Daily Archives: July 29, 2012

Days of Disastrous Decision Making: July 28th – August 4th 1914

The Austrian Declaration of War against Serbia

“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Carl Von Clausewitz 

It was a war that should never have happened. It was a war for which the belligerent powers could boast many causes but for which few had any real objectives.

It was a war in large part brought on by a declining empire’s fears. Fear of neighbors, ethnic minorities and its place among regional and world powers led the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to decide for war when the very unpopular heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the recently annexed province of Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 28th 1914.

Conrad von Hötzendorf: War was the only means of politics

It was a series of decisions by those in the government of the Empire that brought Europe and the world to war, a war which we still feel the effects of today. In particular the Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold and the aging Emperor, Franz Joseph.

Emperor Franz Joseph: “If we must go under, we better go under decently”

Hötzendorf had been a continual advocate of war in every situation. He lobbied for war in 1907 against Italy and Serbia, in 1908 against Serbia, Russia and Italy, in 1909 against Serbia and Montenegro, in 1910 against Italy and the list increased in the years leading up to the war. He fervently believed that “the use of armed force alone could retard the centrifugal forces of nationalism in the ‘multinational empire’; war was the only means of politics.” The Emperor, Franz Joseph was of the same mindset by 1914 and in the days following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand he gave his approval to the actions of Hotzendorf and the diplomacy of Berchtold which doomed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and would destroy and remake Europe within a span of four years.

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg: The Blank Checque

The leadership of the Empire had decided on war within days of the assassination. Berchtold dispatched an emissary to Kaiser Wilhelm who decided in counsel with his Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg gave the Austrians a “blank cheque” of unconditional support for war against Serbia. Berlin was confident that “the Balkan crisis could be localized” and “advised Vienna to “proceed with all means at its disposal” and that Germany would support Austria-Hungary “come what may.” In doing so they willingly ignored the wise counsel of Otto Von Bismarck who considered the Balkans “not worth the life of a single Pomeranian Grenadier.

After they received German support the Austrians did everything that they could to ensure that war would occur. Their demands of Serbia were intentionally designed to be unacceptable to that country and they held key information from their German allies in the three weeks after they received the unconditional German support.

Helmuth Von Molkte: “no alternative but to fight a preventive war…” 

German militarists, particularly the Chief of the General Staff Helmuth Von Molkte the younger saw the coming conflict in racial and cultural terms. Von Molkte said that the coming war   would come “sooner or later” and be a war “primarily a struggle between Germans and Slavs” and compared Serbia to an “abscess.”  As the war cloud built Von Molkte told the Foreign Secretary von Jagrow that there was “no alternative but to fight a preventive war so as to beat the enemy while we could still emerge fairly well from the struggle” ignoring the advice of the Iron Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who counseled “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.” 

Austrian Reservists going to war

The Austrians felt that the threat from Serbia combined with internal political factors related to the Hungarian and other Slavic regions of the Empire, and the increasing influence of Russia and Germany in the Balkans was an existential threat. At the same time they were poorly prepared for war. Their military was large but poorly trained and equipped.  Their national infrastructure, industry and railroads were ill-prepared for the demands of war. Their German allies had not planned for war either and were critically short of the required stocks of ammunition needed for a general war in Europe.

Cheering crowds in Petersburg

The Russians were heavily invested in the Balkans linked to other Slavic people by culture, language and religion. The French were bent on revenge against the Germans for the debacle of 1870 and had no stake in what happened in the Balkans. The British a few years prior to the war had told the Belgians not to expect support if they were invaded by Germany, but declared war to “protect Belgian neutrality.”

German wives and girlfriends walking alongside the Landser…

The Austrians thought that with German support that even if Russia intervened that the war could be limited to Serbia. They were wrong. Just as the Germans had given the Austrians a “blank cheque” the French, both officially and unofficially were giving the Russians their own blank cheque. French Ambassador Maurice Paleologue assured Russian Foreign Minister S.D. Sazonov of the “complete readiness of France to fulfill her obligations as an ally in case of necessity.

French Soldiers being cheered

Austria declared war on July 28th, Russia followed by a partial mobilization to support Serbia on the 29th. Kaiser Wilhelm attempted to avert war at the last minute but Czar Nicholas II wrote “An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country. The indignation of Russia, fully shared by me, is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by pressure to which I am exposed and compelled to take measures which will lead to war.”  This was met with German mobilization on the 30th and the French on August 1st. Declarations of war were exchanged and on August 4th in response to Germany’s refusal to respect the neutrality of Belgium Great Britain declared war against Germany.

A final kiss from a British Soldier at Victoria Station

They were fateful days. Only the Austrians entered the war with any positive objectives, military or political goals. Every other power lurched into the war without clear objectives or end states. One writer noted that the war had “causes but no objectives.”

The world again finds itself perched at the edge of the abyss of war. There are people, smart and otherwise reasonable people who believe that they can wage “preventive wars” and rely on brute military force to solve nearly any problem. There are others that suggest that we should not criticize “allies” even when their decisions could be disastrous to them and the world, much as the Germans gave their Austrian brothers a “blank cheque.”  I wish that they would just look at the consequences before they commit nations and the world to more war that can only result in calamity and great suffering without benefit for anyone or any nation involved.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, national security, Political Commentary

British Humor: Bond, Bean, Poppins and The Queen Kick Off XXX Games

It was quintessentially and quirkily British, and quite a show that director Danny Boyle produced to begin the XXXth Olympiad in London. It was a show that many wondered about considering the lavish display of nationalistic pride put on by China in the 2008 Games.

The British production was a display of how a nation can respect its heritage while at the same time have enough wit to laugh at itself. Maybe that is a result of having been the world’s largest empire a century ago to being a rather modest power today. Britain may no longer have empire, but it does have a rich tradition and great history that was displayed in the show.

http://vimeo.com/46518877

Music was a big part of the show and the influence of music of British music has been very large in the spread of western culture and influence. The opening song “Jerusalem” the lyrics of which come from William Blake is the unofficial hymn of England has a connection with the legendary Glastonbury Tor which was recreated in the stadium. Other songs from ancient to modern including folk songs like Danny Boy, hymnody, rock and pop were featured with Sir Paul McCartney closing the ceremony with his Beatles hit Hey Jude.

http://vimeo.com/46518877

As for me I appreciated the humor, or as the British call it humour. It was refreshing to be able to see a great people be able to celebrate greatness but also have the ability to laugh at themselves. I think that the biggest highlights for me was the entrance of Queen Elizabeth II with Daniel Craig, the current James Bond. It showed that even the Queen has a sense of humour as she took part in a skit with Craig that featured her Corgi dogs, a slick helicopter and a stuntman dressed as the Queen parachuting into the stadium. It was a scene that probably she will be remembered by long after she passes from this life.

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/82693026/?lt=em

But even more fun was the appearance of Rowan Atkinson who reprised his Mr Bean type character. As a member of the orchestra who bored with his part the continuous tapping of the same note, daydreams about being in a scene from the film Chariots of Fire.  Of course as so many of his characters do and wins the race by cheating.  I can appreciate the honesty.

I was kind of bored by the tribute to the National Heath Service, not because I am a critic of the NHS, but it seemed to drag in comparison to other parts of the program despite the appearance of a flock of Mary Poppins ladies sailing in to chase off the villains of British Children’s literature.  However that being said it is important to note that the British are very proud of their health system despite the critics on this side of the pond, and the system is linked forever to J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan who designated the Great Ormond Street Hospital as the beneficiary of the royalties from Peter Pan.

One thing that I find interesting about the British is that when times are bad they still can find humour in the situation. The British economy is suffering at the present time and there are many problems in the country. But there is something in the British character that helps them get through hard times and will again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DahhUaoxX3I

I will occasionally post something about these Olympics. As always there will be controversy, but hopefully whatever controversy emerges in these games will not detract from the excellence of the athletes that compete.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under music, News and current events, sports and life