June 27, 2014

100 years ago today, madness began at #Sarajevo for #WWI

Most world history or western civilization books will date the death of the "ancien regime" to Jan. 21, 1793, the date of the execution of Louis XVI of France.

And, they'd be wrong.

Twenty-one years later, his brother was on the throne as Louis XVIII. All the other crowned heads of Europe, with exception of a few minor princelings in Germany and Italy, were also back, and not only back, but stronger than ever.

Was it 1848, then? Non! Four years later, France had another emperor and nothing had changed elsewhere.

It wasn't the whistle of a guillotine on the Place de la Concorde on a gray day in wintry Paris that spelled finis for old Europe. Rather, it was a whiff of gunpower on a street corner in a backwater of the Balkans, Sarajavo, annexed Bosnian territory, Austria-Hungary.

Franz Ferdinand, not a rock band yet, but just the heir to the throne of the autocratic Dual Monarchy, lay dying in his automobile along with his wife, courtesy of the lucky gunshots of Gavrilo Princip after the Grand Duke's chauffeur missed a turn.

On such bits of fate do the wheels of world history sometimes turn.

To compare 1914 to 1793? France was not permanently a republic until 1871, with allowance for the Vichy years. A crumbling, non-imperial Holy Roman Empire had been replaced by a shiny autocratic German Empire, with that area, even in part, not permanently seeing democratic government until 1949.

The Hapsburgs were forced to split power within their realms between Austrians and Hungarians after the 1867 revolution that followed the Seven Weeks War, hence the Dual Monarchy. However, on the exterior, at least, it was as autocratic as ever. On the inside? The Hapsburg predilection for schlamperei, really, like schadenfreude, not having a single-word English equivalent, but, in Austrian German, meaning something like "insouciant inefficiency," was on the rise.

The Romanovs and Russia, despite a nominal parliament, were as autocratic as in 1793, albeit with emancipated serfs, and more powerful as a country. The Ottoman sultans had lost most of the Balkans and North Africa, but still held autocratic power in their homeland. One of the minor Italian houses, Savoy, had unified Italy into a kingdom.

No, other than with the post-Prussian French republic, and some democratization in Britain, the ancien regime was still in place in 1914.

That said, Gavrilo Princip didn't just help topple the ancien regime.

With the help of one Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the ancien United States crumbled, too.

I've said time and again, and people who read my reviews of WWI related books on Goodreads or Amazon know this to be the case, that we the USofA had no dammed business getting involved in the not-so-Great War.

First, Britain's blockade by extension was just as illegal under international law as German submarine warfare was. But, Wilson never really  protested the former, and Germany, in usual Wilhelmine fumbling, failed to adequately organize neutral powers on the issue. (Don't forget, the Netherlands and Denmark, both bordering Germany, were uninvaded neutrals during WWI.)

With the alternative history of either 1912 Speaker of the House Champ Clark getting the Democratic presidential nomination, or the 1870s federal government listening to an ancillary idea from Horace Greeley of "Go west, young man" fame and moving the national capital to St. Louis, we either would have had a truly neutral president or else the capital removed from the Eastern establishment with Midwestern isolationists regularly protesting Wilson.

But, we didn't. Wilson, myths aside, tilted pro-British from the start. He was enamored of the British parliamentary system, and his book, "Congressional Government," was based on the work of British political scientist Walter Bagehot. Beyond Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and others of the Eastern Establishment (and yes, there was such a thing back then, already) hankered for war with Germany.

Just as Wilson wasn't truly neutral, the Lusitania wasn't an innocent passenger ship. It was carrying ammunition and other military munitions for the Allies, and it was armed with 4-inch guns, big enough to easily sink a surfaced submarine. (WWI subs had far shorter travel distances underwater than did WWII models. They had to surface frequently to recharge batteries. Also, torpedoes of that era were less accurate, and sub commanders liked to use their own surface guns when possible, instead.)

Was Germany innocent? No ... it did invade neutral Belgium. (Whether Britain would have entered the war without that is an interesting question. The Conservatives very much favored that, but they were on the outside; the ruling Liberals, before Belgium gave them a casus belli, leaned against the idea.)

What would have happened, had the US not entered?

On the Eastern Front, things would have played out just as they did, except that Germany, knowing the US wasn't coming, would have leaned harder on the new Red government in early 1918, as far as peace term severity.

In the West? Let's assume that British, recognizing their blockade by extension hurt Germany more than German subs hurt them, in the face of a truly neutral American president, would have kept up the blockade. A truly neutral president would have allowed loans to both sides, as actually happened, but would have made sure not even the appearance of government backing of the loans happened. British loan rates would have gone higher.

With all that in mind, the 1918 Kaiserschlacht would have faced a worn-down France, and a tiring Britain, even as all three countries neared bankruptcy, too.

Maybe Germany still would have had the Kiel naval mutiny. But, Paris would have been under threat in November 1918 in this scenario, but probably not besieged, rather than the German army under retreat. Maybe German mutiny might have spread to front-line Army troops ... and then to French, maybe even British ones.

A Leninist dream would have seen in the verge of realization ... red Europe.

What next? Would Germany, Britain and France come to their collective senses and negotiated a quick treaty that called for no changes in borders in the west ... a status ante quem, like that of the Seven Years War?

It's hard to say. But, if something like that happened, Hitler wouldn't have. Wilhelm might still have had to abdicate in favor of his son, and the Social Democrats might have insisted on constitutional reform. With massive new territories in the East, Germany would have dominated a Mitteleuropa. Probably, the Dual Monarchy would have shattered anyway. Some Germans might have talked about absorbing Austria, and today's Czech Republic lands, as a state of the German Empire, just like Prussia, Bavaria or Baden. Emperor Karl would be Archduke Karl, if he could hold on to that; if not, the Austrian province would have other government within the Second Reich.

With the price of unsecured loans coming due, the British and French colonial empires would have become iffy even without a second world war. Britain, France and Italy might have formed a Triple Alliance, warning Germany that, as long as it looked east only, and kept a lid on the Soviet Union, it could have peace. Shades of 1814 Paris, the triple allies might even have tried to put a Romanov back in power in Russia.

As for Sarajevo, Bosnia, Serbia, Yugoslavia, etc.? Could the results have been any worse for most of their residents in this counterfactual history than in reality? Probably not.

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