W1.03 The Balkan Whirlpool
Hi. Welcome back. Make yourself comfortable. In the video presentation we did last time, we looked at Imperial Germany, and we saw some of the domestic factors that would have made the Kaiser really uneasy during 1912. Now let's look at some of the international factors that were on the mind of him and some of the people in his circle. They mainly have to do with the Balkans, cause Germany is getting sucked into the Balkan whirlpool. Let's explain more about what I mean. The Balkans are the part of Southeastern Europe that is anti-imperialist. They're against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They're against the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish rulers that had oppressed them. They've thrown off imperial rule but now they're full of quarrels with each other. Let's take a closer look at these toxic anti-imperialisms. This map shows the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eve of the war. What you see here is this part of Europe, all here in green, used to be under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. But the Ottomans have been driven mainly out of this part of Europe. This area is now a battleground of warring new nationalities. In 1908, this area, Bosnia, which contains people of a variety of different religions and languages, is annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the battles continue. There are Balkan wars in 1912. Another war in 1913. Here's a French map from about the middle of 1913 just giving you a little bit of a sense of it. You don't have to follow the detail of this. The main thing about the map to notice, look up here, there's the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Down here, here's the former Ottoman Empire, now referred to on the maps as Turkey, because it's becoming a modern nation-state under those young Turks. This is the battleground. Bulgarians, Serbians, Romanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Greeks, Albanians, all fighting; Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Muslims, trying to determine the extent of their rule. The Turks are pushed back. The Turks make some in-roads again. The Bulgarians get larger. The Bulgarians get smaller and so on. Do the big empires care about what happens here? Yes. Who cares? The bordering empires. The Austro-Hungarian Empire doesn't want their own empire to be broken up by these aggressive, ambitious, anti-imperial nationalities. The Turks feel threatened; the Russian Empire over here, empathizes with their Slav counterparts here in Serbia. So what happens then are proxy wars. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is backing the play of the Albanians and others against the Serbs. The Russians, on the other hand, are on the Serbian side. The Serbs, for their part, have large ambitions to become themselves a South Slav empire. So what's the big takeaway from this grim story of Balkan wars? For the Austro-Hungarians and their German allies, Serbian nationalists haven't been sufficiently dealt with. There's still a threat there. They've held them at bay, but they're frustrated, and they're worried about the next war. For the Russians, they're frustrated and angered that the Austro-Hungarians were able to have their way because the Germans were behind them. A lot of the resentment actually is focused on the British. The 1912 Balkan war was settled by Treaty of London because the British intervened diplomatically to put a lid on the situation. Actually, here's a cartoonist calling attention all the European powers trying to keep the cauldron from exploding. There's the emblem of Britain, John Bull, also sitting on top of the lid. The Austrians, the Germans, the French, the Russians join in. I use the phrase here, accelerants. An accelerant is gasoline, and the Balkan wars are kind of gasoline that's lying around, waiting to be set alight, which is what will happen in 1914. But the events of 1912 are really changing the way people are thinking about their problems. An especially critical moment is at the end of 1912. The Germans hold a fateful war council. The British have just gotten involved diplomatically to put a stop the Balkan war of 1912, and keep the Austro-Hungarians from putting their boot into the Serbs. The Germans were furious about it. It's the form their fury takes that's so interesting. What I want to show you here are some glimpses into Kaiser Wilhelm's mind. These are just some notes that he's making on key documents during December 1912. For instance, in this document, the Kaiser is jotting down words like balance of power, idiocy. And his observation about the crisis is: Britain is too cowardly openly to leave France and Russia in the lurch on this occasion, he means this Balkan War. And because the British envy and hate us, other powers, like us he means, are not to be allowed to defend their interests with the sword. And if they do so in spite of all assurances, Britain will take action against us. What a nation of shopkeepers, he notes. This is what it calls a peace policy! And the Kaiser actually knew some English and wrote down balance of power in English and then back to German again. Notice the sentence, the final struggle between the Slavs and the Teutons, meaning the Germans, will see the Anglo-Saxons, meaning the British, on the side of the Slavs and the Gauls. Of course, Slavs meaning the Russians, the Gauls meaning the French. But, notice a couple of things about this. The sense that a final struggle is coming, that fatalism. The way in which, instead of talking about the states as states, he's talking about them as racial groups. And it's a contest of races coming to a final struggle. It's that kind of apocalyptic feelings that leaps from the page. Give you another illustration. Here's a telegram that Kaiser is personally composing a few days later to one of his ambassadors. Envy and hatred of Germany will definitely make Britain support France and Russia against us. The struggle for existence, which the Germanic peoples in Europe, Austria, Germany, will eventually have to fight against the Slavs, that's his parenthesis, not mine, supported by the Latins, or Gauls, finds the Anglo-Saxons on the side of the Slavs. The reason: dog-in-the-manger attitude, sort of a spoiler attitude, we're going to frustrate the Germans becoming so powerful, and fear that we might become great. Again you see the same kind of apocalyptic thinking. The cold facts of what's going on in the Balkan crisis wouldn't necessarily cause any dispassionate observer to come to these sorts of conclusions. In other words, the facts of what's going on in this crisis are being filtered through a world view, which he's displaying to you through these historical records. So after these events at the end of 1912, the Germans are quietly making some critical decisions. First, they decide that the final struggle is coming. It will be better to have a preventive war, have the war sooner rather than later, before the Russians get too strong, along with their French allies. Second, they talked to Austria-Hungary, and they let them know that the next time you have a really serious crisis, we're going to be behind you 100%, we need to settle this definitively. They encouraged the Austro-Hungarians to take the hard line, and they were refine war plans that are going to require a further buildup of the German army and also lock them into a plan where even if the war starts in the Balkans, the Germans are going to prepare to wage that war by fighting it in France and Belgium. So as 1913 unfolds, there are more troubles in the Balkans, the German military buildup goes ahead, the Russians and the French are responding. Each side is watching, even more nervously, the arms competition among the others. The arms race, especially among the land armies, intensifies. And relations between the German Empire and the Russian Empire get even more tense, especially as the Germans are reaching out more and more to make common cause with the Turks. So by 1914, there's now a lot of gasoline lying around in the room. Most of the world doesn't understand all of this. The world isn't aware of some of the decisions that have been made between Germany and Austria-Hungary. But in 1914, the match will be struck in that room. That's what we'll talk about next time. See you then.