A couple Saturdays back, June 28, marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of a particular European head of state that was the causative domino, so to speak, triggering the cascade of militarized power-plays that gave us the First World War.
The shots fired that day a hundred years ago by young Serb Gavrilo Princip not only ended the life of the guy–the intended prime target–who received the bullet, but in the fact that his death acted as the precipitant for the war, that bullet also ended, indeed as it was also intended, the very country of which the assassinated kingly type had been the head; it ended the country so completely that even the name of it (here in America, anyway) seems to smell of ancient mold: “Austria-Hungary”.
The war–the world’s first mega war, or, if you like, the opening salvo of the 20th Century War–engendered by Gavrilo’s gun so thoroughly obliterated the country–a country, mind you, that had existed for about 700 years–that today’s “Austria” (such a *charming* tourist destination!) and “Hungary” (don’t they have a really hard time of it, still?)–don’t even hint (in their colorful tourist brochures or the 6th grade textbooks here in the States) that up until June 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary (aka: the Austo-Hungarian Empire, aka: Osterreich &tc) had been one of the “MVP”s in European politics and oligarchic games of control. At one point the same clan was in charge of it as well as Spain when Spain was a Big Deal (Spain? Yes, Spain)…back when they had just conquered the Americas. Gone with the winds of war, though.
So gone, in fact, that even the title of the guy who was assassinated, and even his name, they don’t exist anymore, not in common parlance. Even the educated among us, if asked about it, will “have to access that file in my brain”: “Archduke”. What Americans wanna know is, if they even cared, is what the hell is an archduke anyway? And no one’s named “Franz Ferdinand” anymore except the pop-indie-rock band, who must be smart or something to pull their name from a history book, ironically wearing w/ pride the name of the actual man who died by an assassin’s bullet who unwittingly became that hapless symbol of a capital-“P”-Past whose exit was long overdue. “Take me out” indeed…(“I’m just a crosshair” sings the song)
So at the risk of stating the over-completely-obvious, WW I was a big big deal.
And the 100th anniversary–especially in the context of, well, the last hundred years in which the USA has inherited or aggressively taken over the UK’s role as global imperial force to be reckoned with–does in fact neatly demarcate a punctuation point; a time marker whereat we can take some note fer cryin’ out loud, of the violence wrought upon humankind by…well, by humankind. Maybe deploy the obvious in service of revealing the also obvious with an eye toward perhaps avoiding the ever-more-obvious logical conclusions that I think it’s fair to say the world’s oligarchic power players spend a lot of resources trying to obfuscate and distract us from [sic]. I.e., that war is *not* an axiom of human societal behavior but rather a learned collective behavior. And like all learned behaviors (I’m talking to you, Racism, Bigotry and your roustabout, faithless buddies) this can be unlearned, or at the most practical level, it can be excluded from the curriculum. Not like Voldemort, as in not ever mentioning it, I’m not talking about denial, but not taught how it is now force fed to all of us.
Here’s at least one funny thing (in a few parts) about World War One: despite the liberating viewpoints of cynicism, skepticism, muckraking, deconstructionism, structuralism, systems theory, semiotics, comparative anthropology, revisionist history and more, the primary cliches we’re taught–both directly in the wide-net school systems and culturally through creative media artifacts–those cliches are actually pretty much spot on.
CLICHE the FIRST:
proof positive of the effectiveness of “mechanized warfare”
TRUE! (well, duhhh, silly!) But yes, the 1st armed conflict in human history of which we have record in which more people died from weapons than from disease. Machines work!
CLICHE the SECOND:
it was a dramatic unseating/sweeping away en masse of the modality of how nation-states had been ruled (& thus of how geopolitics had been conducted) for about a thousand years (at least).
TRUE! Within 4 years: the nation-states w/ the greatest power were no longer ruled by singular, inherited and titled landed gentry, but by outsiders of that system (some of whom had taken their countries by force, ie, the Bolsheviks, which was actually a hold-over, “transitional technology” from the older M.O., that would be partially recapitulated w/in 20 years in Germany…w/ similar results whose distastrousness can be only in both cases measured in “orders of stratospheric catastrophe”. What’s an archduke again?
CLICHE the THIRD:
it redrew the map of Europe as well as the power “balance”/dynamic
Before the war (1914), there was a country called “Austria-Hungary” which occupied an area just a bit bigger than Texas (apx. a Texas and a third) and had been around and swinging its power around the necks of England, France, Germany & anyone else who ventured too near or had too much cool stuff they wanted for about 700 years.
After the end of the war (~1920), that same area had become a bunch of lovely (and occasionally tyrannically run) travel destinations: Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Czchekoslovakia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, a little bit of Germany and a little bit of the Soviet Union; note that on the official circa 1920-1940 roster of countries-formerly-known-as-“Austria-Hungary” you will not find “Serbia” or “Croatia” or “Herzogovenia” or “Bosnia”; this becomes important later.
Second Great (War) Example, In Which One Country (Much-Diminished) Turns Into 8 (!!), or When Britain and France Declared Themselves Absentee Landlords of the Entire Fertile Crescent, Welcoming Themselves Back After a 600 Year “Exile”
Before the war (1914), there was a powerful country called “the Ottoman Empire” which occupied an area about the size of two Texases, and had been around and swinging its power around the necks of England, France, Germany & the Popes (& their team sport known as “the Crusades”) & anyone else who ventured too near or had too much cool stuff they wanted for almost 900 years.
After the end of the war (~1920), that same area had been carefully sliced and diced by the conquering Crusaders…er, by the caring British & French into a number of lovely travel destinations, especially for those interested in traveling for work in the oil industry: French Mandate of Syria, British Mandate of Palestine, British Mandate of Mesopotamia, Kuwait, “Trans”-Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Hejaz, Yemen, Armenia (and then not), and much to the consternation of the Brits & the Franks, Turkey–of its own accord, no less; note that on the official circa 1920-1940 roster of countries-formerly-known-as-“The-Ottoman-Empire” you will not find “Israel”; this becomes important later.