“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” – Wilfred Own, Poems of Wilfred Owen
There was honour in the hearts of men who went to war but not from the fading Kings who sacrificed them
The Hapsburg Empire, born amongst the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, held links with all the great European courts. However, by the late 19th century this rag-tag collection of nations and traditions had been in terminal decline for many years. At a time when renewed nationalism was establishing unified states of Germany and Italy, it was also fostering ambitions for subjugate peoples especially in the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe. In 1867, the territories and peoples subject to Hapsburg rule were re-organised into the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a final attempt to fight oblivion.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire and rise of nationalism in the Balkans threatened the stability of Austria-Hungary, which contained large ethnic minority groups. Russia, who saw herself as the ‘mother’ of the Slavic peoples, backed their claims for independence although had backed down in 1908 when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina. Austria-Hungary would not tolerate further nationalist agitation, and Russia it be clearly adjudged would back down a second time. At home Russia was slow to respond to the industrial revolution sweeping Western Europe, it remained a largely agrarian economy. Living conditions for most people were generally poor, with many instances of starvation and often a martial response to protest would soon deliver revolutionary change.
“A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution.” – Vladimir Lenin
The German states were forged into the German Empire in 1871. It’s foreign policies were focused on keeping the peace, but ensuring that France was kept in check. When Kaiser Wilhelm II came to the throne in 1888, Bismarck was sacked and policy shifted, with an envious eye on the British empire, towards aggressive colonial expansion. This hunger for a German “place in the sun” would spark an arms race which would push the powers of France and Britain to respond to this threst tp their supremacy in Europe and beyond.
British power was dependent on her navy, and German naval expansion challenged Britain’s policy of always having a navy as large as her two nearest rivals combined. The cost to the UK was considerable, it held the potential to bankrupt the nation but politically an empire so geographically spread, which was tied so closely to the wealth of the nation, required such a response. Domestically, it was a time of unrest and uncertainty. Working people were organised, and agitating for improved representation and improvements in living conditions. For the first time in decades there was widespread talk of republicanism alongside agitation for socialism.
Modernity was catching up with the medieval systems of monarchical governments of Europe. The political power and riches of the Royals were coldly exposed against the desires of newly empowered and organised working people. Agitation and protest were becoming familiar sights all over Europe; even where the system of Government was most austere and response harsh voices of dissent could be heard. For some, including those denied nationhood, their recourse was to go underground and respond with terror.
This was the last hurrah for the Kings of old. Neither they, nor the vested interests who profited from the old world, would willingly surrender their position. When the moment came it was easily done to commit their peoples to war, wrapped up in flags, but seeking their own selfish end. They had no wish to defeat any other King, but this was a war to preserve THEIR system of government. If other Royal houses did lose that would be a small price to pay for keeping control and order in their own land.
So, conditions were ripe for a diplomatic incident to start this bloody war and it was the political murder of Franz Ferdinand that became that spark….
“(World War I) was the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth. Any writer who said otherwise lied, So the writers either wrote propaganda, shut up, or fought.” – Ernest Hemingway
Working people across the continent died in their millions, fighting with a fervour in believing that their homes were under threat from other working people told to believe the same. By the end of the war a generation was lost, and the ire and fire of the labour movement neutered…..Establishment saved. But unwittingly there were unforeseen consequences which would be in favour of democracy, and help to resurrect progressive politics..
“So long as there is imperialism in the world, a permanent peace is impossible.” – Hassan Nasrallah