomatic relations between Germany, Austria, Russia, and France. After Otto von Bismarck had suppressed the political and military influence of Austria through means of military conflict so that he could maintain his project of unifying various German states under Prussian leadership, Bismarck formed the Three Emperors League, a defensive alliance between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, and later Italy who dreaded French military force. He also laid out the foundations of secret defense treaties that the Austro-Hungarian Empire shared with Russia.10 The goal of this organization was to ensure that Europe would not hold any animosity towards Germany for its three wars of the 1860s.11 However, the nature of the alliance changed with Wilhelm’s rise to power. He started to alienate Russia by having a growing bias for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His bias was fueled by an ideology called Anschluss that claimed that since Austrians were ethnically Germans, they should be annexed into the German state along with the other states they held that were ethnically and religiously different from themselves.12 As a result of Russia’s experience of alienation within the alliance, they decided to exit from the agreement and ally with the French Republic, who were also improving their diplomatic relations with the British Empire.13 This boxed Germany between three rival nations on the east, west, and the north who were known for having a history of military excellence.

A map of Europe in 1914 illustrated by Fluteflute and Bibi Saint-Pol | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, even with these objections toward war, the Kaiser still felt that war was still a viable option. Once Wilhelm returned to Berlin the next day from his vacation, he began to discuss with foreign policy officials and Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg whether the Serbian government had connections to the murders in Sarajevo to establish a cause for war. Wilhelm concluded that they were indeed responsible for their alleged crimes and therefore Germany needed to team up with Austria to subdue Serbia. His emphasis on the invasion of this nation came from the fact that the Austro-Hungarian Empire held little political and military power and since they were weak, they could not stand against Russia, Serbia’s ally.14 The evidence of the country’s lack of strength was seen in a variety of areas within their society. The country had strong corrosive ethnic and religious tensions due to the various nationalities it held within its borders. This was further exacerbated by the Magyars in Hungary who, out of fear of being dominated by the Germans and Slavs in their country, utilized the government as a tool to dominate their Slavic counterparts and show the Germans that they were equal to them. Also, the nation’s military suffered from a strong case of inadequacy. Most of their equipment did not meet the modern standards of warfare. Because of strong Hungarian nationalism, Hungarians refused to recruit more soldiers for the imperial military and therefore the size of their ranks was the smallest in Europe with only 1 in 132 people enlisted for service while France had 1 in every 64 participate in their armed forces. The country’s armed forces receive a small budget of 489 million crowns, which was equivalent to 35% to 45% of a few other European nation’s military budgets.15

Six days later, on July 5th, the Kaiser received a letter from the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph, which was delivered to him by Count Alexander von Hoyos, an assistant from the Foreign Office. The letter stated that Austria’s future depended on a successful war with Serbia to remove pan-Slavic influences as a threat to their country. The Kaiser gave his approval for the project after he met with military leaders over the Serbian crisis. The Kaiser concluded that the situation would resolve peacefully within a week, and if the Russians decided to mobilize against Austria, Germany would intervene. Before going on his cruise to Norway the next day, Bethmann-Hollweg tried to convince the Kaiser that going on a vacation during this time would indicate to Russia that the war would not need German involvement and therefore Russia would have an opportunity to intervene. Wilhelm disagreed with the Chancellor because he believed that Russia would not interfere with political tensions between the Austrians and Serbians since they would realize that they were not prepared for warfare. The emphasis on Russian military involvement came from the fact that Germany had wanted to have a preemptive war with Russia before the diplomatic crisis.16 In fact, in December of 1912, Wilhelm held a military conference in Potsdam and during this meeting, the Kaiser suggested that the country should go to war with Serbia, Russia, and France, using the excuse of international tensions within the Balkans region. This need for war was to protect the future of the German state. The country was surrounded by rival countries whose militaries were modernizing, and the country’s only ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was lagging in the military excellence needed to defend Germany from foreign attacks.17 These views were constantly reinforced by his military staff who always appealed to the war interest of the Kaiser in almost all circumstances.18

The next day, the Kaiser went on his vacation and returned to the sailing regatta at Kiel and then sailed to the town of Balholm, Norway on July 12th. While on the cruise, he advised Emperor Franz Joseph about the ultimatum that Austria would give to Serbia. He suggested that the ultimatum should require Serbia to cede Sanjak of Novi Bazaar to the empire as a measure to prevent the unification of Serbia and Montenegro. The unification would have given Serbia access to the Adriatic Sea, a place useful for maritime trade and naval defense. Also, he wanted the ultimatum as a non-negotiable agreement between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia.19 Austria dictated that the country would have to agree to all terms within the ultimatum within 48 hours or they could face military invasion.20 Initially, Serbia responded to Austria’s demands by mobilizing their troops to engage in warfare with the enemy nation on July 26. With his knowledge of Russia’s disapproval of the Hapsburgs’ domination of the Balkans and Russia’s alliance with Serbia, the Kaiser dreaded and predicted that Russia would utilize its military resources to defend their ally. So, he prematurely terminated his vacation and started to sail towards Germany on the same day as Serbia’s mobilization.21 The Kaiser pushed Austria to design an ultimatum that would provoke a war with Serbia. However, he did not intend Russian involvement because it would jeopardize the country by forcing it into a two-front war with both Russia and France, because of the dictates of the Schlieffen Plan.

Photograph of Russian Czar Nicholas II with his family taken by Boasson and Eggler between circa 1913 and 1914 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At 7:00 AM on July 27, the Kaiser sailed into a port in Kiel and then traveled to Potsdam.22 A few hours before his trip back to Kiel, he received telegraph messages from the Chancellor stating that Russia was upset at the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia and that the Kaiser should proceed with a localized war by mobilizing only a small percentage of armed forces. He also recommended that he travel to Potsdam rather than to Berlin, where a protest against the Serbians was taking place. Going into the city would wrongly indicate to the Russians that the Kaiser wanted to wage war against them. After he arrived in Potsdam, he went to Neues Palais where he met with civilian and military advisers on the question of going to war with Serbia and Russia. He held an audience with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, who told the Kaiser that Austria would not be able to mobilize fast enough to prevent Russian military involvement. This would, in turn, allow the Russians to catch the Austrians off guard and defeat them. In light of this fact, Bethmann-Hollweg warned that the German government had to push both the Russian Czar and the Austrian Kaiser towards peace through negotiations. After the audience, the Kaiser and his generals were still holding steadfast to a policy of not fully preventing a war with Russia. The Kaiser received news that Austria was going to declare war on Serbia the next day, July 28th, and he agreed with their plan. His support for going to war was strengthened by reports of assured British neutrality. The Kaiser’s assurance of British neutrality was the result of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and the rest of Wilhelm’s advisers doctoring telegrams that removed statements showing that British involvement in warfare was a strong possibility. For example, Bethmann-Hollweg manipulated a telegram from the British to say that Russia could only go to war against Austria if Russia wanted to surrender a strong political influence over the Balkans. He also manipulated the message to exclude a statement claiming that a policy of localized war, meaning a war between Germany and Austria and Serbia, was impractical and that Germany should actively avoid war at all costs. However, all of that changed when he heard the truth about the British Empire’s diminishing neutrality to the crisis on July 28th.23

The alarming message that changed his mind was received at the palace on July 27th. The Chancellor received a telegram from German Prince Lichnowsky stating that the British were surprised by Serbia’s sudden humility to almost all clauses of the Austrian’s ultimatum.24 The British argued that Germany should “use [their] influence in Vienna to bring the Austrians to accept Belgrade’s reply as adequate or a basis for further negotiation.”25 The reasoning was based on the fact that if Austria was going to war as a result of Belgrade’s minor deviations from the ultimatum, it would make their invasion look like a power-play to remove Russian influence over the Balkans in the eyes of the Czar. This would displease both Russia and England and cause a horrific war. With this powerful information about England’s attitude toward the crisis in mind, the Kaiser’s officials did not want to deter their leader from entertaining the prospects of war but decided that Prince Lichnowsky’s message had to be delivered to him. However, this was only on the condition that he would receive it the next day, on July 28th. When they reluctantly delivered Britain’s response on the assigned date, their dread was made a reality when the Kaiser read the message. The Kaiser argued that there was now no practical reason for Austria to go to war, and if they did, they would bring Russia and Britain into their war. His stance was further strengthened by additional alarming reports from Prince Lichnowsky. In one of them, he warned that if Germany avoided every opportunity to make peace with Russia, it would indicate to people on the world stage, especially to those in England, that Germany would be responsible for starting an unnecessary conflict. On the basis of this news, the Kaiser was persuaded to take up an anti-war stance, which was also reinforced by his reading of Serbia’s reply to the ultimatum that came to him on the same day as the truthful British neutrality report. Wilhelm reasoned that a reason for going to war was no longer present and that there should be a negotiation between the two rival countries, Austria and Serbia. But at the same time, the Kaiser was cynical at Serbia’s change of mind and ordered his government officials to tell Austria that it should occupy the country until it fulfilled parts of the ultimatum they promised to fulfill. The Chancellor was doubtful of Wilhelm’s plan of actively avoiding war with Serbia, and dictated that his suggestions should be made too vague for the Austro-Hungarian Empire to properly understand. His doubt was rooted in his belief that an invasion of any kind would falsely indicate to the Russians that the Austrians fully wanted war. However, the Kaiser’s message only arrived in Austria on the 29th, after the Austrians had declared war on Serbia.26

By the evening of the 28th, the Kaiser’s mind was changed again, this time by General Falkenhayn, that he should support going to war alongside Austria. On July 29th, the Kaiser held a series of meetings with both high ranking military and civilian advisers. During these meetings, Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke argued that Germany should initiate the Schlieffen Plan. According to the plan, Germany would mobilize against Russia, but the greater part of its forces would immediately invade France, which necessitated that it also pass through Belgium and Luxembourg. On the other hand, the Chancellor was advocating that the Kaiser should only go to war with Russia if Russia did not calm down. Also, during these meetings, Wilhelm mentioned that a message had been sent to Britain justifying Germany’s invasion of France, Belgium, and Luxembourg by claiming that he was only occupying these territories for protection and that he would respect the neutrality of Belgium. Later, it was clarified that this had been a verbal conversation between Bethmann-Hollweg and Sir Edward Goschen.27 Bethmann-Hollweg said to Sir Goschen:

“We can assure the English Government—provided it stays neutral—that even in the event of victory, we are not seeking territorial acquisitions at the expense of France. As regards Belgium, we do not know what counter-operations France’s actions in an eventual war may compel us to take. But provided Belgium does not take sides against us, we should in this case too be prepared to give assurance that the integrity of Belgium will not be infringed after the war.”28

The Kaiser went back and forth between Moltke’s and the Chancellor’s views on how to approach war with Russia. His alignment with Moltke’s point of view was supplemented earlier with a letter he received that was addressed to a German prince from British King George V. He wrote in that letter that Britain would remain neutral, but only for a limited period before France asks for England’s assistance. Also, another factor that drove him to Moltke’s alignment was his wife, Her Majesty the Empress, who thought that war was an inevitable consequence of Austria’s mobilization against Serbia. The Chancellor’s agenda was now not to prevent major war, but to shift the blame of the war onto Russia while not letting the British get involved. The day prior, he convinced Wilhelm to send a telegraph to Russia. The message was sent in the early hours of the 29th.29 Wilhelm wrote:

“It is with the gravest concern that I hear of the impression which the action of Austria against Serbia is creating in your country. The unscrupulous agitation that has been going on in Serbia for years has resulted in the outrageous crime to which Archduke Franz Ferdinand fell a victim. The spirit that led the Serbians [in 1903] to murder their king and his wife still dominates that country. You will doubtless agree with me that we both, you and me, have a common interest, as well as all Sovereigns, to insist that the persons morally responsible should receive their deserved punishment. In this, politics play no part at all. On the other hand, I fully understand how difficult it is for you and your Government to face the drift of your public opinion.”30

A few hours later, Czar Nicholas II responded to the Kaiser’s telegram by saying:

“…An ignoble war has been placed on a weak country. The indignation, shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed to take measures brought upon me, and be forced to take extreme measures that will lead to war.”31

Czar Nicholas also warned the Kaiser “to try and avoid such a calamity as a European war.” The Kaiser was not happy at the Czar’s response, because he believed that the Czar would be against the regicide committed by the Serbians.32

As evening approached, Wilhelm responded to Nicholas at 6:35 pm:

“Austria’s actions against Serbia were not an ‘ignoble war.’ Austria knows by experience that Serbian promises on paper are wholly unreliable. I understand its action must be judged as trending to get [a] full guarantee that Serbian promises become real facts…Austria does not want to make any territorial conquests at the expense of Serbia. I suggest…for Russia to remain a spectator of the Austro-Serbian conflict without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed. I think a direct understanding between your Government and Vienna possible and desirable and as I already telegraphed to you, my Government is continuing its exertions to promote it. Of course, military measures on the part of Russia which would be looked upon by Austria as threatening would precipitate a calamity we both wish to avoid and jeopardize my position as a mediator, which I already accepted on your appeal to my friendship and your help.”33

At 1:45 am, local time, on July 30th, the Czar responded to the Kaiser:

“The military measures that were decided five days ago were for reasons of defense on account of Austria’s preparations. I hope from all my heart that these measures won’t in any way interfere with your part as mediator which I greatly value. We need your strong preference on Austria to come to an understanding with us.”34

Wilhelm objected to Nicholas II’s decision because Austria only enacted a partial mobilization for invading the south of Serbia. He also objected to his decision on grounds of provoking a preemptive war. As a result, he resigned from being a mediator for the crisis. His anger towards Nicholas was provoked from a misunderstanding of the word “decision.” The truth was that Nicholas formed his plan five days before its implementation on the 29th. At 7:00 am, the Kaiser was about to send a message to the Czar announcing his resignation from the role of mediator and his mobilization against him. However, the Chancellor successfully convinced Wilhelm not to send the message so as to look innocent of causing unnecessary bloodshed.35

Later that same day, Moltke convinced Bethmann-Hollweg that Germany had to take the first step towards military action; however, Russia mobilized against Germany first the next day. Therefore, Germany had its casus belli and could wage warfare with Russia. On the 31st, a “Zustand der drohenden Kriegsgefahr” or “declaration of a war threat” was signed by the Kaiser at 3:00 pm, hours after Russia’s mobilization.36 German soldiers began to guard the borders and engage in illegal immigration into France.37 At the same time, Germany gave Russia an ultimatum to withdraw their troops by noon on August 1st.38 As Germany was entering the final stages of preparing for war, the Czar and Kaiser were exchanging telegraph messages. The Kaiser sent the first message:

“On your appeal to my friendship and your call for assistance began to mediate between your and the Austro-Hungarian government. While this action was proceeding your troops were being mobilized against Austro-Hungary, my ally. Thereby, as I have already pointed out to you, my mediation has been made almost illusory. I have nevertheless continued my action. I now receive authentic news of serious preparations for war on my Eastern frontier. Responsibility for my empire forces preventive measures of defense….”39

The Czar responded:

“I thank you heartily for your mediation which begins to give one hope that all may yet end peacefully. It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations which were owning to Austria’s mobilization. We are far from wishing war. As long as the negotiations between Austria and Servia’s account are taking place my troops shall not make any provocative action.”40

As a result of the Czar not withdrawing his mobilization order by noon on August 1st, Kaiser Wilhelm II signed the declaration of war at 5 pm. The Kaiser signed a declaration of war against France on August 3rd.41

In conclusion, the Kaiser’s wavering need to go to war against Serbia, Russia, and France was an attempt to save Austria, Germany’s only ally as a result of the Kaiser’s growing bias towards Russians rooted in an ideology that called for unity on the basis of ethnic identity. The Kaiser thought that this ally of his was a tool to secure political importance on the world stage to prevent Russia from conquering his empire. Both his allies and high ranking officials fed into his behavior. His military officials supported the warring interests of the Kaiser almost all of the time. His civilian authorities wavered back and forth about going to war before settling on a constant pro-war opinion, which they used to convince the Kaiser to battle. In addition, both military and civilian officials manipulated messages that could have given the Kaiser a sober mind to not enter into war at all costs, and even after they manipulated messages, they convinced the Kaiser to continue down a pro-war path. Austrian officials convinced the Kaiser to continue seeking war by convincing him that they were in danger to a pan-Slavic movement nurtured by Russia.

  1. Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 1-20.
  2. Bailey Rider, “Murder for a Cause: Gavrilo Princip’s Assassination of Franz Archduke Ferdinand,” StMU History Media (website), last modified April 17, 2017, https://stmuhistorymedia.org/murder-for-a-cause-gavrilo-princips-assassination-of-archduke-franz-ferdinand/.
  3. Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 17.
  4. Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 23-31.
  5. Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 106-108.
  6. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 197-198.
  7. Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 78-80.
  8. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 193.
  9. Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 82.
  10. Alexis Soto, “The Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck: A Quest for German Unity,” StMU History Media (website), last modified April 21, 2017, https://stmuhistorymedia.org/iron-chancellor-otto-von-bismarck/.
  11. Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, 2006, s.v. “World War I.”
  12. Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe (New York: Basic Books, 2014).
  13. Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, 2006, s.v. “World War I.”
  14. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 198-199.
  15. Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe, (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 6-29.
  16. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 200-201.
  17. Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 12.
  18. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 196.
  19. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 201-202.
  20. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1031.
  21. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 202.
  22. Lamar Cecil, Wilhelm II: Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900-1941 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina, 1989), 203.
  23. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1047-1052.
  24. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1053.
  25. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1053.
  26. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1052-1068.
  27. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1058-1070.
  28. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1070-1071.
  29. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1058-1085.
  30. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1065-1066.
  31. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1066.
  32. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1066.
  33. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1067-1068.
  34. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1068.
  35. John C.G. Rohl, F.R. Bridge, and Shelia De Bellaique, Wilhelm II: Into Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-1941 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), 1068-1070.
  36. Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 79-80; Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 309.
  37. Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 79-80.
  38. Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 312.
  39. Czar Nicholas II to Kaiser Wilhelm II, July 31, 1914, in Brigham Young University Online Collection, “The Willy-Nicky Telegrams,” last modified June 30, 2009, https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Willy-Nicky_Telegrams, citing The Kaiser’s Letters to the Tsar, Copied from the Government Archives in Petrograd, and Brought from Russia, Isaac Don Levine, ed., (London: Hodder and Soughton, Ltd., 1920).
  40. Czar Nicholas II to Kaiser Wilhelm II, July 31, 1914, in Brigham Young University Online Collection, “The Willy-Nicky Telegrams,” last modified June 30, 2009, https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_Willy-Nicky_Telegrams, citing The Kaiser’s Letters to the Tsar, Copied from the Government Archives in Petrograd, and Brought from Russia, Isaac Don Levine, ed., (London: Hodder and Soughton, Ltd., 1920).
  41. Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 79-80.

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40 Responses

  1. Kaiser Wilhelm II is an extremely interesting historical figure. He was an intelligent man who didn’t want to go to war, knowing full well the consequences of this action that would eventually result from the conflict. But, as much as he believed in a peaceful solution, he allowed himself to be persuaded by his council members and officials. On the other hand, I cannot even begin to comprehend the amount of pressure he was under, especially with everyone else seeming to be at odds with his idea of peace.

  2. This article was very well written and informative. I did not know much about Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II, but now I feel more informed. My favorite part about the article was when the author described the letters, the use of quotes really made the article entertaining.

  3. Thank you for this article, it was well-written and very informative! You could feel the tension in the article with the back and forth of the time-stamps and telegrams being sent between Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II, I can only imagine the anxiety and anticipation during this time as it led to some serious historical events in global history!

  4. it was a sad sight to see that this war was started because a group wanted to kill someone who was trying to fix problems between different groups. while this is the catalyst that started World War 1, there was factors that lead up to this being able to start a war that dragged most of Europe into it, Europe was consolidating its power after the industrial revolution, and in this new age it was unknown what fighting with these weapons would do.

  5. When someone mentions “World War,” my mind automatically think of WWII, but the impact of WWI (named the Great War for a reason) should not be forgotten. This was the war that set in motion many of the polices governments world wide would take. It influenced xenophobia, gave reason for communism to take hold, and ultimately forced Germany into a corner that would result in WWII. Knowing that Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated for trying to promote equality among ethnic groups gives a whole new take on the situation. This was a fantastic article that demonstrates the impact that one country can have on another – even if just through warnings.

  6. Such an informative and interesting article! Very captivating. Honestly I am unfamiliar with side of European history yet it is so intriguing.The events leading up to World Wars including Kaiser Wilhelm’s indecisiveness about going to war with strong powers was so unpredictable but I loved it.The fact Serbia was not as powerful and underdeveloped yet still considered fighting huge countries was so crazy. Also the events transitioned Serbia into an industrial age. I loved reading your article. Great job.

  7. I feel like Kaiser Wilhelm always gets a bad rap. After reading this article it seems like many of his advisors played dirty in order to get the outcome they wanted–war.

    At the Archduke’s death seemed to have just been a good excuse to go to war over ethnic and colonial concerns. If anything, World War I was a conflict between empires all struggling to expand and maintain control over their colonial ambitions.

    Neighboring empires have been going to war since the beginning of time, whether for land or ethnic concerns; in that case I don’t think World War I was any different.

  8. To think that without this War World Two might not have happened and the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. While the arch-dukes death was horrible, if it didn’t happen World War One would have most likely still happened due to multiple factors, this was the emergence of a new industrial age which could be changed to war production, and with high amounts of national pride in the civilian population, there would have been something else to spark the war.

  9. Hey, Antonio.

    This was a fantastic article. As someone who enjoys studying about the World Wars yet is often confused regarding the context of the relations and alliances of the European nations prior to its outbreak, the linear-narrative of this article greatly assisted in following the ambitions and indecision of Kaiser Wilhelm.

    What is interesting to note is that Serbia is still considered a developing nation. It is far up from the bottom rung, yet it is certainly not as prosperous as France, Germany, modern-day Austria, or even Russia. One has to wonder whether this conflict had much to do with the hindrance of Serbia’s development into the twenty-first century, especially with the Cold War following some decades after the armistice.

  10. This article was really well written and well-formatted. The story of Wilhelm’s struggle of determining whether or not he should go to war, and the many voices persuading him that he should go to war flowed really well. The sources that were used, primarily the telegrams between Wilhelm and Nicholas really added a lot of validity to the article. The result of Wilhelm being persuaded by others to go to war is truly tragic because it resulted in a global conflict that shook the world, and took years for nations to recover.

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