W1.04 The Shock of 1914-Second Cut
Hi. Welcome back. Make yourself comfortable. Let's take another look at the shock of 1914. Just what happened? It starts with an assassination in Sarajevo. Let's just take a moment to place Sarajevo in 1914. So this is the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914. Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia. Sarajevo is about right here. Serbia, new kingdom, is right over here. There are a lot of ethnic Serbs who live in Bosnia. Serbia believes that it should eventually expand to include much if not all of Bosnia, as well as other territories here in the Balkans. The Serbians are supported by their Slav kindred in the Russian Empire. The Austro-Hungarians backed by the Germans. As you'll remember from last time, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been involved in a series of disputes here in the Balkans, trying to restrain and contain some of the national ambitions pushing against them by countries like Serbia and also countries like Italy. Italy is especially hungry to gain territories going over to the other side of the Adriatic Sea. But, back to Serbia. You'll remember too, from last time, that the Germans and the Austrians had quietly been discussing that the next time that there's a confrontation with one of these Balkan states, the Germans are going to back the Austrian play if they push this to a final reckoning, because the Germans are ready to countenance the possibility of preventive war. None of this is known to European publics. So the occasion at the end of June 1914 is that the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, are just going to be paying a state visit to Sarajevo. Bosnian Serb terrorists, who were working with guidance from a chief of Serbia's intelligence service, plan to meet the Archduke when he comes to Sarajevo and kill him. The terrorists achieve their objective. They kill the Archduke; they also kill his wife, riding along with him in the touring car. What did the terrorists hope? The terrorists actually hoped that a deed like this might indeed set off another war. They thought another war might be just the thing to bring the Austro-Hungarian Empire low and open up possibilities for Serbia to claim a larger portion of the map. In that, they turned out to be right, though the process was far ghastlier and bloodier than perhaps even they could have imagined. It was in effect, an act of what we would call today state-sponsored terrorism. It's impossible that Austria-Hungary would not have responded in some way to this. Knowing the German position, Austria-Hungary took a tough line directly with Serbia. It said Serbia was responsible and delivered an extremely harsh ultimatum to the Serbian government. Knowing that that might create a risk of war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia; they made that move knowing that the Russian Empire might not allow the complete humiliation or destruction of Serbia, knowing that might lead to a war. They did that because the Germans had given them what historians call a blank check, prepared to back the Austrian play, even if that meant a wider war. And indeed Russia did make its move, threatening Austria that if proceeded to go to war and invade Serbia, the Russian Empire would go to war against Austria-Hungary. Now, Russia's decision to take this Balkan dispute, in which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had some right on its side, and threaten to escalate that to a general war was itself a very grave step that is hard for us to explain today. I've focused a lot on the German Empire's insecurities, fears, ideals. There's a whole other story like that that could be told for the Russian Empire as well, that helps explain their willingness to escalate this crisis. Once the Russians make their move, the Germans reply. They make it clear to the Russians that if Russia goes to war with Austria, that's a war with Germany. That then means from the point of view of the Germans, that the alliance between Russia and France is bound to click into place. The Germans are prepared for that, and what seems to have been a local conflict, another Balkan War, is about to escalate into a general war in all of Europe in which the main German military moves will not be to defend Austria, will not even be an attack on Russia or defense against Russia. In other words, the main German response to a Balkan crisis is to attack France. It's worth just pausing a moment, then, and noticing: Why does this local Balkan War escalate so rapidly into a general European war? Partly because of the different military plans of the great powers in the alliance system, yes. But also there's clearly this sense, evident in the German leadership, that the next war will be some broader reckoning. The head of the German army, von Moltke, actually talked about this a few months after the war began, in a speech he gave to a group in Berlin. It's worth taking a look at the way he describes Germany's moment in world history. The Latin peoples, he writes, and here Moltke is referring to France, have passed the zenith of their development, they can no longer introduce new fertilizing elements into the development of the world as a whole. The Slav peoples, too backward culturally to take over the leadership of mankind. Under the rule of the knout, the knout is a knotted rope that was a symbol of Russian autocracy, Europe would be led back to the state of spiritual barbarism. Britain pursues only material objectives. Germany alone can help mankind to develop in the right direction. Germany will not be vanquished in this War. It is the only nation, which can at present take over the leadership of mankind, toward higher goals. Moltke sees this as a war in which the German vision of civilization, its higher ideals above and beyond the mere materialism of a purely capitalist country like Britain, is going to both carry Germany to victory and drive the whole destiny of Germany's whole national mission in leading mankind. The war will lead to new development in history, its result will determine in which direction the whole world will move for the next centuries. And in many ways, Moltke would be proven right, just not in the way he thought. So let's come back to the question we started with in the first presentation this week. Why was the war such a shock to most people in Europe and all those businessmen who were betting on continued, profitable peace? Well, ask yourself the question First: Who was not shocked? The Serbian intelligence chief and the Bosnian-Serb terrorists, they were not shocked that there was a war. And indeed, a handful of people in the high commands of a few governments were not shocked. They'd been psychologically preparing themselves for this moment for at least the previous year and a half. So it really is worth emphasizing that the choices that plunged the world into war, were made really by very few people. Fewer than a dozen people in Berlin, Vienna, St. Petersburg or even Paris, were privy to the critical deliberations to the key military assessments. These are assessments about the way the Balkan crises are intensifying, and how Germany and Austria will handle the next one. These are assessments about the overall trends in army development, and possible opportunities and windows of vulnerability, as the pace of the arms race among the armies had really quickened between 1912 and 1914. Not a lot of people understand how that dynamic had changed, in the minds of these leading generals and royal leaders. And only a few people of the top would have really captured the existential sense of being at a crossroads, including pessimism about the way things are going in the domestic politics of their country. The way that Kaiser would have viewed with alarm the imperial election results. The way that Tsar of Russia, or the leaders of Austria-Hungary, would have viewed their domestic futures, but then they look at war as a possible clarifying, unifying moment that will rally people behind them as the symbols of the nation in arms. Remember you can see from the portraits, all these crowned heads always go about in military uniforms. You'll notice that this analysis tends to push into the background some of the broader factors like economic rivalry, imperial rivalries. Those are clearly important background circumstances. Even naval rivalry, true. But we're focusing on some critical elements in the foreground that account for change. Why was 1914 different from 1904 or 1894? Another thing that's different is in those previous Balkan crises, like the one in 1912, the British had played a critical mediating role. They were that kind of governor that I talked about earlier. The British government did not play quite as active a diplomatic role in the summer of 1914. Why? Is it that they didn't care? No. The British cared a lot about it. The reason they didn't play such an active role is because their government was greatly preoccupied. They are preoccupied with another one of these modern nation-state issues. The British ruling class was overwhelmingly focused on problems with Ireland during the summer of 1914. But another thing to notice is: In the minds of the people who are making these key decisions, where are their brakes? Their cautions about going to war? Some of these people were worried about going to war. It would be cavalier to say that they were simply casual about these decisions. They knew they were making really fateful choices. But a couple of things stand out to me. I've shown you some of the excerpts from primary German documents, just so that you can see the values, the mindset, the way in which these people are perceiving the reality around them. Might be very different from the way other people would've seen the same reality. To understand that, helps you understand their choices. What problems they think they are solving, internal and external. It's also hard not to see that Henry Adams' prediction of 1905 is beginning to come true, the one that I quoted to you. In the sense that, forces are being unleashed that are overwhelming the human beings that have created them. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that the technologies are a lot more advanced than the thinking of the rulers wielding them. So how did the people react when war broke out? Yes, there were a few people who were appalled at what the rulers had done. But what's so revealing is that, to a lot of the publics in Europe, the reactions were as if years of tension and uncertainty had somehow suddenly lifted and all of a sudden it was clear what side they were on, what they were supposed to do. Here's a rail car carrying Germans joining the army, getting ready to fight. You can see the cheerful atmosphere they're portraying for the camera man, the inscriptions on the train, including like this one over on the right, in which they're letting people know they're on their way to Paris. In other words, itï¿½s hard not to get the sense that for a lot of the peoples, too, even though the fight was starting over a relatively narrow dispute in the Balkans, it somehow seemed like the catalyst that was opening the way to some sort of national reckoning that their whole culture had been pointing towards for years. We'll talk some more about how all those plans played out in the next presentation. See you then.