Spring 1914
By Hamida Ghafour

When spring arrived on March 21, 1914, just 139 days before the first battle of World War I, no one knew that the turn of the seasons would bring catastrophe. The signposts to Armageddon have been debated by historians ever since. Europe was divided into two armed and hostile camps at the time, but most people were oblivious to the possible consequences. In Spring 1914, the second ebook in a Star Dispatches series on World War I, Hamida Ghafour provides an in-depth look at the schisms and missteps that would lead to disaster. It is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the Great War.

Single copies of Star Dispatches eReads can be purchased for $2.99 at starstore.ca or itunes.ca/stardispatches

Spring 1914

Incredible as it may seem, when spring arrived on March 21, 1914,just 139 days before the first battle of World War I, no one knew that the turn of the seasons would bring catastrophe.

The signposts to Armageddon have been debated by historians ever since: wars in the Balkans, an arms race, the politically decaying Ottoman Empire, naval rivalry between the Germans and British, to list a few.

But to the vast majority of people, none of this meant war was coming. The continent had been peaceful for a long time and the last widespread European war had been fought 100 years earlier when Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies terrorized the


But by spring, Europe was divided into two armed and hostile camps: Britain, France and Russia on one side, and Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other, soon to be joined by the Ottoman Empire.

During the Great War, the Ottomans were part of the Triple Alliance — Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. The Ottoman Empire was known at the time as the “sick man of Europe,” a phrase believed to have originated with Emperor

Nicholas I of Russia. It was poor, politically stunted and backward. In the years leading up to the war, many of its ethnic minorities in the Balkans took advantage of the empire’s military weakness and broke away, declaring


In the spring of 1914, a gang of reform-minded leaders, the original Young Turks, were in power. (Among them was Mustafa Kemal, who after the Great War became the founder of modern, secular Turkey, although at the time he was a bit


The Young Turks were desperately trying to convince one of the Great Powers — Russia, Britain, France or Germany — to act as a protector and help secure the nation’s borders while the leaders set about reforms. That spring they agreed to

approach Germany for help, effectively signing the death warrant of the empire. The turbulent collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which by that point included much of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Palestinian territories and Israel, led to the

current mess in the Middle East.

Today, an alliance between France and Britain seems natural. Both are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Yet at the time, friendship between them was young and fragile. An entente cordiale was reached in the years leading up

to 1914, and that April British monarch King George V and his wife Queen Mary made a state visit to Paris to cement the ties. The French, however, were preoccupied with a sex-and-murder scandal called the Caillaux affair, oblivious to

the fact that in four months’ time the Germans would march toward Paris.

Meanwhile, the man whose murder would be the war’s catalyst, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was trying to get out of the trip to Sarajevo scheduled for June 28. The archduke, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had a premonition that

something terrible was going to happen in the Balkan city, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina province and thus part of Austria-Hungary. As Ferdinand fretted,his future assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was in Belgrade learning how
to fire a gun and throw explosives.

A few people saw trouble ahead. “Colonel” Edward House was among them. The remarkable American, a friend of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, described the tense situation in Europe as “militarism run stark mad’ and embarked on a quixotic

mission to bring the continent back from the brink. His idea was to convince England and Germany to join America in a sort of grand alliance to bring peace among the superpowers.

But the small clique of European men whose posturing, lack of vision and warmongering would leave 36 million dead or injured between 1914 and 1918 was impervious. House was too late.