16. The Coming of the Great War

16. The Coming of the Great War


Prof: The second
announcement is the movies, the films.
I’ve done what I think is the
way to do it. They will be available.
I think the first one is
available now. You can watch it in the privacy
of your rooms in whatever college you are.
You are to please see them.
Paths of Glory goes with
next week. That’s the first one.
It’s very short and it’s very
good. It’s one of the first Kubrick
films. It’s about the mutinies.
I will talk about the mutinies
next week. Please have seen the film by
Monday. Can you tell them in section
how they do that? I did it, but I’m not sure how
I did it. They should be set up.
Another thing you can do is you
can go down to Film Studies in the Whitney Humanities Center,
and you can check out the film and watch it there,
or I think you can take it back, also.
But you can watch it on your
computer screens. Those are the three.
The first one is the first one
and then the second one is the second one.
Boy, I’m really awake today.
The second one is Triumph of
the Will, which will go with the fascism
lecture. Be sure to have seen it before.
The last one is Au revoir
les enfants, a Louis Malle film which will
be subtitled in English, I think.
Yes, it is.
That goes with the second to
the last lecture. Make sure you’ve seen these
films. None of them are long and
they’re all great, great, great films,
if you can buy into Kirk Douglas as a French soldier.
You have to suspend reality a
little bit to do that. Any announcements?
Things happening?
All right.
Today, much of this lecture
just parallels the chapter. The origins of World War I can
be confusing and I just want to make those perfectly clear so
that you know this stuff. So, I hope you read the chapter.
Also, we used to have you read
Goodbye to All That, which is very long,
but very good, by Robert Graves.
Then we used the inevitable
All Quiet on the Western Front, but we suppressed
those. So, it’s even more important
that you read the chapter. Let me get into that.
I’m not going to write all the
terms on the board, because there’s so many.
I sent them around,
and it’s hard to see anyway. What I have up here is when I
talk about birthrights is–between the drilling in the
background, gosh darnit–anyway, live births in 1908 were
thirteen per 1,000. I’ll go into that in a minute.
Let me start now.
Because World War I–in 1914 so
many people wanted war, and they ran to the Gare de
l’Est and chanted, “à
Berlin, à Berlin,”
lots of champagne, and then in Hauptbahnhof in
Berlin, they chanted, “nacht Paris,
nacht Paris.” Nobody knew that the war was
going to last over four years, and kill millions of people,
and mark the end of four empires, and,
arguably, help contribute to the end of
the fifth, that is the British Empire and
the impetus toward decolonization that comes out of
World War I. Nobody knew that the war that
was supposed to be over by December wasn’t going to be over
by December. Outside of a couple of
journalists, who had been following the
Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria and had seen kind of the
evolution of trenches, nobody predicted that kind of
war. I’ll talk about military
strategy at the end today, or–in the plans for the
war–or, depending on time,
the timing, at the beginning of next hour.
So, this makes the origins of
the war so much more important. There’s certainly,
in terms of diplomatic history, there’s no other event in the
history of the world that has been so pored over than the
diplomatic origins of World War I,
the famous entangling alliances,
the house of cards that collapses,
all of those very familiar images.
After the war,
I had this great uncle who fought in the war,
a great, great uncle. He was an old dude when I was a
very little guy. He had been in France in 1917.
At the end of the war,
I remember when I was a little kid he gave me this sort of
printed out book showing that the Germans had started the war.
It was the official account of
the origins of World War I. Of course, the fact that at the
end of the war, the war ends with German troops
inside France. This has a huge,
huge impact on what happens because of two things,
looking ahead. One, it became very easy for
the German right to say, “We weren’t defeated.
We were stabbed in the
back.” By whom?
By the Jews.
By the Communists.
By the Socialists.
Secondly, because Germany was
defeated they had to sign on the bottom line saying,
“We started the war alone, we alone.”
The famous war guilt clause,
war guilt clause. Now, the Germans didn’t start
the war alone. I’ll leave it to you to decide
whether their responsibility, the famous blank check given to
Austria-Hungary, is more important than the
roles of other states, Russia declaring mobilization
which was tantamount to an act of war for reasons we’ll come
to, or France, for that matter.
But that’s why the origins of
World War I are so important. The other reason is that
clearly World War I unleashes the demons of the twentieth
century. The kind of racist stuff,
the even somewhat genocidal stuff was out there in the
public domain, but World War I turns it loose.
We talk about,
I hope convincingly, the Europe of extremes,
which is the title of a wonderful book by Eric Hobsbawm,
and one extreme being communism.
But the other extreme,
which was more prenant, more victorious,
more overwhelming in Europe was the rise of fascism and
particularly the rise of National Socialism.
This stuff was out there,
but National Socialism and the Nazis cannot be understood
without World War I. That’s why this stuff on the
origins, this diplomatic history is so important.
That’s why I’m paralleling what
you are reading. If you asked people in the
1880s and 1890s, “Who will fight in the
next war?” most people in Germany and many
people in France would say that “it’ll be the Germans
fighting the French, because of
Alsace-Lorraine.” Other people,
as we’ll see, particularly in the 1890s,
will say, “No. It’s the British and the French
who are going to be fighting, colonial rivalries,
Fashoda and all that business.”
But the one in what you’re
reading, as I put it, the old hatred that cannot be
put offstage during the entire period,
even when French and British relations are at their nadir,
at their worst, is that between Germany united,
the empire proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles,
the Chateau de Versailles, and France, because,
after all, the French had to give the
second-most industrialized region,
one of the most prosperous regions that is Alsace and much
of Lorraine, to Germany. I’m going to end up with an
incident that looked like war was possibly going to break out
between Germany and France, that is the Saverne incident,
and talk a little bit about Alsace-Lorraine and stuff that
isn’t in the book later, just to make it clear.
It is complicated,
because the French could never accept the fact that Alsace and
much of Lorraine was now German. This is, again,
remember we talked about nationalism and constructed
identity? Most people in Alsace and in
those parts of Lorraine that became part of the Second Reich,
the Second Empire, what do they speak?
They spoke German dialect.
They did not speak French.
More about that later.
There was bilingualism,
but that’s interesting. If you asked them,
“What nationality are you?”
and they reply in German,
“I am French.” If you were somebody doing a
survey now, you’d be sort of shocked by that.
But these are complex,
these identities. Anyway, the rivalry between
France and Germany was already always there.
If you went to the Place de la
Concorde in Paris, the Statue of Strasbourg,
the town of Strasbourg, which is an important European
capital now of the new Europe, for better or for worse,
was covered in mourning cloth for much of the period because
it had been “amputated.”
They used this image often.
The right arm of France had
been amputated in the settlement after the Franco-German War.
So, that rivalry is there.
French military planners,
right through the whole period at the time of Boulanger,
who was one who built his reputation–you already read
about the general Georges Boulanger–he is Mr. Revenge.
Military planners said,
“When the war comes, we will move into Alsace and
take Alsace and parts of Lorraine back.
Then we will move to Berlin.
Simple, just like that.”
To the very end,
that’s their military strategy, attack.
They’re going to attack and get
back Alsace-Lorraine. What the Germans plan to do has
a lot to do with the way the war starts, and we will get there.
The second big rivalry in
Europe–and again think of the 28^(th) of June 1914,
Sarajevo, a sixteen-year-old
heavily-armed Gavrilo Princip–is that between Russia
and Austria-Hungary. Their rivalry is over the South
Slavs who are within the Austria-Hungarian Empire and the
Serbs, who are not,
but who provide a constant force for destabilization in the
region. As you know,
since the time of Catherine the Great,
she set her eyes on Istanbul, Constantinople–they’re the
same city–on the straits, on access to the Black Sea,
that there was always going to be this drive of Russia to the
straits. As you know,
later Turkey allies with Germany.
But the big rivalry is in terms
of Russian influence, destabilizing influence,
seeing itself as the protector, the mother of all of the Slav
peoples, is a permanent force of
destabilization in the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
Ironically,
the guy who gets offed along with his wife,
the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife,
he was one of the more–he was a prejudiced figure in many
ways, but he was considered a
moderate, because he believed that the
South Slavs should have kind of a third status,
possibly, along with Austria and Hungary
within sort of a tripartite empire.
Of course, he gets gunned down
and what comes next is the blank check,
where the Germans say, “Do what you want to
settle this situation.” And the famous ultimatum to
Serbia by Austria-Hungary. The Russian government stirs up
pan-Slavic fervor in the Balkans.
They work consistently to do
that. There are religious ties,
the Orthodox religion. There are ties of alphabet,
the Cyrillic alphabet used in Serbia.
Serbo-Croatian is the same
spoken language, although Serb friends and
Croatian friends would deny that in some ways,
but basically it’s the same spoken language.
But the Serbs use Cyrillic
alphabet, which is what the Russians use,
and the Croats, who are Catholic,
use the alphabet used in Western Europe.
So, the European alliance
system, these entangling alliances,
hinges on French and German enmity and the competing
interests of Russia and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.
It also hinges on Bismarck,
who was in many ways an odious guy but a very clever guy.
His fear was that Germany would
have to fight a war on two fronts.
So, what these powers are doing
are looking for allies. As Bismarck said,
it’s interesting he said it in French, showing that in many
ways French was still the language of diplomacy.
He said when you’ve got these
great powers, five of them,
“you have to be à trois.”
You have to be with the three
and not the two. His worst nightmare–and
Bismarck was somebody who said he liked to lie awake at night
and hate–his worst fear was having to fight the Russians and
having to fight the French at the same time.
When he encourages the French
to get into the imperial game at the beginning,
he’s doing that to try to get them to blow off a little steam
out there in Africa. “My map of Africa is
here,” remember the line of the map of Europe.
So, as he said,
here’s the exact quote, “All international
politics reduces itself to this formula: try to be à
trois.” As long as the world is
governed by the unstable equilibrium of five great
powers–Germany, Austria-Hungary,
Russia, Britain, and France.
These treaties,
the arrangements–that is, the emergence of the triple
alliance and the emergence of the triple entente at the time
of the war, Italy is up for grabs,
open to the highest bidder. Italy will go to war,
despite having been a member originally of the alliance with
Austria-Hungary and Germany. It will go to war on the allied
side, because the allies promise them more in 1915.
But that’s another story.
But that’s very important in
the emergence of fascism in Italy, because Italy after the
war, though nominally victorious, does not get what it
wants. It does not get the Dalmatian
Coast. It does not get the Tyrol
mountains. If you fought a war based on
national claims, why turn around and give
regions that have only a minority of Italian populations
to Italy? Benito Mussolini goes from
being a socialist to being a fascist, helps create that party
based upon this idea that Italy had been screwed.
They never got what they were
supposed to in World War I. So, he comes power as a
fascist, as you know, in 1922.
In 1879 Bismarck forges this
cornerstone alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary,
and it’s predicated on German support for Habsburg opposition
to the expansion of Russian interests in the Balkans.
You can see in this the origins
of the famous blank check in the hot summer, as it was,
in 1914. In 1880 Italy allies with
Germany and Austria-Hungary forming the triple alliance.
But the wording is such that it
doesn’t necessarily bring Italy into the war.
As I said, Italy will come in
on the side of Austria-Hungary and Germany and Italy comes in,
as I just said, in 1915.
Now, the details of these
treaties, and these diplomats are still
under the influence of Metternich and all that,
but the details are not known, but the outlines are known.
The details are not known but
the outlines of these treaties are basically known.
One seam right through the
period is every time that Russia seeks to expand its influence in
the Balkans, Austria-Hungary gets concerned
and they turn to Germany saying, “You will back us.
You will back us,
won’t you?” They say, “Yes,
of course, we will back you.”
In the end what happens is that
the blank check goes, after the ultimatum,
to Serbia by Austria-Hungary. “Do whatever you want to
settle this situation. We will back you all the
way.” Why does Germany become
encircled diplomatically and ultimately in war?
How does it happen that Russia,
czarist autocratic Russia allies with republican France?
That the czar,
the oppressor of the non-Russian peoples,
especially the Jews in Russia, comes to Paris in 1889 and they
name a beautiful bridge after him,
the Pont Alexandre III, the bridge of Alexander III.
The marine band learns the
theme song of the czars and the socialists go wild in France.
How can you ally with these
people who are repressing socialists,
who are repressing nationalities,
they’re repressing everybody, and run this police state?
So, the last thing that
Bismarck wanted are these two big states to come together on
either side of him. How does this happen?
Both France and Russia are
outside of the triple alliance, which you already know.
But there’s another reason.
As a matter of fact,
I read about four or five years ago there are still French
companies trying to get their money back from Russia because
they lost their money in 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to
power and ultimately nationalized industries,
big industries particularly. It is economic in that one of
the old things the people say about the French economy,
but it’s still true, is that French money
investments, much of it goes outside of
France. They build the railroads in
Spain, but they invest heavily in Russian industry and in
Russian railroads. So, these economic ties are
very important. There are also cultural ties.
Because of the popularity of
the French in aristocratic circles within Russia,
but on the other hand, there were lots of Russian
nobles who spoke German, who lived in Konigsberg,
which is still this sort of enclave now that is still part
of Russia, sort of stuck between Poland
and Lithuania. But the most important reason
is that French investment in Russia increases dramatically in
the 1880s and 1890s. And that France seeks an ally
against Germany and that relations between Russia and
Germany, and this is already obvious,
you’ve already discerned this, are going to deteriorate
because of this tender relationship between
Austria-Hungary and Germany over the Balkans.
In the very end,
one of the ludicrous aspects of this whole damn thing is that
just as they’re about to go to war,
and just as Czar Nicholas II, about whom we’ll come back and
discuss one day, he signs the mobilization order.
And mobilization,
for reasons I’ll come back to, is tantamount to an act of war.
He’s dashing off letters to his
dearest cousin Willie. And Willie is writing back to
“My Dear Cousin Nicky.”
These people are related.
They’re cousins.
But international
circumstances, and the tensions over the
Balkans, and French fears of Germany,
bring Russia and France together and the French marine
band plays whatever the theme song of the Russia czars is–it
certainly wasn’t Doctor Zhivago–;when they arrived.
For the Russian government that
blames Austria-Hungary for trying to undercut what they
view as their logical influence in the Balkans,
and Germany will back them right away.
In 1892 France and Russia sign
a military treaty that says that there’ll be a military response
if the other were attacked by Germany or by one or more of its
allies. They form a formal alliance in
1894. What about Britain?
What about Britain?
One of the things is that the
British don’t want to ally with anybody.
They’re on bad terms with the
French and they’re on bad terms with the Russians,
to make a long story short. The Great Game,
as they called it, rivalry over Afghanistan,
over the entire sort of extension of that frontier into
Asia, means that the chances of Great
Britain joining in alliance with Russia and with France seems
extremely dim. Britain wants to control the
seas and to go it alone. But they discover a fact that
shouldn’t have surprised them in the Boer War in South Africa.
They don’t have any friends.
Nobody supports what they’re
doing in South Africa. It’s better to have an ally in
a world that gets increasingly dangerous.
What happens gradually is that
the rivalry, again to make a long story
short, between Germany and Britain
ultimately will cause Britain to look for allies,
and that suddenly it seems less probable that France and Britain
will go to war. What is the nature of this
increasingly bitter rivalry between Germany and Britain?
One is obvious–Africa.
That’s one.
Second, economic in that the
German economy is growing by leaps and bounds.
It is the number one country in
chemistry. Those of you that are chemists,
the whole university system–in Britain the university system
isn’t terribly practical, but in Germany chemistry is
part of what they do in the German universities,
which are great universities. They began to lap the British
in chemistry, chemical productions,
and they catch up and go ahead, and steel, too.
This is a big rivalry.
The British government begins
to run scared because the City is running scared.
Third is this famous naval
rivalry, about which Paul Kennedy, my colleague and friend
has written a book, The Anglo-German Naval
Rivalry. The Germans start turning out
these huge ships. Then the British respond.
They produce the Dreadnaught,
which becomes a symbol for these huge powerful battleships
like nothing that had ever been seen before.
The naval leagues in both
countries–again, this is a culture of
imperialism, the culture of aggressive
nationalism–put huge pressure on governments to throw every
available resource in the building of more and more ships.
Britain, which had always
basically controlled the seas since the defeat of the Spanish
Armada in the late sixteenth century.
They’re running scared.
Now, again, you can’t look
ahead and say, “Aha!
But there was only one naval
battle of any consequence in World War I at the Battle of
Jutland off the coast of Denmark.”
It’s kind of a draw,
but basically the Germans are forced back in their port so
they lose. But the British couldn’t
anticipate that. So, their fear of Germany and
the saber rattling of the thoroughly irresponsible idiot,
Wilhelm II, helps make it possible to
imagine an alliance with “the sneaky French.”
In the 1890s there were a lot
of war novels about future wars. This, in itself,
reflects the fact that many people thought there would be
another war. Again, they didn’t know it was
going to be a war of four and a half years, but they think
there’s going to be another war. I assure you I’ve never read
the following book. But one of the more successful
was, for a brief time, was this sort of book about a
future war. I guess it’s in the early
1890s, or about the time of Fashoda.
It’s in the 1890s,
or maybe the first couple of years of the twentieth century.
It doesn’t matter.
Dover, the middle class of
Dover are out parading around in the rain on a Sunday morning,
miserable weather. They suddenly find that Dover’s
been taken over by the sneaky French, that they’ve been
digging a tunnel under the English Channel.
Napoleon wanted to dig a tunnel
under the Channel. There is a tunnel under the
English Channel, the Chunnel.
The trains rocket along,
at least until they get to Britain and then they sort of
plod along at about two kilometers an hour,
but they’ve improved that side of it.
Anyway, there’s sort of a
French bias, but too bad. They suddenly find,
as they’re strolling along in the pouring rain,
the horizontal rain, that the sneaky French,
there were soldiers all over. Taking these sort of national
stereotypes, the French are disguised as waiters wearing
dirty waiter uniforms. This is the British image.
I wouldn’t even comment on what
English kitchens would have been like.
That would be a cheap shot.
But under these towels were
sneaky weapons. They take over Dover.
Then, of course,
the British get it together and they drive them back into the
tunnel, and shoot a few,
and then they cement up the tunnel,
and then parliament passes more battleship bills,
etc., etc., the future novel.
But there’s another one four or
five years later. I haven’t read this one,
either, and I’m not going to read it.
The people in Whitby or
Scarborough, speaking of horizontal rain in
the east coast, they wake up and they see these
huge German battleships just lobbing shells that can reach
and blow up York, lobbing one shell after another.
The sequel isn’t very
interesting, but the British parliament passes even more
bills. Then the battleships of the
“good guys” go and blow up the battleships
of the bad guys, and everybody can go back to
eating odd things on a Sunday morning.
So, how does it happen that
that scenario is reversed, of what the future will be?
I’ve just explained it.
It has to do with the fears of
both of these states of Germany. And that the crises,
which you can read about, the Moroccan crisis in 1905
makes even firmer this military alliance.
It’s called an entente,
that word is in English, too, or an understanding,
but basically it’s an alliance. By 1905 they’re already saying,
“Look, our navy, the British Navy will take care
of the North Sea and the Channel,
and you guys take care of the Mediterranean.”
The crisis in 1911,
the second Moroccan crisis, which pushes Germany and France
close to war, affirms all of the above things
that I’ve said. Don’t get the idea that in 1911
things are more dangerous than 1910, and in 1910 they’re more
dangerous than in 1909. Again, this sort of hydraulic
model of pressure building up and finally there is war.
It doesn’t work like that.
These alliances become firmed
up. Of these great powers that
Britain, and France, and Russia end up in–Bismarck
was dead by then, but in his worst nightmare of
being à trois,
of being three. The French, by the way,
had another reason to be particularly eager to have an
alliance. An odd thing happens in la
belle France, in most of France.
The French population stops
growing. It just stops as of 1846-1847.
It’s regionally specific.
In Brittany and in the
Auvergne, in the center of France, people are still
churning out babies. You still have huge families.
We have friends,
one of them just died, older people,
and they grew up in misery in the mountains.
Misery.
They had thirteen children and
twelve children. They were one of twelve or
thirteen children. But in most of France that’s
not the case. In one part of southwestern
France, when people had a second baby they received a condolence
card. Isn’t that bizarre?
The French population stops
growing. Why?
There are a couple of reasons.
This is just an aside,
but it’s interesting. The Napoleonic Code,
remember, ends primogeniture, so you’ve got to divide up the
plot of land into two or three or into two.
Birth control.
There are two arguments:
the peasants start it and then it filters up to the middle
classes, or the middle class starts it and it filters down.
It depends on where you are in
France. But they stop having children.
Look at this.
I wrote it on the board,
and it may be in the book, I don’t even remember.
Here are live births,
1908-1913 per thousand: Italy 32.4, Austria 31.9,
Germany 29.3, England 24.9,
USA 24.3, France 19.5. That is so low.
The French population would
have literally not grown had it not been for immigrants.
Immigrants then were people
coming from Italy and from Switzerland, but mostly from
Italy, and from Spain, some, and from Belgium.
What’s the effect of this?
There’s this enormous crisis.
It has to do also with this
sort of threatened virility. Why do we have fewer children?
What’s the matter with us?
France has become too
effeminate, etc., etc.
You could just hear the
language of this. Women are not serving the state.
Why are they not having babies
anymore? What’s the matter?
They want to vote.
Is this getting in the way of
having babies that can be sent off to war?
It causes an enormous problem.
It’s discussed all over the
place, particularly by the nationalists.
“We don’t have enough
children.” Jumping ahead,
and I’ll come back to this, Verdun, 1916.
The Germans say,
“We’re not going to take the forts at Verdun.
They’re impenetrable,
untakeable, cannot be taken, cannot be pris.
But we will make them pay so
many hundreds of thousands of people, that we will bleed them
and they will be forced to sue for peace.”
Falkenhayn was the general.
“We won’t take the forts
Douaumont and Vaux, but we will kill so many
hundreds of thousands of people, and we can afford to lose
hundreds of thousands of people, because our birth rate is
higher.” Nice for the people sent into
all this stuff. More about that later.
So, this has a big effect.
If you’re going to go to war
and get Alsace-Lorraine back, and if Germany gets more and
more aggressive, irresponsible,
no question about it. In an age of aggressive
nationalism, you’d better have somebody else to help you out.
There’s a lot of them,
and they blew us away in 1870-1871, and they
defeated–they didn’t blow away, but they defeated Austria.
Prussia defeated Austria in
1866, cementing its role as the most important power in Europe.
So, that helps as well.
The French fears and all that.
A couple more points.
I don’t want to give you an
example from this and I mention it just briefly.
It’s interesting about how this
works, how small incidents in a
complicated world of national rivalries and competing
identities can almost launch a war.
Bam!
It took the assassination of
Franz Ferdinand to start it all off.
There would have been a war
sometime. This is the case of Zabern,
in German, Saverne in French It’s a very nice little town.
I went to Saverne.
You’ve got to see all these
places. So I went to Saverne.
There’s a nice canal that runs
through it. Alsace and Strasbourg were
annexed to France in 1681 by the megalomaniac Louis XIV.
They had been part of France a
very long time. In 1871, for reasons you know,
they become part of Germany. But this incident at Saverne,
what it does is it reinforces the stereotypes that the French
have of the Germans and that the Germans have of the French.
It’s the image of German quest
for domination, and aggressiveness and the role
of the German army, which seems to have absolutely
no limits. Someone once said about Prussia
that it was a state tacked on to an army.
The Saverne Affair seemed to
indicate that Germany was still the same way.
If you go up to Alsace,
you go up to the Vosges Mountains.
There’s this route called the
Route des Crêtes, or the route of the peaks.
You can look down into the
Vosges–it still is France, but from what had been German
Alsace. You can see all of these
monuments put up by German hiking clubs to try to reaffirm
this German identity that people had.
Identity is an extremely
complex thing. First of all,
what is clear is that the vast majority of the population spoke
German. Whether this makes them feel
German or not, it’s not sure.
Let me give you a couple
examples. I didn’t send this around;
it’s too much. Let’s say for the total of
Alsace and Lorraine, the parts that were annexed
into the German Reich, that the number of communes in
which German dialect was the dominant language is 1,225;
in which French was the dominant language was 385.
The percentage of the
population that spoke German is seventy-seven percent.
The population that spoke
French as their major language was twelve percent.
There was some bilingualism,
but not a whole lot, actually, and ten percent sort of
neither, in that they were probably more
or less perfectly bilingual because of intermarriage.
So, when the Germans come in
after 1871, they are better than what the French did after World
War I. The French try to just rip
German out as a language of instruction.
Get rid of all the street signs
in German. The Germans are a little more
delicate in the way that they do things, but German is the
language of administration. Another important point is that
they don’t trust the Alsatians. Even though they speak German,
they don’t trust them. Alsace and those parts of
Lorraine are annexed into the Reich,
but they don’t have the same rights as a region that the
other parts of Germany like Wurttemberg and Bavaria have.
German deputies from Alsace and
those parts of Lorraine don’t have the right to vote on issues
of war, for example, in the Reichstag.
They are not trusted because
they are seen as potentially disloyal to the Reich.
The idea is that they have been
infected with Frenchness. Part of this is religious.
It’s so complex.
Alsace is a wonderfully
interesting area. It has the largest percentage
of Protestants in France outside of Ardèche in the south
center. It’s also got a large
percentage of Jews, who had been victimized by
anti-Semitic riots after 1848. But the majority of the
population is Catholic. The German Empire,
going back to the Kulturkampf of Bismarck, the war against the
Catholics, still doesn’t really trust the Catholics.
You’ve got Catholics in
Bavaria, usually very right-wing Catholics in Bavaria.
You’ve got Catholics in the
Rhineland. You’ve got some Catholics up in
the North in the Palatinate and you’ve got a lot of Catholics in
Alsace. So, they don’t trust them,
basically. They don’t trust them.
Relations between the German
troops, who, as in the case of Spain,
are not coming from that region–people occupying
Catalonia come from Galicia or they come from Castile so they
won’t be infected by the local population,
from the point of view of the Spanish state–so,
the troops that are in Alsace are not from Alsace,
because they don’t trust them. So, tensions are very good.
What happens in Saverne at a
place where military civil relations aren’t terribly good,
in this town of 8,000 people, is that there is an incident
that gets blown out of proportion.
There is some drilling.
The Germans soldiers are always
drilling. And they’re drilling and the
commander makes a crack about the Alsatians.
He calls them an extremely
unfortunately scatological term that he meant to refer to all
Alsatians. He essentially says,
“Well, if you beat the hell out of those people,
you’ll be doing a service to all.”
This gets around.
One of the reasons that
relations weren’t very good in this particular town was because
there was a German officer who had the bad idea of sleeping
with a fourteen-year-old girl. Some of the local guys go get
this guy in this room and just pound him into a well-deserved
pulp. So, it spins out of control.
What happens is on both sides
in Berlin and Paris, this becomes a huge incident,
confirming the stereotype of the Other.
There’s nasty language.
Bethmann-Hollweg,
who was the chancellor then, says some over-the-top things
about the French, and the influence of France and
Alsace, etc., etc.,
and that the French are planning a war.
And the French government,
in a time when there is a nationalist revival,
at least among the elites in France,
they respond in kind and everything gets big titles,
big titres, big headlines and stuff like
that. They don’t go to war.
But what it does is it
reaffirms these stereotypes and it makes people a little more
edgy. In 1913, but well before that,
military planners–I have three minutes and that’s just what I
need–military planners are looking ahead to the next war.
The French we’ve already talked
about. They have a not terribly
poetically designated plan number eighteen,
which is to invade Alsace-Lorraine with
élan. That’s all you need,
they said, élan, patriotic frenzy,
fury. All you need is to be on the
offensive and that’s the end of it.
By the way, they invade wearing
red pants and they could be shot,
picked out through the fog finally in 1914,
until they put a little less-bright color on.
How are the Germans going to
fight a war on two fronts? How are you going to do that?
They’re afraid of the Russians.
Why?
There are a lot of Russians and
the other peoples. They think it’s going to take
about two weeks for the Russian army,
once mobilization is declared, that the big bear will roll
their forces toward the German frontier in German Poland.
So, how are you going to win
the war in two weeks? If you invade France not
through Alsace-Lorraine, but if you invade–well,
you’re going to have big trouble.
You’re going to run into
fortification. So, how are you going to invade
France? The only way you can defeat
them, and a guy called Schlieffen,
whose name I wrote in what I sent around to you,
is that you have to invade Belgium, and,
from his point of view, the Netherlands,
though Moltke, his successor,
takes the Netherlands out of the equation.
Belgium had been declared
independent and neutral in 1831. If you go into Belgium the idea
is you invade Belgium. You get through the big fort at
Liège. You get through the kind of
rough country, which is not too much.
Then you hit the plat
pays, the flatlands, and you roll toward the English
Channel. The last thing Schlieffen
reportedly said on his deathbed was,
“The last soldier, his right arm should touch the
English Channel.” Then you turn down and you put
Paris in a headlock, and they will sue for peace and
you will beat them in two weeks before the big bear can come
moseying along slowly. That’s why mobilization was
tantamount to an act of war, because it starts the
timetable. They’ve got to defeat them in
two weeks. What happens if you go through
Belgium? From the point of view of the
British, it’s bad enough to have the sneaky French across the
Channel. But what if you’ve got the
Germans in Ostend eating moules frites?
What if you have the Germans
across the Channel? Big-time enemies a very short,
choppy boat ride away. What’s this going to do?
It’s going to reaffirm the
alliance. Sir Edward Grey,
the one who said most famously, and he got it right,
“Lights are going out in Europe.
They will not be relit again in
our lifetime.” At this point,
the British hesitate. The French said,
“Will the word ‘honor’ be struck from the
English dictionary?” The French ambassador is
chasing around a high official in the czarist regime in Russia
saying, “You must back us all the
way.” So, the invasion guarantees
that the worst nightmare of Bismarck will come true,
that they will be à trois.
The fact that it doesn’t work
out, for a variety of reasons,
the way the German high command intended,
and the way Schlieffen intended,
and von Moltke, means that they don’t,
for reasons I’ll come back to, can’t get Paris in that
headlock, force them to sue for peace,
and the race to the sea begins to try to outflank–as in a
football game, to make a ridiculous
analogy–the outside linebacker. They end up at the sea.
Then shovels,
and defensive weapons like barbed wire and machine guns,
become the weapons of the war. That explains why there wasn’t
and subsequently could never be a knockout punch,
and why millions of people died in and around those trenches.

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