Primary Documents - French Prime Minister's Statement, 4 August 1914

French Prime Minister Rene Viviani Reproduced below is the text of the official statement issued by the French Prime Minister Rene Viviani on 4 August 1914.

In it he recounts the countdown to war, drawing particular attention to Germany's apparent determination to engineer conflict from the outset.

Viviani went on to praise those nations which had either declared neutrality, i.e. Italy, or had else indicated support for France, including Russia and Britain.

He concluded by declaring that France would defend her honour and liberty against German aggression.

Official Statement of Prime Minister Rene Viviani

August 4, 1914

The German Ambassador yesterday left Paris after notifying us of the existence of a state of war.

The Government owe to Parliament a true account of the events which, in less than ten days, have unloosed a European war and compelled France, peaceful and valiant, to defend her frontier against an attack, the hateful injustice of which is emphasized by its calculated unexpectedness.

This attack, which has no excuse, and which began before we were notified of any declaration of war, is the last act of a plan, whose origin and object I propose to declare before our own Democracy and before the opinion of the civilized world.

As a consequence of the abominable crime which cost the Austro-Hungarian Heir-Apparent and the Duchess of Hohenburg their lives, difficulties arose between the Cabinets of Vienna and Belgrade.

The majority of the Powers were only semi-officially informed of these difficulties up till Friday, July 24th, the date on which the Austro-Hungarian Ambassadors communicated to them a circular which the press has published.

The object of this circular was to explain and justify an ultimatum delivered the evening before to Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade.

This ultimatum, in alleging the complicity of numerous Serbian subjects and associations in the Serajevo crime, hinted that the official Serbian authorities themselves were no strangers to it.  It demanded a reply from Serbia by 6 o'clock on the evening of Saturday, July 25th.

The Austrian demands, or at any rate many of them, without doubt struck a blow at the rights of a sovereign State.  Notwithstanding their excessive character, Serbia, on July 25th, declared that she submitted to them almost without reserve.

This submission, which constituted a success for Austria-Hungary, a guarantee for the peace of Europe, was not unconnected with the advice tendered to Belgrade from the first moment by France, Russia and Great Britain.

The value of this advice was all the greater since the Austro-Hungarian demands had been concealed from the Chanceries of the Triple Entente, to whom in the three preceding weeks the Austro-Hungarian Government had on several occasions given an assurance that their claims would be extremely moderate.

It was, therefore, with natural astonishment that the Cabinets of Paris, St. Petersburg and London learned on July 26th that the Austrian Minister at Belgrade, after a few minutes' examination, declared that the Serbian reply was unacceptable, and broke off diplomatic relations.

This astonishment was increased by the fact that on Friday, the 24th, the German Ambassador came and read to the French Minister for Foreign Affairs a note verbale asserting that the Austro-Serbian dispute must remain localized, without intervention by the great Powers, or otherwise "incalculable consequences" were to be feared.  A similar demarche was made on Saturday, the 25th, at London and at St. Petersburg.

Need I, gentlemen, point out to you the contrast between the threatening expressions used by the German Ambassador at Paris and the conciliatory sentiments which the Powers of the Triple Entente had just manifested by the advice which they gave to Serbia to submit?

Nevertheless, in spite of the extraordinary character of the German demarche, we immediately, in agreement with our Allies and our friends, took a conciliatory course and invited Germany to join in it.

We have had from the first moment regretfully to recognize that our intentions and our efforts met with no response at Berlin.

Not only did Germany appear wholly unwilling to give to Austria-Hungary the friendly advice which her position gave her the right to offer, but from this moment and still more in the following clays, she seemed to intervene between the Cabinet at Vienna and the compromises suggested by the other Powers.

On Tuesday, July 28th, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  This declaration of war, with its aggravation of the state of affairs brought about by the rupture of diplomatic relations three days before, gave ground for believing that there was a deliberate desire for war, and a systematic program for the enslavement of Serbia.

Thus there was now involved in the dispute not only the independence of a brave people, but the balance of power in the Balkan, embodied in the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, and consecrated by the moral support of all the great Powers.

However, at the suggestion of the British Government with its constant and firm attachment to the maintenance of the peace of Europe, the negotiations were continued, or, to speak more accurately, the Powers of the Triple Entente tried to continue them.

From this common desire sprang the proposal for action by the four Powers, England, France, Germany and Italy, which was intended, by assuring to Austria all legitimate satisfaction, to bring about an equitable adjustment of the dispute.

On Wednesday, the 29th, the Russian Government, noting the persistent failure of these efforts and faced by the Austrian mobilization and declaration of war, fearing the military destruction of Serbia, decided as a precautionary measure to mobilize the troops of four military districts, that is to say, the formations echeloned along the Austro-Hungarian frontier exclusively.

In taking this step, the Russian Government were careful to inform the German Government that their measures, restricted as they were and without any offensive character towards Austria, were not in any degree directed against Germany.

In a conversation with the Russian Ambassador at Berlin, the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs acknowledged this without demur.

On the other hand, all the efforts made by Great Britain with the adherence of Russia and the support of France, to bring Austria and Serbia into touch under the moral patronage of Europe, were encountered at Berlin with a predetermined negative of which the diplomatic dispatches afford the clearest proof.

This was a disquieting situation which made it probable that there existed at Berlin intentions which had not been disclosed.  Some hours afterwards this alarming suspicion was destined to become a certainty.

In fact, Germany's negative attitude gave place thirty-six hours later to positive steps which were truly alarming.  On July 31st, Germany, by proclaiming "a state of danger of war, cut the communications between herself and the rest of Europe, and obtained for herself complete freedom to pursue against France in absolute secrecy military preparations which, as you have seen, nothing could justify.

Already for some days, and in circumstances difficult to explain, Germany had prepared for the transition of her army from a peace footing to a war footing.

From the morning of July 25th, that is to say, even before the expiration of the time limit given to Serbia by Austria, she had confined to barracks the garrisons of Alsace-Lorraine.  The same day she had placed the frontier works in a complete state of defence.

On the 26th, she had indicated to the railways the measures preparatory for concentration.  On the 27th, she had completed requisitions and placed her covering troops in position.

On the 28th, the summons of individual reservists had begun and units which were distant from the frontier had been brought up to it.

Could all these measures, pursued with implacable method, leave us in doubt of Germany's intentions?

Such was the situation when, on the evening of July 31st, the German Government, which since the 24th had not participated by any active step in the conciliatory efforts of the Triple Entente, addressed an ultimatum to the Russian Government under the pretext that Russia had ordered a general mobilization of her armies, and demanded that this mobilization should be stopped within twelve hours.

This demand, which was all the more insulting in form because a few hours earlier the Emperor Nicholas II, with a movement at once confiding and spontaneous, had asked the German Emperor for his mediation, was put forward at a moment when, on the request of England and with the knowledge of Germany, the Russian Government was accepting a formula of such a nature as to lay the foundation for a friendly settlement of the Austro-Serbian dispute and of the Austro-Russian difficulties by the simultaneous arrest of military operations and of military preparations.

The same day this unfriendly demarche towards Russia was supplemented by acts which were frankly hostile towards France; the rupture of communications by road, railway, telegraph and telephone, the seizure of French locomotives on their arrival at the frontier, the placing of machine guns in the middle of the permanent way which had been cut, and the concentration of troops on this frontier.

From this moment we were no longer justified in believing in the sincerity of the pacific declaration which the German representative continued to shower upon us.

We knew that Germany was mobilizing under the shelter of the "state of danger of war."

We learnt that six classes of reservists had been called up, and that transport was being collected even for those army corps which were stationed a considerable distance from the frontier.

As these events unfolded themselves, our government, watchful and vigilant, took from day to day, and even from hour to hour, the measures of precaution which the situation required; the general mobilization of our forces on land and sea was ordered.

The same evening, at 7.30, Germany, without waiting for the acceptance by the Cabinet of St. Petersburg of the English proposal, which I have already mentioned, declared war on Russia.

The next day, Sunday, August 2nd, without regard for the extreme moderation of France, in contradiction to the peaceful declarations of the German Ambassador at Paris, and in defiance of the rules of international law, German troops crossed our frontier at three different points.

At the same time, in violation of the Treaty of 1867, which guaranteed with the signature of Prussia the neutrality of Luxemburg, they invaded the territory of the Grand Duchy and so gave cause for a protest by the Luxemburg Government.

Finally, the neutrality of Belgium also was threatened.  The German Minister, on the evening of August 2nd, presented to the Belgian Government an ultimatum requesting facilities in Belgium for military operations against France, under the lying pretext that Belgian neutrality was threatened by us; the Belgian Government refused, and declared that they were resolved to defend with vigour their neutrality, which was respected by France and guaranteed by treaties, and in particular by the King of Prussia.

Since then, gentlemen, the German attacks have been renewed, multiplied, and accentuated.  At more than fifteen points our frontier has been violated.  Shots have been fired at our soldiers and Customs officers.  Men have been killed and wounded.  Yesterday a German military aviator dropped three bombs on Luneville.

The German Ambassador, to whom as well as to all the great Powers, we communicated these facts, did not deny them or express his regrets for them.

On the contrary, he came yesterday evening to ask me for his passports, and to notify us of the existence of a state of war, giving as his reason, in the teeth of all the facts, hostile acts committed by French aviators in German territory in the Eifel district, and even on the railway near Carlsruhe and near Nuremberg.

This is the letter which he handed to me on the subject:

Letter of Baron Schoen Declaring War

M. Le President,

The German administrative and military authorities have established a certain number of flagrantly hostile acts committed on German territory by French military aviators.

Several of these have openly violated the neutrality of Belgium by flying over the territory of that country; one has attempted to destroy buildings near Wesel; others have been seen in the district of the Eifel; one has thrown bombs on the railway near Carlsruhe and Nuremberg.

I am instructed, and I have the honour to inform your Excellency, that in the presence of these acts of aggression the German Empire considers itself in a state of war with France in consequence of the acts of this latter Power.

At the same time, I have the honour to bring to the knowledge of your Excellency that the German authorities will retain French mercantile vessels in German ports, but they will release them if, within forty-eight hours, they are assured of complete reciprocity.

My diplomatic mission having thus come to an end, it only remains for me to request your Excellency to be good enough to furnish me with my passports, and to take the steps you consider suitable to assure my return to Germany, with the staff of the Embassy, as well as, with the Staff of the Bavarian Legation and of the German Consulate General in Paris.

Be good enough, M. le President, to receive the assurances of my deepest respect.

(Signed) SCIIOEN.

Need I, gentlemen, lay stress on the absurdities of these pretexts which they put forward as grievances?

At no time has any French aviator penetrated into Belgium, nor has any French aviator committed either in Bavaria or any other part of Germany any hostile act.  The opinion of Europe has already done justice to these wretched inventions.

Against these attacks, which violate all the laws of justice and all the principles of public law, we have now taken all the necessary steps; they are being carried out strictly, regularly, and with calmness.

The mobilization of the Russian army also continues with remarkable vigour and unrestrained enthusiasm.  The Belgian army, mobilized with 250,000 men, prepares with a splendid passion and magnificent ardour to defend the neutrality and independence of their country.

The entire English fleet is mobilized and orders have been given to mobilize the land forces.

Since 1912 pourparlers had taken place between English and French General Staffs and were concluded by an exchange of letters between Sir Edward Grey and M. Paul Cambon.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs yesterday evening communicated these letters to the House of Commons, and spoke of France amidst the applause of the members in a noble and warm-hearted manner.

His language has already found an echo deep in the hearts of all Frenchmen.  I wish in the name of the Government of the Republic to thank the English Government from this tribune for their cordial words and the Parliament of France will associate itself in this sentiment.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made in particular the following declaration: "In case the German fleet came into the Channel or entered the North Sea in order to go round the British Isles with the object of attacking the French coasts or the French navy and of harassing French merchant shipping, the English fleet would intervene in order to give to French shipping its complete protection in such a way that from that moment England and Germany would be in a state of war."

From now onwards, the English fleet protects our northern and western coasts against a German attack.

Gentlemen, these are the facts.  I believe that the simple recital of them is sufficient to justify the acts of the Government of the Republic.  I wish, however, to make clear the conclusion to be drawn from my story and to give its true meaning to the unheard-of attack of which France is the victim.

The victors of 1870 have, at different times, as you know, desired to repeat the blows which they dealt us then.

In 1875, the war which was intended to complete the destruction of conquered France was only prevented by the intervention of the two Powers to whom we were to become united at a later date by ties of alliance and of friendship, by the intervention of Russia and of Great Britain.

Since then the French Republic, by the restoration of her national forces and the conclusion of diplomatic agreements unswervingly adhered to, has succeeded in liberating herself from the yoke which even in a period of profound peace Bismarck was able to impose upon Europe.

She has re-established the balance of power in Europe, a guarantee of the liberty and dignity of all.

Gentlemen, I do not know if I am mistaken, but it seems to me that this work of peaceful reparation, of liberation and honour finally ratified in 1904 and 1907, with the genial co-operation of King Edward VII of England and the Government of the Crown, this is what the German Empire wishes to destroy to-day by one daring stroke.

Germany can reproach us with nothing.

Bearing in silence in our bosom for half a century the wound which Germany dealt us, we have offered to peace an unprecedented sacrifice.

We have offered other sacrifices in all the discussions which since 1904 German diplomacy has systematically provoked, whether in Morocco or elsewhere in 1905, in 1906,
in 1908, in 1911.

Russia also has given proof of great moderation at the time of the events of 1908, as she has done in the present crisis.

She observed the same moderation, and the Triple Entente with her, when in the Eastern crisis of 1912 Austria and Germany formulated demands, whether against Serbia or against Greece, which still were, as the event proved, capable of settlement by discussion.

Useless sacrifices, barren negotiations, empty efforts, since to-day in the very act of conciliation we, our allies and ourselves, are attacked by surprise.

No one can honestly believe that we are the aggressors.  Vain is the desire to overthrow the sacred principles of right and of liberty to which nations, as well as individuals, are subject; Italy with that clarity of insight possessed by the Latin intellect, has notified us that she proposes to preserve neutrality.

This decision has found in all France an echo of sincerest joy.

I made myself the interpreter of this feeling to the Italian Charge d'Affaires when I told him how much I congratulated myself that the two Latin sisters, who have the same origin and the same ideal, a common and glorious past, are not now opposed to one another.

Gentlemen, we proclaim loudly the object of their attack - it is the independence, the honour, the safety, which the Triple Entente has regained in the balance of power for the service of peace.  The object of attack is the liberties of Europe, which France, her allies, and her friends, are proud to defend.

We are going to defend these liberties, for it is they that are in dispute, and all the rest is but a pretext.

France, unjustly provoked, did not desire war, she has done everything to avert it.

Since it is forced upon her, she will defend herself against Germany and against every Power which has not yet declared its intentions, but joins with the latter in a conflict between the two countries.

A free and valiant people that sustains an eternal ideal, and is wholly united to defend its existence; a Democracy which knows how to discipline its military strength, and was not afraid a year ago to increase its burden as an answer to the armaments of its neighbour; a nation armed, struggling for its own life and for the independence of Europe - here is a sight which we are proud to offer to the onlookers in this desperate struggle, that has for some days been preparing with the greatest calmness and method.

We are without reproach.  We shall be without fear.  France has often proved in less favourable circumstances that she is a most formidable adversary when she fights, as she does to-day, for liberty and for right.

In submitting our actions to you, gentlemen, who are our judges, we have, to help us in bearing the burden of our heavy responsibility, the comfort of a clear conscience and the conviction that we have done our duty.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

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