The Christmas Truce

25 December 2014

Thursday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Christmas Truce 1914, as seen by the Illustrated London News.

A Spontaneous Truce on Christmas Day 1914


In a summer war that was supposed to be over in a month or two, the fact that the war had persisted and even grown in scale over the intervening months meant that this was not the war that was expected, it was something entirely different. And it was. It was the first global industrialized war. Entire societies were mobilized for warfare; costs in lives and materiel spiraled far beyond anything anticipated. And the war drug on. The war had not stopped in the fall for harvest, as wars did during agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization. The war had not stopped when the weather turned bad. And the war had not stopped when winter began. There were to be no winter’s quarters, only continued fighting.

Perhaps the most familiar images of the First World are those of trench warfare. The machine gun increased lethality while barbed wire slowed troop movements, leading to slaughter and stagnation on an unprecedented scale — an industrial scale. Even before machines guns, rifled small arms were beginning to make frontal assaults suicidal, as in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. No longer could soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder and wait to fire until they saw the whites of their enemy’s eyes. The contest of the battlefield would be settled long before ranks had closed at such a proximity. Instead, soldiers dug in, and only peeked above their trenches at the enemy, also dug in and peering from their trenches.

Many popular English idioms date from the trench warfare of the First World War, and we use them without thinking twice about their origins: in the trenches, over the top, no man’s land, and so on. Between the trenches was no man’s land, an area cratered by continuous shelling, and strung with barbed wire to prevent surprise trench raids. When the weather turned bad, the churned up soil of no man’s land turned into mud.

By Christmas 1914 the war had been stalemated for four months. The violence and misery had settled into a routine. The violence became so routine, in fact, that there are stories of soldiers on both sides warning the other side when then would begin firing. It is in this context that the Christmas truce (Weihnachtsfrieden in German, Trêve de Noël in French) occurred.

Here is part of an account of the Christmas truce by Frank Richards:

On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours’ rest – it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit — and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.

Buffalo Bill [the Company Commander] rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too. We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man’s-land. Their officers was also now out. Our officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were our officers.

A longer account of the same can be found at Christmas in the Trenches, 1914.

What stands out about the spontaneous Christmas Day truce of 1914 is the humanity of the individual soldier. The conditions of the war had been inhumane one a scale not previously experienced in wartime. And yet soldiers were not so brutalized by the brutal war they had endured up to that time that they could not recognize the common humanity of fellow soldiers on the other side of the trenches, i.e., the humanity of their enemy. Common humanity is typically among the first casualties of war.

There was anger at the Christmas Truce at the highest levels of military leadership on both sides, where it was styled “fraternization with the enemy.” The generals knew very well that it would be all the more difficult to work their troops up into a homicidal fury if those troops identified more with the soldiers on the other side than with their officers and leaders. They need not have been concerned. The feeling of shared humanity among the soldiers at the front was not sufficient to bridge the gap between the warring powers, though it did provide relief for a day.

While the leadership was dismayed by the fraternization, there were others for whom it would not have been a surprise. Jean Jaurès, like Einstein and Russell, was among the few Europeans not moved by the August Madness. The French socialist leader had predicted that the next great war would mean that the working classes would slaughter each other on the battlefields of Europe, and this is exactly what happened. Jaurès was assassinated on 31 July 1914, as the war was breaking out in earnest, shot to death at a café in Paris, Le Croissant, by a young French nationalist angered by Jaurès’ pacifism.

Jaurès’ pacificism and international socialism died with him, but the essential solidarity of the soldiering masses was revealed in the Christmas Truce as in few other episodes in the war. Idealists — perhaps we should call them utopians — like Einstein, Russell, and Jaurès imagined that this solidarity might demonstrate the futility of the war to the working classes, who would do the greater part of the fighting and the dying, but that time had not yet arrived. Popular expressions of the futility of the war did not fully come to a head until the French mutinies in the spring of 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in the fall of 1917.

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1914 Christmas Truce

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1914 to 2014

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A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

7. Ernst Jünger is Mobilized

8. The August Madness

9. The Battle of Coronel

10. The Christmas Truce

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. . . . .

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Grand Strategy Annex

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The Battle of Coronel

1 November 2014

Saturday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Battle_of_Coronel

A Naval Engagement off the Chilean Coast


When we think of the naval engagements of the First World War our first thought is usually of the Battle of Jutland, the largest engagement of the period, but we are reminded of the global character of the war by smaller (but more decisive) clashes around the world, such as the Battle of Coronel, which took place one hundred years ago today.

Once the land war in Europe stagnated and settled down into the routine of trench warfare that was definitive of war itself, the expansion of the conflict took the form of opening new fronts elsewhere. As the trenches that separated Germany and France nearly cut across the whole of Europe, new fronts had to be opened outside Europe. This was readily accomplished by naval engagements between the navies of the industrialized nation-states.

In far flung waters such as Zanzibar, Madras, Penang, Qingdao, Cocos, the Falkland Islands, Más a Tierra, and Imbros, the naval forces of the belligerents encountered each other, at times accidentally and at times by design, bringing the European war to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. While the trench warfare on the Western Front represented one face of global industrialized warfare, the naval engagements of capital ships throughout the world’s oceans represented another face of global industrialized warfare.

The opening of new fronts globally, and naval engagements in so many places in the world, was largely a consequence of European empire building in the nineteenth century, which gave the European powers bases and supply depots for their newly industrialized navies. This chain of colonial supply depots, with the food, coal, and fresh water required by the ships, grew in a kind of coevolution with the mechanized navies. Navies prior to industrialization could travel the world needing only water and food for the crew; after the conversion of navies of steam power, major industrial port facilities were needed throughout the world that could provide the coal and fresh water required for the boilers. The newly colonized regions of world provided the ports for the newly mechanized navies of the world; like flying insects and flowers, each needed the other.

Ironclads had been introduced to the world during the American Civil War, used (ironically) off the coast of Chile during the Battle of Pacocha — the British had built the ironclad Huáscar for Perú, which was eventually captured by the Chileans and employed by the Chilean navy. By the time of the Battle Tsushima Strait (1905), the world’s powers had built up fleets of ironclad, steam-powered, large-gunned naval vessels.

Europe had been preparing great fleets of battleships for at least a generation. The escalation in battleship construction between England and Germany in the period immediately preceding the First World War may be identified as the first arms race following the industrial revolution, and as such it served as the template for later arms races, most notably the construction of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and the construction of precision munitions in our time.

The First World War stands as the high point in history for battleships — by the time of the Second World War it was the aircraft carrier and the submarine that were the decisive naval weapons systems — and the First World War featured many engagements between fleets of battleships. The Battle of Coronel, an unplanned engagement in which neither the German Vice Admiral von Spee nor the British Rear Admiral Cradock expected to meet each other in force, was significant both because it happened on the opposite side of the world from Europe, and because it was a surprising defeat for the British.

The British were the naval superpower of the time, but the ships that met von Spee’s ships were inferior, and two were sunk in the battle. It was headline news around the world that the British had been humiliated at Coronel. The British reacted rapidly, sending a more sophisticated force to engage von Spee, and the Germans were soundly defeated in the Battle of the Falkland Islands; Vice Admiral von Spee himself was killed in the Falklands engagement.

. . . . .

1914 to 2014

. . . . .

A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

7. Ernst Jünger is Mobilized

8. The August Madness

9. The Battle of Coronel

. . . . .

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Grand Strategy Annex

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The August Madness

2 August 2014

Saturday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Hitler caught up on the August Madness.

Hitler caught up on the August Madness.

Europe Erupts in Popular Support for War


Sunday 02 August 1914

With the general mobilization of the great powers of Europe — news once again rapidly broadcast around the world by the mass media — it was now obvious that the July Crisis was no longer merely a crisis but that a European-wide war was in the near future. With mobilization, men in the millions were moving around their respective countries, and preparing to be transported to the frontier, where battles would soon commence. What was the response of the European populace? Elation. The capitals of Europe erupted with celebrations that we now call the “August Madness.”

Many photographs of the spontaneous demonstrations of public support for the just-declared war can be found at And so it begins… Images from 1914. The most famous image from the August Madness (reproduced above) was of Hitler, seen in a crowd of thousands in Munich. The photograph may be a forgery, but the outpouring of public enthusiasm at the Odeonsplatz in Munich on 02 August 1914, which Hitler did in fact attend, 25 at the time, was real enough.

Bertrand Russell provided some of the most interesting commentary on the August Madness in his Autobiography. Will Durant called Bertrand Russell, “…an almost mystic communist born out of the ashes of a mathematical logician… He impressed one, in 1914, as cold-blooded, as a temporarily animated abstraction, a formula with legs… the Bertrand Russell who had lain so long buried and mute under the weight of logic and mathematics and epistemology, suddenly burst forth, like a liberated flame, and the world was shocked to find that this slim and anemic-looking professor was a man of infinite courage, and a passionate lover of humanity.” (The Story of Philosophy, Chapter Ten, 3, I-II, the whole passage goes on for several pages and is well worth reading) It was as a passionate lover of humanity that Russell found himself repeatedly shocked by the war hysteria of August 1914. The same day Hitler was celebrating in the Odeonsplatz in Munich, Russell recounted his evening stroll around Trafalgar Square:

I spent the evening walking round the streets, especially in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar Square, noticing cheering crowds, and making myself sensitive to the emotions of passers-by. During this and the following days I discovered to my amazement that average men and women were delighted at the prospect of war. I had fondly imagined, what most pacifists contended, that wars were forced upon a reluctant population by despotic and Machiavellian governments. I had noticed during previous years how carefully Sir Edward Grey lied in order to prevent the public from knowing the methods by which he was committing us to the support of France in the event of war. I naively imagined that when the public discovered how he had lied to them, they would be annoyed; instead of which, they were grateful to him for having spared them the moral responsibility.

Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Chapter 8 “The First War”

Russell was both horrified and unable to comprehend the celebratory atmosphere:

The first days of the War were to me utterly amazing. My best friends, such as the Whiteheads, were savagely warlike. Men like J. L. Hammond, who had been writing for years against participation in a European War, were swept off their feet by Belgium. As I had long known from a military friend at the Staff College that Belgium would inevitably be involved, I had not supposed important publicists so frivolous as to be ignorant on this vital matter.

Op. cit.

With the advent of mass society, the mass support of population was necessary for a major war effort, and the European public obligingly provided this support to every nation-state that declared war and began mobilization. This public support for and vicarious participation in the war (at least in its early days) may be considered an additional trigger or escalation that allowed what might have been just another localized Balkan war into a global conflict.

Russell admitted that he did not foresee how destructive the war would be, which is as much saying that he, like everyone else, had no idea what a global industrialized war would be like, but already as the war was beginning he was learning lessons from the experience and changing his views on the humanity, the love of which defined his pacifism:

Although I did not foresee anything like the full disaster of the War, I foresaw a great deal more than most people did. The prospect filled me with horror, but what filled me with even more horror was the fact that the anticipation of carnage was delightful to something like ninety per cent of the population. I had to revise my views on human nature. At that time I was wholly ignorant of psycho-analysis, but I arrived for myself at a view of human passions not unlike that of the psychoanalysts. I arrived at this view in an endeavour to understand popular feeling about the War. I had supposed until that time that it was quite common for parents to love their children, but the War persuaded me that it is a rare exception. I had supposed that most people liked money better than almost anything else, but I discovered that they liked destruction even better. I had supposed that intellectuals frequently loved truth, but I found here again that not ten per cent of them prefer truth to popularity. Gilbert Murray, who had been a close friend of mine since 1902, was a pro-Boer when I was not. I therefore naturally expected that he would again be on the side of peace; yet he went out of his way to write about the wickedness of the Germans, and the superhuman virtue of Sir Edward Grey. I became filled with despairing tenderness towards the young men who were to be slaughtered, and with rage against all the statesmen of Europe.

Op. cit.

Bertrand Russell lived through the August Madness and saw its direct effect on friends and colleagues that he supposed would share his pacifism; rapidly disabused of this notion, he continued with this activism nevertheless and was eventually jailed. While in jail he wrote An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, which the governor of the prison was obligated to read for seditious tendencies before it was allowed to be published.

By the end of the war, many shared Russell’s gloom, but it took years and the death of millions to happen, and by this time gloom had changed into something different that would ultimately shape twentieth century Europe in a way not unlike how the Black Death shaped fourteenth century Europe. One may think of such events as mass extinctions in miniature, that give a kind of intimation of what human extinction would look like.

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1914 to 2014

. . . . .

A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

7. Ernst Jünger is Mobilized

8. The August Madness

. . . . .

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signature

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Friday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Ernst Jünger

Ernst Jünger

Ernst Jünger is Mobilized


Saturday 01 August 1914

On Thursday 30 July 1914 Russia announced general mobilization. The next day, on Friday 31 July 1914, Germany declared Kriegsgefahr Zustand (danger of war) while France authorized full mobilization. One hundred years ago today, on Saturday 01 August 1914, With Russia failing to respond to Germany’s ultimatum to demobilize, Germany began full mobilization and declared war on Russia. The events that had been building through the July Crisis now broke in full force, and the major powers of Europe were mobilizing and declaring war. Among the fates of emperors, nations, and millions of people, one young soldier was mobilized, Ernst Jünger, whose life was to coincide with much of the violent twentieth century.

Ernst Jünger remains today a controversial figure, but also an influential figure — much like Heidegger, who read Jünger carefully and even conducted a seminar on Jünger’s work — but Jünger outlived both the First and Second World Wars in which he fought, and continued to write, leaving a substantial literary corpus. He was sufficiently rehabilitated to appear with both French and German leaders at events commemorating the First World War. His masterpiece, In Stahlgewittern, translated as Storm of Steel, was a celebration of the “frontline experience” (Fronterlebnis) in all its horror and power. The book was much revised throughout Jünger’s life and appeared in many editions; the later editions carry the simple dedication, “To the Fallen,” as Jünger came to be seen as the voice of the frontline soldier of the First World War regardless of nationality.

But while Jünger’s reputation rested on his first and most powerful book, he was much more than a soldier who left a single compelling memoir. Between the wars Jünger wrote a number of provocative works — most never translated into English — and came to seen as part of the “Conservative Revolution.” Whether the phrase “Conservative Revolution” is a term of art employ to distinguish Jünger from the Nazis, and to distance him from them, or there was a real difference between Nazi writers and writers of the Conservative Revolution, remains controversial today — again, for much the same reason that Heidegger remains controversial today.

Hugo Ott’s book on Heidegger, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life, only mentions Jünger in passing a few times, including this quasi-exculpatory passage from a de-nazification committee:

Prior to the revolution of 1933 the philosopher Martin Heidegger lived in a totally unpolitical intellectual world, but maintained friendly contacts (in part through his sons) with the youth movement of the day and with certain literary spokesmen for Germany’s youth — such as Ernst Jünger — who were heralding the end of the bourgeois-capitalist age and the dawning of a new German socialism. He looked to the National Socialist revolution to bring about a spiritual renewal of German life on a national-ethnic basis, and at the same time, in common with large sections of the German intelligentsia, a healing of social differences and the salvation of Western culture from the dangers of Communism. He had no clear grasp of the parliamentary-political processes that led up to the seizure of power by the National Socialists; but he believed in the historical mission of Hitler to bring about the spiritual and intellectual transformation that he himself envisaged.

Report of the Denazification Commission, Sept. 1945, Members: Prof. v. Dietze (chairman), Ritter, Oehlkers, Allgeier, Lampe. Quoted in Ott, Hugo, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life, New York: Basic Books, 1993, p. 324

In contrast, the most damning book yet written about Heidegger, Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935, devotes several detailed pages to Jünger and Jünger’s influence on Heidegger. Faye’s reading of Jünger turns him into a enthusiastic Nazi, and this is not the reading usually given of Jünger’s relation to Nazism.

Whether Jünger is admired or deplored, he is one of the inescapable figures of the twentieth century, and it is his relationship to global industrialized warfare that has made Jünger into a pivotal figure. Many wrote on war and their experience of war; only Jünger fully revealed the changed character of war that reflected a new form of civilization.

The frontline experience that was central to Jünger’s Storm of Steel, and which was the bond of the quasi-fascist Freikorps in Germany during the inter-war period, deserves to be given an exposition as an countervailing account of the battlefield experience of the First World War. One of the most common claims made about the combat experience of the First World War was that it was exclusively an experience of terror and misery, and that this contrasted to the possible adventure, edification, glory, and personal engagement of past combat environments. According to this narrative, the industrialization of war eliminated the possibility of honorable single combat, and the men who went to war were reduced to mere widgets in the war machine. During the First World War we have tiny figures clambering over enormous guns which required crews of hundreds who operated this machinery dispassionately and without any personal connection to what they were doing, much as pilots for the first time bombed targets on the ground without seeing the lives they took. Killing became automated and impersonal.

What this conventional reading fails to tell us points to a fundamental and crucial aspect of the change that came to combat with the industrialization of war. Prior to the First World War, the structure of armies was a perfect mirror of the social structure of society. Not only was there the obvious distinction between officer corps, all of them aristocrats, and the foot soldiers, drawn from the lower classes of society, but even among the officers there was a feudal hierarchy. The higher one’s family in the peerage, the higher one could rise in military ranks, and the most desired spots in the army were reserved for those with the best connections. Thus highly coveted positions like being a mounted cavalry officer were only given to the sons of the “best” families, and in pre-industrialized warfare, the cavalry charge was the “highlight” of a battle in which the greatest glory was to be won.

When the First World War began, many believed it would be a replay of the Franco-Prussian war, complete with cavalry charges with swords drawn. In some places, the war did in fact start out like that, but this was not the primary experience of warfare after industrialization. The typical experience of a soldier in the Great War was to be one of many millions of men in the trenches. Most did not distinguish themselves in this uncompromising environment, but they slogged through and fought as best they could under the circumstances.

The fact that the first global industrialized war was a mass war predicated upon the mobilization of millions of men — the full participation of mass society in the war — meant that millions of men were exposed to the same stimulus, and different men responded differently to this stimulus. War exercised a selective effect in combat that could never effectively come into play with the rigidly feudal armed forces of ages past. While for the vast majority of men in the trenches, the war was miserable, in addition to being an unprecedented horror, there were some few men who “found” themselves in combat, and who came to relish the excitement of trench raids and risking their lives. In Maslovian terms, for some men, war is a peak experience. It certainly seemed to have been so for Junger.

It is often asserted that the last form of the personal duel in industrialized warfare was the experience of fighter pilots in dogfights — and, curiously, we sometimes read this side-by-side with the claim that air warfare is dehumanizing, impersonal, and technical. Everyone has heard of the Red Baron, and many have heard of the great aviation aces of the Second World War, but “aces” emerged in all forms of combat — in tanks, in submarines, and among frontline soldiers. These were men who intuitively mastered the new technologies and took to them as if by instinct. The personal duel, and the sense of honor intrinsic to this form of combat, lived on in global industrialized war, but it became a marginal experience, an outlier in the midst of the millions of men who went to war and who were in no sense suited for killing. In comparison to the many millions who fought and died and had no taste for war, the few who took to modern industrialized warefare represent only a very small fraction of the total.

The distinctive Fronterlebnis, and those who flourished in this violent atmosphere, was not the typical experience of war, but it was new experience of war emergent from the changed social conditions under which the war was fought, and Jünger was its prophet.

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1914 to 2014

. . . . .

A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

7. Ernst Jünger is Mobilized

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Monday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

The declaration of war against Serbia came across Bucharest with regular mail in the form of an open telegram. Written in French (which was the official language at the time), it was handed over to Nikola Pašić who had withdrawn to Niš with the entire goverment the previous day. On July 28th, at one o’clock in the afternoon, in the garden of the Hotel “Orijent,” Nikola Pašić received a dispatch by which Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia. (from Serbia.com)

The declaration of war against Serbia came across Bucharest with regular mail in the form of an open telegram. Written in French (which was the official language at the time), it was handed over to Nikola Pašić who had withdrawn to Niš with the entire goverment the previous day. On July 28th, at one o’clock in the afternoon, in the garden of the Hotel “Orijent,” Nikola Pašić received a dispatch by which Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia. (from Serbia.com)

Austria-Hungary’s Declaration of War on Serbia


Tuesday 28 July 1914

Three days after Serbia ordered a general mobilization, and Austria-Hungary authorized mobilization by the signature of Emperor Franz Josef, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Two days before, Russia had entered a state of pre-mobilization, and the day before France issued standby mobilization orders. Also the day before, the Kaiser finally cut short his yachting vacation and returned to Germany. Now Europe was poised and quivering on the brink of war, with the largest military powers beginning their mobilization.

Just as modern technologies meant that there were headlines around the world the day after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, modern communications technology again made a unique appearance on the diplomatic scene: Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia came as a telegram exactly one month after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Some thought the message was a hoax, but that it was in deadly earnest was made plain later the same day when Austrian artillery shelled Belgrade from across the Danube.

A declaration of war by telegram in 1914 would be something like a declaration of war in 2014 by Twitter or Facebook or by text message. Given the number of armed conflicts in the world today, I would not be at all surprised to hear that one or another of them had been declared via some social media platform. We already know that social media has played a significant role in wars, revolutions, and social unrest over the past few years. A telegram was the social media of 1914, and Austria-Hungary used this innovative technology to declare war on Serbia.

The shooting war that had now begun in the Balkans between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, ostensibly to punish Serbia for the action of the Black Hand terrorist organization for its assassination of Franz Ferdinand, would be the first dominoes to fall in the global conflict to come, which would in turn trigger the participation of the larger powers, already in the process of mobilization, due to the network of alliances, ironically constructed for the purpose of maintaining the balance of power.

One of the problems with balance of power politics is that, when you get it wrong, there is a politically-charged imbalance in the international system, and when others pile into the conflict they escalate rather than calm the crisis. But at this point, although the July Crisis had erupted into a hot war, it was still of the same scope as the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. Further events and escalation would be required to transform this local Balkan war into a global industrialized war.

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A map of Belgrade from 1905, showing the city bounded by the Danube and Sava rivers.

A map of Belgrade from 1905, showing the city bounded by the Danube and Sava rivers.

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1914 to 2014

. . . . .

A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Friday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Nikola P. Pašić, several times Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Serbia, including the period 1912-1918.

Nikola P. Pašić, several times Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Serbia, including the period 1912-1918.

Serbia Orders General Mobilization


Saturday 25 July 1914

As the July Crisis slowly progressed from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand through a labyrinthine diplomatic process that finally delivered Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia on Thursday 23 July 1914, very little happened other than consultations, warnings, drafting of documents, and the like. The day after the ultimatum from Austria-Hungary was delivered to Serbia, Serbia made the ultimatum public. The ultimatum had been crafted purposefully to be unacceptable. One could argue that the war already started with the writing of an intentionally unacceptable ultimatum, but the actual military wheels of the conflict began to turn with mobilization.

Due to the nature of the ultimatum, it was already clear that whatever response Serbia gave to Austria-Hungary would be unacceptable. Knowing this, Serbia ordered general mobilization at 3:00 pm on Saturday 25 July 1914. An official response was given to the ultimatum at 5:55 pm — five minutes before the deadline for a response would pass. Emperor Franz Josef signed the mobilization order for Austria-Hungary at 7:23 pm the same day, although it would not begin to take effect for another two days on “Alarm Day” — a preparatory day to give troops time to get ready — with troop movements scheduled to begin on the following day. From this point forward, events would begin to move much more rapidly, pushed along by “boots on the ground.”

In Carte blanche for Austria-Hungary I discussed the continuum of escalations that led to the outbreak of the First World War as an unprecedented global industrialized conflict, any one of which episodes of escalation could be identified as the beginning of the First World War. Certainly the mobilization of Serbia and Austria-Hungary could be identified as the unique moment when the war “really” began, but there are many other contenders for that claim. For a war as catastrophic as the First World War, a sequence of escalations is necessary to pass from an assassination to a global war.

What I find particularly interesting about the mobilizations of Serbia and Austria-Hungary on 25 July 1914, and the many mobilizations that would follow — Russia on 30 July, France on 31 July, Germany on 01 August — was the role played by mobilization in the First World War. On the eve of the First World War, Europe was an armed camp that had been preparing for the next war for decades, and with particular intensity during the immediately previous years. Mobilization plans were a central fact of the war that was expected by everyone.

Planning a major war for years entails a major effort, and for the growing, industrialized nation-states of Europe, with their cities expanding with industrial workers, the grandiose plans for war had to be executed with grandiose means, and this meant the full mobilization for war of an entire society. While in classical antiquity entire societies had been mobilized for war, this took place under very different socioeconomic conditions — the city-state, i.e., the polis, rather than the nation-state was the locus of political and military power. During the medieval and early modern periods, Europe’s wars had largely been fought between professional armies and only rarely with conscripts. When conscripts were used, they were used only in so far as their fighting did not interrupt the centrality of agriculture in agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization. Peasants would plant in the spring, go to war as conscripts in the summer, and then had to return to their fields in time to harvest. If they failed to do so, everyone would starve.

All of this changed with the industrial revolution and the advent of industrial-technological civilization. The First World War was the first great armed conflict of industrial-technological civilization, and that is why I have been calling it the first global industrialized war in this series of posts. Not only was the new technology of weaponry produced by new industries, but the social organization of war changed radically. Professional armies were seen as the nucleus of a much larger force that could be rapidly expanded on demand. This is the efflorescence of the idea of every man a soldier — i.e., the idea that any citizen of the nation-state could be called away from their plow, lathe, hammer, or desk, put into a uniform, given a rifle, and sent to war to defend the nation.

In order to implement the idea of every man a soldier, it was necessary to mobilize the whole of society for war. This is exactly what all the nation-states of Europe had been planning and preparing to do. Men left their occupations, showed up at a depot where they were issued uniform and arms, given their orders where to report, and the whole of the mobilization for war became an extension of war plans on the battlefield that reached back to the homefront and into the lives of the people. Mobilization, like the war plans of the time, were planned to elapse like clockwork — once put into action, they were widely believed to be irrevocable and unalterable, so that a formal mobilization order was almost equivalent to a declaration of war.

It is possible that the role of mobilization was larger in the First World War than in any war before or after, though it is arguable that at the height of the Cold War the whole of society was continually mobilized for war, as with the famous readiness of the Strategic Air Command. In this instance, mobilization has ceased to disrupt society because mobilization is the social order around which society is constructed. However, this level of readiness is impossible to maintain indefinitely, and is likely to deteriorate. The mobilization of the First World War had the virtue of signaling society at large of a radical shift from business as usual; to this end, disruption served a purpose.

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1914 to 2014

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A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

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Grand Strategy Annex

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The July Crisis

1 July 2014

Tuesday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

July 18 fleet

The Escalating Crisis of July 1914


One hundred years ago the month of July became the “July Crisis.” We know in hindsight that the July Crisis culminated in the outbreak of what would become the First World War, but it was not at all clear at the time that the July Crisis would result in anything out of the ordinary. For much of July 1914, it was an open question whether the July Crisis would be just another crisis in the long sequence of crises (and small wars) that had punctuated the long peace since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. A hundred years of European peace is enough to make even the most suspicious and edgy among us complacent.

And there were many crises of the international system, especially after the Franco-Prussian War:

● 1885-1888 Bulgarian Crisis

● 1898 Fashoda Incident

● 1905-1906 Tangier Crisis (First Moroccan Crisis)

● 1908–1909 Bosnian Crisis (First Balkan Crisis)

● 1911 Agadir Crisis (Second Moroccan Crisis)

● 1912 First Balkan War

● 1913 Second Balkan War

From a contemporaneous perspective, there was no particular reason to suppose that the July Crisis of 1914 should have been any different from the almost annual series of crises that preceded it.

Moreover, these continual crises did not occur in a vacuum, but were punctuations in the dynamics of great power politics: the Ottoman Empire was the “Sick Man of Europe,” there was the “scramble for Africa,” and the naval arms race between Britain and Germany to see who could build the most Dreadnaught class battleships raged. Europeans nevertheless found a way to go about the ordinary business of life. Indeed, it seemed to be a July like any other July. There is a now-famous quote from Stephan Zweig that attributes a unique quality to that portentous summer:

“The summer of 1914 would have been memorable for us even without the doom which it spread over the European earth. I had rarely experienced one more luxuriant, more beautiful and, I am tempted to say, more summery. Throughout the days and nights the heavens were a silky blue, the air soft yet not sultry, the meadows fragrant and warm, the forests dark and profuse in their tender green…”

Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday, Chapter IX, “The First Hours of the War of 1914”

When Stefan Zweig was enjoying, “…those radiant July days which I spent in Baden near Vienna,” it was, incidentally, the July that my maternal grandmother turned 18. I mention my grandmother here because she is my personal link to the past. Being born in the 19th century, she was old enough to remember the war in its entirety, the dancing in the streets when the armistice took effect, and the Spanish flu that followed, which took one of her close friends. I often imagine what my grandmother was doing as these events unfolded in order to anchor myself in past that I know and which has personal significance to me. You could dismiss this as sentimentalism, or, if charitable, call it a thought experiment.

In 1914 a thought experiment would have been a luxury, as the events were unfolding in the real world, but in early July, still at a slow pace. Keep in mind, however, that, of these many crises that preceded the First World War, many of them did in fact erupt into wars — though these wars were short, limited, and local. Europe had not seen a continental wide war since the Napoleonic wars, and arguably the international system had not seen a global conflict since the Seven Years’ War.

From the perspective of contemporaries, even if the July Crisis erupted into a war involving one or several of the great powers, there was no reason to suppose that this war would differ qualitatively from any of the last dozen or so wars. Even when France and Germany last went to war, this too was short, limited, and local. The Franco-Prussian war perfectly conformed to “the dogma of a short war,” and even once the First World War got underway, most expected it, too, to be a short, sharp war that would either rapidly confirm Germany’s preeminence on the continent, or which would return Alsace and Lorraine to France while checking (if not humiliating) the ambitions of growing Germany.

What John Maurer (among others) has called “The Short War Dogma” was a pervasive presupposition of war planners at the time. Here is how Maurer described the outlook:

“The dogmas of political economy that then held sway — the interdependence of great power economies, the seemingly prohibitive cost of waging a modern war, the supposed limited ability of the state to intervene in a country’s economic life, and the fear of social revolution — appeared to dictate the necessity of short wars in the modern era.”

John H. Maurer, The Outbreak of the First World War: Strategic Planning, Crisis Decision Making, and Deterrence Failure, p. 3

…and…

“…military planners could not provide a neat operational solution to the strategic problems posed by a protracted conflict. Instead of dwelling on contingencies that seemed problematical, war planners before 1914 concentrated on the task of securing a knockout blow to the enemy’s armies in the first round — the decisive battle or battle of annihilation. This ‘decisive battle of annihilation’ would overwhelmingly dictate the outcome of the wars fought between continental European states. Bereft of its army, a continental state would have no alternative but to seek an armistice and negotiate for the best terms it could obtain to end the war. The essential component of the short war dogma, then, was the climactic battle of annihilation.”

John H. Maurer, The Outbreak of the First World War: Strategic Planning, Crisis Decision Making, and Deterrence Failure, p. 4

The coming four years were to send the Europeans to the school of Thucydides, in which war, “proves a rough master, that brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes.” However, even while war brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes, the character of newly industrialized nation-states was to prove that the presumed insuperable difficulties of economic interdependence, the cost of modern war, and the possibility of social revolution (which latter was in fact realized in Russia, as well as in the French trenches) could be borne, though at a cost. The cost was staggering, but the fact that nation-states could and did bear a staggering cost in blood and treasure had the consequence of the scope and scale of the First World War, which definitively demonstrated the falsity of the short war dogma.

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1914 to 2014

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A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Sunday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Assassination may lead to war

Headlines around the World


The day after Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, the event was headline news all over the world, reaching all the way to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where The Evening Herald, a local newspaper that published from 1906 to 1942, boldly proclaimed that the assassination may lead to war. They were right — more right than they knew.

The role of telecommunications and the media in the first global industrialized war was central, and this was revealed hard on the heels of the role of terrorism in the actual assassination. Still in our time, the role of the mass media in breathlessly reporting terrorism plays a central role in the 24/7 news cycle, shaping both public policy and public opinion, which latter, in mass societies, plays a driving role in events. Mass man and mass media feed off each other and escalate events, sometimes in destructive ways.

In an earlier age, it might have taken weeks for the news to travel around Europe, and months to make it around the world, but the technologies of newsprint (invented by Charles Fenerty in 1844), Linotype machines (invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884, the same year the Maxim gun was invented), the telegraph (first demonstrated by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844, the same year newsprint was invented), transoceanic telegraph cables (the first completed in 1858, which failed shortly thereafter, but after several attempts regular transatlantic telegraphy was established in 1866), and the wireless telegraph (patented by Marconi in 1896, but preceded by a long train of antecedent science and technology), a nearly instantaneous global communications network was established and continually improved from that time to the present day.

With a global communications network in place, news of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was known around the world within hours of its occurrence, and global industrial-technological civilization responded as quickly with headlines and official responses to the assassination. Belgrade wired its official condolences for the killing to Vienna on the 29th, in England King George V decreed seven days of mourning, and then in Russia Czar Nicholas II, in a kind of grief one-upmanship, ordered twelve days of mourning.

Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić publicly renounced the Black Hand terrorist organization that was behind the assassination, even while Milan Ciganovich, a Serbian state railway employee who was also spying on the Black Hand for Pašić, was smuggled out of Belgrade by Pašić and sent to Montenegro. Despite official condolences wired to Vienna, when several days later the Austro-Hungarian government asked whether the Serbian government had opened a judicial inquiry into the assassination, the response was that, “nothing has been done so far and the matter is of no concern to the Serbian government.”

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1914 to 2014

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A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

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Grand Strategy Annex

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Tuesday


Zeppelin-Staaken r.vi

Recently I have become fascinated by the development of early bombers during the First World War. Driven by the exigencies of the world’s first large-scale industrialized war (the Russo-Japanese War was an industrialized war, but not on the scale of the First World War), aircraft developed rapidly. I have focused on the same rapidity of technological development previously emphasizing the modernity of weapons systems during the Second World War. In The Dialectic of Stalemate I wrote:

“When the Second World War ended, there were operable jet fighters, ballistic missiles, electronic computers, and atomic weapons. None of these existed when the war began.”

True enough, but the essential ideas behind these weapons systems were already in play. An idea can be implemented in any number of ways (admittedly some more efficacious than others), and exactly how an idea is implemented is a matter of technology and engineering — in other words, implementation is an accident of history. As soon as the idea has its initial implementation, we are clever enough to usually see the implications of that idea rather quickly, and thus technology is driven to keep up with the intrinsic potentiality of the idea.

Once the proof of concept of heavier-than-air flight was realized, the rest fell into place like pieces of a puzzle. Aircraft would be armed; they would seek to destroy other aircraft, and prevent themselves from being destroyed; and they would seek to destroy targets on the ground. Hence the idea of aircraft in warfare rapidly moves to fighters and bombers. The pictures above are of the Zeppelin-Staaken r.vi — not the first enclosed bomber, but among the first (the Russians, I believe, made the first enclosed bomber, the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets).

The Zeppelin-Staaken r.vi was an enormous craft with a wingspan almost equal to that of a B-29 and a crew of many men. In fact, these early German bombers were called Riesenflugzeug (or R-planes) — gigantic aircraft. An early testimonial from a Zeppelin-Staaken r.vi crew member vividly conveys the sense of flying the R-planes:

“Inside the fuselage the pale glow of dim lights outlined the chart table, the wireless equipment, and the instrument panel. Under us, the black abyss.”

Trenches: Battleground WWI, episode 5, “Fight On, Fly On”

The technology and engineering of flight during the First World War was not sufficiently advanced to make a decisive strategic difference, but they had the idea of what was possible, and they attempted to put it into practice. The idea of bombers, coordinated by radio, executing a strategic precision airstrike was already present during the First World War.

During the Second World War, the technology had advanced to the point that strategic bombing was decisive, and, in fact, it was at one point the only possible war that the UK could wage against Germany. The evolutionary development continues to the present day. Contemporary precision munitions are finally beginning to converge on true precision air strikes that were first imagined (and attempted) during the First World War.

The point here is that, once the idea is in place, the rest is mere technology and engineering — in other words, implementation. The corollary of the essential idea coupled with with contingent implementation is the fact that the wars of industrial-technological civilization, there are no secrets.

William Langewiesche in his book Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor emphasized that the early atomic scientists knew that there were no “secrets” per se, because the atomic bomb was the result of science, and anyone who would engage in science, technology, and engineering on a sufficiently large scale can build a nuclear weapon.

This thesis should be generalized and extrapolated beyond the science of nuclear weapons. Precision munitions, aviation, targeting, and all the familiar line items of a current military budget are refined and perfected by science and technology. For all practical purposes, all war has become science, and science is no secret. Any sufficiently diligent and well-funded people can produce a body of scientific knowledge that could be put into practice building weapons systems.

One might suppose, from the regimes of state security that have become so prevalent, that secrecy is of the essence of technological warfare. While this impression is encouraged, it is false. Secrecy is no more central to competition in technological warfare than it is central to industrial competition. That is to say, secrecy has a role to play, but the role that secrecy plays is not quite the role that official secrecy claims might lead one to believe.

Wittgenstein in his later work — no less pregnantly aphoristic than the Tractatus — said that nothing is hidden. And so it is in the age of industrial-technological civilization: Nothing is hidden. Everything is, in principle, out in the open and available for public inspection. This is the very essence of science, for science progresses through the repeatability of its results. That is to say, science is essentially an iterative enterprise.

Wittgenstein also said in his later period that philosophy leaves the world as it is. That is to say, philosophy is is no sense revolutionary. And so too with the philosophy of war, which in its practical application is strategic doctrine: strategic doctrine leaves the world as it is.

The perennial verities of war remain. These are largely untouched by technology, because all parties to modern, scientific war have essentially the same technology, so that they fight on the same level. Military powers contending for victory seek technological advantages when and where they can get them, but these advantages are always marginal and temporary. Soon the adversary has the same science, and soon after that the same technology.

The true struggle is the struggle of ideas — the struggle of mind against mind, contending to formulate the decisive idea first. As I said above, once the idea is in place, everything else follows from the idea. But it is the idea that is the necessary condition of all that follows.

War, then, is simply the war of ideas.

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Friday


Kenneth Clark, in his Civilisation: A Personal View, concludes his multi-hour documentary with a reflection on moral psychology, although he does not call it that. He particularly mentions the rise of humanitarianism. This sort of thing would not go over well today, some forty years later, as it would be seen as rather too credulous, and smacking of progressivism (which, we are given to understand, is a terrible thing). But listening to Clark it is obvious that it is already in his time becoming dangerous to say such things — dangerous, because one is liable to be thought a simpleton. Clark himself calls himself a “stick-in-the-mud.”

I do not disagree with Clark, and I am not so dismissive of progress as has become common today, but this is a point I will not argue here. I simply tell you my prejudices so you know that I agree with Clark on this point. This is significant because, even if we recognize the emergence of a humanitarian consciousness in the nineteenth century, we must recognize at the same time the earlier wisdom of Hamlet, viz. that we often discover that we must be cruel to be kind.

One might consider it a kindness that the First World War was ended by agreement with an armistice, and that this spared lives and property by not necessitating an invasion of Germany itself, but the very fact that the defeat of Germany was not made absolutely manifest on the home front in an age of popular sovereignty meant that the armistice did not settle the war. As Foch said, and was proved right, “it is not peace, but an armistice for twenty years.”

Would it have been a “kindness” to push on an defeat the Germans on German soil, taking the lives of more soldiers and destroying the infrastructure of Germany in the teens? This would possibly have changed subsequent history, and it might not have been necessary to level Germany twenty years later with a strategic bombing campaign. And it would have been primarily soldiers who were put at risk of life and limb. During the First World War, more soldiers died than civilians. During the Second World War, more civilians died than soldiers. This is a portent that says something truly horrific about our time.

Such horrific choices have faced us repeatedly throughout our history, and still face us today. Because these choices are hideous, the way that each of us comes down on one side of the question or the other is often used against us, when the most unflattering construction is placed on our preference. This is disingenuous, because either side can smear the other side with the unsavory and unavoidable corollaries of a forced choice. And history forces us to make such forced choices — or forces us to avoid making a choice and, as we say today, kicking the can further down the road — time and again. We should not conceal this from ourselves.

Here is a semi-contemporary example. I have read interviews with one of the scientists who was involved in the design of the neutron bomb. He had served as a solder in Korea, and he had seen the devastation wrought in Korea by conventional weapons. Many cities were annihilated, not unlike the German cities subject to strategic bombing during the Second World War. This vision of destruction on an apocalyptic scale was an inspiration to this scientist, and was part of his experience that contributed to the design of the neutron bomb. For this man, the neutron bomb was a more humanitarian weapon — not unlike the guillotine, which when first invented by a doctor, was conceived as a humane form of execution.

After it become possible to build a neutron bomb, and some nation-states considered adding it to their arsenals, the very idea of the neutron bomb was held up as something ghastly and ghoulish, as though it had been designed with the intent to killing people while “saving” their property, which latter might be expropriated by others who would simply move in to a depopulated urban area. Anti-neutron bomb activists put the worst possible construction on the intention of the neutron bomb. For them, it was apparently more “humanitarian” to keep war so horrible that it would remain unthinkable. From this point of view, mutually assured destruction is a good thing. And I certainly understand this argument, but at the same time as I understand the argument, I know that, for some people, mutually assured destruction is one of the great moral obscenities of our time, and our civilization should be ashamed of itself for having made such a conception possible, not to mention the very foundation of the international order during the Cold War.

What is more “humanitarian”: the threat of a nuclear genocide of a significant proportion of our species, or the threat of a lesser degree of destruction that might settle a war at a lower cost? I think that if you are honest with yourself, you will acknowledge that each alternative is a moral horror. That does not mean that I regard the argument between the two as indifferent. On the contrary, I believe that rational arguments can be made on both sides of the question. All I am saying here is that the irrational thing is to believe that moral horror is exclusively on one side or the other.

This is certainly not the only paradox of humanitarianism, but it is certainly one of them.

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