Just another GR refugee. Other than that, I had a stroke in 2004, and read almost anything I can get my hands on, though I have a particular weakness for history, mystery, and historical fiction.
July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 is an ambitious book, and makes an interesting read - for those of us who are seriously into either World War I or diplomatic history. (I like both, as it happens.)
Thomas Otte tells us the story of that summer, starting with assassination-as-farce (both the officials arranging the visit of the archduke to Sarajevo, and the assassins, were basically incompetent - the assassins were armed with, among other things, defective suicide pills), and then proceeding to a tale of diplomacy-as-farce, which took up the rest of the summer.
At Versailles in 1919, Germany was forced to take full guilt for starting the war in the first place. It's clear here that Germany's deeds, non-deeds, and mistakes were part of the cause (Kaiser Wilhelm II gave a "blank cheque" to Austria-Hungary; and then his foreign minister independently gave a second one!), but far more blame lies in Vienna than Berlin.
Austria-Hungary's emperor, politicians, diplomats, and generals all suffered from tunnel-blindness: they were obsessed with slapping down Serbia, thus reinforcing their claim to be a Great Power. They knew Russia could not possibly let them get away with it this time, but after Germany's guarantee, they didn't care if they set off a larger European conflict. One of their chief diplomats more or less said "What could possibly go wrong?" (I envisioned Austria-Hungary's officials as the crew of Top Gear at that point.)
But Germany was also to blame: the guarantee of Austria, whatever the latter wanted to do, was allowing the tail to wag the dog of that alliance. Also, they were quite confident of two things diplomatically: Russian diplomacy was all bluff, and Britain would remain neutral in all circumstances.
They were understandably confused about Russia, as Russian diplomacy was confused itself. They, as well, had received a "blank check": from France's ambassador. Who had "gone native," reassured Russia that France was with her in any case at all, and then proceeded to mislead his own government via selective reporting, late reporting, or outright lies. (He was not the only important diplomat in 1914 who had "gone native": Germany's ambassador to Austria had as well.) They also chose to use deterrence as a form of diplomacy, and failed miserably at it, partly because it proved that "partial mobilization" was impossible due to the state of the Russian railways, and also because the plan to keep full mobilization a state secret was also impossible (Surely no one will notice there are bright red bulletins in every town in Russia! Uh, no.). This time the Russians were not bluffing - but there was little way for the other powers to know it until it was too late.
Meanwhile, Germany mistakenly believed that their own ambassador to Britain had "gone native," and so didn't believe anything he told them, which was unfortunate. Britain's foreign minister, Sir Edward Grey, had made it quite clear to the German ambassador that while Britain had no alliance with France or Russia (an entente is a slippery thing, and not an alliance), that A. the violation of Belgian neutrality, or B. an attack by Germany on the French channel ports (defenseless due to a treaty Britain had made with France a few years previously), would guarantee that Britain could not remain neutral. Berlin chose not to believe that Britain would respect "a scrap of paper" signed in 1839.
So Vienna was most to blame, for an incredible insouciant pig-headedness, but Berlin (for failing to restrain her ally, and wishful thinking), St. Petersburg (general incompetence and confusion), and Paris (failing to restrain Russia) were all at least partly to blame.
Seemingly the only sane diplomats were in London, where the British foreign minister, and the German and French ambassadors, were trying to prevent a general European war, but in the face of such generalized incompetence elsewhere in Europe, it is no surprise that they failed.
My ARC courtesy of Cambridge University Press and NetGalley - much thanks!