(Disclaimer: No, Imperial German Ulster does not feature in this timeline. At least, not yet.)
The name of the Great European War, of 1914-1916, is in a sense as multi-faceted as the conflict itself. The name refers to the vast scale of the conflict, with armies
larger than ever seen before clashing, death tolls reaching higher than had even been imagined in previous wars. The name refers to the all-encompassing nature of the war,
both in terms of territory (in Europe, only seven nations were able to remain fully neutral, encompassing roughly 14.5 million people and only about 4.3 percent of Europe's total population)
as well as in the manner it changed the lives of those living in both belligerent and even neutral nations. The name also indicates the great impact of the war - not only
was it a massive conflict, the likes of which had never been seen before, but it also set Europe on the path that it remained on for most, if not all, of the 20th century
and even beyond. The political crises in Germany and Russia alike brought the idea of a powerful, central monarch into harsh contrast with mass politics, while parliamentary
rule was challenged, forced to evolve beyond what it had grown into in the previous centuries. Meanwhile Austria-Hungary, its own political leadership invigorated by the great
prestige and clout gained from victory in the war, was able to reform into what is now seen by many as the definitive answer to ethnic nationalism, a true multi-ethnic state
under the aegis of a dynasty but ruled by its many peoples.
- Arnold Frankeson, introduction to The Great European War and Its Aftermath
The words were famous only days after they were spoken. Before the week was over, hundreds of thousands of Germans could easily complete the sentence given only the first three words. "Auch im Kriege" became a sort of phrase of its own, thrown in at the end of another argument or used as a short. The words themselves held obviously incomplete meaning: 'even in war'. They were from a speech given by Philipp Scheidemann in the Reichstag in December of 1916; the full sentence was "Auch im Kriege ist Deutschland Rechtsstaat", meaning 'even in war, Germany is a state of the rule of law'. The speech encapsulated much of what would in the following year explode into prominence during the political crisis in Germany. It primarily addressed the conduct of German soldiers and occupation forces in the region often referred to as 'Ober Ost', an area under German occupation for roughly a year before its annexation in the Treaty of Stockholm. Once the war ended, civilian officials poured into the area, replacing the military-state with the peacetime institutions of the German Empire.
What they found was bound to cause trouble; several major figures within the German Army had argued in favor of continued military administration of the region, knowing that an influx of reporters, civil servants, and similar - as well as many political figures looking to inspect or prepare the region for the next Reichstag elections in which its (at the time) roughly million-strong voting block could prove a great asset - would lead to issues. Their efforts failed, and as a result stories of arbitrary executions, forced labor and other conduct which had previously, under military rule, been seen as necessary but was now viewed by the critical eyes of liberal and social-democratic commentators as clear breaches of German law, came to light. When Scheidemann gave his influential speech in the Reichstag, many were still unaware of the details of what had happened in Ober Ost during the war. Reports from the area spread slowly at first, blocked where possible by state actors sympathetic to the army or simply dismissed as 'lacking sufficient evidence to report' by more conservative papers. Not long after the "Rechtsstaat Speech", however, the dam broke. It was impossible for a newspaper to avoid the topic, impossible for any politically-minded German to not find themselves with an opinion on the matter after being bombarded with names, figures, and citations of legal codes.
But of course, for all of this to come about, the war that began in 1914 had to be won. But to find the seeds which grew into the victory of Berlin, Vienna and their allies, a look all across Europe is necessary, going from the familiar military academies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the inadequate ammunition stockpiles of the Imperial Russian Army and on to odder places, to London and onwards to Ireland. Once all the other pieces were in place, it would be there, in Ulster, that a decisive weight would be placed on the scales.