|14A022 Blundering into War by Jim Davies, 7/1/2014
This summer marks a somber centenary. On June 28th 1914 Gavrilo Princip shot dead Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, while visiting Sarajevo, and the governments of Europe staggered through a series of blunders during the following five weeks that ended a century of relative peace and freedom and great prosperity.
Princip and his friends were certainly not anarchists, pro-government propaganda ever since notwithstanding. They were Serbian Nationalists, who wanted Serbia to get out from under Austrian hegemony and unite with Bosnia. They had a political agenda.
The plan was to kill the Duke and swallow poison, so that no trial could be held nor facts be made public; they all had terminal TB so they saw this as a noble way to sacrifice only a few months of life. One of the intriguing mysteries is that after Nedjelko Cabrinovic tossed a bomb at the Duke's car in the morning (it missed) and swallowed the cyanide pill, it didn't work. Someone had apparently filled it instead with water.
At lunch, Franz Ferdinand was indignant but said he wanted to visit the hospital where those injured by Cabrinovic's bomb were recovering, so the route was changed - but someone forgot to tell his driver, Franz Urban. So in the afternoon Urban took a wrong turn, and while he reversed the car to correct the error, Princip took the chance to fire his shots. The world has never been the same since.
Those blunders were just the beginning. Serbia had "insulted" Austria, so its government presented a list of demands - almost all of which were met. The elderly Emperor Franz Josef was persuaded not to accept the response however, and so the armies marched. When his invaded Russia's friend Serbia, Russia retaliated against Austria; Germany by treaty declared war on Russia, so France by treaty did so on Germany, and the madness began.
The Brits had no treaty obligation to join in with France, but there was an understanding - an informal entente. The British government decided to honor it, taking as a technical excuse an old obligation to preserve Belgian neutrality. This was what the German one had not expected; if Kaiser Wilhelm had guessed they would, he would have told Austria to get off its high horse and settle the Serbian dispute without invasion. None of them wanted a general war; but because of their interlocking alliances and that bad guess, general war is what they got. Sixteen million people died. Bolsheviks replaced (and murdered) the Russian autarch, and repressed that society for seventy years. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist, as did the Ottoman one, the Turks having unwisely joined in on the wrong side. The British Empire began tottering. Everybody blundered. Everybody lost.
The blundering didn't end on 11/11/18; the Royal Navy blockaded German ports, so starving three quarters of a million to death but ensuring that the Versailles diktat would be accepted. That imposition led directly to WW-II twenty years later; its terms were arguably the greatest blunder of all in that disastrous decade.
Governments screwed it up again in 1939, as I described in Blundering into World War Two and in Buchanan's War. The monstrous injustice of Versailles could have been put right and most players agreed that they should have been; but somehow, they didn't get around to it. The British government blundered unbelievably in March 1939 by promising to protect Poland (at FDR's prompting, as we now know) and again in August by failing to secure an alliance with the USSR. Hitler blundered by sticking tightly to his timetable for invading Poland; had he been patient another couple of days, the Polish government would almost certainly have negotiated a settlement over Danzig.
The only party to these conflicts whose actions were Machiavellian rather than plain dumb were the respective US governments, whose relatively low-cost interventions led to replacement of the British Empire by an American one. Otherwise, they were all grossly incompetent. The WW-II body count was over four times greater: 60 to 80 million.
US expertise didn't last; hubris had set in by the 1960s and its government supposed it could police the world. It still hasn't learned otherwise, though the time may now be close. It blundered into an humiliating loss in Vietnam, another in Iraq, and yet another in Afghanistan. At this writing it is, with scarcely credible stupidity, apparently getting drawn in again to Iraq, now that that unhappy country is unraveling the artificial "unity" imposed on it in 1923, following the Ottoman dissolution. Mad-Dog Kerry and his idiot master have blundered over Syria, blundered over Ukraine and are blundering hopelessly over Iraq - even to the extent of trying to arm and help in Syria the very same rebels as they say they want to bomb to death in Iraq! Seldom can emperors have been so ludicrously or publicly incompetent.
Government's stupidity is infectious, unhappily. In building public support for war, there comes a point when "war fever" takes over, even if the politicians back off a bit. The war fever in Munich is well known. The 1914 Willy-Nikky Telegrams suggest something similar. After Chamberlain's disastrous Polish Guarantee, during the summer of 1939 public opinion swung round 180° to favor war with Germany; I doubt he wanted one, but politically could not stop it. In the late fall of 1990 US public opinion also did a volte-face - as it had in December 1941.
It's often said that "war is the health of the state" and so it is, but that doesn't mean that the state is smart when it goes to war. The last century demonstrates the opposite. That vast numbers of humans die as a result provides another powerful reason to abolish this lethal band of idiots altogether. This Blog has exactly that purpose.