1. We’ve all heard the story about how World War I started…
This dude, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, gets assassinated by Serbian nationalists at Sarajevo and the infamous “powder keg” of Europe ignites, sending the continent into four years of horrific war.
But history textbooks and high school teachers that haven’t read a book since college overestimate one man’s importance. There were other influential people who had a hand in starting The Great War and they did more to spark the conflict than just getting shot.
2. 1. Henriette Caillaux
When one thinks of French politics, a crazy woman murdering the editor of one the nation’s largest newspapers isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. However, in the summer of 1914, that’s what the French nation was focused on.
Henriette Caillaux was married to the French Minister of Finance, Joseph Caillaux. Long story short, the editor of Le Figaro, a prominent newspaper, ran a story severely damaging Joseph Caillaux’s credibility. Henriette visited the editor’s office and shot him dead.
Her trial was one of epic proportions. Remember how big the O.J. Simpson trial was? Imagine that on steroids. Everybody was paying attention to this. In fact, so many people were paying attention to this incident that their gazes weren’t fixed on trying to prevent the war that was swiftly breaking out on their doorstep. Thus, Henriette Caillaux is partially to blame; Her trial disabled France’s ability to defuse the war by distracting the whole country.
3. 2. Sir Edward Grey
British Foreign Secretary. He failed to stop the crisis from getting out of control. Great Britain was still one of the world’s military heavyweights. Had he made it clear to Germany/Austria-Hungary that the British hammer would fall on them should a massive war engulf the European great powers, they might have thought before they acted.
Sadly, Grey was likely more interested in fishing while the “July Crisis” was escalating into a war.
4. 3. Nikola Pašić
Nikola Pašić was the strong-bearded Prime Minister of Serbia during the outbreak of the first world war. When Austro-Hungarian forces found out that Serbians were responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the throne, they were (understandably) pissed off at Serbia.
But the Austro-Hungarians may have took things a little too far, at least in the mind of Pašić. They drafted an ultimatum that was extremely harsh on the Serbs. Pašić was in a tough spot. Either accept the ultimatum in which case Serbia would basically cease to be a sovereign nation, or decline the ultimatum and risk a crisis. Ultimately, he agreed to every condition of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum but one, but that wasn’t good enough for Austria-Hungary, who declared war on Serbia after the refusal.
5. 4. Sergei Dmitrievich Sazonov
Sazonov was Russian Foreign Minister from 1910-1916. His greatest sin was convincing Czar Nicholas II that mobilizing the Russian army was an absolute necessity and that not mobilizing would be tantamount to appeasement. On July 28th 1914, the Czar ordered a “partial mobilization” against only Austria-Hungary. On the 29th, he ordered full mobilization. Germany declared war in response and the dominoes continued to fall.
6. 5. Maurice Paléologue
Quintessential arrogant Frenchman who knew how to rock a monocle better than anyone. He was a French diplomat who helped spark war by assuring the Czar of complete French support in the case of a possible war. Paléologue’s whisperings into the Czar’s ear spurred Russian mobilization. With the (supposed) full support of the French—who had a much better military reputation in 1914 than they do now—mobilizing was an easier decision to make for the Czar.
7. 6. Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was Chief of the German General Staff. For quite some time, the Germans and von Moltke had planned to use the now-famous “Schlieffen Plan” to attack France should war break out. This plan involved flanking the French army unites on the French-German border by rushing through Belgium and Luxembourg.
During the opening days of the war, before Britain had declared for either side, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered von Moltke to stop mobilization of German soldiers on the west. He wanted the western half of the German war machine moved to the east; France and Belgium weren’t to be touched.
Von Moltke outright refused and convinced the Kaiser that moving such an amount of men so quickly would be impossible. Thus, German units ran through neutral Belgium and Luxembourg, damaging the world’s opinion of Germany and providing the UK with a pill too big to swallow.
8. 7. Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria
He had wondrous facial hair but, alas, as war was spilling out across the continent, he did nothing. The Emperor wasn’t present at any of the July 1914 meetings in which Austro-Hungarian policies on what to do were being formulated. In fact, he left to go chill out in his summer house during most of the crisis. His main role was signing off on stuff after the decisions had been made by his underlings because official actions required his signature. He also let himself be duped by the next person on this list.
On a side note, Franz Joseph was no fan of Franz Ferdinand. The emperor believed that Franz Ferdinand had tarnished the Habsburg name and Habsburg blood by marrying into minor Czech nobility rather than a more prestigious family befitting of his rank. Franz Joseph believed that the assassination was some sort of divine retribution for this transgression.
9. 8. Count Leopold Berchtold
The picture of this top-hat-wearing, mustachio’d man screams “VILLAIN.”
What was Berchtold’s crime? He was the Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary and he convinced the Emperor to approve the vicious ultimatum to Serbia as well as the final declaration of war against the Serbs. To accomplish the latter end, he lied to the Emperor, telling him that Serbian forces attacked first.
Fun fact: This guy’s full name is “Leopold Anton Johann Sigismund Joseph Korsinus Ferdinand Graf Berchtold von und zu Ungarschitz, Frättling und Püllütz”