Today, the Kaiser orders full mobilization and declares war on Russia; the first hostile acts of the war take place on the Polish frontier. Within hours, France orders its military to mobilize for war, and Britain does the same for their fleet. But London will prove slower to the line than its allies just as its diplomats have been slowest to comprehend the looming crisis. The nation is still pursuing a policy of “splendid isolation” apart from mainland Europe: since the Napoleonic wars, Britain has always used its own power to balance the continental powers — so that none can dominate the others and thereby threaten Britain’s commercial and financial empire.
Adding to prewar tensions, the Imperial German Navy has been building a High Seas Fleet which now boasts three battleship squadrons. The Kaiser has only recently returned from the very last peacetime cruise this navy will ever undertake, their drills cut short by the news of Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia. Britain sees his armada as a direct challenge to their command of the world’s oceans; the Kaiser sees it as appropriate to his nation’s own maritime interests and its few overseas possessions, but historians will largely agree that the High Seas Fleet was an unnecessary monument to Wilhelm’s ego. Ironically, both fleets begin the war by taking to harbor rather than seeking each other out for battle — and with very few exceptions, that is how they will both spend the entire war.
As ships and armies assemble, posters go up everywhere ordering men to report to their local depots for duty. Empty trains line up on the rails outside Paris to transport men to assembly areas near the frontier. Decades of European peace has masked the effects of mass-conscription on the societies which now parade into holocaust; the peoples of Europe are not tricked into war by evil men, but gaily sing, marching in lockstep towards annihilation, having mostly never known war in their lives. In Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg, enthusiastic crowds gather to share in a collective celebration of martial glory. Incredibly, it will take years — and millions of deaths — for this war to become unpopular.