Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 28, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago Today

Headline of the New York Times June-29-1914

Today is the centennial of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. One can make an argument that that event marked the beginning of the “real” Twentieth Century (which of course ended on September 11, 2001). By this way of thinking, the “long” Nineteenth Century lasted from 1789 to 1914.

Ann Althouse points to a contemporary analysis in The Guardian that that is a noble entry in the annals of wrong predictions:

It is not to be supposed that the death of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand will have any immediate or salient effect on the politics of Europe.

Oops.

Meanwhile, Anderson argues that we shouldn’t be celebrating this anniversary as the start of World War I (emphasis added):

Austria wanted an excuse to reduce Serbia to a subject power. Germany supported Austria’s dominating the Balkans, and if that meant war with Russia and its ally France, well better sooner than later, was the German attitude. Russia, rightly or wrongly, felt unable to allow its contest with Austria in the Balkans to end with Austrian supremacy. France wasn’t seeking a war in 1914, but didn’t dare risk renouncing its Russian ally and again facing Germany on its own. Britain, when it woke up to the crisis (it had an incipient rebellion in Ireland to distract it), suggested a mediation amongst the Powers–an invitation Germany rejected, because in the last analysis, Germany did not want peace.

Commemorating World War One on June 28 implicitly accepts the revisionist thesis that the war was inevitable, that the assassination began an avalanche that could not be resisted, that Europe “sleepwalked” into the disaster of the century. War is rarely, if ever, inevitable. It certainly wasn’t inevitable in 1914.

Image Credit: New York Times front page, June 29, 1914. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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