Saturday, June 28, 2014

2 Bullets that Killed 9 Million Human Beings

100 years ago today, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive  to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were fatally wounded by two shots fired by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb revolutionary. The assassination of the Archduke and Duchess was the excuse the Austro-Hungarian Empire used to declare war on and invade the Balkan nation of Serbia.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

 Gavrilo Princip

The resulting conflict has become known as the First World War (World War I). By the time the war ended in November 2018, 9 million combatants were dead—a whole generation decimated. 

During my undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky my major was history. My advisor was a short, balding professor whose field of study was modern European diplomatic history. He really wanted to be a diplomat rather than a teacher and often acted the part by (for example) dressing in a morning suit complete with walking stick and Homburg.

As one would expect, as my advisor he advised me to take the courses he taught. I did: three of them covering European covering the period from 1848 to 1946. I learned a lot, not only a bout the history but also about the art of diplomacy, including uncovering truth beneath official words.

The final exam for the course that covered the period leading up to and including the Great War—what World War I was generally known as before World War II—consisted of one question: Who was responsible for World War I?

Of course, the simple answer would be the nineteen year old Gavrilo Princip—he fired the two bullets that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie—or, perhaps, the Austro-Hungarian Empire for declaring war on Serbia.

Either of those answers is much too simple. I wrote on that examination that the responsibility for World War I was neither an individual nor a nation.  There were many causes for the war, including unfortunate chance and stupidity. A few of the causes, as I saw/see them are:

·       Militarism—since the 1870s, the major European powers had been engaged in an arms race; by 1914 there were generals and admirals itching for a war.
·       Imperialism—Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy were all competing with each other in the building colonial empires; even the United States joined the Imperial game in 1898.
·       Alliances—following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the nations of Europe began forming alliances with one another, most of which required the participants to collective defense (if one were attacked the others would come to that nation’s aid). By 1914 the major treaties of alliance were: Treaty of London, 1839, about the neutrality of Belgium;; the German-Austrian treaty (1879) which Italy  joined in 1882; Franco-Russian Alliance (1894); and the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France (1904)
·       Stupidity and a very unfortunate chain of events—too complex for me to relate in this post.

For me, the assessing the causes and responsibility for the First World War is secondary to the outcome: 9 million human being dead with another 21 million wounded. There is no rational excuse for those 30 million human beings to suffer from war and 20 years later the whole damned thing started again with what has come to be known as the Second World War!

Sometimes—no, often—songs can express what narrative cannot. Here are a few of my favorites regarding World War I:

For further reading, I recommend:

I shall be posting more about the First World War in the coming months and years


No comments:

Post a Comment