A German diplomat’s efforts to end the July crisis (1914)

Prince Lichnowsky was a German diplomat stationed in London in 1914. He was one of the few Germans who attempted to resolve the July crisis, as he recalls here:

At first the English Press preserved calm and was friendly to Austria, because the murder [of Franz Ferdinand] was generally condemned. But gradually more and more voices were heard insisting emphatically that, however much the crime merited punishment, its exploitation for political purposes could not be justified. Austria was strongly exhorted to use moderation.

When the ultimatum was published, all the papers with the exception of the Standard the ever-necessitous, which had apparently been bought by Austria were unanimous in condemnation. The whole world, excepting Berlin and Vienna, realised that it meant war indeed, “the world-war.” The British Fleet, which happened to have assembled for a naval review, was not demobilised.

My efforts were in the first place directed towards obtaining as conciliatory a reply from Serbia as was possible, since the attitude of the Russian Government left room for no doubts about the gravity of the situation.

Serbia responded favourably to the British efforts. [Serbian prime minister] M. Pasitch had really agreed to everything, except two points, about which, however, he declared his willingness to negotiate. If Russia and England had wanted the war in order to attack us, a hint to Belgrade would have been enough, and the unprecedented note would not have been answered.

[Sir Edward] Grey went through the Serbian reply with me and pointed out the conciliatory attitude of the Government of Belgrade. Thereupon we discussed his proposal of mediation, which was to include a formula acceptable to both parties for clearing up the two points. His proposal was that a committee… should gather under his presidency, and it would have been easy matter for us to find an acceptable formula for points at issue, which mainly concerned the collaboration of Austrian Imperial officials at the investigations in Belgrade.

Given goodwill, everything could have been settled at one or two sittings, and the mere acceptance of the British proposal would have brought about relaxation of the tension and would have further improved our relations with England. I therefore strongly backed the proposal, on the grounds that otherwise there was danger of the world war, through which we stood to gain nothing and lose all… It was derogatory to the dignity of Austria we did not intend to interfere in Serbian matters we left these to our ally. I was to work for “the localisation of the conflict.”

Needless to say a mere hint from Berlin would have convinced [Austrian foreign minister] Count Berchtold to content himself with diplomatic success, and to accept the Serbian reply. The hint was not given; on the contrary they urged in the direction of war. It [a committee to avert war] would have been such a splendid success.

After our refusal Sir Edward requested us to submit a proposal. We insisted on war… The impression grew stronger and stronger that we wanted war under any circumstances. It was impossible to interpret our attitude, on a question which did not directly concern us, in any other way. The urgent requests and definite assurances of M. Sazonow, followed by the Czar’s positively humble telegrams, the repeated proposals of Grey, the warnings of the Marquis San Giuliano and Signor Bollati, my urgent counsels – all were of no avail. Berlin persisted; Serbia must be massacred.