Posts Tagged ‘world war I’

Gavrilo Princip

July 9, 2015

 

In a somewhat controversial move, last week Serbia put up a monument in Belgrade commemorating Gavrilo Pricip. Who is Gavrilo Pricip and why would a monument to a Serbian hero be controversial? Well, Gavrilo Princip happens to be the man who started World War I by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and so was indirectly responsible for all the horrors of the twentieth century. Here is the story I read from the Associated Press.

Serbia on Sunday unveiled a monument to Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo helped ignite World War I and still provokes controversy in the ethnically-divided Balkans.

Hundreds of citizens attended the ceremony in central Belgrade held on the anniversary of the 1914 assassination which is also the Serbian national holiday of St. Vitus Day.

President Tomislav Nikolic described Princip — who is viewed as a terrorist by many outside Serbia — as a freedom fighter and hero.

“Today, we are not afraid of the truth,” Nikolic said. “Gavrilo Princip was a hero, a symbol of the idea of freedom, the assassin of tyrants and the carrier of the European idea of liberation from slavery.”

He added that “others can think whatever they want.”

Austria accused Serbia of masterminding the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Backed by Germany, Austria attacked Serbia, whose allies, Russia and France, were quickly drawn into the conflict. Britain, with its sprawling Commonwealth empire, and the United States also joined the fighting.

Princip’s legacy is also viewed differently by different nations in the Balkans, which remains a smoldering patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries two decades after the end of the conflict in the 1990s that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

In Bosnia, Serbs regard Princip as a hero, while the country’s Muslims and Croats widely regard him as a killer and a Serbian nationalist whose goal was Bosnia’s occupation by Serbia. A century ago, Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats preferred to stay in the big Austrian empire that had brought progress, law and order.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said during the Belgrade ceremony that the unveiling of the Princip monument amounted to “fighting for freedom today.”

World War I claimed some 14 million lives — 5 million civilians and 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen — and left another 7 million troops permanently disabled. Princip, who was only 19, was immediately arrested and died in captivity months before the war ended.

If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t go back in time to kill Hitler or Stalin, or any other of the mass murderers who so afflicted the world in the past century. I would stop the man who set the stage that allowed such men to gain power in the first place. I would either take Princip’s gun away or jump in front of him and take the bullet he aimed at Franz Ferdinand.

Gavrilo

Gavrilo Princip

 

Just think how different, and better, the world would be if World War I had been averted. The Communists could never have seized power in Russia if the Czar’s government hadn’t been fatally weakened and discredited by years of defeat in war. Russia was changing very rapidly in the years before 1914. Its economy was growing and it was becoming industrialized. It is likely that the Russian living in 1913 had a higher standard of living and was freer than any of his ancestors. The Czar was still an autocrat, but Russia had begun an evolution towards some sort of constitutional monarchy. If this process had not been interrupted by war and revolution, Russia would be a free and prosperous land today. Lenin would have died in exile and Stalin would have remained a petty criminal.

Without the defeat in World War I and the Versailles treaty, the Nazi Party would never have been formed and Kaiser Wilhelm would have remained in power. The German government was somewhat democratic with a Reichtstag elected by universal male suffrage, but there was little patience for radical parties which sought to overthrow the government. Hitler would have lived out his life as an itinerant artist in Munich.

It is commonly believed that the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its large population of national minorities was on the verge of breaking up even before the war. It is possible that over the twentieth century such nationalist movements would have grown stronger until Austria-Hungary was obliged to grant independence to groups like the Czechs, the Slovaks, Croatians,and others. Then again, it is also possible that the Austro-Hungarian monarchy might have made concessions towards autonomy for various regions, perhaps causing the Empire to develop into a sort of Central European Federation. That was, in fact, what Franz Ferdinand was planning to do when he became Emperor. If Gavrilo Princip wanted to free his people, he might have been better off staying home that day.

He also should have stayed home that day.

He also should have stayed home that day.

Without World War I, France and Britain would not have seen whole generation of young men decimated in battle. Their finances would not have been stretched to the breaking point by the cost of that war and they might have been able to maintain their colonial empires for a longer time. This may not seem to be a good thing, but the colonial powers really abandoned their colonies too quickly and without as much preparation for independence as there might have been, not to mention infecting the newly independent nations with the European disease of socialism, which might not have been so virulent without the war.

Speaking of colonial powers, the Ottoman Empire would also have lasted longer. While the Ottomans were hardly models of liberal government, they did manage to keep the Middle East at peace. This means no Israel, but then there would not have been a Holocaust in Europe. Maybe the Zionists would have managed to gain autonomous status within the Ottoman Empire.

I am sure that not everything would have been better. Technology would not have advanced so rapidly without the stimulation of war. Democracy would have been slower to take hold, though there would have been no totalitarianism. The scientific racism held by most educated Europeans and Americans would not have been discredited by the atrocities committed in the name of the master race. And, it is likely that war would have occurred even if Gavrilo Princip had missed. Perhaps the war would have started in 1964 with atomic bombs. There is no way of knowing what would have happened.

Considering that World War I resulted in the deaths of untold millions both in the course of the war and the the war that followed as well as the murder of millions in the Holocaust and in the Soviet Union, I hardly think that Gavrilo Princip was a hero. He did not intend to set off the war that destroyed Europe, but he bears much of the responsibility for that war. I don’t think he deserves a statue in his honor.

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The First World War

February 12, 2015

The First World War was the single most important event of the twentieth century. Every event that followed that war, all the other wars, the great movements and revolutions, and even the scientific discoveries and inventions, began in some way, direct or indirect, from the great and terrible happenings of the years 1914-1918. A world in which that war had not occurred would be a very different and perhaps better world.

Despite the importance of World War One, I have never known very much about it. I had some knowledge of the general outlines, which countries fought on which side, and which side won. I knew the names of some of the battles, the Somme, Verdun, but nothing in detail. I had some familiarity of the conditions of the Western Front but knew almost nothing at all about the Eastern Front, save that Russia ended up losing. I do not think that I am alone in knowing so little about World War One. The First World War tends to be overshadowed, in contemporary minds, by the still greater and more catastrophic Second World War. Yet, had the first war not been fought, it is very unlikely the second war would have broken out. At first the nature of the combatants would have been different, no Nazis in Germany and no Communist Soviet Union. In the United States, World War One tends to get little attention because we only entered the war in its last year. While the US contribution was crucial to the Allied victory, the war did not hurt us as badly as it did the European powers that fought it. Unlike France, Germany or Britain, America did not lose much of a generation in the fighting.

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To learn more about this war, I turned to The First World War by the eminent military historian John Keegan. I am happy to report that Mr. Keegan does a truly marvelous job in relating the course of the war, from its beginnings, in the plans by the military staffs of the various combatants to fight the next war, to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that sparked the war, through the years of trench warfare when massive armies butted heads to no avail, all the way to the last desperate attempt by the Germans to knock Britain and France out of the war before fresh American soldiers arrived to reinforce them. He seems to pay equal attention to both the Western and Eastern fronts. I learned quite a lot about the fighting between Russian and the German-Austrian alliance, not to mention the fighting in the Balkans where the war started.
Keegan mostly dwells on the military aspects of the war and has relatively little to say about the domestic politics of the European nations. He does go into some detail about the diplomatic maneuverings the nations of Europe engaged in during the Balkan crisis that led up to the war. It is somewhat poignant to learn that neither side really wanted a general war in Europe, but no one seemed strong enough to end the crisis. Keegan speculates that if Austria-Hungary had launched an immediate invasion of Serbia in retaliation of their support for terrorist activities, the crisis would have ended before it had grown out of control. As it happened, Austria-Hungary waited for support from Germany, and the wait proved fatal for Europe.

Keegan challenges some myths and ideas that have grown up about the war. He argues that the various generals were not as incompetent or unconcerned about casualties as is often supposed. As he points out, they tried to fight the war as best they could, but technological development was at an awkward phase for fighting a war. Barbed wired and the machine gun made defended positions nearly impregnable, while the technologies that would have aided the offensive, tanks and airplanes were only beginning to be developed. Improvements in transportation, especially trains, made it possible to send many thousands of men into battle, but the generals had no way to keep in contact with their armies once battle had begun. It was no longer possible for generals to lead their men in person; the battles were too large for that. Telephone and telegraph wires were easily cut. Radio was still in its infancy. The generals were removed from the battlefields because they had no choice. They sent their men to be slaughtered because wars cannot be won without attacking the enemy and attacking the enemy’s positions killed thousands.

I enjoyed learning about World War One from John Keegan’s book and I think it serves as an excellent introduction to the war. It covers all the major battles and aspects of the war without getting bogged down in details. Best of all, it can be understood easily even by the reader not familiar with military affairs. I can highly recommend The First World War.

 

A History of France

November 3, 2014

A History of France from the Earliest Times to the Treaty of Versailles was originally written for servicemen being deployed to France to fight in World War I who might want to know something of the history of the country. The war ended before the project was completed, so William Sterns Davis took the opportunity to update and expand the book and make it available to the members of the general public to introduce them to the history of the country we had fought alongside. I think this book serves as an admirable introduction to the history of France from the Roman conquest of Gaul down through the medieval period, the Revolution, Napoleon, and the just concluded World War I. Davis does tend to spend more time on the (to him) recent history of France in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the expense of earlier centuries, but I ought not to complain. There is still plenty of material on earlier periods and I do not get the impression, as I often do of history books that the author is trying to hurry through the early history of his subject.

This book was written in 1919, well before the age of political correctness and post-modern moral relativism and the tone of Davis’s writing shows it. He does not hesitate to call groups of people barbarians or make moral judgments on the personal lives of kings. I personally find this sort of honesty refreshing, though it can be somewhat jarring, especially in the last two chapters. While discussing France’s recovery from the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War, Davis expounds on France’s acquisition of a colonial empire in Africa and Indochina stressing the great improvements French administration made in the lives of the people of the colonies. That may be, but no one asked of the natives of the colonies wished to be ruled by France.

The chapter on World War I reads like allied propaganda with France defending civilization against the Teutons bent on conquering the world. The Germans are clearly the bad guys throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Treaty of Versailles is represented as just and reasonable with the reparations necessary to repair the damage the Germans did to the French territory they occupied. Perhaps, but I wonder if Davis lived to see the troubles the more onerous provisions of that treaty caused to Europe and France.
In general, the book is strongly pro-France and the author seems to have a real affection for the French people. Anyone who wants a good general overview of French history will find what he is looking for here.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2012

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.

 

 

Last WWI Combat Veteran Dies at 110

May 5, 2011

Claude Choules, the last surviving World War I veteran died. I wouldn’t have thought that there were any World War I veterans left alive. It hasn’t been a century yet, but it seems like ancient history, almost another age.

I wonder how many World War II vets are still alive. They must be starting to get rare too.


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