July 1914, Sir Edward Grey and World War I
- HM King Edward VII and HM Queen Victoria - Diplomatic Maneuvers:In his memoirs "Twenty Five Years", Grey admits to having no special training for his position as British Foreign Secretary. Of the 25,000+ books reportedly published on WWI, it is a safe bet none of them challenged him on that. The British Foreign Secretary's ear for mastery of the French, Russian, and German languages had been traded in for the mastery of British bird songs. However, Britain did have other moments of great diplomatic courage and talent that might have inspired the tennis champ to educate himself. In 1903 an utterly unintimidated British King Edward VII wielded the diplomatic arts with such a flair - from deep inside a notoriously unfriendly country - as to make it look easy:"Britain need allies. Finding them wasn't going to be easy. The recent war in South Africa against the Boers had made Britain highly unpopular in Europe. But the King had a plan. In May 1903, he set out on a mission of diplomacy to one of the favorite haunts of his youth: Paris. "Bertie [King Edward VII] didn't tell them his plans. He makes this completely secret agenda. He didn't even tell his [foreign] secretaries. And when the royal train arrives, and Bertie gets out at the station, he's met with incredibly hostile French crowds. "Bertie turns up in Paris, a place where the British are incredibly unpopular at the time. And when he arrives, he is booed. There are newspaper editorials saying 'Go back to England', and basically listing every English insult since...the burning of Joan of Arc. "Faced with a French mob, the English King's love of Parisian culture and women was about to pay dividends. "He goes to the theatre. And the audience in the theatre is incredibly sort of unfriendly and sullen. And to the dismay of the French police, the King insists during the...interval of going into the foyer. And he spots an actress. And he goes up to her. And kisses her hand. And says 'Mademoiselle, when I last saw you in London you were superb.' "Edward really does have sort of the magic touch. Immediately the kind of rumor mill in Paris puts this out he had been incredibly charming to this famous actress. The next day he walks out into the crowd. He shakes hands. He says he loves Paris. He looks happy. He charms the pants off the French. The mood changes like [snaps fingers] this...it just flips. "Suddenly, there's an outburst of cheering wherever he goes. There's a sort of a real sense that he's one of them. You need to remember that no English politician spoke French like that. None of them knew Paris like that. And that is critically important in causing a huge change in French opinion. "The King's weakness for French wine, woman & song had helped pave the way for a crucial strategic alliance with the old enemy." [italics added](37)Grey reportedly also chased women, although discreetly. Besides chasing British women, it's too bad Grey didn't also like chasing French women. Or Austrian ones. Again, the biographer of King Edward VII, Jane Ridley, strikes the singular most important point:
"You need to remember that no English politician spoke French like that. None of them knew Paris like that. And that is critically important in causing a huge change in French opinion."
That key fact of HM Kind Edward VII's wildly successful diplomatic maneuvers in Paris would rise to literally stratospheric importance throughout July 1914, when what was desperately needed more than anything else was an equally huge change in opinion in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France (and Britain).
Another eye-opening example of British-French diplomacy for the tennis champ, the mind-boggling 1898-1899 Fashoda Crisis:"Over tea, General Kitchener and Major Marchand cordially and politely insisted that they each had the correct claim while refusing the other's request to vacate. Their behaviors could not be more different from their countrymen back home, where Briton and Frenchman alike were appalled at the affront to national sovereignty."(38) "The disputes arose from the common desire of each country to link up its disparate colonial possessions in Africa. Great Britain’s aim was to link Uganda to Egypt via a railway from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo, while France, by pushing eastward from the west coast, hoped to extend its dominion across Central Africa and the Sudan." (39) "Only over the Fashoda confrontation of 1898 did it seem possible that Britain and France, the chief protagonists, would fight. The Fashoda incident had all the qualities of high drama, with the forces of Britain and France, led by two equally charismatic commanders, eyeball to eyeball on the Upper Nile and claiming the same territory... "But it was Captain Marchand's puny force of a few French officers and a little over one hundred Senegalese soldiers that caught the world's attention. Marchand's long transcontinental march was an intensely Gallic episode. His secret expeditionary force carried lavish supplies of claret and champagne, a mechanical piano, seeds of haricot verts and a portable steam launch. Its progress was doubtless enlivened by the various African girls presented to Marchand and his officers as temporary concubines by placatory local chieftains."(40) "In the tense confrontation that ensued, neither Marchand nor Kitchener was ready to give up his claims to the fort, but, because both wished to avoid a military engagement, they agreed that Egyptian, British, and French flags should fly over the fort.(41) "The French Marchand had shown up "[A]ccompanied by porters, often pressed into service along the way, the expedition carried an enormous quantity of supplies including 10 tons of rice, 5 tons of corned beef, 1 ton of coffee, and 1,300 liters of red wine as well as champagne to celebrate its anticipated success..."(42)Yet another example of courageous British diplomacy for E. Grey, the remarkable HM Queen Victoria, also known as the grandmother of Europe:Could the British Foreign Secretary have stopped fly-fishing long enough to school himself on the diplomatic successes of the British Monarchy? That would be the country the Foreign Secretary is supposed to represent to the outside world.
"Imperial needs, imperial ambitions, involved the country in the South African War. There were checks, reverses, bloody disasters; for a moment the nation was shaken... Throwing her self heart and soul into the struggle, she laboured with redoubled vigour, interested herself in every detail of the hostilities, and sought by every means in her power to render service to the national cause.
"In April 1900, when she was in her eighty-first year, she made the extraordinary decision to abandon her annual visit to the South of France, and to go instead to Ireland, which had provided a particularly large number of recruits to the armies in the field. She stayed for three weeks in Dublin, driving through the streets, in spite of the warnings of her advisers, without an armed escort; and the visit was a complete success."(43)
- Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf, Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph:
King Edward VII was not the only one who could also speak fluent French & German. Across the channel the supra-militaristic Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf (ignoring school sports) reportedly polished off native German, French, English, Russian, Italian, Polish, Czech, & Serbo-Croatian.
In Austria-Hungary, even the future Emperor Franz Joseph was "...expected to study 18 hours a week when he was six years old. The hours of study per week increased to 36 hours at age eight and 46 hours at age 11. [He] became seriously ill at the age of 13 due to the stress of his studies. However, his rigorous education continued and he was studying 56 hours a week at the 15...he studied not only French, Latin and Greek , but also Hungarian, Czech, Italian, and Polish."(44)
The tennis champ shunned learning foreign languages. To him the other Great Powers were the Alien Great Powers.To the extent foreign language skills are essential to be effective in the foreign service, it's unclear whether von Hotzendorf, Franz Joseph or E. Grey was the one training to be a real diplomat. As late as July 10, 1914 The Hansard [the official record for the British House of Commons, House of Lords] has this notable entry:"Sir J. D. REES My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down referred to the desirability of establishing a class for the training of Russian interpreters. I do not know whether I may say so, but I am the only Russian interpreter in the House. My services were paid for, and were never made use of even for five minutes."(45)Was the British Foreign Office in 1914 assuming that continental crises that might possibly spill over onto British soil could be successfully arbitrated without having to condescend to actually master the other Great Power's languages? King Edward VII's extraordinary 1903 diplomatic turnaround of France would have been an equally extraordinary lesson in diplomacy for the Foreign Office's tennis champ. If he had been willing to cross the channel.
- Porthcurno telegraph cable station:Another post-1900 development that had an extremely negative effect in the Foreign Office was the blinding speed of electronic communications. The speed at which continental crises could develop rose expodentially.(46) The important British Porthcurno telegraph cable station, whose first cable from Carcavelos, Portugal was put down in 1870 was by the end of July 1914 could be said to be overloaded. Instantaneous electronic communications, by overloading data collection centers such as Porthcurno, played no small role in confusing the London Foreign Office as to the relative significance of the rapid development of each of the events from June 28 throughout each day of July 1914.
- Initial Austro-Hungarian reaction to the killing of the Archduke and consort:The consequences of the July 1914 Crisis morphing into WWI were so catastrophic they recoiled with the power of a tsunami that slammed into Great Britain, killing 800,000 British soldiers. The origin of such a worldwide catastrophe can hardly be over-interrogated. A WWI analyst, Michael Neiberg, partly quoting Stefan Zweig, suggests the following: #1 Before the crisis of July 1914, all the previous crises had several things in common.
#2 Some of those crises took over a year to resolve.
#3 They were all solved at the last minute before they got too serious.
#4 When the archduke was killed on June 28, 1914, everybody thought if there was going to be a crisis, it was going to be another one of these previous long drawn-out crises.(47)#1, 2 and 3, agreed. As for #4, perhaps everywhere but Austria-Hungary. The killing of the Austrian Archduke, the heir to the throne, thought by some as the peacemaker of Europe, changed everything instantly. In Austria, "The word 'war,' Berchtold [Austrian Foreign Minister] recalled of the Monday [June 29th, the next day] following the assassination, 'was on everyone's lips.'""As if to preempt any possible wavering on the part of the foreign minister, Berchtold was besieged all day [Monday, June 29th] by officials hoping to put steel into him for a clash with Serbia. Opinion was nearly unanimous. Austria's minister president, Count Karl Sturgkh, was all in for war, as were General Alexander Krobatin, the war minister, and Leon von Bilinski, the common imperial finance minister." "Monday evening Conrad [von Hotzendorf] arrived at the Ballplatz [Vienna] to sound out Berchtold...Skipping the usual pleasantries, Conrad proposed straightaway that Austria-Hungary mobilize against Serbia, beginning on Wednesday, 1 July... 'Nothing will have the slightest effect' the chief of staff argued, 'but the use of force.'"(48) "[Tuesday, June 30th] If Austria let this act of ...aggression go unpunished, Berchtold told the emperor [Franz Joseph I], "our southern and eastern neighbors would be so certain of our powerlessness that they would consequently bring their work of destruction [of the empire] to its conclusion."(49)And, as mentioned at the beginning:"I also want to highlight that in Austria-Hungary, there is very much a sense of genuine popular outrage. Although Franz Ferdinand was not a beloved figure with most of the population, his death, and particularily the murder of his wife, was a sincere outrage."
"It was very much like the climate after 9/11 in the United States. It was an act of terror, which the Austrians knew the Serbian government was behind."(50) [italics added]
John Schindler [Professor of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College, formerly NSA]
- Immense Stockpiles of Maxim machine guns and artillery in France, Germany and Russia:
Another massive military change for 1914 was the exponential increase in armament stockpiles in France, Germany, Russia and Britain since 1900. Winston Churchill makes the all-important point that non-stop/24 hours-a-day/we-never-close industrial-military assembly lines were running. While people were sleeping these assembly lines were running at top speed making machine guns & artillery. If war did break out it could be vastly much more destructive than generally assumed.Did Grey visit the British Vickers armament factories and ask to see the massive stockpiles of Maxim machine guns, among with other war factories stockpiling artillery/shells et. al.? Did Grey test-fire the Maxim/Vickers machine guns to experience the phenomenal increase in sheer killing power? For example, July 1, 1916, the first day of the Somme Offensive, was the single worst day in British military history. While Edward Grey was fly-fishing the Itchen Abbas in Hampshire that month, over 55,000 attacking British troops were mowed down en masse, about 40% from German machine guns such as the Maschinengewehr 08. And that's just the first day. By the Somme's end 4 months later there's over 400,000 British casualties, the combined British, French and German losses were over a million casualties - from one battle!
"World War 1 was the proving ground for many-a-new war implement and the Maxim 08 was no exception...the machine gun was utilized to create maximum amounts of carnage and at the same time could deliver such a psychological effect on enemy troops that its appearance in the conflict could never be understated. "At its core, the Maschinengewehr 08 offered up impressive performance statistics of 400 to 450 rounds-per-minute, firing off 7.92x57mm Mauser caliber via a revolutionary short-recoil system that featured an integrated toggle lock... The ammunition was fed via a cloth-type fabric belt issued as a 250-round strip...Maximum range was approximated between 2,000 and 4,000 yards. "In an age prior, where cavalry was king of the battlefield, a horse-led charge could easily rout formations of foot soldiers. World War 1 changed the face of warfare by making such charges near suicide."(56)And:"We were very surprised to see them walking. We had never seen that before. The officers went in front. I noticed one of them walking calmly, carrying a walking stick. When we started firing we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn't have to aim. We just fired into them."
[German soldier in his diary, after the Battle of Loos, September 1915]
That walking to the enemy line sounds like something the British Redcoats tried against the Americans in the 1770's Revolutionary War. There aren't many reports that it worked back then either. The Somme cost Britain 400,000 casualties to gain approximately 1 mile at the narrowest to 9 miles at the widest, an average advance of about 5 miles. Britain lost some 45 dead/injured British soldiers per yard of French soil. That's about 1 dead or wounded British soldier per inch, the worst crusade against the Maxim machine gun ever.
______________________________________________________ Artillery the big killer in World War I:
The great killer of the First World War was artillery, and according to one source accounting for up to 70% of the casualties. Did Grey ask for live demonstations of the latest British artillery, using realistic heavy targets to shell?
For example, reportedly almost 30% of the British artillery shells fired at the Battle of the Somme were duds. Couldn't the tennis champ, if he wasn't too busy fly-fishing and chasing skirts(57), have inquired about this long before? Who was responsible for seeing to it the British artillery shells were built to specifications?
If you test-fire 100 artillery shells, and 20 or 30 are duds, how would that not be a problem, especially when a percent of the duds detonated prematurely? July 1916 was 2 years into the war. How were these dud shells assembled without inspection and delivered to the Front? It was to a great extent due to the the ineffectiveness of British artillery at the Somme that British soldiers strolling across no-man's land, to their more or less complete surprise, were mowed down by largely intact, lethal German Maxim machine gun crews.
Did the tennis champ at least try and wrap his mind around the scale of destructiveness then being accumulated by the Great Powers so he would have an idea of the consequences should a Great Power Crisis break out? Just like with women, not everything can be learned from fishing along the Itchen Abbas, making clever speeches in the House of Commons that offend nobody and listening to birds sing. In his address to the Harvard Union in 1919 Grey says he takes pleasure in reading books. As British Foreign Secretary, had Grey taught himself about the American Civil War experience in 1861-65 and the wholesale slaughter enabled by the just-invented Gatling Gun?
What was Grey's knowledge of trench warfare? The US Civil War went for 4 long years in no small part due to trench warfare. The Siege of Petersburg lasted from June 9, 1864, to March 25, 1865, over 9 months long. That single American Civil War battle alone could have smashed outdated assumptions colonial-minded gov't officials had about a "Home by Xmas" war. The tennis champ had decades to educate himself about trench warfare before July 1914.
And speaking about ruining obsolete assumptions before too many thousands of dead British soldiers start to clog the cemeteries:This was at the exact same time Whitehall was stockpiling Maxim-Vickers machine guns and millions of artillery shells.
"A second illusion of those who marched proudly into battle in 1914 was that they would be shooting at the enemy, but that he would not be shooting back, or at least not effectively. How else to explain that most soldiers on both sides had no metal helmets?"(58)
- Henry Ford and his Hyland Park Assembly-Line Plant, April 1913:And back across the Atlantic Henry Ford and his team at Highland Park (500 separate departments) invented the first assembly line in April, 1913, drastically compressing the time required to put a car together. [7 years later "..the plant turned out a car every minute, and one out of every two automobiles in the world was a Model T."(59)] Ford: "The idea came in a general way from the overhead trolley that the Chicago packers use in dressing beef."(60) The tennis champ probably could have learned about Ford's 1913 revolutionary assembly-line by reading the New York Times, traveled to America in 5 days(61) and met Henry Ford. He could have gotten himself up to speed as to Ford's unrivaled assembly-line method, especially if adapted to turning out machine guns, artillery etc. in a European war.
- 11:30 AM June 28, 1914 - the Crisis takes off:That is, if Grey could have seen the dark war clouds already over Europe. What July 1914 proves beyond all shadow of a doubt is that somebody in a very high gov't place - in Britain and/or in Europe - was insufficiently aware of the staggering military risk then in place. When the crisis took off on Sunday morning, June 28th, Grey's profound isolation from the continent, especially regarding Austria-Hungary and Russia, saw to it that he couldn't make even the slightest original moves to meet it. The Archduke was dead by 11:30AM. Just after 12 noon Sunday the Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf was alerted.
In Austria the reaction was intense, as quoted above. Yet for 3.5 straight weeks the tennis champ's dilemma was analogous to those Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator movies, where an immobilized terminator looks down and to his astonishment sees critical pieces of his anatomy frozen in liquid nitrogen or missing, making all forward motion impossible.
Grey had fashioned himself as a kind of On-Walden-Pond British Thoreau, the original Birdman of Whitehall who coincidentally just happened to find himself at the head of the British Foreign Office in 1914, even though he had no special training for the position. On June 28th the bill arrived. Those paying attention across the channel could see immediately the June 28th crisis was unlike previous ones. Not so Grey.
"The Foreign Secretary reproached himself subsequently for not having brought direct pressure to bear on the Austrian government. He had stuck instead to the conventional method of using diplomatic channels with the government in Berlin in the hope that the German government would then influence policy discussions in Vienna."(62)
It's interesting that HM Queen Victoria and King Edward VII both visited Germany many times on diplomatic missions. There was no "conventional method of using diplomatic channels with the government in Berlin." This was invented out of whole cloth to make it seem that Grey was not the laziest, most unmotivated Foreign Secretary in the history of England.
Although Aristotle said that the cook is not the best judge of a meal, London advertises itself as a world center of finance and business. Yet Britain's seat of government, Whitehall, had as foreign secretary somebody who didn't like foreign countries and didn't want to learn any foreign languages. Considering the wholesale slaughter of nearly 1 million British people in WWI, how businesslike was that? No requirement to learn even basic French, German or Russian?
Wasn't the first rule of government to protect it's people? It's unimaginable. The country deGaulle christened a nation of shopkeepers would in 5 weeks do an about face and set fire to the country's treasury to pay for a war across the channel. And in no small degree that was because in July 1914 Whitehall had a Foreign Office that, apart from the Ulster Crisis, was acting like a Potemkin Village.The tennis champ evidently never saw the scale of the danger coming. The Archduke was a firm bulwark in preventing Austria-Hungarian aggression against Serbia. Grey really should have instantly realized that the June 28th death of the Archduke and the sudden rise of the Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf presented a serious danger to stability on the Continent, given Russia's known interest in protecting Serbia. If Russia decided to protect Serbia from Austrian military aggression by pre-mobilizing the Russian Steamroller, what then was Germany supposed to do? Just sit there and wait for a potentially overwhelming Cossack onslaught? Hope for a partial Russian mobilization? Grey was too idealistic about Germany's position vis a vis Russia. Hotzendorf had advocated preventative war against Serbia many, many times from 1912-1914. Couldn't Grey have learned that from The London Times? Wasn't the Times delivered daily to the Foreign Office? Didn't Britain have an ambassador to Austria-Hungary? This was not isotope-dilution mass-spectrometric analysis of Greenland pre-Cambrian ice-sheet cores for lead aerosols or peer-reviewing The Journal of the American Chemical Society. Without the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in position to restrain Hotzendorf, just what the hell else was Grey and Whitehall thinking could have happened?
"...(Franz Josef I) expected not to live much longer [and] stood firmly against the 'war party' in Vienna, believing that launching a war against Serbia would be madness. Had Princip not gotten his second chance on 28 June 1914 after the initial bombing attempt failed, the Archduke would have cursed Serbia and Serbs once he had learned details of the plot.
"But then he already despised Serbs, which had not prevented him from developing an almost religious aversion to the idea of war with Serbia. It is said that the Austrian chief of army staff, Conrad von Hoetzendorff, had advocated going to war with Serbia some 25 times in 1913 alone -- but was blocked every single time by Franz Ferdinand. Had the Archduke lived, he would almost certainly have blocked Conrad again."(63)
- British Reaction Constrained:Britain, to protect itself from Germany, had in 1907 made an entente with Russia even while knowing that Russia had interests in the Balkans, and in protecting Serbia. So when the Archduke was killed in Sarajevo, Britain's alliance with Russia constrained it from reacting properly. This was to a great degree concealed by intense confusion and uncertainty surrounding Britain's July 1914 serious domestic problems [detailed below].
Much has been made of Germany's alliance with Austria-Hungary. But neither Germany nor Austria-Hungary were involved in plotting and carrying out a regicide. Serbia was, and it's protector was Russia.
In any major conflict between Austria-Hungary and Russia, Britain would sooner or later have to take Russia's side.
"The argument that there is no written bond binding us to France is strictly correct. There is no contractual obligation. But the Entente has been made, strengthened, put to the test and celebrated in a manner justifying the belief that a moral bond was being forged.
The whole policy of the Entente can have no meaning if it does not signify that in a just quarrel England would stand by her friends.This honourable expectation has been raised. We cannot repudiate it without exposing our good name to grave criticism."[italics added]
Sir Eyre Crowe to Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, July 31, 1914(63a)
Since in addition to an Entente with France, Britain also had an entente with Russia, this meant that on the morning of June 28, 1914, the day of the regicide in Sarajevo, Britain unwittingly found itself more or less on the side of Serbia:
"Now, at first, it seemed that the assassination was not going to lead to war because, in Britain, nothing happened for a month, and nothing seemed to happen publicly at all."
The regicide was in Vienna. There was no regicide in London. Mr. Bogdanor seems to confuse events on the continet with non-events in Britain. Britain's "Splendid Isolation" was working, only this time in reverse, effectively sealing Britain off from significant events on the Continent. This is the source of Mr. Bogdanor claim that "nothing seemed to happen..."
Britain, because of it's fear of rapidly rising German commercial, industrial and military prowess, and it's 1907 decision to involve itself with Russia, was unable to react properly to Vienna's outrage over the regicide. The entente between Britain and Russia had inadvertently created, on June 28, 1914, a stupendous liability. Grave misunderstandings across Europe grew by the hour.
- Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia:The ultimatum that Austria-Hungary presented to Serbia on 23 July 1914 was, in effect, an announcement of a preventative war, exactly what the tireless von Hotzendorf, Sisyphus incarnate, had been pushing, pushing for all along. Foreign Secretary Grey himself said the Austrian ultimatum was "The most formidable document I have ever seen addressed by one state to another that was independent."(63b) The British National Archives said: "This document, perhaps more than any other, set Europe on course for war in 1914." It was crafted so as to be unacceptable and thus give Hotzendorf exactly the preventative war against Serbia he had waited years to commence. "It laid out a series of Austrian demands of Serbia, and gave them only 48 hours to respond."(64) 48 hours to reply? It was a de facto announcement of a preventative war against Serbia. This possibility leads straight to an important point: the British Foreign Office’s actual window of opportunity for an offer to arbitrate the crisis was more likely compressed down from June 28 until July 23rd at 6pm.
- The Single Greatest Danger Facing 1914-Europe/Britain:The single greatest danger then facing Europe/Britain was a military action-reaction cycle. An action reaction cycle is when one side mobilizes its military and as a defensive response the other side mobilizes it's military. This may force the other side into ratcheting up more military maneuvers, and vice versa, and so on.
Whether the actual intent of these maneuvers was initially offensive or defensive can be highly ambiguous. This action-reaction cycle, and the difficulty of determining the actual intent of each sides' successive military mobilizations, has been a permanent problem since the invention of nation-states and standing-armies in close proximity.
In 1914 all the governments of Europe/Britain pretended the danger of getting caught in an action-reaction cycle that could end up in a continental war did not exist. But it did. When the June 28th regicide sparked an political/military action-reaction cycle that began to drag all the Great Powers in, the situation was exactly as the US Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornberg described the severe 5-day atomic-reactor Loss-of-Coolant-Accident at his state's Three Mile Island:
"...Because any over-reaction, or counter-productive reaction has enormous consequences. This is a totally unique event..."(64a)
- Ulster Crisis/Civil War versus risk of Austria-Serbia crisis sliding out of control:The capital blunder of the tennis champ (and all his advisors) was that he sat around in London working on the Irish situation and a thousand commercial opportunities - and playing in the sprawling British countryside - from June 28th until after the July 23rd 6:PM Austrian ultimatum (the announcement of a preventative war against Serbia) before suggesting a meeting of the Great Powers. Ireland is west of Britain, which, if somebody at Whitehall on June 28th could find a map, would have shown that Edward Grey, the British Prime Minister HH Asquith, King George V, the Daily Mail Publisher Northcliffe and most of Whitehall were staring fixedly in exactly the wrong direction.
It is true that Ulster (in Northern Ireland) had mounted a serious challenge to British "Home Rule." However, in the opposite direction, across the English Channel, the tectonic plates of Austria-Hungary/Serbia/Russia were already pressing against each other. In July 1914 London was headed straight into two separate wars on two opposite fronts, but - unlike the Germans - they didn't know it or denied the possibility. This British maneuver proved to be a capital blunder that within several decades would not only cost it the empire but security-wise reduce the island kingdom to a defacto vassal state.Ulster was a very serious problem. But apparently unbeknownst to Grey, Asquith et. al, of the two serious political problems Britain faced from June 28th onwards, it was the tiny one."Solomon hath pronounced, that in counsel is stability. Things will have their first, or second agitation: if they be not tossed upon the arguments of counsel, they will be tossed upon the waves of fortune; and be full of inconstancy, doing and undoing, like the reeling of a drunken man."
Francis Bacon, The Essays
If across the channel Russia backed Serbia, and Germany backed Austria-Hungary, then France and even Britain could get dragged in. Then Britain would have a 100,000X bigger problem than tiny Ulster:
"In 1914 Germany was recognised as having the most efficient army in the world...Within a week of mobilization some 3.8 million men were under arms."(65)Seriously, how concerned should Whitehall have been about Irish artillery?The timing of the Ulster Crisis was uncanny, almost as if it was a elaborate and well-armed marionette show designed to keep Grey, Asquith, King George V and nearly everybody else in Whitehall in disbelief and in check, far away from the 300-foot tall tsunami building up across the channel. Which, whatever it was, it certainly did:
"The Krupp family was a German dynasty of industrialists. The Krupps started the first major steel-works in Germany in 1811, and their enterprise expanded rapidly to become one of the world's largest companies and Germany's leading supplier of armaments.
"Acceptance of the steel cannon was initially hesitant, and only after the astounding performance of his guns in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) did the rapid boost in gun sales begin.
"The field gun 'Big Bertha,' introduced in 1909, played a vital role in the German advance in 1914 and at Verdun in 1916. In 1918 a new cannon, the 'Paris Gun,' shelled Paris from a 75 mile distance."(66)"With the meeting of an Ulster Provisional Government in Belfast on July 10th, 1914, the armed defiance of a separatist Ulster was now the greatest political and constitutional crisis any British government had faced for more than 200 years. Ulster militarisation – with its drilling, public reviews and threats of violent resistance – was firmly in the driving seat of democratic politics, and it was seen to be working."(67)Whitehall was likely focusing almost exclusively on the Ulster Crisis because it was right next door. Ireland was in the UK. Logistically, Ulster was a piece of cake for the British military. And in the opposite direction, a long, long way away, was Sarajevo, a foreign city in a foreign country.
"Winston Churchill, then a member of Asquith's government as First Lord of the Admiralty, came to Belfast in February 1912 to speak in favour of Home Rule. If Churchill was in any doubt as to the strength of unionist opposition to the proposal, he was given a pointed demonstration as a jeering crowd attempted to overturn his car as it left his hotel."In January 1913, Carson and Craig [two Irish leaders] demonstrated that the pledge to use 'all means that may be found necessary' was not mere wordplay. They formally established the Ulster Volunteer Force, a militia made up of 100,000 men who had signed the Covenant months earlier. "Fred Crawford, a man so committed to the cause he is said to have signed the Ulster Covenant in his own blood, masterminded the smuggling of 25,000 rifles and three million rounds of ammunition from Hamburg in April 1914. The Irish Volunteers followed suit three months later, landing 1,000 rifles of their own into Dublin in broad daylight. "Asquith reacted furiously to the militarization of the Unionist cause, ordering the Royal Navy to patrol the coasts of Antrim and Down in order to prevent further UVF arms hauls. Even King George V got involved, inviting Carson and Redmond to what might today be known as 'all-party talks' at Buckingham Palace. The talks failed. With no solution in sight, the United Kingdom was on the brink of civil war."(68) "In welcoming the various parties to the palace, the King said he had called the conference because of the gravity of the situation and because of his ‘deep misgivings’ of what was unfolding...His Highness continued: ‘We have in the past endeavoured to act as a civilising example to the world, and to me it is unthinkable, and it must be to you, that we should be brought to the brink of fratricidal strife upon issues apparently so capable of adjustment as those you are now asked to consider, if handled in a spirit of generous compromise.’ By the end of the second day, it was apparent that no party was willing to cede ground and, instead, there was a virtual breakdown...A deepening feeling of pessimism settled on the conference and it broke up just after noon without agreement being reached."(69)
Without a motivated Foreign Secretary, Ulster was easier and much more convenient to face than the Continent's post-June 28th Austria/Serbia/Russian/German political crisis rapidly gaining strength behind them across the channel. Britain was used to local disputes, it was a large part of their history, they felt comfortable facing them, so naturally they turned their attention to Ulster.