Folly and malice: the Habsburg empire, the Balkans and the start of World War One

Folly and malice: the Habsburg empire, the Balkans and the start of World War One The libraries are clogged with books on the origins of the First World War. Most of them have little new to say. But Folly and malice stands with T. G. Otte's July crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014; reviewed in International Affairs 90: 6, November 2014) as a seminal work which forces readers to reflect further on issues they had thought settled. It questions established versions of history, especially Christopher Clark's The sleepwalkers (New York: HarperCollins, 2013) and Sean McMeekin's The Russian origins of the First World War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). John Zametica has the inestimable advantage of knowing Serbo-Croatian, and his research is securely based on Serbo-Croat sources in addition to ones in Czech, French, English, Austrian, Russian and German—as well as very wide reading in the secondary literature in all of these languages. Christopher Clark's thesis, mirroring the explanation in David Lloyd George's memoirs, suggests that ‘the nations slithered over the brink … Not one of them wanted war; certainly not on this scale’, while McMeekin regards Russian mobilization as a prime cause of the war. However, the central thesis of Folly and malice is that Austria–Hungary, with German support, wanted the war and that neither Serbia nor Russia had aggressive intentions. Zametica shares the view of an older generation of historians, such as Lewis Namier and A. J. P. Taylor, that, by 1914, Austria–Hungary faced desperate internal problems and its leaders saw war as an escape from them. Austria–Hungary had become ‘the sick man on the Danube’ (p. 632), ‘increasingly panic-stricken and yet assertive … reckless and frenzied’ (p. 631). Germany, Zametica believes, was prepared to support its ally so as to ‘open the path to German continental hegemony’ (p. 632). Both countries were well aware that a war against Serbia might lead to Russian involvement and therefore a world war. Zametica fingers as guilty men not so much Kaiser Wilhelm II, inconsistent and volatile and not taken seriously by the civil and military authorities in Germany, but Count Leopold Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, Emperor Franz Joseph, who could and should have vetoed the war, and German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who has largely escaped historical condemnation. Historians, swayed by the romance of monarchy, have suggested that the murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand, ‘a peg on which fanciful theories about an enlightened Habsburg Monarchy could be hung’, would have broadened the Dual Monarchy so as to embrace the Slavs. In fact, as Zametica argues, trialism was not taken seriously except briefly and inconsequentially by Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, Foreign Minister of Austria–Hungary from 1906 to 1912. The Hungarians were particularly opposed to it. So was the Archduke, who favoured a more centralized monarchy—Habsburg, Catholic and German. Nor was the Archduke, as is sometimes suggested, a man of peace who would have curbed Vienna's warlike tendencies had he lived. He was, in fact, as militarist and imperialist as the Viennese establishment—indeed perhaps more so—and had a particular dislike of the Serbs, and indeed of Slavs in general. Contrary to what some historians have argued, during the time of the Balkan Wars in 1912–13, he was more bellicose than the Austrian establishment, though he did at times urge caution until army modernization was complete and ‘our internal circumstances will be better’. Austria–Hungary used the assassination of the Archduke as a pretext for war. It accused Serbia of complicity, but the legal expert charged with investigating found ‘nothing to show the complicity of the Serbian Government in the directing of the assassination … On the contrary, there is evidence that would appear to show that such complicity is out of the question’. Alexander, Count of Hoyos, chef de cabinet to Berchtold, declared after the war that he did not believe Serbia to be complicit. The later assertion of Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, head of Serbian military intelligence and leader of the Black Hand organization, that he had planned the assassination, was made when on trial for his life, and is not to be taken seriously. Zametica perhaps goes too far in his view that Serbia had abandoned irredentist aims in Bosnia and Herzegovina by 1914. Admittedly, Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, favoured not a Greater Serbia, but a Union of the South Slavs—Yugoslavia—which Serbia opposed. However, he had been trained, equipped, financed and smuggled across the border by elements in Belgrade. Zametica mischievously draws a controversial lesson from the story. The multinational Habsburg empire could not survive the growth of national feeling. Yugoslavia, which succeeded it in the South Slav lands, could hold together only under the authoritarian leadership of Marshal Josip Broz Tito—and fell apart after Tito's death. In this sense, Marshal Tito was, as A. J. P. Taylor once wrote, ‘the last of the Habsburgs’. Some have seen the European Union as a successor to the Habsburg empire, a roof over nationalities. Will it suffer the same fate? Perhaps Zametica does not intend us to take this analogy too seriously. But his views on the EU do not detract from what is a powerfully argued work, whose conclusions will be carefully studied by historians for many years. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Affairs Oxford University Press

Folly and malice: the Habsburg empire, the Balkans and the start of World War One

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Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.
ISSN
0020-5850
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1468-2346
D.O.I.
10.1093/ia/iix276
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Abstract

The libraries are clogged with books on the origins of the First World War. Most of them have little new to say. But Folly and malice stands with T. G. Otte's July crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014; reviewed in International Affairs 90: 6, November 2014) as a seminal work which forces readers to reflect further on issues they had thought settled. It questions established versions of history, especially Christopher Clark's The sleepwalkers (New York: HarperCollins, 2013) and Sean McMeekin's The Russian origins of the First World War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). John Zametica has the inestimable advantage of knowing Serbo-Croatian, and his research is securely based on Serbo-Croat sources in addition to ones in Czech, French, English, Austrian, Russian and German—as well as very wide reading in the secondary literature in all of these languages. Christopher Clark's thesis, mirroring the explanation in David Lloyd George's memoirs, suggests that ‘the nations slithered over the brink … Not one of them wanted war; certainly not on this scale’, while McMeekin regards Russian mobilization as a prime cause of the war. However, the central thesis of Folly and malice is that Austria–Hungary, with German support, wanted the war and that neither Serbia nor Russia had aggressive intentions. Zametica shares the view of an older generation of historians, such as Lewis Namier and A. J. P. Taylor, that, by 1914, Austria–Hungary faced desperate internal problems and its leaders saw war as an escape from them. Austria–Hungary had become ‘the sick man on the Danube’ (p. 632), ‘increasingly panic-stricken and yet assertive … reckless and frenzied’ (p. 631). Germany, Zametica believes, was prepared to support its ally so as to ‘open the path to German continental hegemony’ (p. 632). Both countries were well aware that a war against Serbia might lead to Russian involvement and therefore a world war. Zametica fingers as guilty men not so much Kaiser Wilhelm II, inconsistent and volatile and not taken seriously by the civil and military authorities in Germany, but Count Leopold Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, Emperor Franz Joseph, who could and should have vetoed the war, and German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who has largely escaped historical condemnation. Historians, swayed by the romance of monarchy, have suggested that the murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand, ‘a peg on which fanciful theories about an enlightened Habsburg Monarchy could be hung’, would have broadened the Dual Monarchy so as to embrace the Slavs. In fact, as Zametica argues, trialism was not taken seriously except briefly and inconsequentially by Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, Foreign Minister of Austria–Hungary from 1906 to 1912. The Hungarians were particularly opposed to it. So was the Archduke, who favoured a more centralized monarchy—Habsburg, Catholic and German. Nor was the Archduke, as is sometimes suggested, a man of peace who would have curbed Vienna's warlike tendencies had he lived. He was, in fact, as militarist and imperialist as the Viennese establishment—indeed perhaps more so—and had a particular dislike of the Serbs, and indeed of Slavs in general. Contrary to what some historians have argued, during the time of the Balkan Wars in 1912–13, he was more bellicose than the Austrian establishment, though he did at times urge caution until army modernization was complete and ‘our internal circumstances will be better’. Austria–Hungary used the assassination of the Archduke as a pretext for war. It accused Serbia of complicity, but the legal expert charged with investigating found ‘nothing to show the complicity of the Serbian Government in the directing of the assassination … On the contrary, there is evidence that would appear to show that such complicity is out of the question’. Alexander, Count of Hoyos, chef de cabinet to Berchtold, declared after the war that he did not believe Serbia to be complicit. The later assertion of Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, head of Serbian military intelligence and leader of the Black Hand organization, that he had planned the assassination, was made when on trial for his life, and is not to be taken seriously. Zametica perhaps goes too far in his view that Serbia had abandoned irredentist aims in Bosnia and Herzegovina by 1914. Admittedly, Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, favoured not a Greater Serbia, but a Union of the South Slavs—Yugoslavia—which Serbia opposed. However, he had been trained, equipped, financed and smuggled across the border by elements in Belgrade. Zametica mischievously draws a controversial lesson from the story. The multinational Habsburg empire could not survive the growth of national feeling. Yugoslavia, which succeeded it in the South Slav lands, could hold together only under the authoritarian leadership of Marshal Josip Broz Tito—and fell apart after Tito's death. In this sense, Marshal Tito was, as A. J. P. Taylor once wrote, ‘the last of the Habsburgs’. Some have seen the European Union as a successor to the Habsburg empire, a roof over nationalities. Will it suffer the same fate? Perhaps Zametica does not intend us to take this analogy too seriously. But his views on the EU do not detract from what is a powerfully argued work, whose conclusions will be carefully studied by historians for many years. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.

Journal

International AffairsOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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