Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/August 2014/Op-ed

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Playing Chess on Sacred Ground

Serbian infantry positioned at Ada Ciganlija.
The Austro-Hungarian government's declaration of war in a telegram sent to the government of Serbia on 28 July 1914, signed by Imperial Foreign Minister Count Leopold Berchtold.
By TomStar81

It began here, on 29 July 1914. As with most events of its nature at the turn of the last century it began with mass support from the populace and the ceremonies to support a proud and noble collection of armed forces going forth to fight at the behest of their countries. The nation was Austria-Hungary and its military, and the place was Belgrade. It was on that day that the former's artillery began shelling Belgrade (now the capital of Serbia), thus opening the Serbian Campaign, and inadvertently setting into motion the military phase of World War I.

Franz Joseph I of Austria, at the time the Emperor of Austria-Hungary, had been shaken by news that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, had been assassinated in Serjavo. Franz interrupted his vacation in order to return to Vienna, but he soon resumed his vacation to his imperial villa at Bad Ischl. With the emperor five hours away from the capital, most of the decision-making during the so called "July Crisis" fell to Count Leopold Berchtold, the Austrian foreign minister, Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the chief of staff for the Austrian army, and the rest of the ministers. On 21 July, Franz Joseph was apparently surprised by the severity of the ultimatum that was to be sent to the Serbs, and expressed his concerns that Russian Empire would be unwilling to stand idly by, yet he nevertheless chose to not question Berchtold's judgment.

During the time between the assassination and the official war declaration efforts were made by German Empire, Kingdom of Italy, France, and British Empire to mediate the matter. These efforts were accompanied in diplomatic circles by pleas from 2nd and 3rd party nations to the dispute in Europe to avoid armed conflict if possible, however the pleas and mediation offers fell on deaf ears during the diplomatic crisis in July; simply stated, Austria-Hungary had already made up its mind.

A week after the ultimatum, on 28 July, Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia and, two days later, the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians went to war. Within weeks, the French and British entered the fray. As more and more nations began honoring military alliances within the scope of the Triple Entente and Triple Alliance, the disagreement and local military action sparked by the artillery shelling of Belgrade inadvertently drew more and more nations into a "black hole" between two different superpower-like entities: the Central Powers and the Allied Powers. As was noted last month, the war opened very differently than it closed, with forces mobilizing troops with rapid-fire rifles, and war animals such as horses for cavalry use, while railroad lines provided nations with a way to expedite the deployment and redeployment of their armed forces.

In the opening weeks of the war all sides expected a quick end to the conflict, but the technological advancements that had preceded hostilities coupled with the collection of nations that slowly joined due to the system of alliances they had set up to protect themselves, dashed any hope of an early finish. In the first days of the military campaign, these factors were not fully understood by the European nations engaged in the war, as the last time so many of Europe's nations and territories had mobilized in this fashion had been during the latter half of the French Empire when Napoleon had escaped from Elba, precipitating the Hundred Days.

In the coming months, as more nations mobilized their armed forces due to their treaty obligations, new fronts would be opened in the war, including the much documented western front and the rise of major naval operations, which would result in unrestricted submarine warfare and the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle in history depending on the criteria used to judge such a battle. The use of submarines would inadvertently draw the United States into the war; in the aftermath of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, Americans began to view intervention on the side of the Allied powers as a distinct possibility. World War I would also mark the first large-scale use of aircraft in military operations.

As we move into the official centennial of the four years during which World War I was fought, we have the opportunity to present the community with quality material covering the major milestones of the conflict. Our World War I task force, and the editors working with the Great War Centennial special project, could use your help to make sure that when World War I's major milestone dates reach their official 100th anniversary they will be eligible for main page appearances. For a war that so fundamentally altered the world at the time, it seems altogether right and proper that we endevour to cover it as best we can.

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