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German Support of Austria's War Against Serbia

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  • 0:01 Scheming Cousins
  • 1:40 Eastern Front
  • 3:01 Western Front
  • 4:09 Britain
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In this lesson we'll look at how (and why) Germany supported its neighbor Austria in its divisive war against Serbia in the early 20th century. After learning about these things, you'll be able to test your knowledge with a quiz!

Scheming Cousins

From time to time, you'll hear historians say that the First World War was the biggest family argument in history. Of course, they're right: the heads of state of Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, as well as Romania, Norway, and Greece, were all first cousins, and the grandchildren of the British Queen Victoria.

Yet it wasn't just family connections that these people had received from Victoria. Her reign was a great period of European expansion, both with regards to technology and colonies throughout the rest of the world. This new world was the real legacy of Queen Victoria. And like so many feuding cousins at the death of a grandparent, the rulers of Europe were plotting for the inheritance. Factions were formed against the loudest cousins, in this case the increasingly aggressive Wilhelm II of Germany. Soon, like any small-town squabble between family, the neighbors were called in. France, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, and even the Ottoman Empire found places in a new order that put France and Russia against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and Ottomans, with the British pretending to be above it all.

Just like a bad family reunion, all it took to set the whole thing off was one spark. This time, it wasn't some comment about someone having gained weight, but instead the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Now, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was actually very unpopular with his uncle and the establishment, but nonetheless honor had been violated!

Eastern Front

The assassination was carried out by a Serbian nationalist group, and the Serbs had only recently gained their independence. The Serbs had family connections of their own, specifically to Russia, as both were Slavic peoples. As a result, the minute that Austria-Hungary started campaigning for an invasion of Serbia, the Russians threatened to invade Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary, much like a 10-year old cousin whose threat to a 6-year old Serbia had just gotten a response from a 16-year old Russia, called in support from its own big brother, Germany. Germany and Austria-Hungary had many deep cultural connections, not the least of which was the fact that Austria itself spoke German.

However, those connections often caused more rivalry than anything else. In fact, the real reason the two states got along so well is that they both were scared of Russia. Additionally, Germany brought its friend, the Ottoman Empire, where the Germans had been investing heavily. They were developing the country, and the Ottomans also greatly disliked Russia. What had started as a fight between the relatively localized Serbians and Austro-Hungarians now consumed all of Eastern Europe.

Western Front

Germany had presented itself as a threat to more than just Russia. However, years before, the French and the Russians decided that Germany was a threat, and signed a treaty agreeing to protect the other from German aggression. This treaty was called the Franco-Russian Alliance. Coupled with the fact that France was still in pain after the last war, when Germany took two wealthy provinces as her own, and the French were ready to fight.

The German army eventually created a plan to defeat both France and Russia. Called the Schlieffen Plan, it assumed that the Russian army would be slow to deploy. As a result, it also assumed that the faster German army would be able to invade deep into Russia and force a quick peace.

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