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


Monday, June 30, 2014

This week in WWI- "We were afraid you might..."

NOTE:  Be sure you read the Saturday post first!

Act one begins with a shot, two shots, and the Heir to an ancient Empire being laid in a royal "pauper's grave".  There are two scenes, playing simultaneously.  One is playing in the grubby streets of Sarajevo, where Austrian police begin the investigation into the assassination.  The author of the coming horrors, Gavrilo Princep, is unmoved by the dogs he has unleashed.  He was convinced in his dying days that "the Germans would find another way to start it", had he not killed the Archduke and his pregnant wife (which he claims he was aiming at General Patiorek and missed).  And the grandson of the man who succeeded to the throne in 1916 when "the old gentleman" passed away agreed:

 “If you were to simplify it, you could say that the shooting in Sarajevo started the first world war. But if there hadn’t been the shooting in Sarajevo, it would have kicked off three weeks later somewhere else.” Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, the grandson of the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Charles I.

I woulda been Charles the Second... oh, well...

At his capture, he was a loyal Serb, denying a large conspiracy, denying anything that would connect the crime to Serbia, saying he acted alone.  The Bomber Charbonivich admitted that he knew Princep, but claimed they had come up with the idea of killing FF independently.  But by Thursday, organizer Danilo Illich rolled on the three Sarajevo members he recruited to save his miserable hide.  Princep then decided to confess, if he could talk to his co-conspirators first.  He was hoping to keep the hounds from sniffing all the way to Belgrade, but it was too late for that.

In the other arena, that of the diplomatic world, we are about to be introduced to a cast of fools who will seal the fate of millions surer than any Bosnian bullet.  Austrian Foreign Minister Bercthold met with the German ambassador, Heinreich Tschirschky, breathing fire.  But HT, looking back at the last decade of the Kaiser trying to avoid war in the Balkans, recommended caution.  The next day, Bercthold met with another fool, War Minister Conrad von Hotzendorf, who advised mobilization. (In those days, this was the last step preparatory to war- and it was usually easier to just go to war than to back down after mobilization.  Austria had nearly went bankrupt after their last mobilization in 1908, and a false start this time would undoubtedly finish them.)  Ironically, when Bercthold asked for mobilization nearly a month later, Conrad said it would take two weeks before he was ready.

Bercthold:  And I wonder which of us is the bigger idiot...

On Wednesday, a German reporter "well-placed in the German military" sounded out Bercthold's chief of staff, Count Alexander Hoyos.  In a conversation loaded with unconfirmed hints, the reporter advised that the Austrians, if they wanted war backup from the Kaiser, they needed to approach him before his anger over the murder of his good friend FF subsided.

Thursday was when the ball really got rolling.  By then Wilhelm had read the dispatch from HT about his talk with Bercthold advising caution.  Willy's reaction was not pleasant.  "Who advised him to do this?  This is utterly stupid!" he wrote on the margin of the telegraph.  Thus it was that Thursday HT changed his tune, urging the Foreign Minister that Austria should take "vigorous action" against the Serbs.  But if Willy wasn't a problem, Hungarian leader Count Tisza was.  He was not unaware that war with Serbia most likely meant war with Russia, and that that meant the destruction of the Empire.  Neither was Conrad, who told his mistress:

 “(It) will be a hopeless struggle, but nevertheless it must be because such an ancient monarchy and such an ancient army cannot perish ingloriously.” 

There!  I win!

Tisza had written in March a memorandum on Serbian relations (see an earlier This Week), and what must be done PRIOR to any war.  Bercthold then took that memo, attached the thoughtline that clearly Serbia and Austria could not live at peace and Serbia "must be eliminated".  He was going to present it to Willy at FF's funeral, but on Thursday it was announced that the Kaiser was ill and would not attend.  Bercthold needed another plan, and Hoyos suggested he take the memo to the Austrian ambassador in Berlin himself, that the ambassador gets the message across to the Kaiser properly.  Properly being defined as "in such a way that the Kaiser will put enough pressure on us to act that Tisza will back down".  Saturday night, Hoyos left for Berlin; Tisza awoke Sunday to find that the note was on its way- and he had no chance to approve any changes.

Snuck right past Tisza, I did!

The ambassador met with Willy on either side of lunch, and as author Sean McMeekin put it in July 1914:

"Having now twice told (Austrian ambassador Count) Szogyeny that he could not say anything further without consulting his chancellor, the Kaiser proceeded to do just that."

                                                    - McMeekin, p. 99.

What he did was give Szogyeny the first of two "blank checks" that Germany would give the Austrians; if Russia attacked her for attacking Serbia, Germany had her back.  As the ambassador went to report to Hoyos, the Kaiser called a meeting of all his major ministers (at least the ones that weren't on vacation at the time) in Potsdam.  And when they read the note, they... were confused.  Was the message the peaceful part authored by Tisza, or the warlike coda by Bercthold?  The only thing that they were sure of after the meeting was something they already suspected- Austria was governed by idiots.  In an attempt to figure out what was actually going on, sent Undersecretary of State Arthur Zimmerman (if you know the story of the USA in WWI, yes, that Zimmerman) to talk to Hoyos and get answers.  Hoyos confirmed the Bercthold ending, saying you don't think we'd just let this go unpunished, do you?  Zimmerman's answer was as telling about Germany's position on war as it was of their opinion of Austrian diplomacy:

"No, but we were a little afraid you might."


  1. World War I was about as idiotic a war as you can get. A bunch of dudes puffing their chests out in a murderous display of hubris.
    Pity mankind hasn't progressed all that much since then.
    Oh, wait, now we have nukes. I feel better now.
    Great essay.

    1. Thanks. But I wonder sometimes as I read on how much was hubris and how much was inbreeding.

  2. Interesting. And sadly I heard a similar line "No but we were/are afraid you/they might"... as it pertains to what's going on in the middle east right now.

    1. One reason I've stayed outta that fray is that neither side's worth a lick. And nowhere near as entertaining, either.

  3. Chris:
    Geez...all these "playas" with nothing better to do than ruffle one another's feathers...(and want more land)
    By the way you've described all this, I'm surprised they held off (the war) as LONG as they did.
    (assassinations don't help much, either)

    Some things (and people) rarely change.
    very good post.

    Stay safe up there.

    1. I've been surprised some of them can find their asses with both hands.