Description: Professor Christopher Clark unpicks the complex sequence of events during the July Crisis, leading to outbreak of the First World War, from the perspective of the key centres of decision-making – in Berlin, Paris, St Petersburg and London.
He analyses how these countries reacted to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 and casts fresh light on the causes of the First World War, offering a new interpretation of the catastrophe.
This short-run crisis was the most complex event in modern history – yet Professor Clark argues that, far from being a slow sequence of events in which bungling leaders walked blindly to war, it was a fast-paced crisis that contains lessons and parallels for our own world. There was no ‘slithering over the brink’ as Lloyd George later claimed, but rather a sequence of clear-eyed steps. The July Crisis of 1914 was a ‘Month of Madness’, not because the men who made it were themselves mad, but because its outcome was completely catastrophic and completely unnecessary.
Producer: Melissa FitzGerald
A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4
Episode 1: SARAJEVO: Professor Clark travels to Sarajevo to tell the story of extraordinary chances that led to the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek on 28th June 1914, conveying a sharp sense of the dramatic sequence of events that day and how they were shaped by the geography of the city.
The repercussions of the assassinations – comparable to the effect of 9/11 – exemplify the transformative power of a terrorist event. But the murders were not a pretext for a war decided in advance – nor did they make conflict inevitable.
Episode 2: VIENNA: Professor Christopher Clark explores the mind-set inside the Austrian administration during the tense days of July 1914, where he says, a ‘militant group think’ seized hold of the decision-makers, bent on settling their old scores with Serbia.
Episode 3: BERLIN: Professor Christopher Clark reconsiders why the German administration made this bold offer. He shows how the administration was divided. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German monarch, urged restraint in the New Palace at Potsdam, but to no avail as his power was limited. His generals pushed for war. Yet, Clark argues, they envisaged a fast and quick local war and did not believe the situation would escalate.
Episode 4: THE FRENCH IN ST PETERSBURG: Professor Clark travels to Paris. He discusses why Raymond Poincare, the French President, and the Russians under Tsar Nicholas II, extended the remit of their alliance, to cover the eventuality of a ‘war of choice’ in which Russia would attack Austria-Hungary on behalf of a Balkan client state.
St Petersburg and Paris thus created a geopolitical tripwire that made a general war highly likely if a quarrel were to break out between Austria and its turbulent neighbour – an extremely dangerous thing to do in Europe in 1914.
Episode 5: LONDON: At the centre of the events in London was the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. Of all the politicians who walked the European political stage in 1914, he was the most baffling. Professor Clark shows how the last-minute British decision to enter the war on the side of France and Russia, and to declare war on Germany, was a decision of world-historical import that transformed a local conflict into a global struggle.
No good me sitting here in my belovéd stuga in the forest slowly shaking my head at the stupidity of decisions that lead to WWI. No matter how many times I have read this brew-up it never fails to leave me feeling anything but desolate. I think Prof Clark has giving the ultimate documentation: the version that is the Platonic Ideal, if you will. It is accessible and erudite.
5* The Guns of August
5* Three Emperors
3* July Crisis
5* The Sleepwalkers
EXTRA EXTRA: Film clips from the Month of Madness