The Failure to Prevent World War I: The Unexpected Armageddon originated in my PhD research (1987) at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, which had compared and contrasted the geopolitical, political-economic, military technological and diplomatic dynamics between Great Britain and Germany that led to World War I in the period from 1870 to 1914 to the US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War. Following Soviet collapse, my first book, Surviving the Millennium (1994) then updated the multiple dimensions of US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War.
Although I then began to focus more on the post-Cold War period, my study of the World War I period was not, however, entirely left in limbo. I began to engage in deeper research on the subject, particularly as I realized that most studies on the origins of WWI written in English tended to focus primarily on Anglo-German relations, but of course with a number of important studies on Austrian and Russian perspectives. And yet there seemed to be relatively fewer studies written on the French perspective.
My first step was consequently to update my previous research for one of the chapters of the Ashgate Research Companion to War: Origins and Prevention, which I edited with Oleg Kobtzeff in 2012. But in working on that chapter, I realized that a truly systemic and long- term historical approach to the origins of World War I, which brought in the French perspective on Alsace Lorraine since the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, was crucial to an understanding of the causes of the Armageddon of 1914-18.
It is consequently in researching through official French documents that I discovered that French sources had reported in March 1911 that Berlin and Vienna had hoped to place the eldest son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the House of Habsbourg-Lorraine and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Maximilian, as the royal governor of Alsace-Lorraine. If Maximilian was made royal governor of Alsace-Lorraine, it would, in effect, provide a royal legitimacy to Austro-German control over the annexed territory, and help solidify the Austria- German alliance against their rivals. I then discovered, too late to include in the book that had already gone to press, that the secret meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm II with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Konopischt on 13-14 June 1914 (which was relayed by the Tsarist secret police) reconfirmed those secret French reports dating from March 1911.
In effect, this represents a smoking gun (but not conclusive proof) to argue that the Russians, Serbs, as well as the French, all had reasons to eliminate the Archduke Ferdinand. The problem, and what requires deeper research, is that all French documents dealing with the relationship between the Archduke and Alsace Lorraine—in addition to reports on those who were involved in that assassination—were removed from the public domain and purportedly destroyed in 1940 when the Nazis invaded France. The smoking gun is there. But will the truth ever be revealed?
About the Author: Hall Gardner is Professor and Chair of International and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris. He received his PhD in 1987 at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Washington DC. He is a member of the World Association of International Studies, Stanford University and is on the Advisory Boards of the New Policy Forum (Mikhail Gorbachev); Cicero Foundation: Paris/ Maastricht; Journal, Géostratégiques; Online Bibliography, Oxford University Press.
Read more about Hall Gardner’s book, The Failure to Prevent World War I, including reviews and excerpts from the book on the Ashgate website. Read more about Ashgate’s Military and War publishing programme at www.ashgate.com/military.