Daily Archives: 24 October 2013

Endemic European Terrorism before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 433-456, 502-512:

The pre-1914 era was characterised by endemic acts of terrorism, especially in the Balkans, which were the butt of condescending British humour: a Punch joke had one anarchist asking another: ‘What time is it by your bomb?’ Saki penned a black-comic short story about an outrage – ‘The Easter Egg’. Both Joseph Conrad and Henry James wrote novels about terrorists….

For the Hapsburgs, such matters were commonplaces. Franz Joseph’s semi-estranged wife, the Empress Elisabeth, had been stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist while boarding a steamer at Geneva in 1898. Ten years later in Lemberg, a twenty-year-old Ukrainian student assassinated the governor of Galicia, Count Potocki, crying out, ‘This is your punishment for our sufferings.’ The judge at the trial of a Croat who shot at another Hapsburg grandee asked the terrorist, who had been born in Wisconsin, if he thought killing people was justified. The man replied: ‘In this case it is. It is the general opinion in America, and behind me are 500,000 American Croats. I am not the last among them … These actions against the lives of dignitaries are our only weapon.’ On 3 June 1908 Bogdan Žerajić, a young Bosnian, intended to shoot the Emperor in Mostar, but relented at the last moment. Instead he travelled to Sarajevo, fired several times at Gen. Marijan Varešanin, then – wrongly supposing that he had killed him – shot himself with his last bullet. It was later alleged, though never proven, that the Black Hand had provided the revolver. The Austrian police sawed off the terrorist’s head for preservation in their black museum.

In June 1912 a schoolboy shot at the governor of Croatia in Zagreb, missing his target but wounding a member of the imperial administration. In March 1914 the vicar-general of Transylvania was killed by a time-bomb sent through the post by Romanians. Yet Franz Ferdinand was capable of seeing the funny side of the threat: while watching military manoeuvres one day, his staff succumbed to panic when a dishevelled figure suddenly sprang from a bush clutching a large black object. The Archduke laughed heartily: ‘Oh, let him shoot me. That’s his job – he’s a court photographer. Let him make a living!’

There was nothing comic, however, about the obvious threat in Bosnia. The Austrian police had detected and frustrated several previous conspiracies. Gavrilo Princip was known to be associated with ‘anti-state activities’. Yet when he registered himself in Sarajevo as a new visitor, nothing was done to monitor his activities. Gen. Oskar Potiorek, governor of Bosnia, was responsible for security for the royal visit. The chief of his political department warned about the threat from the Young Bosnians, but Potiorek mocked the man ‘for having a fear of children’. Officials were later said to have devoted more energy to discussing dinner menus, and the correct temperature at which to serve the wines, than to the guest of honour’s safety. Official negligence alone gave Princip and his friends their chance….

Word of the death of the Archduke and his wife swept across the [Austro-Hungarian] Empire that day, and thereafter across Europe…. The [German] Kaiser was among the few men in Europe who personally liked Franz Ferdinand; he had lavished emotional capital upon their relationship., and was genuinely grieved by his passing…. But most of Europe received the news with equanimity, because acts of terrorism were so familiar.

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Filed under Balkans, Europe, nationalism, war

Rapid Change before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 554-577:

It is a conceit of our own times to suppose that we are obliged to live, and national leaderships to make decisions, amid unprecedentedly rapid change. Yet between 1900 and 1914, technological, social and political advances swept Europe and America on a scale unknown in any such previous timespan, the blink of an eye in human experience. Einstein promulgated his special theory of relativity. Marie Curie isolated radium and Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first synthetic polymer. Telephones, gramophones, motor vehicles, cinema performances and electrified homes became commonplace among affluent people in the world’s richer societies. Mass-circulation newspapers soared to unprecedented social influence and political power.

In 1903 man first achieved powered flight; five years later, Ferdinand Count Zeppelin lyricised the mission to secure unrestricted passage across the skies, an increasingly plausible prospect: ‘Only therewith can the divine ancient command be fulfilled … [that] creation should be subjugated by mankind.’ At sea, following the 1906 launch of the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought, all capital ships lacking its heavy ordnance mounted in power-driven turrets became obsolete, unfit to join a fleet line of battle. The range at which squadrons expected to exchange fire, a few thousand yards when admirals were cadets, now stretched to tens of miles. Submarines were recognised as potent weapons. Ashore, while the American Civil War and not the First World War was the first great conflict of the industrial age, in the interval between the two the technology of destruction made dramatic advances: machine-guns achieved reliability and efficiency, artillery increased its killing power. It was realised that barbed wire could be employed to check the movements of soldiers as effectively as those of beasts. Much speculation about the future character of war was nonetheless mistaken. An anonymous 1908 article in the German publication Militär-Wochenblatt asserted that the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese experience in Manchuria ‘proved that even well-defended fortifications and entrenchments can be taken, even across open ground, by courage and cunning exploitation of terrain … The concept of states waging war to the point of absolute exhaustion is beyond the European cultural experience.’

Socialism became a major force in every continental state, while Liberalism entered historic decline. The revolt of women against statutory subjection emerged as a significant issue, especially in Britain. Across Europe real wages rose almost 50 per cent between 1890 and 1912, child mortality declined and nutrition greatly improved. But despite such advances – or, in accordance with de Tocqueville’s view that misery becomes less acceptable when no longer absolute, because of them – tens of millions of workers recoiled from the inequalities of society. Industries in Russia, France, Germany and Britain were convulsed by strikes, sometimes violent, which spread alarm and even terror among the ruling classes. In 1905 Russia experienced its first major revolution. Germany displaced France and Russia as the British Empire’s most plausible enemy. Britain, which had been the world’s first industrialised nation, saw its share of global manufacturing fall from one-third in 1870 to one-seventh in 1913.

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