When one writes essays on a site, one tends to repeat oneself a lot. So I am going to change strategy a bit, and write books on my pet subjects (I will just create specific sites for each subject). The essay below ought to be a version of chapter one of:
WORLD WAR ONE
World War One (WWI) is still with us. Not just by dismantling some old powers, and creating new ones, from pigmies to superpowers. WWI also created new systems of ideas, new moods, new politics, new philosophies. In particular, new versions of history, some of them carefully missing the main points and imagining others.
The typical history of World War One pulls the conflict like a rabbit out of a hat at a show for little children. Here is a typical description:
A hundred years ago, in the Balkan city of Sarajevo, Serbian nationalists murdered the dour, pacifist heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his beloved wife.
Populations, throughout the world, were shocked but not worried. Why should they be? Under the influence of a powerful anarchist philosophy, there had been many political assassinations in previous years-the king of Italy, two Spanish prime ministers, the Russian czar, the President of the USA William McKinley. None of these leaders’ demise had led to a major crisis. Yet just as a snowball can start an avalanche, this assassination set off a series of events that, in five weeks, led Europe into a general war.
Really? A snowball? That butterfly flapped its wings, and about 3% of the planet died? Yes, 3%, more than 50 million dead, once one has incorporated the so called “Spanish Flu”, which was tied to military deployments, just as the “plague” that had decimated Athens under Pericles, and the Black Plague of 1948, tied in to the “100 year war”, and total war in Eastern Europe (where the Black Plague was used as a weapon, by catapulting infected corpses over the walls).
So why was there a major crisis in 1914?
Because some bad actors were laying in an ambush they had set.
And by this I do not mean the Black Hand of Serbia, a secret terrorist organization tied in to the secret services of Serbia, both of them hell bent to recover Bosnia-Hercegovina, a state Austro-Hungary had just annexed. The Serbs had come out of wars that had allowed them to recover some of their national territory. That territory had been constitutionally granted to them by the Roman emperor Heraclius in the Seventh Century.
The Black Hand had at least partly organized the assassination in Sarajevo. Thus the request of the Austro-Hungarian government to make a thorough enquiry was certainly justified. However, many in Austro-Hungary hated Serbia. Paradoxically, the assassinated heir had been a strong pacifying influence (and he was best friend with the conflicted Kaiser, who was, no doubt, sincerely aggrieved). So Austro-Hungary uttered an outrageous ultimatum to Serbia (perhaps some thought Serbia was exhausted from the war just concluded, and thus an easy prey).
Serbian ferocity was the consequences of centuries of horrors at the hands of the invading Turks, and the evil necessities such a thorough war of liberation leads to (yes, Russia suffers from the same syndrome, after centuries of Mongol horrendous exploitation).
Nevertheless, Serbia was a tiny country. It was not a major actor. The major actor in Europe was “Germany”. Historians will little feeling for philosophy always called that country “Germany”.
No doubt the habit came from the Romans, or, more exactly, Caesar. Caesar raided Germania twice, and was launching an incredibly bold the plan to conquer the whole of Germania. from behind. Instead, it was left to his grand-nephew Augustus, to try a hare brained frontal assault, followed by an ignominious retreat that left him half mad (Augustus used to call through the night in the corridors of his palace for the general who had led, and died with his annihilated legions).
But “Germany” did not really exist. Over a period of three centuries (500 CE-800 CE), the Franks, who were themselves Romanized Celto-Germans, had conquered Germania, establishing the gigantic Western European empire Caesar dreamed of.
The Franks’ craving for empire was less important to them than equal inheritance, an important anti-plutocratic character in a society with a high birth rate. Thus the “Renovated Roman Empire” they set-up officially in 800 CE, was soon a complicated patchwork of states in theory all vassals to the King of Francia (“emperor in his own kingdom”), and the emperor of the rest. Both were, theoretically, elected.
The patchwork of states soon enjoyed wars as states came and went. States come and go through wars (transfers through inheritance or calm annexations are rare). In a millennium, Western Europe would know more than 50 major wars. (This little detail is was that the Europhobes are not aware of, in their stupidity.)
In the Eighteenth Century, Prussia, heir to the very ferocious military tradition of the Teutonic Knights (who had been annihilated by a coalition of Poland and Lithuania, but not their spirit!), under the leadership of the homosexual Frederic The Great (paradoxically Hitler’s hero), with considerable help from conniving Britain, and the stupid Madame de Pompadour (Louis XV’s de facto PM), became a military super power. Of the racist, anti-Judaic type. After Napoleon ‘s defeat, in 1815 CE, the dictatorial, anti-Judaic (thus racist), anti-Polish (thus anti-“Slavs”) ways of Prussia got spread about all of Germany.
Don’t ask how Nazism appeared. Ask how it could not have blossomed.
In any case, after defeating France in 1871 CE, Prussia proclaimed the “Kaiserreich”. Calling it “Germany”, is an abuse of language. The Kaiserreich was neither a republic, like France, or a democracy, like France or England. Even Russia aspired to become a constitutional monarchy, and grow its democracy (helped by French and British investments). Not so for the Kaiserreich.
Instead, the men leading that outgrowth of the Prussian State, decided to gamble all in one world war, believing they could defeat France before Russia, and certainly Britain, could muster enough force to become threats.
They gambled, and they failed.