Book Review: July 1914: Countdown to War


by Sean McMeekin

New York: Basic Books, 2013. Pp. xviii, 462. Illus., maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 0465031455

The Case Against Russia and Franc

In July 1914, Prof. McMeekin (Kocs, Istanbul), furthers the argue met he made in The Russian Origins of the First World War that the war was deliberately provoked by Russia and her ally France.  He marshals considerable evidence in support of his case.  And certainly neither Russia nor France were free of responsibility in the coming of the war. 

But McMeekin tends to overlook details that might contradict his case.  A simple example is the lack of discussion of the repeated efforts over several years by some Austro-Hungarian leaders – including Chief-of-the-General Staff Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf – to promote a preventive war.  McMeekin notes that Russia took some preliminary mobilization steps before either Germany or Austria-Hungary had acted, which is correct, but ignores Austria-Hungary’s early recall of men on harvest leave.  He also overlooks mobilization timetables; the Russian Army needed 42 days to fully mobilize (albeit only 15 for the first echelon), while Austria-Hungary required only 21 and Germany just 15. 

McMeekin’s focus on military reviews and patriotic rhetoric during the state visit to Russia by the President of France constitute no more than evidence of the elaborate ceremonial and oratory commonplace in those times on such occasions.  He downplays the fact that Austria-Hungary did not provoke the crisis until Poincaré was returning to France by ship, and thus could not coordinate a response with the Tsar.  While McMeekin does throw some new light on the tensions leading to the war, in which France and Russia certainly had some responsibility, as did all the Great Powers, in trying to place the blame for the outbreak in 1914 on these two nations, he ignores the deliberations over the timing of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia, the Kaiser’s “Blank cheque,” the Serbian acceptance of almost all the terms of the ultimatum, which Austria-Hungary nevertheless rejected, and the question of who invaded whom when. 

July 1914 is a useful read for those interested in the longer term roots of the war, but is less valuable on the question of responsibility for events of July and August of 1914.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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