Friday, 9 January 2009

Why? Part 1

The summer of 1914 is noted in Europe for being particularly summery. The Austrian monarch, Emperor Franz Joseph was going on his summer holidays. So what if Franz Ferdinand, that irritating heir to the throne had been killed by some Serbian lunatic, or even if the infamous Black Hand Brigade was involved, it was of no consequence. In fact, mused Franz Joseph, whoever was responsible has probably done us all a favour, saved me a lot of trouble anyway. Yes, the summer was pleasant. The deer were running in the woods at Bad Ischl. He would travel there on the royal train and spend another pleasant summer with his guns, his horses, his dogs and his mistress. Life could hardly be better at the grand old age of 83.
Behind the scenes, back in Vienna, Generalstabchef Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf had other ideas on how the summer might unfold. In secret, with a small group of politicians and diplomats von Hötzendorf considered the military options. "If the worst comes to the worst Germany has 4,500,000 soldiers and we, Austria-Hungary, have 3,500,000. Between us I, ahem, I mean we, have 8,000,000 soldiers. Now if I add in Italy's 3,400,000 soldiers, that's 11,400,000 soldiers on my side. Even Great Britain only has 1,067,000. Ah, but France has 4,300,000 and Russia, dangerous expanding Russia they have say 4,000,000..." he went on. "The plan is to hold on to Serbia following its annexation in 1908," he explained, "A small war in the Balkans will drive the message home. We are not a nation, I mean an empire, to be fooled around with. Who would dare oppose an army of 11,400,000? Add in the Turks if required and the army will stand at 12,800,000 men...let's say 13,000,000." He doubtless smiled at the assembled and lit a corona cigar. And there we must leave him enjoying his smoke.
The plain fact is that in Europe of 1914 there were well over 20,000,000 soldiers. Perhaps nearer 25,000,000. Even little Belgium had an army of 182,000. War was almost inevitable. It only needed the match on the blue touch paper. A newspaper cartoon of the time shows the bright New York skyline behind a braying donkey it's wide open mouth spewing forth an endless river of war materials. Somebody was making a fortune. And 10,000,000 lives would end because of it.

No comments: