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Publisher: Sainte-Ursule Books; 1 edition (March 15, 2016)
Publication Date: March 15, 2016
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Not a day ago I was asked to explain some of the reasons why Europeans went to war between 1745 and 1882. One of the common reasons I sighted was Dynastic interest. It was with some kismet perhaps that only a few hours had gone by before I was asked to review this book.
The most arguably devastating weapon ever made was a fairly commonplace pistol wielded by an obscure assassin in a street in Sarajevo in June 1914. This gun through a chain of events would trigger the machine guns a’rattling and the field guns a’roaring. Yet in the gap between that shot and then first battle was filled with letters and talking, it did not so much directly start the war, as it caused the crisis that prompted the decisions that started it all. It set the train in motion and although this belligerent locomotive, with death as the engineer, seemed to ride smoothly from station peace to station war, there were not a few stops in between that could have rerouted it or indeed derailed it.
In this book Matthieu Santerre forcibly argues, aided by a no nonsense bullet point style that suits the perimeters of the work well, that one of the key decision makers of the crisis was the Austro Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph. It is commonly understood that WW1 was fought against Germany, but Austro-Hungary was actually the catalyst that brought the world crashing down in 1914. Largely ignored by history Franz Joseph was actually at he heart of the fateful decision after the attack at Sarajevo.
Readers today will understand better than other generations how an act of political or religious violence directed in one direction can expand to engulf events with alarming speed. The author is at pains to explain that the Emperor here had warded off several descents into war in years previous, as the final arbiter of his country when it came to war, Franz Joseph was central to the outcome of the crisis, yet war was not a foregone conclusion, nor was it a snap decision.
Santerre begins by explaining the former and current academic views regarding the start of the war, this is ably done, he also wisely asserts that no historical work can be entirely devoid of bias, yet he makes his case clear when he says that he is not there to lay blame on Franz Joseph in any way, any kind of moral judgement is out of the question here as his aim is to replace the Emperor to the spotlight that he does seem to deserve.
I will admit that I am so out of the loop in terms of the debate of who did what in 1914, that I would be completely unable to give any sort of opinion on whether Franz Joseph deserves to be central to the play. Yet the author here lays out a convincing argument that to me echoes other instances of central players getting lost in the footlights.
The author ably constructs and then defends a course of events that begin with the infamous attack, to the search for options, to the agreed course to demand redress and the follow through. Franz Joseph’s motivation is clearly outlined and also how he kept his options open until the last, as he was very soon fully aware that military action might well endanger the peace of all Europe. Yet as we discover to a man like the emperor the Sarajevo incident was personal, and as the fateful events of that Summer took their course, it can reasonably be said that the great powers were watching Austria for their queue.
Yet although this would seem to condemn him at that point World War was not foreseen. The author demonstrates that until 3 days before the fatal ultimatum expired he had only decided to risk war, rather than being decided to embark upon it. Yet in the end having I think made his point, Santerre sensitively leaves the decision about whether or not to condemn Franz Joseph to the reader. Presenting a clear, concise but readable case for the emperor to be considered the principle decision maker in the road towards Serbian intervention. Therefore giving us a firm basis of fact with which to view the subject.
Although the tone throughout is terse and businesslike, I found the final chapter (there are 7) very touching. I think this is a useful work, that will be invaluable to anyone wishing to understand the roadmap of how Europe went to war in 1914. As it sheds light on a shadowy corner of the story, and in plain terms shows us why the days of monarchical control, based upon often very personal motives, that were connected to the good of the nation by the given monarch’s ancestral house, were numbered. And hammers home loud and clear that the awesome responsibility of guiding a nation, very often lay not upon the concept of divine rule in which rested the intertwined relationship between national identity, a ruling dynasty and the monarch, but very often on the shoulders of a very human man.