Sunday, August 3, 2014


In honor of today’s historic embrace of the leaders of France and Germany, on the much-contested soil of Alsatia, we re-post our meditation on the gunshot that launched it all.
Here is an account of today’s meeting:


For the warmongers, the assassination at Sarajevo  was a godsend, or rather:  a gift from Mars.
-- Martin Gilbert

 timeo Danaos  et dona ferentes

The centennial of the assassination of the Archduke, which ignited a powder-train which took thirty years of blood to extinguish, does not bulk large in an American perspective.  We did not enter the resulting conflict until three years later, when the first phase of the long hot-war was almost over;  CONUS itself suffered nothing;  what is left in the memory of  us Yankee Doodle Dandies is “Over There” and not much more.   Even the principals did not realize for some time that it was leading to a World War.
Yet it marked a powerful and permanent turn, of the groaning millwheel of History;  and on that day, Clio laid aside her pen, and wept.

Sic semper ...

For anyone who has, over the years, studied the history of England and of France, and of Mitteleuropa, and of the international workers movement, that day remains fateful.  The Russian revolution which had failed in 1905, now was forced to go through to the conclusion, will they or no.  And with that, the birth of hope for the class of toilers, and in time (turn, turn) its later dashing.   All that had been golden, and of a stately pace, in Western Europe, departed, never to return. 


Francis Ferdinand, on that day, was killed along with his “morganatic wife”.  A reader of Le Figaro comments:

Et dire que si François Ferdinand avait fait un mariage selon son rang, il aurait bénéficié d'une protection militaire bien plus importante pendant son déplacement et par là même, le cours de l'histoire en aurait été changé.


That mad act of the Servian nationalist  led to ruin for his nation;  yet not without a certain heroic poignancy at sunset.  Martin Gilbert tells it well:

Following the fall of Kragujevac, 
the King of Servia  recognized  that it was only a matter of time,
and of a relatively short time,
before the Austrian,
                                    and Bulgarian forces
would overrun his kingdom.

On a visit to the frontline trenches,
where peasant soldiers were  holding the line,
their bayonets fixed to rifles 
for which they had little ammunition left,

he told them:
ye have taken two oaths:
one to me, your king;
and one to your country.

From the first, I release you;
from the second   no man can release you.

But if you decide  to return to your home,
and if we should be victorious,
you shall not be made to suffer.
As for me and my sons,
we remain here.”

Not a single soldier  left his post.
-- A History of the Twentieth Century (1997), p. 382

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.

(I have set it as poetry;  for such it is indeed.  And archaized the spelling, just a bit.)


Coincidentally (or not):

The announcement of the caliphate's creation on the first day of Ramadan, which is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, was no doubt meant to invoke the religious significance of the event. But the Gregorian date has significance as well: The June 29 announcement came one day after the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, which marked the beginning of World War I.

[Update 20 July 2014]  A thoughtful radio-essay by Omar Saghi, on how the First World War resonates more than the Second, for the Middle East:

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