Friday, August 01, 2014

Today -100: August 1, 1914: The sword is being forced into our hand

French socialist leader Jean Jaurès is assassinated. He is shot at the Café du Croissant by Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old who dislikes his opposition to war. In the morning the newspaper Sociale had suggested that Jaurès be nailed to the wall at the same time as the mobilization bulletins. Villain also intended to kill Joseph Caillaux if he wasn’t caught while killing Jaurès, but he was. He will be held without trial until 1919, when he will be acquitted (his lawyers argued he merely wanted to ensure that France would win the war and mistakenly thought Jaurès would have opposed it) and Jaurès’s widow ordered to pay the costs of the trial. Eventually Villain will settle in Spain, where he’ll be murdered early in the civil war, evidently by Republicans who had no idea who he was, because irony.

Russia orders full military mobilization (the previous “partial” mobilization wasn’t that partial anyway, because the military had no plans for such a thing).

Austria orders full military mobilization in response to Russia ordering full military mobilization.

Germany declares a state of war, or a state of impending war – at any rate something war-ish but a step below declaring war (I guess the Germans have as many words for types of war as Eskimos do for snow). Also declaring whatever-this-is: Bavaria, which has to do so separately because of something in Germany’s weird constitution. The kaiser issues a statement calling Russian mobilization an act of “unpardonable disloyalty,” which seems like an odd choice of word until you remember the kaiser and the czar are cousins (in fact, Tsar Nicholas had scotched an order for general mobilization on July 29 after receiving a telegram from the kaiser, one of the famous “Willy” and “Nicky” telegrams)(which were in English, by the way). Wilhelm makes a speech from the window of his palace: “A fateful hour has fallen for Germany. Envious people on all sides are compelling us to our just defense. The sword is being forced into our hand.” Again, he’s still claiming to be trying to avert war. Mostly through bluster, as was the custom.

One odd way in which Germany prepares for war: Prince Oskar, Kaiser Wilhelm’s fifth son, gets married a month earlier than planned.

Germany signs a secret treaty of alliance with Turkey.

Austrian destroyers nearly capture Montenegro’s royal yacht, but it speeds away to Corfu.

The German ambassador to Russia, the Graf von Pourtales, asks Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov if Russia would refrain from war if Austria promised not to annex any of Serbia. Sazonov, who probably recognized what Pourtales was trying to slip past him – that Austria’s allies Romania and Bulgaria would do the carving up of Serbia – says that Russia would not permit Serbia’s “execution”.

The Jewish Chronicle (London) opposes Britain joining the war: “Why should England send the flower of her manhood to defend Russian interests, to sustain an effete and barbarous autocracy on its tottering throne?” (Why indeed? On a somewhat blurred page of today’s NYT I misread a subheadline as “Czar Has Culled 4,000,000 Men” – and I wouldn’t put it past him.) An editorial in the liberal Daily News argues, “If we crush Germany in the dust and make Russia the dictator of Europe and Asia, it will be the greatest disaster that has ever befallen Western culture and civilization.”

Similarly, George Bernard Shaw, in a letter in the Daily Citizen, says “The alliance between the revolutionary Government of France and the reactionary Government of Russia is a monstrous and unnatural product of cosmopolitan finance.” However, he says, “If war is madness, we should have thought of that before. It is no use piling up armaments and blustering for years and then, when the first shot is fired, suddenly joining the Quakers. We have made our bed and must lie on it.”

The NYT thinks that the rules of war will keep this whole thing civilized. There won’t be attacks on civilians, looting, bombing of undefended towns or buildings, shooting of surrendering soldiers, abuse of POWs, or unusually cruel weapons. The Times admits that none of that was true during the two Balkan Wars, but “The Balkan States are not fully civilized. War provokes savagery, but a war involving the great Powers would be fought with due restraint.” So that’s okay then.

The Women’s Social and Political Union calls off the militant campaign, due to the international situation.

Headline of the Day -100: “Hit By Gore With Cane. Blind Senator Smashes Stick Over Former Critic’s Head.”

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  1. "There won’t be attacks on civilians, looting, bombing of undefended towns or buildings, shooting of surrendering soldiers, abuse of POWs, or unusually cruel weapons."

    Jokes aside, wasn't this basically correct?
    Unfortunately for the NYT, however, it turns out that "usually cruel weapons" ie guns and artillery (as opposed to the unusually cruel ones) fired at soldiers rather than civilians, still causes a whole lot of unpleasantness...

    The very theory behind the editorial seems most strange. The author seems utterly unaware or unconcerned that the primary goal of war is to kill the opposing soldiers, that this can be done very efficiently, and that there are many many many soldiers available to be killed.

    The one place that leaps to mind where the NYT is wrong (ie the "usual rules of war" get ignored) is the sea war, the case they don't mention, starting with attacks on merchant vessels and neutral ships, going on to the wholesale blockade of Germany.

  2. The myth of the clean war is still very widespread at this point, not least among the generals.

    But no, it wasn't correct.

    Attacks on civilians: see Louvain, elsewhere in Belgium.

    Looting, ditto.

    Undefended towns: Belgrade already, soon enough Brussels, Rheims.

    Surrendering soldiers are shot in pretty much every war.

    Unusually cruel weapons: aerial bombardment of cities, flamethrowers, mustard gas.

  3. Where I was coming from was an impression that, while there were the usual blunders and isolated incidents, the bulk of the deaths in the war by far were soldiers (as opposed to, say, WW2).

    Your reply made me curious, so I looked up the death stats on Wikipedia and the results are interesting. The summary is that we have around 9.5 million military deaths and around 2.4 million civilians --- many more civilians that I'd expected. BUT the distribution of the civilians perhaps explains my ignorance.

    By far the bulk of the civilian deaths (1.5 million) happen in the Ottoman Empire. It's a matter of semantics, I guess, whether you call them actual war casualties or simply lunatic passions that took advantage of the chaos to carry out genocide.

    Beyond that the heavy duty civilian deaths happen mostly in Eastern Europe, and seem subject to the same sort of historical amnesia (at least in the Anglosphere) as occurs with WW2, only far more so. Serbia, in particular, loses 150,000 civilians, but we also have 120,000 scattered through Austria-Hungary, 130,000 in Romania, and 410,000 in Russia.

    There's also a whole different set of civilian deaths arising from food shortages. I was aware of these for Germany (600,000 or so, depending on whose counting) but was unaware that Austria-Hungary had a similar 470,000, the Ottoman Empire had 1,000,000 , and the same sort of gruesome numbers in Eastern Europe: 730,000 in Russia, 200,000 in Romania, 300,000 in Serbia.

    The two interesting numbers I was not aware of are:
    Around 600,000 starvation numbers in Italy. (One suspects, given the constant stream of immigrants to the US, that they were living right at the Malthusian edge.) Also France has 300,000 civilian starvations, which is surprisingly high (IMHO) given how we (or at least I) have heard so much about the German starvation in the war, and nothing about this French starvation. One also wonders quite why it happened, given that France was probably not at the Malthusian limit. Was it purely an inability to get food from where it was being produced to where it was needed? Or was it simply not enough labor because everyone was either dead, fighting, or making weapons?

    Hmm. Seems like there would be value in my reading a comprehensive WW1 book to get the full picture rather than just the impressions I've picked up over time.

    Having said all this, I think the essence of my original comment (at least as I saw it), remains correct. The NYT seems to be under the medieval impression (or if you prefer the Nazi/Italian Futurist impression) that war is jolly good sport, a chance for young lads to demonstrate their gallantry, and that as long as it doesn't bother the rest of us, they can go off and have their fun.

    I would guess (though I'll have to see if my reading confirms this) that the ultimate shock of the war was NOT that it somehow involved more civilians, or more violations of the Geneva convention, than expected, but precisely the sort of the thing the NYT doesn't seem to care about --- that the number of military deaths, killed under normal conditions of war, using conventional weapons, were just so high. Certainly that's the focus of all the high-profile post-war culture: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Grand Illusion, Wilfred Owen, that sort of thing.
    (As opposed to the WW2 cultural package which has substantially less soldier's-eye material, and is much more Holocaust, Blitz, civilians in Stalingrad, atom bomb, that sort of thing.)

  4. World War I may be civilized compared to WW2, but not in comparison to just about anything else, encompassing as it does the second-largest genocide in human history.

    The perception of 1 as relatively civilian-friendly is probably a function of the static nature of the Western front for so much of it, in parts of France and Belgium from which all civilians had long fled.

    Starvation is related in part to disruption of transportation, with the various militaries taking over the train systems and commandeering trucks and horses and ships.

    We'll see if and when the NYT acquires a less naive understanding of warfare. It will be a while before the various countries deploy censorship less ham-fistedly, and allow war correspondents in (I should consult Phillip Knightley's The First Casualty at some point). But early in the war everyone was still talking about the rules of
    "civilized warfare," usually in the context of accusing their enemies of violating them (dum-dum bullets, shelling cathedrals, burning ancient universities, etc).