"In the Clutch of Blind Forces" (World War I in the Perspective of U.S. Diplomatic and Military Reports - July-December 1914)

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1972

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Abstract

Europe in 1914 was an armed camp held together by a complicated system of alliances. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 by a Bosnian terrorist provided the spark which ignited the flames of World War I a month later. For almost three years of this brutal European conflict the United States stood aside as a neutral. During that period and until the end of the war, her representatives in Europe were most interested and often concerned spectators to the tragic drama unfolding before them. The time span convered by this thesis extends from July 1914 to December of that year. During these early months of the conflict U.S. diplomats, military and naval attaches and special observers accredited to the belligerents armies sent numerous reports to Washington on the course of the war in Europe. These reports are valuable historical documents especially when examined in the context of the time and against the background of other events of the day. Not only do they provide interesting vignettes of the world's greatest conflict to that date, they also offer illuminating insights into the war as well. And they cover a wide variety of subjects: diplomacy, politics, personalities, places, strategy, tactics, battles, weapons, naval affairs, controversies, trends, and estimates of current situations. These reports, too, varied from country to country and from person to person. Those from France, Germany and England, for example, generally surpassed those from Austria-Hungary and Russia. Some of these documents were long and rambling, others were short, concise, and lacked solid facts. Some were dull and common place, while others were alive and full of human interest. A few were inaccurate and some from Germany and England prejudiced. In the early period of the European diplomatic crisis of 1914, the reports lacked critical analysis and suggested at times an ignorance of European affairs. These shortcomings stemmed from several sources. First, the embassies were undermanned and had difficulty giving assistance to numberous Americans trapped in Europe by the war. The workload multiplied when the United States undertook the responsibility of assisting citizens of the belligerent nations in like circumstances. Then, too, some representatives placed too much reliance on information supplied by their host nation and a few lent their ears too readily to rumor. But the reports improved toward the end of the year as various embassy staffs expanded and their personnel developed a more professional touch.

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