Sunday, June 19, 2005

If Only

Right Wing Nuthouse recently posted a moving look back at D-Day and the character of the American soldier which allowed us to pull victory out of a brutal and chaotic situation. From the perspective of sixty years, he looks back on that assault as the defining moment for the twentieth century, listing the many disasters which might have followed on the defeat of those soldiers hitting the beach.

In a house filled with amateur historians, the post sparked dinner table conversations that lasted for several days. Finally, the consensus came down to one incident, one date, that changed the course of the 20th century and set into play the events which were to dog the rest of our days, even down to the present.

Gavrilo PrincipThat moment, of course, is June 28, 1914. The incident is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austro-Hungarian throne, by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo.

Princip was a member of an anarchist group, the Black Hand. He was one of three assassins (that lovely Arabic word), sent to Sarajevo when it was known the Archduke was to be there, invited to inspect Army maneuvers. All three of these anarchists had tuberculosis and figured they wouldn’t live long. They wanted their short lives to be useful and to that end set out for their date with destiny.

However, the prime minister of Serbia was told about the plot ahead of time and ordered the men arrested. His orders were ignored, and the men arrived in Sarajevo. If only the arrest orders had been carried out.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and SophieThe first attempt on Franz Ferdinand’s life was a grenade under the Archduke’s car as they drove from the train station to City Hall for the usual reception. However, the driver of the car saw this and managed to speed ahead, avoiding damage. Unfortunately, two people in the car following were seriously injured. Thus, after the reception the Archduke insisted on going to the hospital to see them.

It was decided that the Archduke should be escorted to the hospital on a route that bypassed the city. Unfortunately, no one told his driver. It was only as they were turning into Franz Josef Street that the Army general accompanying them noticed the mistake and had the driver back up. Guess who was at a café on the corner? Gavrilo Princip. Firing from only five feet away, how could he miss? He shot the Archduke in the jugular vein and the Archduke’s beloved wife, Sophie, in the abdomen. As he was struck, Franz Ferdinand begged Sophie to live. “Think of the children,” he implored.

The couple died at the governor’s residence. If only someone had told Franz Urban, the driver of the car, about the change in plans.

The cascade of events following their deaths was like a carefully placed set of dominoes. The players in this deadly game were as follows:

1. Princip was a Bosnian Serb. It was presumed that the machinations of Serbia were behind the assassination. Thus the demands and ultimata by Austria-Hungary were on Serbia. They sent an “expert” to collect evidence.
2. Serbia was bound to Russia by alliance and by ethnic ties.
3. Germany was bound by its alliance with Austria-Hungary.

Can you see the clouds gathering here? Can you see the dominoes beginning to tremble?

4. Austria-Hungary demanded apologies and cessation of anti-Austrian propaganda. They wanted cooperation from Serbia in their investigations. Meanwhile, Serbia stalled. This intestinal fortitude was encouraged by word from St. Petersburg that Russia would back them.
5. Now come Britain and France. Bound by a mutual alliance with Russia, the Triple Entente, they were obliged to come to Russia’s aid.
6. So began the mobilization: Britain readied the fleet, France mobilized.
7. Austria declared war on July 28th. Two days later, Russia mobilized, part of which was deployment on the German border.
8. The Germans made an ultimatum to Russia: cease and desist.

On July 29th, Germany proposed British neutrality. In return, the Germans would not annex Belgium or French territory. If only the British had agreed.

9. On August 1st, 1914 - less than six weeks after the Archduke’s death - Germany declared war on Russia.
And so the dominoes fell. From the invasion of Belgium to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the losses were massive:
 Dead Wounded
Britain 947,000 2,122,000
France 1,385,000 3,044,000
Russia 1,700,000 4,950,000
Italy 460,000 947,000
US 115,000 206,000
Germany 1,808,000 4,247,000
Austria-Hungary 1,200,000 3,620,000
Turkey 325,000 400,000

The direct and indirect costs of the war, estimated in the 1940’s, were about $332,000,000,000. That’s billions. In today’s dollars such numbers are incalculable.

The Great War of 1914-1918, the War to End All Wars, was the cultural equivalent of the Black Death. Its demographic deadliness lies in its victims: mostly fit young men. The war destroyed the “seed crop” of the next generation and divided our times into a Before and After, just as the Black Death had done for the 14th century.

But the numbers don’t tell it all. The most significant event triggered by Gavrilo Princip was not the Great War itself, but the Bolshevik Revolution, which ushered in the brief but deadly Age of Socialism. Socialism was in the air anyway, and would have taken its turn on the world’s stage. But the particularly virulent form midwifed by Lenin in the Soviet Union depended entirely on the immediate circumstances of the Great War.

In 1917, If only the German high command had not made the strategically brilliant move of sending Lenin to the Finland Station in a sealed train. If only if Russia had not suffered the particular reverses it did on the Eastern Front; if only the United States had entered the war earlier rather than later…If… if… if…

Timing was all, and timing led to the ascendancy of socialism. All the murderous totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century — Fascist, Nazi, and Communist — were socialist in nature. One hundred million or more souls perished, directly or indirectly, as a result of socialism. Whether tortured and murdered in the camps, starved to death in deliberately engineered and accidental famines, or killed in the wars brought on by the dictators, the victims at the hands of the 20th century were, by and large, the victims of socialism.

Timing was all and timing allowed Gavrilo Princip his brief moment. Without that, there would have been no punitive Treaty of Versailles. Hitler would have remained a nobody. Lenin’s arrival in Russia would not have been so opportune, thus deflecting from their courses Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro and Guevara.

The 20th century began with Gavrilo Princip in June of 1914. It ended with Osama bin Laden in September of 2001. In Europe and all the territories of the Great War, socialism is on life-support. In America, a few ignorant souls call for its renewal.

Let us pray.


Rick Moran said...

One fascinating thing about the Black Hand "conspiracy" that I like to do is transpose that plot with any plot to kill JFK.

Was the driver involved in the conspiracy to kill the Archduke? Of course not. But it really shows the elements of coincidence and of chance in historical events. Who would ever believe that a driver would take a wrong turn? He MUST be part of the plot.

I use this example all the time to illustrate how all the "evidence" that people throw at me positing a conpiracy in the JFK assassination (how could Oswald be working at that building at that time?)could in fact be nothing more than coincidence.

Dr. Sanity said...

I have no doubt that the events of Sept 11 are also one of those turning points in history like the Archduke's assassination that will have impact for decades to come. I like to think that the response of the US to that act was not the way the perpetrators thought the dominoes would fall, however. In fact, George Bush may really be one of those "what ifs" (as in "what if the President of the US had responded forcefully to the WTC attacks?).

Always On Watch said...

Gavrilo Princip, part of the Black Hand, assassinated the Archduke and his wife--I remember that from my history classes.

What kind of group was the Black Hand? I know it was "anarchist." Anything else we know about it?

El Jefe Maximo said...

In response to the question on the Black Hand were Serbian nationalists who wanted to unite all the South Slavs (Bosnians, Croats, and those Serbs under Austria-Hungary -- under the Kingdom of Serbia. Basically, they wanted to create what became Yugoslavia, and, alone among the planners and actors who produced the First World War -- they were completely successful.

As the Austrians correctly suspected, the Black Hand enjoyed the covert support of elements of the Serbian government, particularly the military and police.

An excellent post. You could crash the internet compiling the parade of horribles flowing from the First World War, and those few seconds in Sarajevo. (I frequently blog on this subjec). Millions killed or maimed, Christian kingdoms overrun by fascist or communist fanatics, Europe bankrupted -- on and on and on.

If not for the murder of the archduke, Hitler would have died in his doss-house, Lenin would have drank himself to death scribbling in Switzerland, and bank robber Stalin perhaps found the hangman's rope he so richly merited.

Dymphna said...

It was a war of Queen Victoria's grandchildren.

Indeed. A shame that the peasants got caught in the crossfire of those family squabbles.

Though Russia had -- still has -- her own special problems. She may be characterologically incapable of the Rule of Law.

The span from the Edwardian Age into the era Between the Wars seems of a piece sometimes. A set piece.

Dr. Sanity's question about Bush's reaction after 9/11 is provocative. I remember being impatient, and then after the relative success of the Afghan War I thought perhaps my anger had been reactive rather than responsive. One can't argue with results there.

And Bill, I agree: individuals do make a difference. That's anathema to socialists; non-negotiable for Christians (to name just one group).

El Jefe, thanks for the BH info. I knew only half of that...

Superhawk has an interesting sidebar here. Is there more paranoia than there used to be? The picture of Sophie and FF always remind me of the Kennedys...maybe if the Kennedy assassination had sparked a war people would've been too pre-occupied to go to paranoia. Perhaps that's a destination for those with nowhere else to go??

Always On Watch said...

El Jefe Maximo,
Thank you for the information. I need to brush up on my knowledge of WWI because the consequences changed the course of a century.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Another "if only"

"If only" during the July 1914 crisis, Russia had simply abandoned Serbia in the name of monarchial solidarity with Austria-Hungary. No treaty of alliance bound Russia to defend Serbia, and in two previous scares, 1908-09, and 1912-13, they had leaned on Serbia to show restraint. But this time, they did not.

The Russian decision to back the Serbs was what turned another Balkan crisis into a World War. Because of the interlocking alliances, the reserve system, and the overall balance of forces against the Central Powers, the minute the first Russian reservist walked into his depot, war was inevitable whatever the diplomats did.

Given that elements of the Serbian government were tied into the Black Hand, and the Archduke's murder, which was obvious even in 1914 -- there was ample justification for Russia to stand aside, had she chosen to do so.

In fact, I've never quite understood precisely what Tsarist Russia got out of its trading the 1879 alliance with Austria and Germany, for the Dual Entente of 1894 -- except utter ruin.

hank_F_M said...


An excellent post.

My comments grew and grew so I made them into a post The Lights Go Out In Europe on my blog.

Wally Ballou said...

Very intersting discussion, but one point;

$332B isn't really incalcualbe in today's $, economists do that all the time, using a bag of assumptions. According to the Labor Department's inflation calculator,
$332B in 1940 is equivalent to about $4.6 trillion today. If the 1940's estimators were using 1918 dollars, the adjusted value would be about $4.2T

This is approximately 54% of the current US national debt.

Baron Bodissey said...

Wally -- I can't speak for Dymphna, of course, but in my case "incalculable" means "I'm too lazy to look up the method for doing it."

Interesting -- based on your figures, the dollar was worth more in 1940 than in 1918. The deflation of the '30s...?

El Jefe Maximo said...

Dollar worth more in 1918 than 1940 ? Hmmmmm. Will look into that one.

Just as a horseback guess, 1940 would have been a bad year for the Dollar's rival currencies, the Franc down and out, the Pound falling as the British sold assets and spent savings to hold off the Germans, and the Mark distrusted in the places where it remained convertable.

True, we were propping up the Pound, a little, if only so the British could pay something on US aid, but we were doing that from 1916-18 too. The Dollar was the last refuge, so it might well have been worth more than 1918.

Baron Bodissey said...

Jefe, I know there was a deflation after the '29 crash. I just don't know the magnitude of it, and I'm too lazy to look it up! Maybe Wally will come back and tell us...

Wally Ballou said...

My statistic was based on BLS CPI (consumer price index) figures, which use a "market basket" approach to estimate cost of living changes between years. It has little to do with the relative values of foreign currencies, especially since there was much less trade pre-WWII than there is today.


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For more numbers than you want to look at.