World War I: The Seminal Tragedy – The Final Act – Extra History – #4

World War I: The Seminal Tragedy – The Final Act – Extra History – #4


♪ ♪ [male narrator]
The 24th of July, 1914. It’s late at night. A group of haggard-looking men sit
in a dim room in the ministry in Belgrade. One of them holds the Austrian
ultimatum in his hands. They’ve spent the day
debating how to reply. Defeated, they’re about to
give in to all demands. A note is slipped
under the door. It says that the Russians
have started to mobilize. They change their reply,
and the final act begins. In their reply, the Serbians agree
to nine out of ten Austrian demands. They only refuse to allow Austrian officials
to have police powers within Serbia. But their reply is a
masterstroke, an act of genius in
the way it concludes. For, at the end, it says that if the
Austrians don’t find their terms to be fair, the Serbians are more than willing to
submit to the resolution of a conference. But if you’ll remember,
the Austrians hate conferences. They are always getting
out-voted at those things. Well, no more. Not this time. They are livid at the
Serbian reply, but like always, they turn to their
German allies for advice. The Kaiser is still at sea, so Austrian’s foreign minister Berchtold
goes to consult Bethmann Hollweg and Moltke, the head of
the German army. They are apoplectic. They say, “What? “You haven’t declared
war already?! “A month has gone by. “Get on with it! “This isn’t what we agreed to. We’re losing the sympathies
of the people of Europe.” You see, after the
assassination of the Archduke, public opinion in Europe
weighed heavily against Serbia. It was politically impossible
for anybody to support them then. But now a month
has passed, and this reply, this meeting of
most of the Austrian demands and this offer for mediation, made
the Serbs seem like the reasonable party. After all, what more could
Austria want? So with the rebukes of the
Germans driving him, Berchtold returns to
Austria-Hungary and for the first time speaks
with Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Chief of Staff of
the Austrian army. He too is apoplectic. “What, declare war? “Are you kidding me? “You needed to tell us weeks ago
if that’s what you wanted to do! “The Austrian army won’t be ready for war
until the 14th of August, weeks from now! “Plus, we don’t even know
who we’re mobilizing against. “You want us to prepare
for war with Serbia? “Yeah, not when Russia’s
mobilized against us, we aren’t. “Get us a guarantee of Russian
neutrality and then maybe, maybe, we can talk about
mobilizing against the Serbs.” Despondent, pressured toward
war by the Germans, told that Austria isn’t ready
by his own Chief of Staff, Berchtold returns home
and begins to think. As the hours grow later, he starts to
convince himself there’s way out of this. He starts to reason that declaring war
isn’t necessarily the same as being at war. And so maybe if he
declares war now, he’ll placate the Germans
and be able to use that threat to get the Serbs
to capitulate before he even needs the Austrian
army to be ready to fight. Now we can all see this for the
desperate rationalization that it is. We’ve all at one time or another gotten
ourselves into an impossible situation and let ourselves believe in
some wild, hair-brained solution that’ll surely fix everything. Only when we do that, the fate of the world
isn’t usually hanging in a balance. And so,
on the 28th of July, Austria-Hungary
declares war on Serbia, with Berchtold all the while believing
he’s going to bring peace by declaring war. But that morning,
the morning of the 28th, Kaiser Wilhelm II
got back to Potsdam. That very morning, the Kaiser
read the Serbian response to the Austria Ultimatum
and uttered, “With this, every reason
for war drops away.” And here is one of the great tragedies
of those frantic July days leading to the war. This man, Wilhelm II, for all his
inadequacies, for all his failings, for once in his life steps up and
tries to become the man he should be, the man who deserves to rule
the most powerful nation in the world. And he comes so close. And yet, despite his
best attempt, he’s too late. The world doesn’t
reward his effort, things spiral into chaos, war comes,
and his empire will fall. The Kaiser tries
to open peace talks, perhaps even
hold a conference, but the Austrians
will have none of it. So he proposes
a novel solution: Halt in Belgrade. Belgrade, the Serbian capital, is just a few
miles from the Austrian border. If the Austrian army
occupies the capital, they can declare
victory and save face while showing the rest of Europe
that they don’t plan to annex Serbia. And they can do it quickly enough to
perhaps keep the Russians out of the war. But this proposal has
to go through Bethmann, and Bethmann is in Berlin. Now get this: It’s 1914,
so as impossible as it seems, there was no telephone line
between Berlin and Potsdam. So Bethmann can’t
reply directly. He’s pretty skeptical of the
Halt in Belgrade plan, but instead of making the drive
to Potsdam for clarification, he passes it along to
German agents in Austria with the instructions not to press
the Austrians too hard to adopt it. And he doesn’t even mention that
it comes from the Kaiser himself. Meanwhile, in Russia, Sazonov gets reports of
Austrians shelling Belgrade. These reports are false,
of course. The Austrian army won’t be ready
to do anything until August 14th, but he has no way
of knowing that. So he, one of the last men
opposed to full Russian mobilization, lets the dam break and declares himself for a full
mobilization of the Russian army. He and the Russian Chief of Staff,
Yanukovych, go to see the czar and convince
him that the time has come. General mobilization is ordered. Night falls. It’s 1:00 AM and
the czar can’t sleep. He sends a telegram to the
Kaiser of Germany and it reads thus: “I’m glad you’re back. “In this serious moment,
I appeal to you to help me. “An ignoble war has been
declared to a weak country. “The indignation in Russia
shared fully by me is enormous. “I foresee that very soon “I shall be overwhelmed by
the pressure forced upon me “and be forced to take extreme measures,
which will lead to war. “To try and avoid such a
calamity as a European war, “I beg you in the name of our
old friendship to do what you can “to stop your allies
from going too far. Nicky.” Now you have to remember
that these two men were cousins. They were friends. All the avenues of
diplomacy had failed. All the standard bureaucratic mechanisms
of the state were driving them to war. So they reached out to each other,
as cousins, as friends, to see if the two of them dealing
directly, person-to-person, could avoid this war. And in a touch that could only come
from these twilight days of empire did they not refer to
each other as Czar or Kaiser. They don’t even refer to each
other as Wilhelm and Nicholas, but rather as
Willy and Nicky. The Kaiser is awake
too and he responds. A flurry of telegrams
get sent back and forth. At the end of these
correspondences, Nicholas picks up the phone,
calls Yanukovych and tells him to call off
the general mobilization. Yanukovych splutters and
starts to reel off all the things that cancelling mobilization
means they’re going to have to do, but the czar says “Cancel it,”
and hangs up the phone. On the morning of the 30th,
Sazonov hears what the czar has done. He’s shocked. He pulls in the head of the Duma,
the Russian parliament, and the patriarch
of the Orthodox Church and they go in for a knockdown,
drag-out meeting with the czar. The room is crowded, it’s hot,
talks are getting nowhere, and then Nicholas moves off alone,
staring out the window at St. Petersburg, trying to think. After a few minutes of reflection,
coming to no conclusion, a young man, an aide to Kemp,
standing near the czar says, “Majesty, we know how difficult
it must be for you to decide.” Without intention,
these words cut. Nicolas had always been called the weak,
indecisive, feckless leader, and he hated it. He wanted to shake off all those names
people had been calling him for so many years. He wanted to show the world he
wasn’t some wishy-washy prince who couldn’t make up
his mind. And so like that, with the words
from some aide to Kemp whose name history
has forgotten, Nicolas turns around and says,
“I will sign the order.” Back in Germany,
Bethmann has finally come around. They’re starting to make progress with
the Austrians on the Halt in Belgrade plan. The British have even said
that this plan has their support. But Berchtold won’t accept it, can’t accept it unless the Russians
agree to halt their mobilization. And here we hit the Catch-22
of the First World War. This is the age of the train, the period where logistics and
timetables dominated military thinking. All around Europe, it was thought
that if you could just get your army to the battlefield while the other
guy’s forces were still arriving, you’d crush them
every time. You’d win without contest. And as we’ve seen with the Austrians,
mobilization can take weeks. It is a Herculean task to coordinate
and move the millions of men that made up
a modern army. And if Russia acquiesces
and has her army stand down, they will be
impossibly behind. If they stop mobilization and then
Austria or Germany decide to attack, they’ll have lost
the war without a fight. So Russia can’t stop
mobilization. But if Russia mobilizes, that means
Germany has to mobilize too or face the same
dilemma. And now with
Germany mobilized, what can France do
but mobilize themselves? After all, the Franco-Russian War
taught them a hard, bitter lesson about what happens when you get
your army to the field too slowly, and they will not be
making that mistake again. And so the dominoes
start to fall. But there’s one
last attempt, one last try to stop that
crushing chain of causality leading the world
inextricably to war. Portales, the poor German diplomat
playing a bit part in a tragedy that he has the desire
but not the means to avert, has one last meeting
with Sazonov. He says to Sazonov,
“Call off the general mobilization.” And Sazonov says,
“No.” Portales pleads, “For God’s sake, there will be
no winner in this war. “If we fight,
it’ll be a revolution. “It will be the
end of monarchy. “It will be the
end of us both! Won’t you please
call off this madness?” And Sazonov says,
“No.” Portales drops to
his knees and says, “If you do this,
it will be slaughter. “I beg of you in the name
of all that is right and decent, call off this mobilization.” And Sazonov says,
“No.” Then Portales rises to his feet and
takes a piece of paper from his pocket, and says, “In that case, sir, I have the
honor to inform you that we’re at war.” He stilled, struggling to
collect himself, saying, “Never thought I’d be
leaving Russia like this. I don’t know how
I’ll be able to pack.” Sazonov kindly offers to send
somebody to help gather his things, and a month later,
a million men are dead. The seminal catastrophe
has begun. [Choir singing “In Flanders Fields”
by John McCrae] ♪ In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row ♪ ♪ That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly ♪ ♪ Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago ♪ ♪ We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie ♪ ♪ In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields ♪ ♪ and now we lie
in Flanders Fields ♪ ♪ Take up your quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw ♪ ♪ The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die ♪ ♪ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields, in Flanders Fields. ♪ ♪ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields, in Flanders Fields. ♪ Captions Provided by: The University of Georgia
Disability Resource Center 114 Clark Howell Hall
Athens, Georgia 30602

100 thoughts on “World War I: The Seminal Tragedy – The Final Act – Extra History – #4

  1. There are a lot of ridiculous wars in world history. But nothing is as heartbreaking to me as WWI. I mean. WHY. Why did so many people die? What for? What was the point? What hubris did these men have that was worth the death of millions?

  2. The monarchs or Russia, Britain, and Germany were cousins. There’s a rap battle video where they pause and solemnly look at a picture of Queen Victoria and say “Granny.”

    Also, “Czar” and “Kaiser” both come from “Caesar”.

  3. Oh my god, for the want of one more day of caution, this whole slaughter might have been stopped!

  4. How sad that so many factors landed in just the wrong place its like history just kept rolling snake eyes throught the whole thing.

  5. The worst thing is, there really was no reason for WW1. In WW2 everyone can look back and blame the Nazis and all the atrocities committed by the Japanese, Soviets and the Germans, but in WW1 there were so many instances of the soldiers refusing to fight one another (Christmas truce, anyone?) which simply shows how pointless it all was

  6. I just googled when WW1 broke out, July 28 1914, I was born on the same day that would lead to millions of deaths and even more facing the hell that is Trench Warfare

  7. Damn the ''In Flanders Fields'' outro music made me shed a tear. So many people tried to stop what would become the two deadliest war that changed the world. It's a shame that we don't learn this in school.

    Lest we forget …

  8. WWI and WWII were tragedies on an enormous scale.
    Few now remember them.
    We need to keep teaching ourselves and new generations, or we will repeat the mistakes of the past.

  9. By far one of the best detailed descriptions of events leading up to World War 1 I’ve ever listened to

  10. so they were keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep thinking how to kill lot of people? wow politician are fucking ahole

  11. Wow, this series got me on sad boi hours. Darn shame that the world wars don’t get more attention in middle/high school.

  12. 9:20 the exact moment the world went away…the effects of which are still being felt to this day

  13. The first time I ever heard "In Flanders Fields" was watching this video. That song, just following the line where 1 million men would die and the last meeting between Portales and Sazonov just hit me really hard. In punctuates the tragedy and folly of World War I better than any textbook I've ever picked up.

  14. WW1, WW2, the forming of the USSR, the Cold War, the screwed up Middle East, the gulf war, operation desert storm, all so dam avoidable. This made me cry.

  15. My grandfather actually served in world war one for the american side, its amazing how people survived not just the gunfire, but the harsh conditions in the trenches

  16. That tribute at the end was magnificent and beautiful, simple and honest. Thank you so much for teaching so many.

  17. WW1, a war that could’ve been averted. Monarchs sent young men to the trenches and fields that will lead them to death.

    Rest in peace to soldiers in the war.

  18. My Great Great Great Granpa fought in WW1 as an Italian Troop and survived a P.O.W camp
    And when it ended he survived the Great War…
    We will never forget WW1…

  19. In a childhood filled with Call of Duty, I was under the misconception of World War 1 being essentially a smaller, less interesting version of World War 2. That was until I watched Blackadder Goes Forth, Battlefield 1 and Extra History. After seeing this video, I realised that I was very wrong and those two along with the Extra History series made me realise how wrong I was. Thank you.

  20. Looking at these videos, it feels like Austria-Hungary was the reason for war, and yet Germany felt the brunt of it… Rise of Hitler seems logical in this context

  21. It has been a turn of events which took me by surprise. In 4 chapters of WW1 taught in school, it (the seminal tragedy) wasn't there. A few meetings could have changed the fate of the world. It makes me sad to think that the war could have been avoided. The world requires farsighted people. Thank you for the video.

  22. I am not a man that cries. Period. But throughout this series, even though I've watched it countless times, I still feel tears threaten action.

    A tragedy of errors, this feels like something Shakespeare would write, that if communication had only been a little better at any point, war might have been averted.

  23. My great grandfather lost his two brothers the first day in the trenches at Verdun. He survived the war, but he woonded hus leg during the war and he had problems with walking The rest of his life.

  24. I know what it's like to fail to make peace, to feel so certain to avoid war, and yet it happened. Run from it, hide from it, destiny still arrives. Conflict is inevitable. – An angry raisin's reflections on WW1.

  25. We'd all thought this great war would cost us four months and two or three million deaths, but it ended in four years and twenty million men not ever coming back. This is war.

  26. But then, even if war wouldn't have happened in 1914, it likely would have later. Because of the underlying rivalries, tensions and conflicts of interests between great powers, without which there wouldn't have been war in 1914 either, assassination or not. Russia's adherence to Pan-Slavism and Austria-Hungary's rule over Serbs who wanted to be free was a sore point and a driver of conflict. France wanted back Alsace-Lorraine that it had lost to Germany in 1871. Britain felt threatened by Germany's rapid naval expansion and wanted to see Germany cut down to size.

  27. Everytime he uses the tone that maybe they’ll stop the war, I have to remind myself. This isn’t fiction; this history and this actually happened.

    F*cking idiots in love with war.

  28. I have watched this playlist so many times and every time I watch it I think that the whole thing was divine in a way or another. The Archduke's driver to take a wrong turn, just by chance, to where Princip was hiding, or eating a sandwitch; the German diplomat in Russia not knowing that the Austrians did not intend to annex Serbia; the Russian diplomat in Serbia dying of a heart attack just before signing an agreement. All these seem to be random coincidences that occurred at the very wrong time and changed the whole world.

  29. "declaring war isn't necessarily the same as being at war"
    If there's an afterlife, I hope spirits still hound him over this monumental stupidity!

  30. WWI takes away the live of 20 million people, WWII takes away the live of 60-80 million people, WWIII will certainly occurs, so, when mankind will commit the same mistake for the third occasion, how much lives that conflict going to take?

  31. It is very upsetting how ww1 is often overlooked by ww2 as at my school many people had never heard of ww1 but they all had obviously heard of ww2 even though none of the wars after ww1 would have happened if ww1 never took place

  32. Pourtalès gave Sazonov two letters — in both of them, no matter if Russia recalled mobilisation, Germany declares war on Russia.

  33. The WW1 could have been avoided in many ways. It was just a rollercoaster ride that went to the wrong destination.May the souls of the fallen lay in peace.

  34. I know I’m like 5 years late to the party here, but I just watched through the series and I can’t help but feel each hair stand up knowing that every time a domino was placed through the video, a more drastic event would follow, placing another domino itself. Thank you Extra Credits for all your hard work through the years.

  35. Part of me is crying that the war was so close SOOOOO close to being stopped, but if u think about it, history would've been completely changed and altered, and maybe we wouldn't have been born as well. It's kinda like the discovery of the americas, so many lives were lost, but history would've been changed to a huge extent and many lives would be changed, so what I'm saying is that, yes a lot of lives were lost, but it is history and cant be changes

  36. My brothers let us stand as we remember the ones we lost as it is time that we do this. No matter what we are brothers all of us. Lest ye forget last we forget

  37. school didnt tell me there are people who try to stop war. they teach me what country win and they fight for thier country.

  38. I am just kinda frustrated by the man who were determined to be so right that they would do something so big as a war among all great powers and they knew it would happen and yet it spiraled into well the world we live in now

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