A Summer Day in Bosnia-Herzegovina 100 Years Ago

This weekend marks the hundredth anniversary of the incident which was the spark that set off the cataclysm of the First World War. Which wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first world-wide war; it could be argued that the Napoleonic Wars were, and the interminable European war between France and England which spilled over into those colonies in the North American continent could also be considered a world war.

The spark was seemingly a simple thing – almost a non-story as it appeared in the English and American newspapers; the assassination of an Austrian noble and his wife by a barely competent yet very lucky Serbian amateur terrorist. This was an appalling tragedy for the family of the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his beloved spouse, Sophie, the Countess Hohenberg, who left three living children to be raised by the Archduke’s best friend. The assassination was perhaps an inconvenience more than a tragedy to the the court and administration of Franz-Ferdinand’s uncle, the Emperor Franz Joseph. The Archduke, who but for the accident of birth would have been a rather quiet and dutiful nonentity, devoted to gardening, architecture and the hunt – was not a particularly popular man at the time of his death, either with his uncle, his fellow aristocrats or the Viennese public. He replaced the popular but suicidal Crown Prince Rudolph as heir, and had insisted on marrying for love, instead of merely making Sophie his mistress. They were eventually permitted to marry with the assurance that Sophie and her children would not have the standing or rights of succession. Sophie – lovely and well-tempered, conventionally pious, and well-educated – was usually treated pretty shabbily by Viennese society and by the imperial establishment on those official occasions at which the Archduke was expected to be present. Franz Ferdinand did play his part dutifully in official ceremonies and events, without any particular appearance of enjoyment. What started as a personal tragedy, and a national crisis for Austria-Hungary was merely the first fall in a train of dominoes.

The war which raged between 1914 and 1918 unleashed a whole cornucopia of horrors, being that they were waged between powers that had been fully or almost fully industrialized. It came after a hundred years of relative peace, prosperity and progress in the Western world. With the exception of the Franco-Prussian War, and the American Civil War, such wars as there had been were colonial wars, fought by small professional Western armies against relatively primitive foes. Many, especially in the educated classes in the late 19th century firmly believed that total, all-out, balls-to-the-wall war was something that the advanced nations of the West had moved away from, that the economic consequences would be so dire that the powers-that-be just wouldn’t allow it to happen. Meanwhile, European military planners moved briskly ahead, paying little attention to the main lesson to have been drawn from the American Civil War – that technology had moved far ahead of established tactics. The pump had also been primed by a series of little-recollected international crises at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th, which flamed up regularly in a sort of international patch of eczema, usually involving France, or Germany, England, Russia or Austria-Hungary or any combination. The crisis would be soothed by the hastily-applied salve of diplomacy … until the next time.

The one thing in common was that the great powers were jockeying for position, sometimes straight out, and sometimes through proxies. The author of the The War That Ended Peace outlined how England and Germany came to stand against each other, having been allies more often than not in their previous history. Great Britain, a navy/sea power if there ever was one, gradually began a policy of more engagement in Europe among the great powers. Germany, a quintessential army/land power (and only unified into a single nation within living memory) developed the intention of having a serious deep-water navy.

And so they drifted into enmity. Once that first domino toppled, then all the rest came as a matter of course over the next four blood-soaked years. Treaty obligations and mobilization of the reserves imposed an iron rule. When the dominoes finished falling in 1918, three noble ruling houses had been cast down and a whole generation of of German, French, British and Russian men were gutted. The unwieldy empire to which the archduke had been heir-presumptive broke into its constituent parts, and all the bright promise of the modern world as seen by Europeans at the turn of the century before the last was reduced to a nightmare … and left us with wreckage that we are still sorting out, even after a hundred years. The past isn’t dead. It’s not even over.

(cross-posted on my book-blog, and at www.ncobrief.com.)

13 thoughts on “A Summer Day in Bosnia-Herzegovina 100 Years Ago”

  1. I blame Wilhem II for the war and the enmity that grew between Germany and England. His father married Victoria’s oldest daughter and was as peaceful and mild a man as the Archduke. Frederick had the terrible luck to develop cancer of the larynx and to be mistreated by an English physician who was incompetent and a liar and publicity hound. Victoria pushed aside German surgeons who had learned to treat cancer of the larynx with partial laryngectomy, preserving the voice. Radiation was still decades away but the surgery offered to possibility of cure if done early. It was not because of the English physician’s maneuvers.

    One version of the story is here and tells it accurately. Some other versions spend too much time defending the idiot British physician who was at fault.

    It is inconceivable that Germany would have gone down this warpath if the enlightened, reform-minded Kaiser Frederick William had lived a normal life span. In 1914 he would have been 82. His father had lived to 91, and William II, the cause of it all, died in 1941 at the age of 82 (apparently of a pulmonary embolus). Even if Frederick William had not enjoyed quite the same longevity that characterized his family, he would not have initiated or tolerated the military build-up that made it possible for Germany to rival Great Britain and its allies.

    One additional comment. “suicidal Crown Prince Rudolph”

    There is a school of thought that believes this was not suicide but an action by Franz Joseph to end a possible plot to take the throne by the son. I have been to the grave of the young mistress near Mayerling. The hunting lodge was replaced by a convent built by Franz Joseph (Penance ?)

  2. That theory argues a certain kind of ruthlessness on the part of Franz Joseph, MikeK – though I suppose anything might have been possible. Some of the other nephews were a bit more amenable.

    IIRC, poor Princess Victoria had also the bad luck to be treated – or mistreated medically in the delivery of her son – and the proscribed therapy for his crippled arm did his eventual mental balance no good at all.

    Pity that Germany couldn’t have stuck to their forte – a land-power. Of course now in this present day it does seem to have been a moot point.

  3. There certainly has been speculation .

    Several historians believe that the key to unlock the events at Mayerling will most likely never be found. Many argue that the Austrian police’s cover-up of the deaths of Rudolf and Marie Vetsera, his young and foolish lover, shrouded Mayerling in mystery. Furthermore, the tragic events at Mayerling continue to trouble many people who desperately want the mystery revealed. For example, just days before Christmas 1992 it was discovered that the mortal remains of Marie Vetsera had been mysteriously removed from the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz, where they had laid in deadly silence for more than a century. After initial consternation, the local police was able to track down the coffin and recover Vetsera’s remains. To verify that the remains were those of young Marie, the police asked the Viennese Medical Institute to examine the remains and identify if indeed they were those of Mayerling victim.

    Upon inspection of the human remains recovered by the police, medical examiners discovered that the head of the young woman lacked any traces of a perforating bullet. The cranial cavity was not destroyed by the suspected bullet that Crown Prince Rudolf had fired into his lover’s head. On the contrary, the cranial cavity showed signs of trauma. These lacerations could have been caused by a heavy object or some gardening equipment, but not by a bullet. And if in fact this was the Vetsera’s body, then the official version of a double suicide at Mayerling had been a hoax all along. Zita’s version of the Mayerling tragedy seemed to hold ground.

    I was there in 1988 so the body was probably not there. Anyway, the mystery remains.

  4. “Serbian amateur terrorist”: I think it drains “terrorist” of a useful meaning if you apply it to any assassin or would-be assassin. Was Lee Harvey Oswald a terrorist, or the chap who shot Reagan, or the assassins of John Lennon, RFK or MLK, or whoever the devil it was who bumped off the Swedish PM a few decades ago?

  5. “Was Lee Harvey Oswald a terrorist”

    You’re right. An assassin who sets off a bomb and kills bystanders is probably a terrorist. A good shot, like Oswald, as just an assassin.

    I’ve read a pretty good book about the Olaf Palme assassination. That seems to have been a complete police screwup that let him get away. The MLK assassination is still mysterious.

  6. Good post.

    I recommend “Thunder At Twilight” about Vienna 1914.

    He wasn’t a Serbian amateur terrorist. He and his two fellow terrorists were recruited,trained, armed by Serbian Intelligence from the Top Serbian Black Hand/Serbian Intel Commander [COL Drago___] and trained for the mission. they also had bombs and cyanide capsules for suicide, Princip was prevented from taking it as the bystanders/police grabbed him. His partners had tried and failed [yet the damn motorcade continued]. He got a bit lucky that the large car got stuck trying to turn around. Note this was still novel [kill a head of state] not that the serbs hadn’t killed the serbian ruler years earlier. Same COL running the Op then.

    This is typical of the 20th century successful terrorist; state supported and trained.

    As is ISIS/Da’esh and all the rest.

    Or they rarely get anywhere. The stateless AQ of course isn’t, they have Saudi, Iran, Gulf Arabs helping them. Not that decades of training, support didn’t help.

    Our current troubles=Saudi.

    Iran would be sane enough to back down. Certainly they wouldn’t hit the mainland USA [assassinations are different].

    No I’m not defending Iran.

  7. As to present day: since it’s apparently in our interest to encourage the inevitable Islamic Thirty Years War in the Levant and Mesopotamia, it’s in the American People’s interest to not, not, not commit to or allow any adventure beyond our shores.

    For fomenting trouble in the ruling Global Hegemony’s House [USA] because she’s in the way [and has also become very madly meddlesome oh and getting real is desperate for money] is in the interests of…well..I’m afraid it’s in the interest of much of Humanity now, with the exception of our toady elites in the EU and Japan, and the people in Canada and Mexico.

    For it would take a very dim bulb indeed to miss the significance of America’s internal arms race, especially in it’s current domestic political context – which is driving the arms race, or it was at the beginning of the arms race.

    For you see we shan’t be talking out our differences, shall we?

    We have no interest in any adventure off our own soil on the eve of the adventure beginning on our soil.

  8. “Iran would be sane enough to back down. Certainly they wouldn’t hit the mainland USA [assassinations are different].”

    One of the survivors of Hitler’s death camps said, “If someone says he is going to kill you, believe him.” Iran and the mullahs declared war on us in 1979. They have not changed that attitude. The people of Iran are not angry at us but are powerless to stop their regime. We are “The Great Satan.” I would take them at their word. But, of course, I don’t have an Iran born senior “advisor” at my elbow telling me what to do.

  9. Gee Mike,

    They should have taken their own advice a bit sooner, and should now.

    Iran is 6100 nautical miles from me.

    It has zero confirmed nuclear weapons.

    We have thousands and about 1000-1500 ready to go at all times, enough to deter foreign aggression.

    Israel has 200-400 nuclear weapons and could do their own dirty work today, right now.

    I’m not Israeli, or Jewish. And under the circumstances they’ll have to look out for themselves now. I wish them nothing but well. Now Given their actual relationship with our DOS and PTB they’re well advised to do it sooner rather than later. They are not meant well. But it’s not my problem. Especially under the circumstances now in the States. But since you only saw Iran for some reason…lets go to the map.

    What is a threat to me is these guys from Chicago. Also Washington and NYC [the last part saddens me].

    Iran is a threat to me if I’m in their neighborhood. In my neighborhood the problem is people from Chicago.

    And since they are mad but not totally delusional they I’m their problem as well. I am of course a white, christian non-govt man. [not male. man].

    For you see they’ve arranged things so neither one of us can back down without facing destruction.

    I’ll explain some more.

  10. Distractions at work

    “And since they are mad but not totally delusional they know I’m their problem as well.”

  11. Here is our situation, 6000 miles or more from Tehran.

    2 metrics of Doom

    The first is our money; Fiat gone mad but with delayed but not denied consequential madness which will probably rapidly cascade as the Housing Crisis did combined with many layers of interlocking debt floated by minimum service such as overnight Repo.

    And this means both tremendous suffering and wars.

    The second metric of certain doom is America’s several years running internal arms race. An arms race is defined as demand exceeding the very capacity of all the world to fill it [save TULAMMO Russian ammo, which never ran out]. This happened beginning in November 2008 for most of 2009 before capacity could reasonably meet demand, and again in December 2012 [Newtown response] into mid 2013. Note that demand remains quite high. As do prices. it would take a very dim bulb indeed to miss the significance of America’s internal arms race, especially in it’s current domestic political context – which is driving the arms race, or it was at the beginning of the arms race.

    For you see we shan’t be talking out our differences, shall we?

    An Arms race is further defined as a political response to political stimulation that however takes on a life of it’s own, as the 1930s arms race did. Hitler risked war and committed to it in 1939 because he knew the British were catching up in fighters.

    If you want to know when our internal arms race became not merely a response but a political life and logic of it’s own it’s when MOLON LABE became the New Standard and Battle Cry. Replacing you see “Don’t Tread on Me”. You see at that point there are only 2 options, war or backing down.

    And the government and elites backed down.

    For The People had realize they can’t back down any further.

    The problem of course is they can’t back down from the debt, and all desperate and increasing delusions that we can create all the Fiat we need will not avail them. Just delay and hence horrifically increase what cannot be denied.

  12. BTW when your leadership sucks and indeed you have every reason to distrust it you don’t go looking for fights. You hope – yes hope -they don’t come to you.

    I’m not worried about the “Nazi’s” in Iran. I’m worried about the people in America with dark intentions and clear open hatred towards me and mine.

  13. I don’t ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence. The IRS is staffed with bureaucrats and they have always leaned left. Back in 1972 when Nixon tried to use them to “screw enemies” they still had a culture of ethics. Recently, they have watched the erosion of truth and ethics in government to the point that only a fool (or a Republican) obeys the law. I doubt there were instructions from the White House to audit enemies. It was all in the open.

    The immigration scandal is leftist politics at work. In Britain the Labour Party did the same thing but with Muslims. We should consider ourselves lucky.

    The other scandals are mostly incompetence. Obamacare was a bazaar of leftist wish list items. They all got included and it is unworkable. We will have a rough transition but something else will replace it, even if it is never formally repealed.

    Foreign policy is the most dangerous area. You want “Fortress America” but airplanes have trumped that. I doubt we will see Iranian missiles fly at us. Maybe Israel but I trust them to do the right thing far more then I trust the imbeciles we have been electing, What I worry about is a container nuke with no return address. If it doesn’t happen in the next ten years, I won’t worry because I don’t expect to be here. My traveling days may be over but I still like France and Italy. I’d still like to go back to Greece. I’ll never see the pyramids but that was less important to me. I would like to see Crete and Knossos.

    You may not be interested in History but History is interested in you. This summer, of all times, is the occasion to think about that.

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