The Machine

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: July 14, 2014

It all began with German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He had two concerns—one, that France might try to reclaim land lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, two that Russia might continue making advances into the Balkans. So, in 1882 he proposed what he considered would be a defensive alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy, the thought being that the Hapsburgs would contain Russian ambitions, while France would he faced with a two-front war—Germany to the northeast and Italy to the southeast if she attempted an offensive.

Neither the French nor the Russians were happy with Bismarck’s solution. France was left isolated, and Russia felt disrespected, so the answer for their diplomats was to form new alliances. In 1904 France signed the Entente Cordiale with Great Britain. The French had a much larger land army than Britain, but Britain’s fleet was without peer and once hostilities actually broke out, soon proved that control over shipping and the sea-lanes was no small weapon in one’s arsenal.  So at this point France could say that if they attacked Germany, Italy would attack them, yes, but Britain and her formidable fleet would move against them both.

Thus far, this system of alliances was, in its own strange way about preventing wars. In essence it was saying, “Look, I’m a little guy, but if you attack me, my bigger stronger friend will attack you.” If Russia thought a victory over Austria-Hungary would be easy, they had to re-think things if suddenly Germany, with the largest and strongest of all European land armies, would move against them.  Similarly, if Germany had an urge to attack France, they would be confronted with the mighty Royal Navy.

England further involved herself by signing the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907. Now, if Russia decided to take on Austria-Hungary, it was true that they would have to face the German army, but Germany and her Hapsburg allies would face retaliation at the hands of the Royal Navy. In theory this would all work as long as the players were rational and took their national interests into account.

But true believers are rarely rational and Young Serbia felt that the Hapsburgs had no place in the Balkans. When Gavrilo Princip fired his pistol, he wasn’t thinking much about the ultimate interests of England, Germany, France or even Russia, “the Mother of the Slavs.”

Now there was an all-but insurmountable problem. Each of the potential combatants, with the exception of Britain and Germany had dealt with politically-motivated assassinations of their heads-of-state, and none of them approved of the custom. Austria-Hungary was the aggrieved party—the heir to their throne and his pregnant wife had been murdered. What were they to do? A volley of pistol-shots had set in motion a machine that there was no stopping.

A Car Stalled…

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: June 26, 2014

The day had not gone well at all. One of the group failed to act, claiming that a police officer was standing behind him, the other had tossed his grenade too soon, missing their target and injuring lesser members of the inspection party. Worse still, he had botched his suicide attempt and was now in the custody of the authorities.

General Oskar Potiorek, the governor of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was embarrassed and his guest, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire, was dismayed. He hadn’t expected such a greeting, and now Eric von Merizzi and Count Alexander von Boos-Waldeck were being rushed to the Sarajevo Hospital.

Although the archduke’s motorcade prudently sped from the scene, denying four other would-be assailants their chance to strike, Franz Ferdinand was not prepared to flee Sarajevo. Two members of his party were wounded in this attempt on his life and he was determined to visit them in the hospital. General Potiorek, wished to demonstrate that Sarajevo wasn’t a nest of traitors. He mapped out a new route to the hospital that would avoid the center of the city. It seemed a safe measure.

At this point two unrelated events collided. Perhaps assuming that the man knew Sarajevo better than he did, the general neglected to brief the archduke’s chauffeur on the new route. Gavrilo Princip, one of the four remaining members of the assassination team was loitering near a popular café.

Princip was twenty years old. He was a student and an enthusiastic follower of Young Bosnia, one of the movements calling for an end to Austrian domination of the Balkans. He had tried to enlist in the Serb army during the First Balkan War but had been rejected on physical grounds. Even the irregular Serb guerilla groups rejected him as being too puny and frail before being accepted by Young Bosnia and trained in use of weapons. He was a young man with something to prove, and today he had a pistol in his jacket pocket.

Now Potiorek’s error played itself out. The driver, unfamiliar with the new route took a wrong turn onto Franz Josef Street. When he tried to reverse, the gears of the engine locked and the car stalled.

Rushing to the stalled car and firing at a distance of less than two feet from his target, Princip’s bullet struck Franz Ferdinand in the throat. His wife the Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, who had accompanied him to Sarajevo against his wishes, threw herself over her husband to shield him and was shot in the abdomen. The royal couple died en route to the hospital. In all, less than an hour had elapsed from the time that their train had arrived at the station.

The Bewildering War That Destroyed Old Europe

  • Author: Charles Greifenstein
  • Published: June 25, 2014
Postcard for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo

Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo

World War One, it is convenient to say, started with the two pistol shots that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.  Somehow, this act of political terrorism lit a fire that consumed Europe in the greatest war the world had yet seen.

The “real” causes of the war have been debated ever since.  Militarism and the arms race?  Secret and not-so-secret defense treaties?  The competition for colonial power?  The desire for territorial expansion?  Nationalistic fever and national honor?  Governmental ineptitude?

All these factors contributed to the outbreak of the war; none alone caused the war.

Despite political tensions and social and economic inequities, Europe appeared to many remarkably stable and prosperous.  If there was one overriding emotion on the continent, it was optimism, a faith that lives were getting better and would continue to do so.

At this distance in time the war seems a pointless waste, destroying old Europe with mechanized, anonymous, mass death and shattering all illusions of war as romantic adventure.  Survivors were left anchorless, and the  seeds were sown for the next, greater conflict.

In Tender is the Night, Dick Diver, the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, says, while surveying a World War One battlefield, “All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love.”

Arch romantic he may have been, but Fitzgerald was right.

Charles Greifenstein
American Philosophical Society


Last Modified: June 25, 2014