On the stack of current books here at Chaos Manor is Geoffrey Wawro's book on the Outbreak of WW I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire; its title is A Mad Catastrophe.

Professor Harrison should stick to economics; he really has not idea what he is talking about when he discusses WW I. His biggest folly is his belief that "at the critical moment the advocates of war, civilian as well as military, were able to dominate". The advocates of war had been dominating the discussion for the last three decades (some people would disagree with me and say that it was more like four). When Eisenhower, who had studied the Great War, warned about the rise of the "military-industrial complex" he was telling Americans that they were in danger of following what the Europeans had done in the years leading up to
1914. "The war" had been actively planned in France ever since the fall of the Second French Empire; the entire country was encouraged to raise its population growth so that the nation would not be outnumbered by the Bosch. The politics in Germany and Britain favored military spending as a way to keep the factories going; heavy industry in both countries found itself under ever increasing pressure from the rise of the "new" economies of the United States and Russia. All the countries except Britain had developed mobilization plans to put millions of soldiers on trains and move them to the borders.

Wawro's books is far too detailed to summarize, and I can't recommend it for reading because he presumes that you already know a great deal about the subject before you read the first page. But, I do recommend his scholarship; and I do endorse his conclusion. The Habsburgs thought that a war in the Balkans would end the half century of declining authority. They had surrendered North Italy, been soundly whipped by their supposed allies, the Germans, given up political control to the Hungarians, seen the Serbs and Greeks go from being vassals of the Turks to independent sovereign nations and watch the Russians become the rising superpower in the East. From the palaces in Vienna this looked like insult piled on top of humiliation. What remains amazing is the Germans' willingness to go along with the Habsburgs' notion that their armies were worth something. The Germans were so credulous that they counted on the Habsburg armies to defeat the Serbs and defend both Germany and Austria-Hungary from the threats of Russian mobilization. The taxis at the Marne did not save the French in 1914; it was the defeat of the Austrian armies by both the Russians and the Serbs that forced the Germans to shift men and artillery to the east to prevent the threat of having Prussia itself overrun.

What Eisenhower did not say but could have is that Americans also have to be careful about making the mistake the Germans made in two world wars. As countries we are both better off at going it alone than in signing up allies, especially before a war starts. The record of joining a fight as a latecomer ally is an excellent one (the U.S. in WW I and II; Prussia in the final campaign against Napoleon); but neither we Americans nor the Germans should ever plan a war that depends on other people doing any serious part of the fighting.





Speak your mind


Resources & Links