Thursday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

wwi-tank

Mechanized Armor Enters the Fray


On 15 September 1916 one of the pivotal events of industrialized warfare occurred: the tank was used in battle for the first time in history. Mobile fire has been the crucial offensive weapon of warfare since the beginning of civilization and warfare, whether that mobile fire took the form of chariot archers, mounted horse archers, a ship of the line, or mechanized armor, as with the tank. Before industrialized warfare the heaviest armored unit was heavy cavalry (or possibly elephants, though elephants were never armored to the extent that cataphracti or medieval knights were armored), which was a shock weapon — mobile, but not mobile fire. The tank was able to combine mobile fire with heavy armor in a way that no non-mechanized force was capable, and this made it a distinctive feature of industrialized warfare.

The Battle of the Somme had started on 01 July 1916, and with two and half months into the “battle” it was obvious that the Somme would be like most WWI battlefields: largely static and dominated by defense: trenches, barbed wire, and machine gun nests, which had arrested the progress of any offensive and so had precluded decisive attainment of objectives. Up to this time, the technology of the industrial revolution had strengthened the defense, but with the introduction of the tank all that changed. Mechanized armor brought mobile fire into the age of industrialized warfare, and mechanized armor has remained, for a hundred years, the primary spearhead of offensive action.

Despite its initial effectiveness as a “terror weapon,” the pace of tank development was somewhat slow for wartime conditions. The Germans did not introduce their first tank until the A7V was deployed in March 1918, and the first battle between tanks took place during the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. Early tanks were mechanically unreliable, and were fielded in smaller numbers than would have been necessary to fundamentally change the conditions of battle. In many ways, this paralleled the use of aircraft during the First World War: the technology was introduced, but not yet mastered.

It was not the introduction of the tank that ended the First World War. However, an adequate conceptualization of mechanized armor began to emerge during the interwar period, when tanks underwent extensive development and testing, and Heinz Guderian wrote his Achtung — Panzer! (much as Giulio Douhet wrote The Command of the Air during the interwar period). The tank truly came into its own during the Second World War, combined with close air support in a highly mobile form of maneuver warfare that came to be called Blitzkrieg. The largest tank battle in history took place during the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, almost thirty years after the tank was first used in combat.

In The End of the Age of the Aircraft Carrier I speculated that armored helicopters could take the place of tanks in a mechanized spearhead. Though helicopters will always be more vulnerable than a tank, because they can never be as heavily armored as tanks, they are today the premier weapon of mobile fire and could press forward the attack far faster than tanks. Helicopter gunships, however, have not yet been fully exploited for battlefield use, partly because they appeared on the scene at a point of time in history when peer-to-peer conflict among nation-states was already a declining paradigm, and so they have filled a very different combat role.

The paradigm of hybrid warfare that is emerging in our own time — a form of warfare probably more consistent with the existence of planetary civilization than the past paradigm of peer-to-peer conflict among nation-states — has no place for heavily armored mobile fire comparable to the place of the tank in twentieth century warfare. The forces now actually engaged in armed conflict (as opposed to appearing in military parades) tend to be lighter, faster, and stealthier. Despite the tendency of warfare to press forward the rapid development of technologies under conditions of existential threat, we have seen that it can take decades to fully assimilate a new technology into warfare, as was the case with the tank. It will probably take decades to get beyond doctrines of mechanized warfare established in the twentieth century and to adopt a doctrine more suitable for the forces employed today.

. . . . .

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

10. The Somme after One Hundred Years

11. The Tank after One Hundred Years

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

Friday


Going “over the top” at the Somme.

Going “over the top” at the Somme.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme (also called the Somme Offensive), which began on 01 July 1916. The Somme has become symbolic in regard to the military mistakes of the First World War, especially in its wastefulness of human life. On the first day of the battle alone the British lost almost 20,000 killed in action out of a total of 57,470 casualties. This went on for months, with the total casualties for all armies numbering about a million on this one battlefield — the exact number will never be known.

When I first began reading about the First World War I can remember that I was confused about “battles” that went on for months at a time. Verdun, like the Somme, was another “battle” that went on for months. Earlier in history, a battle was a conflict that was usually decided in one day, between sunrise and sunset — a battle possessed the Aristotelian dramatic unities of space, time, and action — and at the most in a few days. The Battle of Gettysburg went on for four days. One can easily make the shift from single day battles of classical antiquity to multi-day battles of the nineteenth century, when the confrontation was more complex, not least because the societies upon which the battle supervened were larger and more complex. But from four days to four months is more of a stretch, and the Battle of the Somme went on for four and half months.

Today we would call military engagements like the Somme or Verdun operations rather than battles, as in The Somme Operation or Operation Verdun. Understanding the Somme (or Verdun) as operations rather than battles places these conflicts on the strategico-tactical continuum, i.e., operational thinking lies between tactical exigencies and strategic thinking, and different talents and a different kind of mind is required for operational planning in contradistinction to tactical action or strategic planning. The fact that we still call The Somme and Verdun “battles” — a usage preserved from the era of the conflict — shows how little these engagements were understood at the time.

As the First Global Industrialized War, World War One involved many new elements unprecedented in warfare, primarily technological innovations. How these technological innovations came together tactically, operationally, or strategically was not understood, and it was not understood for the simple reason that no one had any experience of these technologies on the battlefield. World War One provided this experience, while the interwar period provided time to reflect, and resulted in definitive treatises like Heinz Guderian‘s Achtung – Panzer! and Giulio Douhet‘s Il dominio dell’aria. With the advent of World War Two, military thinking had caught up with industrialized military technology, and the Second Global Industrialized War was very different from the first.

I am sure that memorials will be held on this hundredth anniversary, and speeches will be made. For the most part, the Somme has passed out of living memory and into historical memory. What is the historical memory of the Somme? Today we primarily remember the bloodletting — not any nobility of sacrifice or military glory, not any technological innovation or bold idea. What we remember is the human toll.

Recently I learned a term for the human toll of conflict, “hemoclysm,” used by Matthew White to describe the mass bloodletting that was characteristic of the twentieth century — “A violent and bloody conflict, a bloodbath; specifically (chiefly with capital initial), the period of the mid-twentieth century encompassing both world wars” — and which specially marks the Somme. Unfortunately, the Somme no longer stands out for its human toll. During the Second World War there were far higher casualty totals for single days, mostly civilians killed when entire cities were destroyed in a single day or a single night, which is something like a return to the paradigm of warfare according to the Aristotelian unities — although we can no longer call these slaughters “battles” in good conscience, so, in this sense, they diverge from the classical warfare paradigm, as they also diverge in primarily resulting in the deaths of civilians.

Total numbers of casualties increased until World War Two, after which they began to decline — something I identified in an early blog post as the “lethality peak.” However, this steady decline in lethality — partly a result of improving technology and precision weapons, but also partly a result of changing human attitudes to industrialized slaughter — took place against the backdrop of the Cold War, i.e., the possibility of nuclear war, with its ever-present possibility of a greater number of casualties in a shorter period of time than any possible conflict with conventional weapons. If humanity every fights a full scale nuclear war, the casualties will be orders of magnitude greater than our conventional wars.

We call nuclear weapons “strategic weapons” as a concession to their limited utility in actual warfighting. The few examples of tactical nuclear weapons that have been built were considered controversial, because they lowered the threshold for nuclear conflict — notwithstanding the fact that the first use of nuclear weapons was as just another weapon of war — the latest innovation from the conveyor belt of new technologies served up by wartime industries pushed to the limit of their capacity. The attempts to “think the unthinkable,” i.e., to think clearly about nuclear weapons, most famously made by Herman Kahn, were primarily strategic reflections. However, we know that NATO would not pledge “no first use” of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, as the last line of defense for a massive Warsaw Pact tank invasion of western Europe would have been the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, so some tactical doctrine for nuclear weapons would have been worked out, but it is not likely to come to light for some decades.

Nuclear weapons today, like machine guns and barbwire, airplanes and mobile armor a hundred years ago in 1916, remain a technology not yet assimilated to warfighting, and for good reason. The possibilities of nuclear weapons have lain fallow because the powers possessing nuclear weapons have recognized that their use must not be allowed while their escalation would result in our extinction as a species. In other words, our planetary endemism made nuclear war suicidal. This may change eventually.

If I am right that the native range of an intelligent species is not the single world of planetary endemism, but to be distributed across many worlds, the weapons systems that we can today imagine but choose not to build in the interest of our survival may be seen to have a military utility that they do not possess today. When we have a full tactical, operational, and strategic doctrine worked out for nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, we may see a conflict played out on a scale that dwarfs twentieth century world wars as twentieth century world wars dwarfed all previous conflicts.

. . . . .

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

10. The Somme after One Hundred Years

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

Saturday


Battle of Crécy, 1346

Battle of Crécy, 1346

In a series of posts I started last summer, A Century of Industrialized Warfare, I reflected on some of the significant 100 year anniversaries of the First World War. There are many more centennials yet to come. There is, in fact, almost a century of centennials from a century of almost continuous warfare.

gas masks

Many have made the claim that the First and Second World Wars were one war with a twenty year hiatus (to rearm and regroup) ever since Marshal Ferdinand Foch, upon seeing the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, summarily announced, “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” (Foch was not one of those, like Keynes, who saw the terms as too harsh; Foch was disturbed that Germany was not completely dismembered as nation-state.) This reasoning can be extrapolated beyond the First and Second World Wars, which was followed immediately by the Cold War, and so on. If we make this extrapolation, we have a period of armed conflict rivaled in its duration only by the Hundred Years’ War.

Going 'over the top' at the Battle of the Somme.

Going ‘over the top’ at the Battle of the Somme.

The Hundred Years’ War was a construction of later historians: no one in the fourteenth and fifteenth century called the series of conflicts between the English and the French the “Hundred Years’ War,” and no one today calls the series of conflicts triggered by the First World War the “Second Hundred Years’ War,” though we can use the second term with as much justification as the first. Our periodizations are devices that we employ to attempt to help us better understand the past. While our metaphysical ambition is to carve nature at the joints, it is not clear that we can do this with history, i.e., that there is an intrinsic metaphysical structure to history. And we might understand the past century better if we understood out time as the Second Hundred Years’ War.

Hundred Years War

As the Hundred Years’ War is divided into a periodization of the Edwardian Era War (1337–1360), the Caroline War (1369–1389), and the Lancastrian War (1415–1453), so too we can divide the Second Hundred Years’ War into World War One, World War Two, The Cold War… and then whatever historians will eventually call our present stage of instability consisting of a series of Balkan wars, Persian Gulf wars, Central Asian wars, and the “War on Terror.” In both cases — that is to say, in both Hundred Year wars — the outcome of each major conflict created the conditions for the conflict to follow, and follow they did, with a dreary inevitability.

Joan of Arc was one of the most famous figures from the Hundred Years' War.

Joan of Arc was one of the most famous figures from the Hundred Years’ War.

If the First Hundred Years’ War was about who would control the largest kingdom on the European continent (i.e., France), the Second Hundred Years’ War is about a political settlement in the context of industrial-technological civilization, when civilization is global. In other words, the Second Hundred Years’ War is about who will control the planet. This was already implicit in the geopolitics that led up to the First and Second World Wars, specifically, in Mackinder’s doctrine (sometimes called The Geographical Pivot of History) that, “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.” (Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. 150)

Interestingly, the geographical area that Mackinder identified as the Heartland closely corresponds to the geographical region that David Christian calls Inner Eurasia.

Interestingly, the geographical area that Mackinder identified as the Heartland closely corresponds to the geographical region that David Christian calls Inner Eurasia.

I am not defending Mackinder’s view, which is still today discussed by geostrategists; I have observed elsewhere that Mackinder’s focus on land power was balanced by Alfred Thayer Mahan’s focus on sea power. The world-island, after all, is situated in the world-sea, and either can be a pathway to global dominion. But, really, this is not very interesting any more. No one talks about world dominion in explicit terms these days (except for villains in James Bond films), while the practical and pragmatic approaches to global power projection no longer look like Mackinder (or Mahan).

Inner Eurasia: The huge interior landmass of Eurasia, whose dominant features are flat, semi-arid regions of steppe and forest, is known as Inner Eurasia. David Christian defines Inner Eurasia as the territories ruled by the Soviet Union before its collapse, together with Mongolia and parts of western China. Poland and Hungary on the west and Manchuria (northeastern China) on the east may be thought of as Inner Eurasia’s borderlands. The northern margins are boreal forest and Arctic tundra. The southern boundaries are the Himalayas and other mountain chains.

Inner Eurasia: The huge interior landmass of Eurasia, whose dominant features are flat, semi-arid regions of steppe and forest, is known as Inner Eurasia. David Christian defines Inner Eurasia as the territories ruled by the Soviet Union before its collapse, together with Mongolia and parts of western China. Poland and Hungary on the west and Manchuria (northeastern China) on the east may be thought of as Inner Eurasia’s borderlands. The northern margins are boreal forest and Arctic tundra. The southern boundaries are the Himalayas and other mountain chains.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which the global political system, which cannot avoid being global today because of the way all civilizations are crowded up against each other, seeks an equilibrium, and an equilibrium would be some global settlement of power relationships that would allow for an internal security regime in each nation-state and an external security regime that minimized conflict and facilitated trade and commerce. If this is what “global dominion” means today, so be it. Perhaps you would prefer to call it peace. Whatever you call it, this is what it will take to end the Second Hundred Years’ War.

. . . . .

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

10. The Christmas Truce

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

. . . . .

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.

. . . . .

1914 Christmas Truce

. . . . .

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

10. The Christmas Truce

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

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

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

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.

. . . . .

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

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

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.

. . . . .

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

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

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.

. . . . .

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.

. . . . .

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.

. . . . .

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

. . . . .

Saturday


A Century of Industrialized Warfare:

Wilhelm II or William II (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Preußen; Frederick William Victor Albert of Prussia; 27 January 1859 – o4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 09 November 1918. (Wikipedia)

Wilhelm II or William II (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Preußen; Frederick William Victor Albert of Prussia; 27 January 1859 – o4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 09 November 1918. (Wikipedia)

Germany Signals Support for Austria-Hungary


One hundred years ago this 5th of July, a letter from Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, carried by Count Alexander Hoyos, was delivered to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Hoyos, like many Austrians, wanted to see the Serbs punished for the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and is supposed to have said of the ultimatum issued to Serbia by Austria-Hungary, “…the demands were really such as to make it really impossible for a state with any self respect and dignity to accept them…” Franz Josef’s letter was discussed by the Kaiser and the Austrian Ambassador to Germany, Count L. de Szögyény-Marich. No documents survive from this meeting, but this was the occasion of the famous “blank check” given by Germany to Austria-Hungary, that Austria-Hungary could “rely on Germany’s full support” in any actions taken in relation to the “Sarajevo outrage.” Later the same day the Kaiser reviewed his assurances to Austria-Hungary with Bethmann Hollweg, Moritz von Lyncker, chief of Wilhelm’s military cabinet, and Erich von Falkenhayn, Prussian War Minister, who concurred with the Kaiser’s support for Austria-Hungary. This was not a hasty decision taken in isolation, but a matter discussed and reviewed at the highest levels of government.

Kaiser Wilhelm lI, Emperor of Germany from 1888 to 1918 with Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria from 1848 to 1916.

Kaiser Wilhelm lI, Emperor of Germany from 1888 to 1918
with Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria from 1848 to 1916.

The next day, a Telegram from the Imperial Chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg, was sent to the German Ambassador at Vienna, Heinrich Leonhard von Tschirschky und Bögendorff (15 July 1858 – 15 November 1916), which read as follows:

Berlin, July 6, 1914

Confidential. For Your Excellency’s personal information and guidance

The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador yesterday delivered to the Emperor a confidential personal letter from the Emperor Francis Joseph, which depicts the present situation from the Austro-Hungarian point of view, and describes the measures which Vienna has in view. A copy is now being forwarded to Your Excellency.

I replied to Count Szögyény today on behalf of His Majesty that His Majesty sends his thanks to the Emperor Francis Joseph for his letter and would soon answer it personally. In the meantime His Majesty desires to say that he is not blind to the danger which threatens Austria-Hungary and thus the Triple Alliance as a result of the Russian and Serbian Pan-Slavic agitation. Even though His Majesty is known to feel no unqualified confidence in Bulgaria and her ruler, and naturally inclines more toward our old ally Rumania and her Hohenzollern prince, yet he quite understands that the Emperor Francis Joseph, in view of the attitude of Rumania and of the danger of a new Balkan alliance aimed directly at the Danube Monarchy, is anxious to bring about an understanding between Bulgaria and the Triple alliance […]. His Majesty will, further more, make an effort at Bucharest, according to the wishes of the Emperor Francis Joseph, to influence King Carol to the fulfilment of the duties of his alliance, to the renunciation of Serbia, and to the suppression of the Rumanian agitations directed against Austria-Hungary.

Finally, as far as concerns Serbia, His Majesty, of course, cannot interfere in the dispute now going on between Austria-Hungary and that country, as it is a matter not within his competence. The Emperor Francis Joseph may, however, rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship.

BETHMANN-HOLLWEG

This isn’t quite the “smoking gun” that we would like to see, but it is clear enough is asserting that the Kaiser, “will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary,” and it also demonstrates a certain degree of prescience in “Serbian Pan-Slavic agitation” — which would, eventually, bring Russia in the fray.

Franz Joseph I or Francis Joseph I (German: Franz Joseph I., Hungarian: I. Ferenc József, Slovene: Franc Jožef I.,18 August 1830 – 21 November 1916) was Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary from 1848 until his death in 1916.  (Wikipedia)

Franz Joseph I or Francis Joseph I (German: Franz Joseph I., Hungarian: I. Ferenc József, Slovene: Franc Jožef I.,18 August 1830 – 21 November 1916) was Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary from 1848 until his death in 1916. (Wikipedia)

In the run up to the First World War, this blank check given to Austria-Hungary by Germany was one of the pivotal triggers of the July Crisis. Although I don’t want to undermine the assertion that the assassination in Sarajevo was a trigger of the First World War, I would insist that it was a trigger and not the trigger, and it would be just as profitable, from an historiographical perspective, to consider a sequence of triggers of which the assassination was the first. In other words, there is not single, unique trigger for the First World War, but a sequence of escalating triggers, each contingent upon the preceding the the following trigger for the events of 1914 to eventually pass the threshold of openly declared war and thus to become the first global industrialized war.

Alexander Graf von Hoyos, Freiherr zu Stichsenstein, Chef de cabinet of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, and courier of a request for support from Franz Josef to Wilhelm II.

Alexander Graf von Hoyos, Freiherr zu Stichsenstein, Chef de cabinet of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, and courier of a request for support from Franz Josef to Wilhelm II.

This sequence of triggers might as well be called a continuum of triggers, and we might plausibly select and argue for any arbitrary point along the continuum as the crucial trigger that made the whole of the First World War possible. To recognize a continuum of triggers, one following another, is to understand that the triggers occur in the context of structure forces that make it possible for the trigger to be a trigger. If the structural forces, both local and global, and causes both short-term and long-term, were not already in place, the trigger would have come to nothing. The understand the origins of the First World War, then, one must attempt to understand the whole of the European system on the even of the First World War, because it was the entire military, political, diplomatic, and social system of the time that was ultimately the “cause” of the First World War. Let us, then, consider a little more context in order to make sense of the outbreak of the First World War.

Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von Bethmann Hollweg (29 November 1856 – 1 January 1921) was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917. (Wikipedia)

Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von Bethmann Hollweg (29 November 1856 – 01 January 1921) was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917. (Wikipedia)

Europe has a long history of descent into shockingly violent fratricidal warfare, followed by a period of reflection, in which social and political measures are taken in an attempt to prevent another similar outbreak in the future. This pattern is not limited to the twentieth century. The Hundred Years’ War witnessed several cycles of political violence followed by uneasy peace, the Thirty Years’ War was a particularly brutal nadir, though the settlement of the Thirty Years’ war resulted in the nation-state international system we have today, and eventually a reaction against superstition and religious absolutism that we call the Enlightenment (which I discussed yesterday in The Right of the People to Alter or to Abolish). After the series of Napoleonic Wars that drew in most of Europe, the victors — or perhaps I should say the survivors — as always sought to construct an international order that would prevent political violence on this scope and scale from again breaking out.

Szőgyény-Marich_László_1890-52

One of the results of the settlement of the Napoleonic Wars was the emergence of Belgium as an independent kingdom. This was a process that began with the Belgian Revolution in 1830, which led to the 1830 London Conference in which Europe’s major powers recognized the independence of Belgium on the condition of strict Belgian neutrality. The Dutch didn’t sign on to the Treaty of London until 1839, so that the formation of Belgium as we know it today required about ten years of political negotiations. Belgium has been called “the crossroads of Europe” as so many armies have marched across its territory — the Battle of Waterloo was fought in what is now Belgium — and it was thought, in the best tradition of European good intentions, that a Kingdom of Belgium formally committed to neutrality would contribute to ongoing balance of power politics that would prevent (or, at least, hamper) any one of the great powers from causing the kind of trouble that Napoleon caused for the other European powers. In fact, German violation of Belgian neutrality in August 1914 became an additional trigger that brought England into the war on the side of France.

Heinrich Leonhard von Tschirschky und Bögendorff (15 July 1858 – 15 November 1916) was a German diplomat and politician, who served as Foreign Secretary and head of the Foreign Office from 24 January 1906 to 25 October 1907. (Wikipedia)

Heinrich Leonhard von Tschirschky und Bögendorff (15 July 1858 – 15 November 1916) was a German diplomat and politician, who served as Foreign Secretary and head of the Foreign Office from 24 January 1906 to 25 October 1907. (Wikipedia)

In 1914, the whole of Europe was predicated upon a war that all the great powers expected, but no one knew exactly when or where or how it would start. Europeans had been expecting and planning for a war between the great powers literally for generations. The attempts to create an international order that would make war less likely ironically created a climate in which the whole of Europe was primed for war, prepared for war, and ready to go to war on a moment’s notice. The international system as it existed in the Europe in 1914 was not, appearances to the contrary, a stable and peaceful equilibrium into which a random and arbitrary trigger brought death, misery and suffering on an unprecedented scale. Rather, the period between the Napoleonic wars and the First World War was more like the Cold War — a peace not worthy of the name, so we call it something else. All through the Cold War we lived in fear of a random, arbitrary trigger that would mean a massive nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union. Fortunately, this did not occur, but if it had occurred, it would not have occurred in a vacuum. A match can light a fire only where tinder and fuel are ready to hand.

. . . . .

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

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

%d bloggers like this: