Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Europe's Last Summer — Reviewed By Ron Drees

Europe's Last Summer
by David Fromkin
Reprint of Knopf 2004 Editon

Fromkin is one in a long series of authors who attempts to explain the origins of the Great War, but he actually succeeds, mainly by benefitting from recent document discoveries, the work of other authors, and by discarding conventional thinking in providing a credible thesis. He begins in his prologue by listing 12 conflicts — ethnic, religious, military, political — that could have contributed to the beginning of the war.  These include 1) the 7th-century occupation of the Balkans by Slavs, 2) the Kaiser's firing of Bismarck, which changed alliances between Germany, Austria, and Russia 3) Serbia's murder of their pro-Austrian king and queen leading Austria to plan Serbia's punishment, and 4) German aggressiveness pushing Britain and France closer together.

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Historical background, its impact upon the rulers of nations in 1914, how those nations operated, and how our current thinking clouds our understanding are among the strengths of this book. The reader learns how Germany viewed Russia as a threat, felt surrounded and friendless, and thus considered that since war was inevitable, the sooner the better rather than later when their adversaries would be stronger.

After the Archduke's assassination, many nations were slow to realize where events were leading. Austria and Germany hid their intentions, not only in 1914, until the fighting began, but also later as part of the numerous countries that destroyed records to hide the truth forever.

Diplomacy did not fail because it never had a chance as the antagonists wanted to go to war and moved directly toward that objective. Yet, when Austria finally began their war of punishment, they were the ones taken to the woodshed: by 1915 Austria had suffered 1,268,000 casualties out of 3,350,000 mobilized — 38 percent with almost four years of war left. Oh, the ancient curse, beware of what you wish for. . .

Happy Austrian Troops Departing for the Front with Defeat Awaiting Them

Fromkin has provided a coherent, readable text that pulls no punches as he explicitly, painstakingly, identifies the guilty and the ramifications. He breaks down events on a day-by-day and nation-by-nation basis, enabling easy tracking by the reader. One of his more eye-opening thoughts is how this was two wars, where Austria's war with Serbia got switched out for the war Germany wanted to fight with Russia. Another striking point is that the conflict that Germany began on 1 August 1914 did not end until "…the last Russian soldier left German soil on 31 August 1994." Considering recent events in the Crimea, the Ukraine, and the behavior of the governments of China and North Korea, the guns of August 1914 still haunt us.

Read Fromkin's book for a credible understanding of "who did it" and then read McMeekin's July, 1914, reviewed earlier, for an update on relevant historical research and the counter-argument that Austria dragged Germany into war. This conflict between historians continues also.

Ron Drees

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