First, the decision-making processes of the upper and ruling classes that led to the war and also perpetuated its disastrous course. These often concentrate upon the blindness and illogicality of their policies. Second, they concentrate upon the experiences of the soldiers, powerless and yet acutely aware of what the reality of the war entails. A third group, those ordinary citizens who were left at home, are often forgotten within the dichotomy between the blind leaders and tortured soldiers.
The book begins with a sentence that places the supposed catalyst for the beginning of World War I, the assassination of the archduke Francis Ferdinand, in the most modern of contexts. Chickering describes it as an "act of state-sponsored terrorism"1 and yet places it within the context of both politicians/ruling classes and ordinary people. Thus he states that "the onset of warm weather signaled travel for those who could afford it; and for those who could not, it brought less idle adjustments in the annual rhythms of life in town and countryside."2 Thus Chickering shows that while the assassination had an immediate headline-making effect, people soon returned to their normal preoccupations. The effects lingered among the ruling classes however, who were influenced by a number of contrasting factors. First, the Chancellor was worried about the preservation of the Austrian monarchy which, as Chickering suggests, "he believed, did justify the risk of a European war."3
In contrast, the head of the German armed forces, Helmuth von Moltke, foresaw that the military reforms being undertaken in France and Russia meant that they would inevitably become allies, probably as soon as 1917. This would "render the alliance of these two countries invincible thereafter"4, thus meaning that a war sooner than later would be better. All sides of the ruling classes were also worried about the growth of Socialism in Germany, which is described by Chickering as "the world's most formidable Socialist Party"5. The quick and easy victory that was supposedly assured for Germany would arouse patriotic sentiments that would hopefully rally the established order and decrease the influence of the Socialists.
Thus Chickering paints a novel view of Germany in the weeks leading up to the war. It was not, according to this author, greatly enthusiastic for war and determined to start one whatever the costs. Rather, some within the ruling class felt that it was necessary to preserve the monarchy; others felt it was an inevitable war that should be fought as soon as possible to ensure German victory; still others felt that the war might enable the threat of Socialism to be countered. Chickering paints a mainly sober portrait of a country destined for war through forces within and outside itself rather than one that was consciously seeking war.
Chickering argues that it was more miscalculation than deliberation that caused the conflict to expand so rapidly. Thus the German decision to attack Serbia "was tempered only in the hope that the military conflict could be localized between the two immediate antagonists."6 Considering the series of interlocking alliances that would bring about a domino effect creating the much larger war, this belief seems somewhat