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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 2014

That's what it said on the calendar, and it gave me a feeling of... I wasn't sure what.  I thought about it a bit, and then it dawned on the history buff- we are just a few short weeks from the 100th anniversary of World War One- the Great War, the "war to end all wars."  And I thought it would be nice (for me, anyway) to do some run-up posts before the day that changed the world so much. 

But to do it justice, you have to know the backstory.  Now, I know that you can get it from any history book if you so desire, but I'd like to try to put my take to it.  That would require a post the size of a small novel if I really get going, and NONE of us want that.  So let me try to give you the abridged version.

To do the story justice, we have to go back to Napoleon Bonaparte.  Not his whole story, just the concept that he fundamentally changed Europe.  Before him, alliances between nations were ephemeral and easily broken.  After him, the powers that be- England, France, Russia, Prussia (think "the north of what we now call Germany"), and Austria (think " a big blob containing what are now Austria, Hungary, the Czech Rep, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, and chunks of Romania, Italy, and Poland")- decided to meet with each other to solve the continent's problems.  This was called "the Concert of Europe", and this concert was a few strings and woodwinds short of a quorum.  Still, the basic idea of the big five solving things together lasted about 40 years, until a little dust up called the Crimean War.

This war, besides making the charge of the Light Brigade famous, was the result of Russia trying to protect the Christians in the Ottoman Empire (their story) or Russia trying to seize Constantinople so they could have a year round warm water port (everyone else's story).  The result was not as significant as the fact that it shattered the Concert:  England and France (along with a backwater called Sardinia-Piedmont which was trying to grow up to become Italy) opposed Russia, Prussia stayed neutral, and Austria waited for the excuse to join the fight they hoped would NOT come.  The "unity" of Europe was broken apart.  And this gave one man and one nation a fantastic opportunity.

The man was Otto Von Bismark, and the nation was Germany.  At this point, Germany was a congloberation (Hah, I was right, that ISN'T a word!) of about 36 independent flyspecks and dirtclods arranged around Austria and Prussia.  And their were two schools of thought as to putting the pieces together.  "The "Big German" solution included and would be dominated by Austria.  The "Small German" solution would exclude Austria and be ran by Prussia.  Bismark, the Prussian leader known as the "Iron Chancellor" had a vision and a plan to create the Small plan.  It involved step one, pick a fight with little bitty Denmark over two piddly duchies, Schleswig and Holstein (yep, where the cows come from.)  Step two, pick a fight with Austria over who gets to run the two flyspeck properties.  This came in 1866, the Seven Weeks War (only the logistics of the day and the peace negotiations made it THAT long), in which the Austrian army was clobbered in one big battle.

The result of that was that Germany was divided at the Main River.  To the north side, anyone who had supported Austria was gobbled up by Prussia, and everyone else "joined" the North German Confederation- AKA,"you keep your king/duke/mayor of the palace, we'll run your economy and foreign affairs."  To the south, you had four independent Kingdoms- Hesse-Darmstadt, Wittenburg, Baden, and Bavaria- depending on the imagined threat of Austria and France to keep from getting gobbled as well.

That lasted just long enough for Bismark to purposefully piss off France, now being run by Napoleon's grand nephew Louis Napoleon.  France went to war outgunned, out-generalled, and outfought.  The little four flocked to Prussia's arms for fear of france; and when France fell so quickly, they ran there for fear of Prussia.  In the Hall of Mirrors in the very palace Louis XIV ruled over western Europe just over 150 years before, Bismark proclaimed the new German Empire.

Now things might well have stayed peaceful for a while this way.  Bismark's Germany not only dominated Europe, but had an alliance (called the Emperor's League) with Russia and Austria.  Italy had just finally united itself, and France was resigned to nervously licking it's wounds alone- and those wounds included the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine ( The pointy part of France sticking Germany in the last map).

But then the Emperor, Wilhelm I, died, and his son soon after, leaving German in the hands of his Grandson, Wilhelm II.  The new Kaiser was a boob among men.  He fired Bismark so he could run things HIS way.  And his way included letting the alliance with Russia slip; Russia then checked Craigslist and found France was seeking SWN (single white nation), and suddenly it was Russia and France vs Germany and Austria.  Oh, and Italy; but seeings as there was a little matter of three Italian provinces still in the possession of Austria, this was far from a happy marriage.  But they still had the numbers, until Willy decided he wanted a navy to match England's; that pissed them off, and after some messy colonial dealings with Russia and France were worked out, it was three against three.

Wilhelm II; not the brightest guy in the palace.

Singlehandedly Willy changed a situation which he had by the handle (keep in mind, Willy, Russian Tsar Nicholas II, and England's Queen Victoria were all cousins) into a Europe divided into two teams, "living in a powderkeg and givin' off sparks" as Bonnie Tyler sang.  And for the next 3 months or so, everybody involved decided to look for a lighter.  From here, I figure I'll do a short "this week in WWI" post once a week until things start getting hot.  Hope you will follow along and learn how what would come will impact the world we live in now.


  1. Chris:
    Excellent run-up to WW1...and I'm eagerly awaiting the NEXT installment. the analogies and inclusions of today's iconic aspects of our world...nice touch.

    You should have been a HISTORY teacher...would have kept ME awake a lot more that some of the ones I had.
    I was more self-taught than school-learned.

    Again, very well done.
    Stay safe (and historically-adept) up there.

    1. I know I'm looking forward to it!

  2. Fun and interesting 'cliff notes' kind if post. Sadly, nit much has changed.

    1. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Works for "those arrogant enough to think they can do better" as well.

  3. You're very good, CW. I always disliked history: all the dates and details about one country beating up another...over and over again. You're so clever, though, you've entertained me. The highlight was the factoid about Craigslist. That's what it all comes down to. Right?

    1. Yeah, I liked that line too. My favorite was "a boob among men", though.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. You would have made an excellent history teacher per Chris's observation.

    If you haven't read them already, I think you might enjoy Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series. I just discovered his website. Interesting stuff there.

    1. I will look into that as I get time... if rich people wanting boat covers ever allow me time.