Monday, April 14, 2014

Europe, 1913

Terre Haute, IN – In 1913, if you looked in the right places, the new age had come. There was a new feeling in Europe, that war was finally over. The gigantic book by Normal Angell, which would eventually come to be called The Great Illusion, was four years old. It was wildly popular, and in it, Angell argued that industrial nations would no longer go to war, due to the advances in weapons, and the difficulty in funding such a thing, he believed that even if a war begun, it would fizzle out within weeks.
Hundreds of thousands of workers, members of the great “Second International” planned that, if the great powers ever went to war, they would all go on strike, causing arms production in these countries to grind to a halt, thus making war all but impossible. In France, the military estimated that if they called up the reserves, one in every ten men would refuse to show up.
In England, in one year, there were over five hundred strikes, and in Russia, according to one author; they were having more than twenty-five revolutions a year by this time. Everyone guessed that if the leaders declared war, then the people, at least many of them, would ignore it.
Barely a decade before, the World Exhibition had been opened in Paris. There were over 40,000 exhibits from all over the world. From all over the planet, they came, prepared to show the greatness of their country, but in ways besides fighting. There was an Ottoman Empire Pavilion, the empire that was crumbling; there were great displays of lights, this new novelty. There were exhibitions from France's old enemy Germany, showing that old rivalries must be dead. It was heralded, this exhibition, as a great statement of unity.
But this was if you looked in all the right places. But people in government do not often do that. And in 1914, if you looked where they were looking, in all the wrong places, you would see a different Europe.
Perhaps some of those who said that war would never come, should have remembered that just the year before, 1912, the ship Titanic would never sink, but it had. And now, in 1913, they were saying Europe would never go to war. Little did they know that within a year, the great armies of the Western World would be blasting each other to pieces in massive, bloody battles.
For, in Europe, despite all the rhetoric of world brotherhood, there was still nationalism. A lot of nationalism. In 1871 France had lost a war with Germany, a war that lasted, in effect, six weeks, before they were rolled up and their armies forced to surrender. Every year since, the graduating class of the cavalry academy would be brought to the heights above their shared border with Germany, and showed the hills they would one day charge down.
In Germany, a nation who saw itself as being surrounded by enemies, except for the divided, failing empire of Austria-Hungry, also had a plan, on how to invade France, down to how long it would take them to move a railroad car down the tracks between each tie. They knew exactly every component, and also planned to invade Russia.
There were two alliances in Europe. One was Russia, France, and England. The other was Germany, Austria-Hungry, and Italy. During the years after the great statement of European Unity, the World Exhibition, there seemed to be little but disunity. The Ottoman Empire was falling apart, and everybody wanted a piece. Soon, there began to friction over who got what. Beyond that, the far flung colonies of the great European colonies, began to also have arguments over who owned what.
It seemed that in every crises, everybody at once thought of war. Especially Germany, with its Kaiser Wilhelm I, a volatile character. But he certainly had someone to hold him down. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, next in line for the throne.
He was a more peaceful man with a tragic difficulty in that he had not married royalty. As a result, the line would not pass to his family after his death. But he would rather marry for love, and so excepted the ultimatum on the subject, and married anyway.
In Russia, there was also a voice for peace, Rasputin. A large, mysterious, sometimes almost frightening man, he was a pacifist, and in his country, he was the voice of peace. But someone was going to stab him in the stomach, at the time of Europe’s greatest crises, and there would be no voice in Russia.
The vast armies the nation’s had built up, one in Germany said, had to be used, or it would all have been wasted.
To be continued.

Andrew C. Abbott

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