Europe’s Last Summer

Happy Easter! (yes. this is real, and just as awkward now as it probably was then.)

I don’t doubt also that the Hungarian water throwing ritual might have taken place on unsuspecting victims (due to the lack of pretty girls this ritual is usually reserved for.)

People have a tendency to simplify and overlook the reasons for The Great War. Yet the subject has been studied immensely since that August of 1914. In his book, Europe’s Last Summer, David Fromkin seeks to explain just what happened that fateful summer in the months preceeding the war.


An abrubt conclusion to a long and tumultuous beginning…

Though undoubtedly scholarly and well-written, Fromkin takes a point of view rather new to me as a student of WWI. His primary argument, which is delivered with excellent sources, is that Germany and Chief of Staff, von Moltke, in particular is responsible for truly initiating the war. His argument is sound, yet the ending comes rather intensely. It reads as if in conclusion, Moltke is a singular government official who truly set off this war. Although, I greatly enjoyed and learned so much from this book, I believe this is a little too much, and I did not care for the ending.

Two Wars

One very good point to know that Fromkin discusses is the two wars beginning that late summer and the lack of sufficient and honest communication between Germany and Austria-Hungary. Few English-language publications make note of the less than perfect relationship between Germany and Austria and how that played a small but significant role.

In short, the two war goals were incompatible. Germany hoped Austria would hold back Russia while pursuing their goals in France (I found it problematic that Alsace-Lorraine was hardly mentioned. In Fromkin’s terms, Germany seemed to lack a perspective and France seemed utterly oblivious.)

Austria-Hungary in turn hoped that Germany would distract Russia while pursuing their goals in Serbia. ((more on this later)) Neither party was aware of the others true plans and desires.

Big surprise: No one wanted to deal with Russia. (Russia didn’t even want to deal with Russia.)

{For some reason in my notes is written “One does not simply seize the fortress of Liége!” 🙂 So, I had to make this ->

I realise my accent is backwards, but I’m using a Hungarian keyboard and we do not have the French “other way” accent. Someday I’ll really learn how to use computers and speak French!}

Localise the conflict!

This seems an excellent plan (we in the future might especially be keen on this idea.)Although the danger for my ancestors in the war would have been the same, I can’t help but to see this as a good idea. Britain, Russia, and Italy advocated for mediation and peace-keeping plans. All Great Powers seemed to agree that if this conflict could not be diplomatically solved, then it should be kept in check (and reduced to something akin to a third and enlarged Balkan war.)

British Asquith stated that Austria had a good case, but Austrians are “quite the stupidest people in Europe.” [I feel conflicted. Should I laugh and agree or be offended myself? 😉 ] David Lloyd George also noted that Austria had made demands [on Serbia] that no self-respecting nation could comply with.

The first war seemed to be agreed upon almost unanimously as nearly unstoppable and a result of the previous Balkan War.

Yet Europe seemed to have forgotten Serbia and Austria-Hungary by the last week in July.

and I wonder…

Fromkin stresses that the outbreak of hostilities was not a surprise. Europe was in an arms race and internally there were social, industrial, and political strife. Much of what people say and think about the start of WWI is now questioned or disputed by scholars. This author has used the newly acquired documents, some thought to be lost or destroyed to prove his point in the events.

are some biases still with us?

This book was a new perspective for me and I look forward to reading many more of the sort.

I first began to learn about World War One when I was in school in the mid-1990s. The anti Russian feeling in Hungary was then still very strong (as was the Russian tradition of overlooking that such war.) We were still very much afraid of the increasingly unstable Balkans next door. Russian aggression was not necessarily exclusive to beginning World War I, as one might hear their mother or father blaming Russians for anything from faulty appliances (true) to expensive candies (a little much.)

When I was older and in more advanced history classes, I remember the causes of World War One being a little vague. Strong emphasis was placed on those big ideologies – nationalism, militarism, colonialism. You know, all those things. It’s a bit like when you start a fight at school and tell your teacher it was the growing feeling of violence on the playground that caused everyone to start throwing balls at each other. The teachers buys it, of course, and laments the problems of young people today. It’s a perfect distraction when you know you played a big part in throwing those first punches.

I have a Russian friend who informed me he learned nothing at all about the First World War in school. I knew it was quite overshadowed by the Great Patriotic War, but in many Russian classrooms today, it’s still considered (if considered at all) that useless imperialist war we were barely involved.

In the Serbia of today, from my observations, history is almost avoided by young people (not so much different from everywhere else) because many have seen where a preoccupation with the past can get you. Yet it’s evident in the films, books, and museums (destroyed, closed, or otherwise even) that the First World War had its heroes and that the whole thing is worth recognizing. In Yugoslavian terms, it was a triumphant battle won against the oppressors. In nationalistic terms, it was (yet another) heroic endeavor for survival.

Across the Danube after walking the green Szabadság Híd is a tiny military antique shop called Fõnix (perhaps tellingly titled Pheonix) with a sun-faded World War One uniform on display in the window. The quirky old man who runs the shop lives above it in a flat cluttered with things that disappeared in all sense of the word almost one hundred years ago. I’ve always been fascinated with this shop and its contents (although if you go beyond the front display, you would find most of what is available is Soviet bloc era regalia.) It is as if a secret door could open and one might find oneself in another world, you know, the one we forgot about after 3 November 1918, after Trianon, after the war.

I am curious to anyone reading who is interested in the First World War. How were you taught about the events leading WWI? What about the war itself? What kind of films and books come from your country, city, or town? Do you think there are still differences in how we understand the conflict? Are wounds still healing in some way? Why do you feel the First World War is significant and does it matter how it began?

More on Fromkin’s book in the next post! I could discuss this for days!

On a slightly similar note, last weekend I moved to my new room from my old which the building caught fire. My things were fine but with a major amount of smoke damage. The police told us that there was carbon monoxide and cyanide in the building. I had to move immediately and gathered my things this weekend. I was afraid, but I can thank Nedeljko Čabrinović for illustrating to me what low levels of cyanide does to the body. Thankfully I just have a sore throat this week. And I can look forward to life in my new apartment rather than solitary confinement in Austrian prison. o_O

More on on Čabrinović in the first WWI film review I do!