‘Britain’s duty is to strive for peace and . . . to preserve her own neutrality’
A day after Austria’s declaration of war, the Derby Daily Telegraph accepted that conflict in Europe was inevitable but it was confident that ‘a comparatively small quarrel’ should not be turned ‘into one of unprecedented dimensions’
Prince Albert of Britain sharing a carriage with Alexander, Crown Prince of Serbia, in London in 1916. Two years earlier Serbia’s dispute with Austria over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo led to the outbreak of the first World War. Photograph: PA Wire
The hopes of a peaceful settlement of the dispute between Austria and Servia, which many optimists entertained at the commencement of the week, were rudely dispelled by an official declaration of war issued at Vienna on Tuesday. The Austrian Government, it is explained, regards the reply of Servia to its ultimatum as “unsatisfactory”.
Now, although Servia is not held in high esteem by the British people, there is a consensus of opinion that she displayed commendable restraint in dealing with the arbitrary – we almost said humiliating – demands of her powerful neighbour, and it was because of this unexpected moderation and sagacity that peace was hoped for.
To speak bluntly, Austria did not want Servia to behave discreetly. The provocation [Austria] has received from King Peter’s government has been great, and Servian complicity in the assassination of the late Archduke Ferdinand and his consort has evidently caused the wave of resentment to break down considerations of equity which, under normal conditions, might have prevailed.
Servia is paying the penalty which is incurred by notorious plotters. When Austria accused responsible Servians of withholding knowledge of the assassinations at Sarajevo, men of all nations recalled the appalling tragedy [the 1903 assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga] at Belgrade – a crime of the blackest and most dastardly character, but one virtually winked at by the Karageorgevitch family [which succeeded to the Serbian throne].
Could it have been arranged to administer exemplary punishment to everybody implicated in the Bosnian atrocity, civilised nations would have endorsed Austria’s policy to the full. But it is clear that so rational a scheme for chastising evil-doers has never commended itself to the advisers of the aged Francis Joseph.
Even now, we are met with assurances that Austria has no aggressive aims, and, as a shrewd English writer points out, she ought, if she is not pursuing a policy of grab, to be content with humiliating her enemy by occupying Belgrade. But against this we must place the alarming statements that Russia will resent occupation, and that Germany will not tolerate any interference on the part of the Northern Power. Truly, the outlook is gloomy in the extreme, and calculated to awaken a deep sense of anxiety.
The thought which must be uppermost in every British mind is – Will our government avoid entanglement in the dispute? For our own parts we hold that there should be no serious difficulty in preserving a neutral attitude,
A fire-eating English journal reminds us that France and Russia are our partners in the Triple Entente. But that does not justify the assumption that Great Britain will throw her influence into the scale on behalf of the Power which can, if she displays prudence, and a sincere desire for peace, prevent a European war.
British ministers are not likely to support a Cabinet which wantonly converts a comparatively small quarrel into one of unprecedented dimensions. Britain’s duty is to strive for peace and, if her efforts in this connection are unavailing, to preserve her own neutrality.
Derby Daily Telegraph
July 29th, 1914