100 years since WWI – MID JULY, 1914

Resulting from interest sparked by the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Austrian arch-duke Franz Ferdinand, I began reading “A WORLD UNDONE: THE STORY OF THE GREAT WAR, 1914 TO 1918” by G.J. Meyer. Just in the first fifty pages, I have learned a number of fascinating factoids about the prelude to war:

-Franz Ferdinand wasn’t just an archduke, he was also heir to the Autria-Hungarian throne. The only son of emperor Franz Joseph (Rudolf) had murdered his lover and shot himself at the age of thirty, in 1889.

-The assassination of Franz Ferdinand (on June 28, 1914) was a bit of a relief to Austria-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph. Ferdinand had deeply annoyed the emperor with his desire to marry a woman named Sophie Chotek, a mere lady-in-waiting to an Austrian archduchess. It became quite a scandal when it was discovered that Ferdinand wasn’t visiting the archduchess for her daughter. The emperor long forbade Ferdinand to marry Sophie, and only finally gave his consent after over two years and with the condition that the marriage be morganatic: neither Sophie nor their children would be eligible to ascend to the throne.

-The assassination was the second one attempted that day. Earlier, a small bomb had been thrown at Ferdinand’s vehicle as it passed, and he had deflected it away. Ferdinand later insisted on driving the same route later that day en-route to visit the victims injured in the event, and while it was during this drive that he and his wife were shot, the two of them had passed by at least four other conspirators that day who had simply failed to act.

-Nobody in the larger world political schema expected the assassination to spark a war, nor did they take particular interest, for assassinations were not uncommon: “in the two decades before 1914, presidents of the United States, France, Mexico, Guatemala, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic had been murdered. So had prime ministers of Russia, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Persia, and Egypt, and kings, queens, and empresses of Austria, Italy, Serbia, Portugal, and Greece.”

-Essentially three men were closest to emperor Franz Joseph’s political decisions: Leopold von Berchtold, Franz Conrad, and Franz Ferdinand. Conrad was obsessively aggressive, having made 25 proposals for war against Serbia during 1913 alone. Berchtold had gained a reputation for passivity, and saw action against Serbia as a way in which both he and Austria could appear stronger. Those closest to Ferdinand, on the other hand, were convinced that he wanted to give Serbia greater sovereignty. Currently an occupied and administrative territory of Austria-Hungary (since 1908), Ferdinand wished to make it an equal partner in a tri-cornered monarchy with its own autonomous government. The Serbs assassinated the one man who might have treated them more fairly.

-Serbia had been involved in wars in the two previous years as well, and each time the conflict had exacerbated larger problems: Austria had been too slow to engage Serbia and had missed its opportunities to weaken them. Russia had each time failed to support its Orthodox friends, the Serbs. Germany had each time failed to support its ally and junior partner, Austria. Each party saw 1914 as a time when it could not fail again.

-Though the world had grown less sympathetic to Austria in the near four week delay between the assassination and the Austrians’ ultimatum, there were good reasons for waiting this long: Austria-Hungary had to get both of its governments on-board with the decision, and the French President would be visiting the Russian Capitol of St. Petersburg from July 20-23. If Austria delivered a disturbing ultimatum before or during that time, it would give its enemies (France and Russia) a unique opportunity to coordinate their response.

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100 years since WWI – July 5, 1914

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungarian authorities managed to obtain information from three conspirators which seemed to implicate members of the Serbian military in the assassination. Both Austria-Hungary and Germany requested that Serbia open a judicial inquiry into the matter . . . these requests were refused.

On July 5, one week since the assassination, letters were delivered to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, requesting assurance of his support if Austria-Hungary sought military satisfaction from Serbia. He gave his assurance almost immediately, and Austria-Hungary began preparations for its ultimatum to Serbia.

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100 years since WWI – Early July

Having passed the 100th year anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, we now enter a period commemorating 100 years since the events of World War I. The Great War.

Previous to this war, the U.S. Civil War, about 50 years previous, represented one of the more recent conflicts of bloody proportions, with about 3,000,000 participating and about 600,000 killed.

About 68,000,000 participated in the First World War, and over 39,000,000 never made it home.

Coincidentally, I highly recommend “Valiant Hearts: The Great War.” Having seen a portion of the game, I am struck by the focus of the game.

Too often, war narratives follow the strategy and tactics of leaders, the exploits of heroes to turned the tide . . . stories which tend to idealize or romanticize the conflict.

In “Valiant Hearts,” the close survival stories (or lack thereof) of a few participants in the war emphasizes that the conflict was not about winning or losing. It was about valiant hearts for whom the war itself was the only true enemy.

I will definitely purchase this game some time in the future. Be sure to watch the attached video!

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