Sweat beading down from atop my forehead finds a path into my eyes, stinging my vision just as I dismount my black Arabian stallion.
I feel alive!
Across my back, under my arms, and between my legs, a stream of salty water pours forth, honoring a vigorous July morning ride.
Nothing feels better than pushing my steed and myself to the limit!
I woke this morning in good spirits despite Franz-Joseph’s ultimatum.
Why did he have to be so harsh? No one wants a European war!
I pause for a moment before entering the hall of Potsdamplaz.
Once I go in there, the world will come back.
My courtier of servants and advisers, always ready to break my sense of good feeling with the affairs of state, stand impatiently behind that door, anticipating my return.
With a false sense of self-confidence and assuredness, I thunder into the hall, looking left and right at the gaggle of staff breathless for my every word.
“Any news?” I ask, not really wanting an affirmative reply.
“Yes, Kaiser, there is news of the Serbian reply to Austria-Hungary’s (A_H) ultimatum,” my foreign affairs adviser calls out from the front of the pack as he hands me a crisp sheet of finely typed letterhead.
With my left hand, I take the paper, slapping the back of his head with my right.
We could all use a good laugh!
Laughing vigorously, I look around the room. Everyone offers a nervous laugh, attempting not to look at the embarrassed man who handed me the note.
“I’ll look at this in my office. Bring me eggs,” I call out while moving through the mass of people to my private study.
Entering my office, I am delighted to see that everything is in its place.
The servants are finally coming around. Show and presentation mean as much as substance.
I look down at the piece of paper before taking a seat behind my mahogany desk. Placing the crisp sheet upon the black blotter, I can’t help but be caught for a moment by the contrast between the darkness of the blotter and the bright paper upon which is written the Serbian reply to Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum. Then, I begin reading:
(Preamble) ...[Serbia] cannot be held responsible for manifestations of a private character, such as articles in the press and the peaceable work of societies ... [The Serbian government] have been pained and surprised at the statements, according to which, members of the Kingdom of Serbia are supposed to have participated in the preparations of the crime...
[However, Serbia is] prepared to hand over for trial any Serbian subject. . .of whose complicity in the crime of Sarajevo proofs are forthcoming [as well as officially condemn all propaganda against A-H].
● [Serbia will] introduce ... a provision into the press law providing for the most severe punishment of incitement to hatred and contempt of the [A-H] Monarchy...
● [The Serbian government] possesses no proof ... that the Narodna Odbrana (Black Hand) and other similar societies have committed up to the present any criminal act of this nature ... Nevertheless, [Serbia] will ... dissolve the Narodna Obrana and every other society which...
● [Serbia will] eliminate without delay from public instruction ... everything that serves or might serve to foment the propaganda against [A-H], whenever [Austria] furnish them with facts and proofs...
● [Serbia] also agrees to remove from the military service all such persons as the judicial inquiry may have proved to be guilty of acts directed against the integrity of the territory of [A-H], and they expect [Austria] to communicate ... the names and acts of these officers for the purpose of the proceedings which are to be taken against them.
● [The Serbian government does] not clearly grasp the meaning or the scope of the demand ... that Serbia shall undertake to accept the collaboration of the representatives of [A-H], but they declare that they will admit such collaboration as agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure, and with good neighborly relations.
● ...As regards the participation in this inquiry [which Serbia intends to hold] of Austro-Hungarian agents... [Serbia] cannot accept such an arrangement, as it would be a violation of the Constitution...
● [States it has not yet been possible to arrest one of the persons named; request proofs of guilt from Austria]
● [agrees to reinforce measures against illegal trafficking of arms and explosives across the frontier with Bosnia-Herzegovina]
● [offers explanations of anti-Austrian comments by Serb officials if Austria sends examples of their actually having been made]
● [Serbia will duly notify the measures taken, but if Austria is not satisfied with the reply] the Serbian government. . . is ready. . . to accept a specific understanding, either by referring this question to the decision of the International Tribunal of The Hague [i.e., the World Court], or to the Great Powers...
This is fantastic! Nine of the 11 demands are now met!
Picking up a pen in my right hand, I place a few notes at the top of the text:
A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected. A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade. On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilization.
Kaiser Wilhelm II
German Kaiser Wilhelm II was so satisfied with Serbia’s reply to Austria that he immediately wrote to his foreign minister, Gottlieb von Jagow stating, “Austria-Hungary should use the reply as a basis for negotiation on the outstanding points. Perhaps Belgrade will need to be occupied temporarily (largely to give the Austro-Hungarian army an outing) but there is clearly no need for war.” Seeing no reason for haste, the Kaiser sends his message by courier rather than by telegram or telephone.
Unknown to the Kaiser, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the 83-year-old Franz Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia. As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilization to attack Austria in defense of Serbia. An hour after the Kaiser read the Serbian reply; Austria declared war on Serbia, starting World War I.