Today began the 20th Century

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the spark that ultimately set off World War I, the defining event of the 20th Century.  

I am sure there will be speeches, memorials, and even parades...and rightly so...the Great War, as it was known until 1939, pretty much created the bloody century that is still affecting global politics.

There has been a great deal written about the causes of the war, its meaning to European society and the great monarchies it destroyed, and the futility and carnage that the first real industrial war caused.  The debate will probably never end over the ultimate culpability for the war--the Serbian secret society with ties to the Serbian government that harbored the assassination plot , the faltering Austro-Hungarian Empire trying desperately to keep its polyglot peoples together; the expansionist Germans; or the conniving Russians.  

Needless to say, the only thing for sure was that once the mobilization process got started, war was inevitable as the old wisdom of Thucydides kicked in--all human affairs are ultimately driven by fear, honor, and interest.

Der Spiegel has a couple of excellent articles about the war. 

Disaster Centennial: The Disturbing Relevance of World War I

Century of Violence: What World War I Did to the Middle East

Germany seems to be no less interested than any other country in the war, and for good reason. This Grouchy Historian thinks the Germans kind of get a bum rap for starting the war. Personally, I believe if the Austrians had gotten their act together and schwacked the Serbs more quickly, it all would have been over quickly as the rest of Europe tried to avoid getting entangled in another Balkan fiasco.  Or as Otto von Bismarck remarked correctly that the whole region was not worth “the healthy bones of single Pomeranian musketeer.”

 What's interesting is the growing historical body that places more responsibility at the feet of the Russians.  While interesting and revisionist (and I love revisionist history <snort>), the politics and alliances probably made war inevitable after the Austrians declared war on the Serbs, and Germany's invasion of Belgium, although militarily considered necessary, was a diplomatic blunder of the first order as it made Britain's entrance into the war, still uncertain in early August 1914, inevitable.

Of course there are many comparisons of 2014 to see if we have learned anything.  Hmmm, I have my doubts.  Unfortunately for liberal latte Utopians, there is still a large body of people in the world willing and happy to kill you because you do not worship their God (no, I am not talking about Tea Partyers, although the usual suspects at MSNBCBSWAPONYT would think so).  I was, of course, referring to the religion of peace that is currently wreaking havoc in the Middle East and seeking to undo the Sykes-Picot Treaty , one of the more infamous outcomes of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.  There are many other comparisons of China vs the US to Britain vs Germany, all of which are kinda superficial if you ask me.  Unfortunately for the One-Worlders, religion, nationality, and basic tribal instincts still rule man.  Now with nuclear awesome is that.

On the flip side, the 100th anniversary will inevitable set off a flood of new scholarship and books (yea!) as Americans seek to understand (hopefully) this often forgotten war and its affects on everything from aviation (the development of airplanes was clearly fostered by war) to the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire, to the rise of Imperial Japan.  

 A couple of my new favorite books are Max Hastings Catastrophe 1914, reviewed here.



Hew Strachan is a definite guru on all things World War I.  I am currently enjoying his revised one volume history which is a wonderful anthology of essays written by many top-notch historians.  It goes into many aspects of the war not covered by a typical military history and looks to provide some excellent new insights.




and a couple on pre-order:


 Was World War I the defining event of the 20th Century?...I think so.  Was it the "war to end all wars?"  Well clearly not..I think the best way to think of it is the 20th century version of a Thirty Years War....a devastating war that destroyed the old world order, ended monarchies, left Germany destroyed, and created a legacy of bloodshed and destruction that Europe is still coming to terms with historically.

 Sir Edmund Grey said it best,

"The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time".