Balkans War Party Gains in Vienna

At this time the war party was ascendent in Vienna and Budapest, pushing for a “pre-emptive attack” on Serbia, making it clear the adverse consequences of the victory of the Balkan Alliance for Austria-Hungary:

English: Oskar Potiorek (20 November 1853 – 17...

English: Oskar Potiorek (20 November 1853 – 17 December 1933) was an Austrian general who served as the Austro-Hungarian governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1911 and 1914. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The Emperor [the aged Franz Joseph, Hapsburg Emperor since 1848(!) when his uncle had abdicated the throne in the face of the great revolutions of that year] was determined to not be hustled into any conflict.  ‘I don’t want war’, he told his ministers in at the end of November 1912, banging his fist on the table, ‘I have always been unlucky in wars. We would win, but lose provinces’. But there was a persistent military pressure group in Vienna, backed up by General Oskar Potiorek, who in May of 1911 has succeeded Varesanin as Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  During the late autumn  Potiorek pressed for mobilization and the dispatch of more and more troops to the two provinces; and on each occasion Francis Joseph rejected his requests. Eventually, on 28th October, the ministerial council agreed to ask the Emperor for a gradual increase of troops, calling up certain reservists without intensifying the crisis by ordering mobilization. Priority was given to Bosnia-Herzegovina and southern Hungary [present Vojvodina province of north Serbia], but by late November the steady buildup of troops in Galicia, facing the Russians, was causing alarm among the civilians in Cracow and Lvov. In the Belvedere, Archduke Francis Ferdinand remained in favor of peace, throughout October and November, but with the coming of the armistice [between the Balkan states and Ottoman Turkey] he was alarmed by reports of patriotic belligerence in Belgrade and gave serious consideration to a pre-emptive strike.  He had become critical of General Staff planning; on December 7th he had induced Francis Joseph to re-instate Konrad Von Hotzendorf as Chief of the General Staff.  Both the Emperor and the Archduke were soon to regret the return of such a dangerous military schemer to the center of military affairs.

“Berchtold, like Francis Ferdinand, was worried about the mood in Belgrade.  He was also troubled by the war hysteria in several Austrian and Hungarian newspapers [the “Jewish press” according to the Times of London correspondent]; and in particular by the public indignation at the alleged atrocious behavior of the Serbs towards the consul in Prizren, Oskar Prochaska.  On December 11th, almost before the re-instated Konrad had unfolded his Balkan maps, Berchtold visited the Belvedere for a long discussion with the Archduke, whom he found in a state of great excitement and pressing for an immediate attack on Serbia and Montenegro. Later that same day, at Berchtold’s request, the Emperor presided over a meeting of top-level ministers at Schoenbrunn. Since neither Konrad nor the War Minister (General Krobatkin) were present, it was not technically a war council.  In their absence the case for military action was put by the Archduke, while Berchtold argued against any adventures on the eve of the St. James Palace Conference and the Austrian Finance Minister  argued against the expense of any campaign. The Emperor listened to the exchange of views ‘in an unusually serious, composed and resolute’ mood, according to Berchtold’s diary entry.  After an hour of concentrated discussion he took a firm decision: there would be no military adventures; full support should be given to the peacemakers in London.

“Significantly Francis Ferdinand immediately accepted his uncle’s ruling.  Throughout the following year he worked in harness with Berchtold. Konrad, however, remained obstinate.  As soon as he herd of the meeting on December 11th, he refused to take the Emperor’s decision as final: he insisted the Chief of the General Staff and the War Minister repeat their conviction that only a short, victorious campaign against Serbia and Montenegro would allow Austria-Hungary to impose an acceptable settlement in the Western Balkans, and the War Minister agreed with him. Dutifully, Berchtold sought an audience two days after Christmas in order to clarify the Emperor’s attitude. He found Francis Joseph unswerving in his commitment to peace. Konrad and Krobotkin were left fuming at what they considered a lost opportunity”.*

Although these passages from a biography of Francis Joseph smack a bit too much of exoneration of responsibility of an old man for bringing on the First World War, they make clear the true position of the supposedly “pacifistic” Archduke Ferdinand, later to be assassinated at Sarajevo in 1914, as a major proponent of the sort of “pre-emptive” war that in our own time is the specialty of states such as the United States, Israel, the U.K. and even neo-imperialist Japan, who today aggressively scrambled a squadron of F-16’s over the Daioyu Islands, a territory never a part of historic Japan, stolen in the predatory 1895 war of aggression against a then debilitated China.

The fate of Austria-Hungary is a lesson for today’s “sick men” of the world such as Japan and the U.K.  “Pre-emptive war” is the policy of states operating from a position of strategic weakness.

* Twilight of the Hapsburgs: The Life and Times of the Emperor Francis Joseph, Alan Palmer, pgs. 314-315


Konrad Von Hoetzendorf, new Chief of the General Staff of Austria-Hungary




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