Teuton vs. Slav
“In acting against Serbia . . . Austria-Hungary and its ally, Germany, felt they were defending their Teutonic empires against . . . malevolent Slavs.”—By Sanford Rose
Dolors & Sense
By Sanford Rose
KISSIMMEE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—6/9/2014—The anniversary of the most important event of the last hundred years draws near.
On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, were gunned down in Sarajevo, Bosnia, by a Serb.
Five weeks later, Europe was at war, a conflict that lasted, with a 20-year interruption, until 1945.
Why did the murder of these two people produce such an apocalyptic result?
After all, heads of state and kings were being routinely dispatched in the early years of the last century. The fallen included, among others, an American president, McKinley, and the kings of Italy, Portugal, and Serbia itself.
What made this particular assassination so portentous?
The answer is that it dramatized the most basic national and racial cleavage in European society of the day—and indeed of at least the first half of the century.
That cleavage is encapsulated in the dominant reaction to the murders in Austria-Hungary and to a lesser extent in Germany:
“Here was a Teuton assassinated on Teutonic soil by a Slav.”
The perception is, of course, slightly erroneous. Bosnia was not Teutonic (Austrian) soil. It had been Turkish soil from 1463 to 1908, although its people were Slavs.
But the Congress of Berlin had assigned its administration to Austria-Hungary in 1878, and the Austrians had become so used to considering Bosnia theirs that they formally annexed it 30 years later.
So in their minds, the heir to “their” throne was killed on “their” soil by a member of one of “their” subject nationalities.
This was not to be tolerated.
Independent Serbia had already aggrandized itself in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. It posed a growing threat to Austria-Hungary, a country of 24 million Slavs ruled by a slightly smaller number of Germans and Hungarians.
If the Southern Slavs posed a real threat to Austria-Hungary, Russia, the patron of all Slavs, posed a perceived threat to Germany, Austria’s ally.
Germany’s chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, greatly overestimated Russia’s military and industrial muscle, and his forebodings filled the ear of the German sovereign, Kaiser Wilhelm, who was mindful of the fact that Serbian terrorists reportedly had earmarked him for the same fate as had befallen Franz Ferdinand.
In acting resolutely against Serbia about a month after the assassination, Austria-Hungary and Germany felt they were defending their Teutonic empires against an imminent danger from malevolent Slavs.
Ironically, their action led directly to the dissolution of the empires they vainly sought to preserve.