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The shots heard round the world.
June 28, 2014 10:31 AM   Subscribe

One hundred years ago today, an age came to an end and a terrible war was spawned. On June 28, 1914, 20-year-old Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess of Hohenberg Sophie, in the city of Sarajevo. This triggered a diplomatic crisis which metastasized into the first World War.
posted by doctornemo (70 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you're really into this, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast has an amazing episode detailing all of the minutia leading up to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination. It's a pretty fascinating story with a lot of nuance.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:39 AM on June 28 [26 favorites]


Agreed. All 3 of Carlin's WWI shows are excellent.
posted by doctornemo at 10:41 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


And the poor old ostrich died for nothing.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:44 AM on June 28 [8 favorites]


WW1 was a continuation of a lot of conflicts that, depending on your perspective, didn't end until WW2, and some are still going. Here's a survey of wars leading up to WW1.
posted by michaelh at 10:51 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


Hell of a way to cap off a century of progress.
posted by codswallop at 10:51 AM on June 28


I was in Vienna a few months ago and saw this excellent exhibition at the State Hall of the National Library. The early propaganda really drove home -- in a way both horrifying and heartbreaking -- how much it was assumed that this would be a "quick" war, a la the wars of 1859 and 1866.

But this was no longer the nineteenth century, and instead of tens of thousands of causalities, there would be tens of millions. Welcome to the twentieth century.
posted by scody at 11:03 AM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Gavrilo Princip: hero or villain?

Gavrilo Princip or Franz Ferdinand? Heroes or Villains?
posted by infini at 11:08 AM on June 28


I've been really learning a lot about WWI lately, and one place I've found that's fascinating is Dan Carlin's Podcast Hardcore History (link to archive)... He has a 3 part series on WWI, with the history leading up, the various leaders, connections (Otto von Bismark's diplomatic interweaving of countries and Wilhelm fucking it all up by kicking his can out the door and then, well, yeah, Princip's fortuitous second opening for a shot, and the mass devastation; reading bits of letters from those who were there, talking about various battles and the changes that occurred (field grey vs bright uniforms; trench warfare vs small clashes then breaks)... The stupidity of it all.

I really really really recommend checking it out, I think there's 3 hours or so total.

What a fucking stupid stupid stupid war.
posted by symbioid at 11:18 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


Oh, or, you know, what mcstayinskool said LOL...
posted by symbioid at 11:18 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


The assassination of Franz Ferdinand is one of those too-crazy-to-be-true stories. That he was never supposed to be heir to the throne until his cousin committed suicide, and then married a commoner over his father's objections, and just the sheer craziness of the assassination just blow me away every time I consider it.

Like, the first two guys along the motorcade totally chickened out and did nothing as Franz drove by. And then the next guy in line threw a bomb at the motorcade, it bounced off Franz's car and exploded under another one, and then that assassin took a cyanide pill and jumped off a bridge -- only to fall into a river with only 3 inches of water and start vomiting uncontrollably because the cyanide was old. And then as they died Franz held his wife in his arms and told her not to die so she could live for the children. You just can't make those things up.

Though, there is one detail that was apparently fabricated -- a few years ago Smithsonian Magazine investigated where the story of Franz getting shot outside a sandwich shop came from.
posted by lilac girl at 11:20 AM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Those weren't ostrich feathers. They are long and (dyed?) blue from some other bird.

FF's clothes are on display at the Austrian Military Museum.
posted by brujita at 11:23 AM on June 28


I listened to Carlin's podcast with interest, but I think he got too caught up in the whole enormity of the regicide and missed that the European powers were poised for any casus belli they could find. There was a simmering drive toward militarism for seven years before the war actually broke out, and some scattered resistance to it from the socialist parties (the majority of which turned patriotic once war broke out). It's tempting to play counterfactuals, but the reality was that war was coming sooner or later. The colonial situation guaranteed it: millions died to determine which powers would dominate the colonial world.

When you look at what actually happened, it's almost comical that the technical cause of war was the assassination of the archduke. The main military action is that Germany invades France according to war plans that it had developed years earlier. Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, Russia declaring war on Austria-Hungary, Germany declaring war on Russia were all a side show to the main slaughter; the central thing was for Germany to be at war with France, and for France to drag Britain into the mix. That was the point of the war; some other incident would have set it off just as well and it would have gone the same way.

As for the assassination itself, you couldn't have planned it better. Send the Austro-Hungarian crown prince into occupied Sarajevo as a conquering hero on a day of major nationalistic importance to the Serbs? That could never be a terrible idea. {/}
posted by graymouser at 11:45 AM on June 28 [14 favorites]


What a fucking stupid stupid stupid war.

Indeed. But also -- and this is the confounding thing when you start to go down the rabbit hole of its origins -- a fucking stupid stupid stupid war that had been brewing for decades. Crown Prince Rudolf (whose suicide in 1889 is what paved the way for Franz Ferdinand to become heir) had written extensively in the years before his death about how the Austro-Hungarian Empire's hodgepodge of nationalities and ethnicities and languages was inevitably creating dangerous tensions that would have to be resolved someway, lest all of Europe fall into war.

In Rudolf's view, the single most dangerous compounding factor was the belligerence of the German Empire (specifically Wilhelm, who had been spoiling for a long and bloody war pretty much since the day he took the throne), and he felt that Austria should look to make stronger alliances with France and Britain, rather than Germany. (Being powerless at court and disrespected/underestimated by Franz Joseph, he was wholly ignored.)

Even Franz Ferdinand recognized that there was a pressing need to address the ethnic and nationalist tensions within the empire, and so in 1906 he began to make plans to develop a United States of Greater Austria once he came to power. (The plan itself was not unproblematic -- Hungary would have to cede lands that it was not likely to be happy to let go of, for example, and it contained some typically unpleasant assumptions about Jews -- and there's no way to know if it would have actually solved anything or just led to another version of the same war. But it is an interesting footnote that Franz Ferdinand himself could see, at least to a certain extent, what was unfolding in the years leading up to his assassination.)

So yeah: as stupid and horrible and tragic and infuriating as WWI was, it's clear that the European empires -- from Russia to Turkey to Austria to Germany to Belgium -- were sort of rotting from inside by that point, and all the mobilization of imperial militaries weren't going to be able to reverse the process. If it wasn't this stupid event that lit the spark (to mix the metaphor), it seems virtually certain that there would have been another one.
posted by scody at 11:47 AM on June 28 [18 favorites]


(or, on missing it on preview, what graymouser said!)
posted by scody at 11:48 AM on June 28


"a fucking stupid stupid stupid war that had been brewing for decades" - one of my favorite book titles is one about WWI's causes, The Long Fuse.
posted by doctornemo at 12:06 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Speaking of books, I haven't yet read The Sleepwalkers but it's near the top of my summer reading list. I'd be curious to hear impressions from anyone who's already read it; my brother-in-law said it actually eclipsed The Guns of August for him.
posted by scody at 12:20 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


The war was the end of empires, and of monarchy; it paved the way for the rise of mass movement-based forms of government: liberal democracy, communism, and fascism.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:23 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


From the Monitor archives: Heir to throne of Austria and his wife shot
Already it is said the days of the Austrian empire are numbered and that the German provinces will gravitate inevitably toward Berlin. This has often been said before, but it remains to be seen whether this time there is any more truth in these rumors of disintegration than in the past.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:27 PM on June 28


The Great War was easily one of the most pivotal events of the last thousand years and I'm always amazed how little knowledge of it many of my fellow Americans possess. Hell, we're still feeling the direct effects today! And I mean literally today since those ISIS types and their allies are reacting explicitly against the Sykes-Picot agreement the French and British made to divvy up the world during the Great War.
posted by Justinian at 12:31 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Kaiser Wilhelm would have found a pretext for WWI whatever happened.
posted by Segundus at 12:39 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


To put the cost of the war into perspective, the British took more casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (which lasted four and a half months!) than all the allied casualties in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, both of which lasted a decade.
posted by Justinian at 12:42 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Yes. Not to make this all about America, but it's fascinating to me how neglected WWI is in American general knowledge and popular culture. If there was an actual conspiracy of silence surrounding it I doubt we could talk less about "the War to End All Wars." Which is completely bizarre, because it informs virtually every diplomatic, military, and territorial crisis that came after it. So what could be the reason behind our studious avoidance of the subject?

Is it just too complicated to boil down into the sort of sweetened condensed narrative American history usually gets reduced to? Is it that we only want to talk about the wars where we were one of the major players? Is it that it's just too depressing to talk about? Why this curious omission in our national narrative?
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:47 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Even crazier is the lack of concern about the contemporaneous Spanish Flu, which killed 3-5% of the world's population.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:57 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Wow. Only one hundred years. So much change. And so much the same.
posted by Glinn at 1:14 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Not to make this all about America, but it's fascinating to me how neglected WWI is in American general knowledge and popular culture.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that World War II came along when newsreels were being popularized in every movie theatre in the country, and moviegoing was something most people did a lot of, even in small towns. Most every movie was preceded by a newsreel recounting the latest events in the war and documenting US forces' heroism. It was sort of like the 1940s equivalent of round-the-clock cable news.

I have no empirical proof, but my guess is that memories of/folklore surrounding WWI were all but erased (or at least made comparatively less significant) by the first years of WWII. Going forward, our great war story was about that one -- caught on film, and talking film at that -- because it was an easier story to retell.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:16 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


A bit of a derial, but I have mixed feelings about Dan Carlin's podcast. On the one hand, he's a talented narrator who seems to do justice to his sources. On the other hand, I think he's a poor analyst, in part because his analysis is subservient to his whole "now this part is really going to blow your mind" tone. On the whole I really enjoy listening to his podcasts but I usually have a good three or four "oh come on" moments per episode.
posted by invitapriore at 1:29 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]


For the US, WWI is a side show because the US didn't do much directly. We precipitated the end mostly by just being there -- the economic value was too great and the Centeal Powers had to go for one last big push, which didn't work. The US has no great battlefield victories to claim, and the Versailles Treaty is a pretty mixed bag. WWII is much more attractive for high school history (even if we conveniently leave out the Soviet efforts).
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:33 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Even crazier is the lack of concern about the contemporaneous Spanish Flu, which killed 3-5% of the world's population.

I have a several times great uncle, Uncle George (George was his last name, I don't know his first), who served in WWI, survived the war, but caught influenza and died on the troop ship coming home.
posted by marsha56 at 1:35 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


re: the appalling general lack of knowledge about WWI in America: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the U.S. entered the war so late, and suffered a much smaller number of casualties than virtually all the other major participants -- the U.S. had about 117,000 total deaths (0.13% of the country's population at the time) as compared to 1.7 million French deaths and 2.5 million German deaths (about 4% of each of their total populations.)

Likewise, in the aftermath, the daily reminders of the war were ubiquitous throughout Europe in a way that they simply weren't in America (U.S. cities weren't filled with limbless, impoverished veterans selling matches on street corners, the way you could see in every town in Germany, just as one example). Most importantly, the outcome of the war didn't diminish the U.S. territorialy or politically; indeed, to the contrary, it set up the circumstances under which the U.S. would take center stage as a modern superpower.

So from an American perspective -- especially in terms of the dominant "America-as-kickass-superpower, woo!" narrative -- all of this made it easy to dismiss WWI as merely a European prelude to the "real" war against the Nazis, rather than the central, tragic point on which the entire 20th century turned.
posted by scody at 1:38 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


When I grew up my person mental image of what you might call Default War, namely what a war is like unless circumstances makes things weird, was WWII. And why not? It's a huge part of history and there are seemingly endless films, books, TV shows, and so on focusing on it. And what's the defining characteristic of WWII? You've got clean, well understood reasons for the fight, at least from the perspective of the the United States. Horrifically bad guys are doing horrifically bad things and the world is going to go to shit even more than it already has if we don't stop them. I honestly would have no moral qualms at all about fighting WWII on the allied powers side.

Conversely, WWI seemed like a weird aberration in that it didn't seem to be about anything. A bunch of people seemed poised to benefit from a classic little 19th century war, and unaware that technology had advanced enough that such a thing was obsolete, they just sort of stood by and let it happen. Next thing you know, like a forest fire getting out of control, hundreds of thousands of people were dying per battle.

But now I'm older and had the chance to learn more about Korea, Vietnam, Bush War I and II, and I've revised my thinking. WWII style "Good Wars" probably aren't the default. Rather, they are almost certainly the exception. I would wager heavily that the vast majority of wars are like WWI; they're basically pointless conflicts allowed to happen for the benefit of important players. I don't wonder why Gulf War II happened anymore. The point of the war was to have a war, no other reason or goal required.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:43 PM on June 28 [8 favorites]


> Kaiser Wilhelm would have found a pretext for WWI whatever happened.

This is simply not true. As David Fromkin (who blames Germany for the war to a probably unwarranted degree) writes in Europe's Last Summer, Wilhelm "again and again favored pulling back from the brink of war. ... The Kaiser, who loved to talk tough, often ranted and raved like a belligerent adolescent trying to impress his peers, but while his tirades were bellicose, his decisions—when the time to act arrived—by and large were not."

The origins of WWI are extraordinarily tangled, and it does no one any favors to try and boil them down to soundbite form. We've had quite a few threads on the subject already, and I refer interested parties to the discussions and book recommendations therein contained.
posted by languagehat at 1:46 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Re the "real war" against the Nazis, that was one thing I liked a lot about Carlin's podcasts -- he dwells a lot on the terrifying modernity of the new German army, and the extent to which the Nazi military aesthetic was very transparently calling back to that earlier entity. There's a tendency to think of the fascist aesthetic as sui generis (even given its glorification of the mythic past), but in a sense the Germany of WWI is the mold from which Hitler's Germany was cast.
posted by invitapriore at 1:49 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Kafka's diary on 2 Aug 1914:
Germany has declared war on Russia. In the afternoon, swimming lessons.
posted by goethean at 2:09 PM on June 28 [20 favorites]


The Willy-Nicky Telegrams
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:46 PM on June 28


re: the appalling general lack of knowledge about WWI in America: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the U.S. entered the war so late, and suffered a much smaller number of casualties than virtually all the other major participants

until ww2 happened, there actually was a fair amount of consciousness and knowledge of ww1, but the lessons of that war, as learned at the time, were that the US never had that high a stake in the outcome, and its influence as one of the victors was pretty much put aside by the other powers, who were more interested in revenge than they were the establishment of a truly peaceful europe - from the american perspective, little was really accomplished and many concluded that it was better for the us to keep a safe distance from the entanglements of european conflicts - hence, isolationalism

even as late as 1939-41 there were many in the country who felt that ww1's failure to produce a lasting peace meant that we needed to make sure we didn't get involved in this 2nd war, as nothing good would come from it

of course, after pearl harbor, which was a greater shock to our national psyche than 9/11, revisionism took hold - instead of being a confusing and chaotic mess that couldn't be explained, ww1 became the precursor to ww2, in a natural unavoidable progression that was partially caused by our country's failure to involve itself effectively in international affairs - isolationism was no longer a legitimate policy to be debated; like it or not, we had to act as a great power

and what was once seen as a victory that had been followed by a slight failure of diplomacy that had no real significant effect on our history, was now seen as a tragic mistake that caused us to shirk our responsibilities for 20 more years until the world caught fire again

i suspect that's the real reason americans avoid ww1 - it's seen as a war in which we dropped the ball

the idea that the stalemate would have continued without our intervention and all sides would have given in to exhaustion eventually is another world's idea entirely
posted by pyramid termite at 3:38 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Happy Birthday World War I!

Hope you're doing well.

Your handsome grandkid is learning to crawl in the Middle East.
posted by Renoroc at 3:48 PM on June 28 [8 favorites]


The US didn't gear up much for WWI; most of its equipment was foreign-designed or manufactured; the industrial mobilization was on a much smaller scale than that of WWII (Liberty ships, gigantic tank factories, the Manhattan Project, a huge aircraft industry...)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:01 PM on June 28


Like CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley dying on Nov. 22 1963, I like to see what gets forgotten because of the Big Events. This day 100 years ago ALSO:"Ty Cobb, noted centrefielder, arrested for alleged attack on Detroit butcher boy." Classic Cobb!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:25 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


My maternal grandfather was born in 1899 and fought in both world wars. My maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather were deported with other Italians from Trentino to work camps in Austria. My paternal grandmother fled the border region to live out the war safely in Verona. She died in 2007 at the age of 107.

My parents grew up during WW2.

I'm 29.

The wars feel much closer to the present, for me. 100 years? Impossible.
posted by lydhre at 4:34 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Wow, that assassination was just so flukey-fluke. Let's kill the Archduke! Okay. Fail. Fail. Fail. Well, I guess I'll just go to a cafe and order a sandwich. Chomp. Oh, look who's here? Bang-bang. Crazy.

I recently read 'War by Time-Table' by A.J.P. Taylor, so there's one interesting view of things.

I blame Napoleon for for WW1. He destabilized the Germanic states just enough to let Prussia start to dominate them. Then the impetus was Colonial Envy, like any modern industrialized nation should have the right to own a nice empire, just like Britannia and France do. The rest is history.
posted by ovvl at 5:20 PM on June 28


I'm 29. The wars feel much closer to the present, for me. 100 years? Impossible.

History may not always repeat itself, but its distant roar can still be heard. Previously:
The Great War’s Ominous Echoes

"It is tempting — and sobering — to compare today’s relationship between China and America to that between Germany and England a century ago. Lulling ourselves into a false sense of safety, we say that countries that have McDonald’s will never fight one another. Yet the extraordinary growth in trade and investment between China and the United States since the 1980s has not served to allay mutual suspicions. At a time when the two countries are competing for markets, resources and influence from the Caribbean to Central Asia, China has become increasingly ready to translate its economic strength into military power."

Margaret MacMillan, New York Times, December 13, 2013.
We are all its heirs.
posted by cenoxo at 5:37 PM on June 28


> I blame Napoleon for for WW1. He destabilized the Germanic states just enough to let Prussia start to dominate them.

Me, I blame Tsar Peter III. He had just enough time between taking the throne and being assassinated to pull Russia out of the Seven Years' War and throw his support to Prussia and save his hero, Frederick II. If it hadn't been for that timely intervention (the "Miracle of the House of Brandenburg"), Prussia would have been squashed like a bug and the whole Kaiser/Hitler thing would have been avoided. (Of course, who knows who we might have gotten instead, but could they have been worse than Hitler? I didn't think so!)

Counterfactuals are fun.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


My paternal grandfather, in France in 1919, after having been gassed in the Meuse-Argonne. My most treasured possession is his pocket watch, still ticking 109 years later.
posted by pjern at 6:06 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Let's say you're bored some day, want something interesting to read about WW1. Let's say you're not interested in the broad brush here, you very much want to read a warriors experiences on the front line: trench warfare, attacks and counter-attacks, gas and bombs and bullets from everywhere and nowhere and artillery and tanks, on and on. My recommendation would be to pick up a copy of Storm of Steel, by Ernst Jünger. Jünger almost certainly the bravest human being I have ever read about, an astounding human being. He entered the war as a private, left a captain. Wikipedia just told me he was wounded 14 times, five of those bullet wounds.

It is of course very politically incorrect to note this but it's true: Adolph Hitler also exhibited remarkable physical courage on those battlefields.

(If I recall correctly, the Nazi party wanted to use Jünger as a symbol but he wasn't having any of it, told them to buzz off and spent those war years in Paris. Not certain on this but I think it's the case.) (That said, he, like Hitler, saw that war a great crucible, from which strong spirits were forged.)

~~~~

I'm not a historian, very much an arm-chair student. But maybe someone can tell me if I'm correct here: My understanding is that Germany was pretty much a brand-new country, like only 50 years old. Being almost completely land-locked, not to mention quite late to the show, they could only look on in envy at the colonial possessions of other European nations, not to mention the number one power-house of the world, England, sun never sets etc and etc. And of course Germany had also to be envious of how the US had plundered it's way across the plains, taking all, killing any who wouldn't bow to lives on reservations...

ANYWAYS, wasn't WW1 a way for Germany to say hello to everybody, shove their way to the table with the other big kids, steal enough from the others in that process to alert all to the fact that they'd arrived? I know that's what Hitler was about in WW2, that he saw Poland and the Ukraine the same way that US presidents saw Ohio and Texas and Oklahoma and Wyoming etc.

~~~~

Dan Carlin. He may not be totally correct, may not have a line on all The True Facts, he maybe has his faults -- I found him really shrill at the first, and annoying, but he's grown on me, and I damn sure appreciate his work, I appreciate what he's given me, and you. His show on Adolph Hitler got me to reading about the man, his shows about the fighting between the Germans and the Russians in WW2 stoked a flame that was already lit, and he led me to authors I'd not yet read but have read now. I've sent him some money and likely ought to send him some more, come to think of it -- it's been a while. I guess I'm saying here plz to give the man his due; whether he's the best historian or not, he has sure brought many of us to learn more than we'd have otherwise.

~~~~

One thing that has come clear in most everything I've heard or read about WW1; the Germans lost any moral high ground they could ever have had right at the onset when they jammed their way across Belgium. My understanding is that the Germans just sortof thought that the Belgians would say "Hey, waltz right on through, no problem -- here, steal some of our food, too, to feed yourselves on the way." but that the Belgians had other ideas, such as to fight to the death and stuff. Which got the Germans off schedule, which of course made them all fussy, and fussy Germans aren't fun it seems, and descriptions and photos of the horrific atrocities that occurred when the Germans got fussy buzzed around the world, and while the Germans almost certainly didn't rape any babies or spit them and roast them for dinner (any more than the Iraqis did in the US run-up to GBushWar1) the English sure believed that they did, and the US believed that they did, and the French believed that they did, and everybody got all super-inflamed and ready for a big fat fight, which they sure got.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:07 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Cain and Abel, Titian (1542-1544).
Click thumbnail for larger image.
posted by cenoxo at 6:09 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


as long as people are mentioning family, my maternal grandfather was wounded and gassed in ypres in 1918

just another american soldier ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 PM on June 28


...the Germans lost any moral high ground they could ever have had right at the onset when they jammed their way across Belgium.

In war, there's a precedent (and a personal price*) for everything: Sherman's March to the Sea, November 15 to December 21, 1864. As he knew, war is Hell (detail), by Georges Leroux (1921).

*Sherman as a young officer vs. Major General, May 1865.
posted by cenoxo at 7:10 PM on June 28


Think what you will of Sherman's strategy, destroying infrastructure in a country you've been at war with for years is a damned sight different from invading a neutral country to attack their neighbor.
posted by COBRA! at 7:40 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


And then there was the last American WWI veteran, Frank Buckles, who not only survived the war but went on to be captured by the Japanese during World War II. What a piece of history.
posted by etaoin at 8:07 PM on June 28


Like CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley dying on Nov. 22 1963, I like to see what gets forgotten because of the Big Events. This day 100 years ago ALSO:"Ty Cobb, noted centrefielder, arrested for alleged attack on Detroit butcher boy." Classic Cobb!

Speaking of (lack of) US awareness, a very small footnote regarding the American experience of WWI: Christy Mathewson, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, was gassed in WWI. A friendly-fire incident no less. (He served in the same unit as Cobb, though two men couldn't have more diametrically-opposed reputations.) He could only coach when he returned, and died a few years later from the after-effects. Much like the skewed focus on WWII, Lou Gehrig's story is so much better known. But what happened to Mathewson is at least equally tragic.
posted by dry white toast at 8:15 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


...the Germans lost any moral high ground they could ever have had right at the onset when they jammed their way across Belgium.

Not intending any minimization of German atrocities in Belgium, of course, but don't forget the horrific plunder and genocide wrought by the Belgians in the Congo so as to "secure for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake," as Leopold II put it.

Imperialism at its heart is brutal, no matter who wields it.
posted by scody at 8:27 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Further to the WWI as crucible narrative, it was also the turning point for another key figure in 20th century history...

Harry Truman had lived a completely unremarkable life basically operating his family's farm in Missouri until that point. He was already in his 30s when the US entered the war. He volunteered, was commissioned a Captain, and commanded a battalion in France. His achievements didn't particularly stand out, though he earned the trust and lifelong loyalty of the men under his command. And withstanding the test of being a leader under harrowing conditions convinced him that he was destined for much more than farm life.
posted by dry white toast at 8:31 PM on June 28


Not to make this all about America

Yes please.
posted by wilful at 8:38 PM on June 28


Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie's three surviving children Sophie, 13; Maximilian, 13; and Ernst, 10; were raised by their maternal uncle and lived in Czechoslovakia and Austria.

Max and Ernst were arrested as political prisoners in 1938 and sent to Dachau, but they survived. Princess Sophie lived until 1990, aged 89. Two of her own sons died in WWII, one killed in action on the Eastern Front and the other died as a post-war Soviet POW.

More details about their family lineage in The Royal Forums discussion Archduke Franz-Ferdinand (1863-1914) and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (1868-1914).
posted by cenoxo at 9:34 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Last thing: When you look back at what Europe has done to itself over many centuries, it's leaders most particularly, it's pretty remarkable to think about where it is today as a continent. While WWI still reverberates (there was genocide in Europe barely more than 20 years ago), the idea of powers like France, Germany, and England going to war with each other has happily faded into the past.

And yes, I appreciate the ways in other parts of the world still deals with the fallout of the Treaty of Versailles. That doesn't diminish the way Europe has evolved.
posted by dry white toast at 10:03 PM on June 28


The NYT has a pretty good feature on WW1.
posted by monospace at 10:21 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


No discussion of WWI is complete without the mention of Sergeant Stubby.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:08 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I have been fascinated with World War I since high school, primarily because it wasn't covered in any of my history classes. We were left believing that world history ended with the Civil War and restarted with the Great Depression. It wasn't even covered in my European history classes, which mostly ended around the time of the Enlightenment.

Anyhow, I know I know almost nothing about it so I am constantly fascinated by every detail I learn or re-learn. From my perspective, it seems to be the crucible of the modern era - perhaps the most significant event in Western history (and, arguably, world history) than anything that came after.

Unfortunately, its not an easy thing to discuss. The causes are complex (to truly understand them, you need to have a fairly decent grasp of 19th century European history), the stories of the actual battles gruesome and the outcome devastating. The post war landscape consisted of defeated nations, new nations, collapsed monarchies and countries in turmoil. While in the long run, it was a victory for the common man over the monarchies of old, the common man still suffered so much more (indeed, the Kaiser himself, though deposed, lived comfortably in exile until his death while his former subjects scraped and starved).

If you really want to do a study unit on World War 1 justice, you need to be willing to devote a significant portion of your course to it.

Not to diminish the complexity of World War 2, but in America it largely gets boiled down to "Hitler and Japan were evil monsters out to destroy the world until brave America stepped in and saved everyone with its troops and nuclear weapons." That's an especially lazy way to describe that war, but its often the received narrative.

That all said, grappling with the history of World War 1 is an especially important thing to do if you wish to have any understanding of how weak, stupid men with no foresight and too much national pride can drive an enormous portion of the world into a stupid, relentless slaughterhouse with little understanding of the suffering they're creating. If you want to understand the true danger of mixing nationalism, low intelligence, and social class privilege into government, look no further than World War 1.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:46 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I've always found the significance placed on WWI as this unprecedented horror and pivotal event on which all else turns to be slightly Eurocentric. Germany applied the methods of 19th Century European colonialism on the Continent. Their neighbours were not happy. Especially Belgium. Poor, harmless Belgium.

Over the next few years, there are going to be lots of "100th Anniversary of the Battle of $belgian_town" complete with horrifying before and after pictures. It's worth remembering that lots of the beautiful big buildings in those towns were built with money from Leopold the "Builder King", money he made by liquidating the people of the Congo Free State.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:03 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Sometimes, a war is so big and costly that you can't address the reverberations of it, without losing your audience, either through great distance or, sometimes, from it being too close to home.

You can have a rap battle, however.
posted by markkraft at 3:09 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Reddit AskHistorians thread: "How significant was Franz Ferdinand in life? Was he known across America? Across Europe? What did he do, exactly?"
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:44 AM on June 29


...more details and pictures about Princess Sophie, Maximilian, and Ernst in the Alexander Palace Time Machine discussion Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Countess Sophie and their family.
posted by cenoxo at 6:00 AM on June 29


Here's some footage of Franz Ferdinand's palace at Konopiště, outside Prague, including a view of just some of the 4,000 hunting trophies he used as decoration (previous discussion of FF's excessive devotion to hunting, even by standards of 19th-century European royalty).
posted by scody at 10:04 AM on June 29


Konopiště Chateau (website) is a popular tourist destination. The trophy hallway — shown at ~1:30 and ~1:55 in scody's YouTube link above — and other locations were used for the fictional Crown Prince Leopold's castle in The Illusionist (2006).
posted by cenoxo at 11:15 AM on June 29


Thanx for posting the link to the NYT feature, monospace, the maps are great, really helpful to me in laying out where it all came down; I'm listening again to the Audible recording of A World Undone by G.J. Meyer, I've got the facts coming out the speakers here and the maps on the screen, nice. So many maps I've found are all covered with arrows and graphs and they're in French or German or who knows what; these are perfect for me, the big picture, an overview of where it came down, in English.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:45 PM on June 29


Want more? I can highly recommend 37 Days.
posted by unliteral at 10:06 PM on June 29


Related: I saw this bit of newspaper history on Twitter over the weekend: does anybody know anything about it?

"The wrongest headline ever has been found - 'ARCHDUKE'S DEATH REMOVES DANGER OF EUROPEAN CONFLICT'"
posted by epersonae at 2:04 PM on June 30


It's fascinating that with an international act of treason / war / whatever the actual henchmen / assassin on the ground weren't "tried as adults" due to being 20 or younger and could only receive 20 year sentences, and the ringleader got the stiffest [death] sentence (among some others) to make a strong point -- we can't let the guy who gave the order off that easy. A lot of restraint and attempt to understand their motivations is seen here, culminating in the Ferdinand children forgiving the one assassin who expressed regret while on trial, with a written letter of complete forgiveness. Not a pardon mind you, which was not their call to make, but personal forgiveness.

We never really learned much about WWI in high school history, which happened to take place in my life during the 90's conflicts that re-defined significant "mid-eastern-Europe" borders. So at the time we learned what instigated the war (the name of the assassin and his order being the most emphasized elements), and connected it to current events, but that didn't really help us understand why it was such a big deal back then and my assumption was that nations were spoiling for a fight and an opportunity to re-draw borders, and since then only the underdogs are interested in going through any more of that.

As I learned more about Iraq during the lead-up to the second gulf war, World War I made a lot more sense to me. There's a huge hole in American understanding when it comes to the events that led to the formation and establishment of Israel too, which seems even more gaping. The things I remember about all of these conflicts are trappings: the weapons, the changes in tactics, problems that come with that like trench foot or booby traps...the evolution of war crimes and international peacekeeping...not a lot of energy seems to be spent on understanding "why," and unfortunately high school history classes always seemed to amount to remembering key names and dates without making any relevant connections beyond that.

"All Quiet on the Western Front" was a great book for being immersed in the bleakness of trench warfare and the mutual humanity of warring soldiers, written in the perspective of a German fighter. I also enjoyed the Sierra / Dynamix "Red Baron" flight simulator. That about sums up my understanding up until the age of 23...
posted by aydeejones at 9:44 PM on June 30


"The wrongest headline ever has been found - 'ARCHDUKE'S DEATH REMOVES DANGER OF EUROPEAN CONFLICT'"

To me this lends credence to the "others were spoiling for a fight" theory. Sometimes reasonable information and inferences one thinks they can draw are completely turned on their head in service of a larger agenda.

Oh hey, some major event just happened, but if you look at it carefully, this is a good thing for European stability, because blah blah blah....this dead guy here was going to make things very tumultuous in the region and wasn't really all that hot of a shot anyway, barely respected but poised to clumsily instigate great woe. Glad that's over with, sucks that he had to go out like that. OH WAIT SOME GUYS JUST TURNED IT INTO A REASON TO RE-STRUCTURE CIVILIZATION *boom boom boom*
posted by aydeejones at 9:50 PM on June 30


Vaguely makes me think of Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre...from a bunch of rabble-rousers making trouble and getting what they had coming to them (I realize this was John's job and all, and post-enlightenment legal principles FTW, for the most part):

Arguing the soldiers fired in self-defense, John Adams successfully defended most of the accused British soldiers against a charge of murder. Two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. Faced with the prospect of hanging, the soldiers pled benefit of clergy, and were instead branded on their thumbs. In his arguments, Adams called the crowd "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs."."[12] In particular, he charged Attucks with having "undertaken to be the hero of the night," and with having precipitated a conflict by his "mad behavior."[13]

To...freedom heroes never to be forgotten! Well, maybe their skin color as needed.

Two years later, Samuel Adams, a cousin of John Adams, named the event the "Boston Massacre," and helped assure that it would not be forgotten. Boston artist Henry Pelham (half-brother of the celebrated portrait painter John Singleton Copley) created an image of the event. Paul Revere made a copy from which prints were made and distributed. Some copies of the print show a dark-skinned man with chest wounds, presumably representing Crispus Attucks. Other copies of the print show no difference in the skin tones of the victims.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crispus_Attucks
posted by aydeejones at 9:57 PM on June 30


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