100 Years Ago: The First Allied Victory of World War I

August 19, 2015

Nice post by Mr. Schindler about a forgotten 101-year old battle in World War I. My recent reading has me convinced that the Austro-Hungarian high command was headed by lobotomy survivors.

The XX Committee

[This is the beginning of a new blog series, 100 Years Ago, I’ll be posting to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.]

Exactly a century ago today, on 19 August 1914, Austria-Hungary suffered a shocking battlefield defeat at the hands of Serbia, delivering the Allies their first victory of the Great War. This unexpected defeat occurred in the mountains of northwest Serbia, with Austro-Hungarians forces sent back into Bosnia in a ragtag state after suffering a sharp local setback that quickly unraveled the entire Habsburg invasion of Serbia.

Vienna invaded “Dog Serbia” in mid-August to avenge the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Belgrade-backed assassins in Sarajevo on 28 June. Although Austro-Hungarian intelligence did not have a complete picture of the background to the assassination — there remain unanswered questions even today — they knew enough that it was time to settle accounts with troublesome little Serbia…

View original post 3,203 more words


That Terrible Tuchman Woman

May 12, 2015

I’ve always loved History (in fact, I was once working toward a PhD in it) and, as an impressionable high school freshman way back when, Tuchman’s Guns of August made quite an impression on me. That was then, this is now, and Mr. Schindler provides a searing critique of “Guns…” and a short list of much better books on the events of 1914. If you’ve an interest in World War I or just in good history writing in general, this is worth reading.

The XX Committee

Since one of the hats I wear is that of a military historian specializing in World War One, I regularly get asked questions about reading suggestions. With the centenary of that awful conflict upon us, people want to know more and that’s a great thing. The origins of the war and how it all unfolded so terribly in 1914 are understandably a topic of high interest, and at least once as week, often online, I get asked about one book in particular.

That book is Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, which for more than a half-century has been a popular and widely cited work by the public about the disastrous events of the summer of 1914 that transformed a Balkan terrorist act into a continent-wide (and later nearly world-wide) conflict. The Guns of August was a huge best-seller, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1963, and still retains the…

View original post 1,009 more words


The New July Crisis

July 23, 2014

If I were the superstitious type, a European diplomatic/military crisis 100 years to the month after the July Crisis that lead World War I would have me worried. I’m not superstitious, but Russia’s indecent, aggressive, and barbaric policy toward Ukraine and the West still has me worried. Recommended reading.

The XX Committee

This summer is the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, the “great seminal catastrophe” of the last century, in the memorable phrase of the diplomatist-scholar George Kennan. As a historian who has spent much of his life studying the events of 1914, I had long looked forward to this centenary, and the necessary reexamination of the July Crisis of that fateful summer that the anniversary would bring. I did not expect it to include a second July Crisis.

Exactly one hundred years ago today, Vienna presented its fateful ultimatum to Belgrade, demanding that Serbia clarify its role in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo some three weeks before. Vienna expected their demands would be rebuffed, getting Austro-Hungarian generals the war against “Dog Serbia” that they had long craved, and so they did. That did not work out quite as planned, but then again…

View original post 516 more words


28 June 1914: Uncovering the Sarajevo Assassination

June 30, 2014

I’d let the centenary of the assassination in Sarajevo of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the incident that sparked World War I, pass without mention this weekend. Inexcusable of me, but, in penance, here’s a link to a very interesting post by John Schindler on some of the mysteries still surrounding that event.

The XX Committee

One hundred years ago, the most consequential assassination in modern times occurred. It was the most famous too, since the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo set off a chain of events that led, a month later, to the start of the Great War, a catastrophe that took ten million lives and pretty much destroyed European civilization. The effects of that live on today, in many places: in Iraq, jihadists right now are tearing up the borders of their country that were drawn up by the victors of the Great War, from the corpse of the Ottoman Empire, which suffered its final defeat in 1918.

Despite its infamy, the Sarajevo assassination remains shrouded in some mystery, and that’s what I seek to cut through today. But first, the personal tragedy. It is easy to forget that, behind all the conspiracy and resulting diplomacy and war-making…

View original post 3,168 more words


Lessons of World War I. @BarackObama, take note

February 23, 2014

World War I montage

There’s an excellent (1) article by Victor Davis Hanson (2) on the lessons to be drawn from World War I, or, as I sometimes call it, the 19th century’s collective act of mass suicide (3). As this is the centennial year of the war’s start, we’re naturally seeing and will see all sort of books, articles, and programs about how it happened, whose fault it was, and what we can learn from it.

Hanson’s article deals with the last. After reviewing the standard analyses regarding secret treaties, rigid mobilization plans, and a too-harsh peace, all of which have their flaws, he keys on one that has bearing for our increasingly dangerous world, today — misjudgment:

One of the lessons of the outbreak of World War I is the importance of perceptions. At some point in 1914 the German military and diplomatic community concluded that the country not only could pull off a successful lightning strike against France, but could do so without starting a world war — given various events over the prior decades.

Such flawed thinking is a good reminder that appearances often matter as much as reality in provoking wars. Hitler certainly was suicidal in attacking his de facto partner, the Soviet Union, in June 1941. But for all his crazy ranting about his grievances, Untermenschen, and grand strategy, it was the false perception that the Soviet Union would quickly collapse — given its recent dismal performance in Poland and Finland, and the prior purging of its officer corps, contrasted with the recently successful Blitzkrieg in Poland and Western Europe — that persuaded Hitler to try something so fatally dangerous.

And yet, at the end of both wars, Germany was defeated –crushed, in the latter case– by the nations her leaders has mistakenly deemed weak. War had assumed its role as the final arbiter of the realities of power, at the price of wholesale destruction and millions dead.

For which Hanson sees a rough parallel and lesson for today:

China, like the Westernized Japan of the 1930s, wants influence and power commensurate with its economic clout, and perhaps believes its growing military can obtain both at the expense of its democratic neighbors without starting a wider war. North Korea is not convinced that demanding concessions from South Korea — or simply humiliating it and the U.S. — by threats of war would not work. Iran trusts that the age of the U.S. mare nostrum in the Mediterranean is over, that the Sunni Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms are spent, that once-unquestioned Western guarantees to Israel are now negotiable, that nuclear acquisition is an agreed wink-and-nod obtainable enterprise, and that terrorist appendages can achieve political objectives in the Middle East just as effectively as carrier groups.

Putin dreams that the Russian imperial world of the 1950s can live again, through coercion, Machiavellian diplomacy, and the combined lethargy of the EU and the U.S. — and he often is willing to take some risks to refashion current realities. Failed socialist and Communist states in Latin America nonetheless believe that a distracted or uninterested U.S. no longer cares to make the argument that transparent democratic capitalism is the region’s only hope for the future. The miseries of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are apparently no reason for them to feel that they should not extend them to other countries.

And then ties it to our current leadership:

Amid all that, a minor bow and apology here, or an inadvertent pink line and empty deadline there, matters. Gratuitous talk of “reset” and “lead from behind,” coupled with serial scapegoating of past U.S. policies and presidents, massive new debt and vast cuts in defense, also sends a message to our rivals and enemies that occasional gambles and aggressive moves that would usually be seen as stupid and suicidal may not be any more.

World War I became “World War I” when Germany believed that Britain would not fight to support France or honor an ancient treaty with little Belgium. They were wrong, but part of the reason they were wrong was due to the diffident mixed signals being sent by London. The world now has to hope that the diffidence emanating from Washington doesn’t lead to similar misjudgments in Moscow, Beijing, or Tehran.

Footnote:
(1) Kind of a needless adjective, when talking about anything written by VDH.
(2) Why isn’t this man in the Senate, instead of the blithering idiot Boxer? I demand satisfaction!
(3) Update: I should have made this clear, I guess, but, no, I do not believe the First World War was fought in the 19th century. As I explained to a commenter, WWI and the “suicide of the 19th century” refers to the civilization of the “long 19th century,” a term some historians use for political, diplomatic, and cultural themes that were dominant from roughly 1789 to 1914. The chronological 19th century ended at midnight, December 31st, 1900. The world of the 19th century came to an end in August, 1914.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Peace at last! World War I is over!

October 3, 2010

Today Germany makes the last payment on the debt imposed on her by the Treaty of Versailles, thus marking the end of the First World War after 92 years:

The final payment of £59.5 million, writes off the crippling debt that was the price for one world war and laid the foundations for another.

Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds as agreed under the Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was made to sign the ‘war guilt’ clause, accepting blame for the war.

Germany was forced to pay the reparations at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as compensation to the war-ravaged nations of Belgium and France and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging what was then the bloodiest conflict in history, leaving nearly ten million soldiers dead.

The initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132 billion, £22 billion at the time.

(…)

“On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany,” said Bild, the country’s biggest selling newspaper.

It can be reasonably argued that the crushing burden of the debt was a significant barrier to Germany becoming a stable democracy after the war. Indeed, Hitler made resentment of Versailles one of the centerpieces of his rise to power, and he ceased payments once he became Chancellor.

Of course, in my opinion, Versailles really didn’t end the shooting war: it merely created a long armistice, a timeout before the firing started again in 1939. Indeed, much of the 20th century was dominated by one long war , hot and cold, for control of Europe. Though the primary actors changed over time, the war that started in 1914 really didn’t end until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But, whether one considers the World War to have ended in 1918, 1919, 1991, or today, the great question that’s been asked since it began has been “Whose fault was it?” Who was responsible for the devastation and carnage? Some saw great impersonal forces at work as the Great Power system of the 19th century headed toward an inevitable crisis. Others point fingers here and there, desperate to find individual devils, or even blaming it on one ruler’s overcompensation for his withered arm.

In the end, I agree with David Fromkin’s conclusion in his “Europe’s Last Summer.” Seeing Germany at the apex of her power, from which she could only decline vis-a-vis France, Britain, and especially Russia, the Imperial German General Staff used the crisis created by the regional war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to generalize it over the whole Continent in order to smash Germany’s rivals then and there and establish her as the unquestioned predominate power of Europe. Thanks to this one Pandora’s Box moment, the world suffered 37 million dead and wounded in World War I, the rise of totalitarianism, over 60 million dead in the second round from 1939-45, and the crushing of Eastern Europe under the Soviet heel in a decades-long Cold War that periodically threatened the world with nuclear devastation.

And that’s just the quick list.

Gee. Thanks guys.

(via Big Peace)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)